Water Shut Off in Detroit Hurting “The Most Vulnerable”

Detroit has been facing an unimaginable situation: in the past nine months, the municipality has shut off water services to over 27, 000 of its residents. The City chose this course of action in response to its residents’ inability to pay their bills, and as an attempt to reduce the utility company’s multi-million dollar debt. Under the policy, customers that are over 60 days late in bill payments are at danger of having their water services shut off. This forces many poor Detroiters to make some very difficult, unimaginable choices – for example, “to pay the water bill or to pay their rent.”

The UN has recently taken up the mantle of determining whether these water shut offs qualify as a violation of basic human rights. According to Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on housing, the shutoffs hurt “the most vulnerable and the poorest”. Ultimately, it is the low-income and African-American populations that have been disproportionately affected.

The Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Alexis Wiley, has defending the City’s actions by bringing attention to the unfair nature of forcing paying Detroit residents to “pick up the tab” for those who are not. In fact, some Detroit residents are receiving bills of over $4, 000 because, according to Ms. Wiley, “there are so many people who aren’t paying”.

The city has introduced a plan to help to help its residents pay their bills over the next two years. There have also been private donations made to qualifying residents. According to Ms. de Albequerque, however, this is not enough. The UN officials have recommended the creation of a mandatory federal water and sewage affordability standard and a special allowance for particularly vulnerable persons, such as “persons with disabilities, the chronically ill, and households with small children”.

This past September, federal bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes ruled that there is no right to free water, and that the city could not afford to lose that revenue. While the UN does not have the authority to order the city to end its water shutoff program, and while it is unable to direct the U.S. government to intervene, it has stated that Detroit should restore its water service and only shut off water to those who have the money to pay, but refuse to do so. As of October 20, 2014, there are still roughly 2,300 homes without water.
Check out the Detroit Water Brigade, a volunteer-led alliance seeking to bring emergency relief to Detroit’s residents and advocating under the belief that water is a human right.

For more information, look here, here, here and here.

Woman with intellectual disability sexually assaulted on Winnipeg bus

A woman with an intellectual disability was the victim of sexual assault while riding a Winnipeg bus. CBC reports that a support worker was seated away from the victim, and did not observe the assault until approximately ten minutes after the attack began.  A 46-year year man has been charged by the Winnipeg Police Department. The attack occurred on October 11 during the day.

Activists and disability-rights scholars have noted that people with intellectual disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual assaults. While the victims are often aware that a wrong is being committed to them, a biography of social exclusion can prevent the victim from effectively communicating that an assault has occurred. Doris Rajan of the Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society says to CBC that “[women with intellectual disabilities] don’t have the sense of entitlement [to] their rights and they don’t have the kind of education around their sexuality that children and women [without] disabilities do”. This can make it difficult to put an end to recurrent assaults.

Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs summarize the literature in this area showing a clear pattern of sexual exploitation of women and children with intellectual disabilities. Empirical studies also show that women with intellectual disabilities are more likely to be victims of domestic assaults, and that women and children with physical disabilities are more likely to have experienced unwanted sexual touching.

These statistics, and incidents like the one on the bus, show the ubiquity of sexual assault. It also shows the unique vulnerabilities of people with disabilities. These attacks are embedded in a social and historical context in which women, children, and individuals with disabilities have long been exploited and excluded. While the justice system can help with the commission of punishment if cases are identified and reported, the systemic issue of discrimination and sexual exploitation will require Canadian society to evaluate its principles.


Justin Bourque sentencing phase underway this week in Moncton

Earlier this week, a two day sentencing hearing commenced in Moncton for Justin Bourque, the 24-year old who pleaded guilty to 3 counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of 3 police officers in Moncton earlier this year.

CBC has reported that as a result of a change of Criminal Code sentencing laws in 2011, the ineligibility period of parole for Bourque for these convictions may be as high as 75 years. Crown prosecutor Cameron Gunn is reported to be seeking the maximum parole ineligibility period, whereas defence attorney David Lutz has argued for a parole ineligibility period of 50 years. In argument, Lutz stated that anything besides 50 years would be academic as Bourque would be 99 before being eligible for parole under the maximum ineligibility period. More can be read on these proceedings here.

Today in an interview with the CBC, St. Thomas University criminology professor Karla O’Regan weighed in on the sentencing hearing and called for a more methodological and uniform approach to criminal justice sentencing rather than basing it on potent emotions and reactions of fear. Her entire interview can be seen here.

Problème d’accès à la justice dans la Vallée de Goose Bay, Newfoundland



La peur de parler

Il y a quelques semaines des travaillantes du sexe de Newfoundland ont allégué avoir été victimes d’agressions sexuelles. Elles ont peur de parlé, peur d’être arrêtées, peur d’être traitées comme des prostitués et non comme des victimes d’agression sexuelles, ainsi elles préservent le silence. VICE s’est interrogé sur le pourquoi, pourquoi est-ce que les travaillantes du sexe ne veulent pas parler et pourquoi aucune enquête ne fut entreprise, ils ont réussi à obtenir quelques réponses d’une travaillante du sexe de St-John’s, voir le lien qui suit :


La Cour Suprême tranche: Air Canada a gain de cause

Sur une affaire datant de 2009 portant sur des plaintes déposées auprès du Commissaire aux langues officielles, la plus haute instance du pays s’est rangée du côté d’Air Canada.

Deux résidents francophones d’Ottawa avaient porté plainte concernant trois vols entre Toronto et les États-Unis. En effet, différentes infractions relatives à la Loi sur les langues officielles avaient été commises sur chacun de ces vols. Les tribunaux de première instance, d’appel et même la Cour Suprême le reconnaissent: en tant qu’ancienne société d’État, Air Canada se doit d’utiliser les deux langues officielles dans toutes ses opérations et la compagnie n’a pas respecté ses obligations.

Toutefois, des dommages-intérêts ne peuvent être imposés en vertu de la Loi sur les langues officielles puisque ceci irait à l’encontre de la Convention de Montréal. En effet, cette Convention de 1999 stipule qu’un transporteur ne peut être tenu de payer des dommages qu’en ce qui a trait aux dommages corporels, aux retards et à la perte de bagages.

La Cour invite tout de même les citoyens canadiens à faire valoir leurs droits linguistiques. D’ailleurs elle note que cette décision n’exclut les dommages-intérêts qu’au plan international. Une possibilité de recours plus précis est toujours un aspect à explorer.

Cette décision s’inscrit peu de temps après le rapport annuel de Graham Foster, commissaire aux langues officielles du Canada, qui se disait préoccuper de la stagnation d’Air Canada face au bilinguisme et déplorait le nombre de plaintes reçues quant au transporteur.

Pour plus d’informations …

Suicide, Violence and Over-Crowding Up in UK Prisons

The UK prison system is under fire this month after a comprehensive report was released.

The report details a 69% rise in self-inflicted deaths in prison in just one year, totaling 88. One article cites 125 suicides in 20 months, averaging on 6 suicides a month. The report also details a 14% rise in prisoner-on-prisoner assault, including a 38% rise in serious assault among adult male prisoners. Additionally, it lists a rising problem with drugs.

The report blames overcrowding as the root cause of the problem. The prison system is currently using 99% of “the usable operational capacity”. One group also attributes the problems to massive budget cuts. While the numbers are uncertain, between 27 and 41% of prison jobs have been cut since the election of the Cameron government. Meanwhile, employees who have spoken publicly about the safety implications these job cuts have created are allegedly being reprimanded and may loose their jobs.

For more, see here.

Quebec courts feeling strain of Maple Spring cases

Quebec’s student uprising in the spring and summer of 2012, the Maple Spring, brought new laws and protest response tactics that resulted in hundreds of protestors experiencing fines, detention and arrest. Now, Quebec courts may be feeling the strain.

On October 23, 2014, a municipal court in Montreal dismissed the cases of 75 self-represented litigants who were fined and detained at a protest in April 2012. Judge Gilles Pelletier’s decision rested on the fact that such fines, handed out in large quantities, were creating unreasonable delays in the system. Without a plan provided by the Crown to end the cases within a reasonable time period, Judge Pelletier found the massive resources and time required to process the tickets to be unjustifiable.

The 75 litigants in question had been fined under Montreal bylaw P-6, which was amended during the Maple Spring to allow police to fine protestors wearing masks or people gathering for a protest where the itinerary had not been provided to police.

P-6 continues to be a controversial. In August 2014, the Quebec Superior Court authorized eight class action law suits against the City of Montreal involving police response to protests. The class in question includes over 1600 protestors who were ticketed and claim to have been mistreated by police.

Privacy Bills Continued : Bill S-4

Controversial privacy bills have been moving ahead despite the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on internet privacy laws this summer. The latest in this set to move forward is Bill S-4.

Read the rest of this entry »

Asylum Seekers Win Appeal Against Immigration Department

In February 2014, The Guardian reported that the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (Department) accidentally released the personal information of 10,000 people seeking asylum in Australia. Asylum seekers’ full names, nationalities, location, and arrival date were inadvertently posted on the Department’s public website. The egregious mistake has been labelled as “one of the most serious privacy breaches in Australia’s history.” The breach raised serious questions regarding the possibility of asylum seekers falling prey to retributive actions if they returned to their countries of origin.

In addition to security issues, the breach highlights the Department’s failure to adhere to privacy laws. Australia’s Privacy Act regulates the government’s collection, use, disclosure, and storage of personal information. One of the guiding principles of the Privacy Act requires government organizations in possession of personal information to “take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to protect the information… from unauthorised access, modification or disclosure.” In a statement reported by the The Guardian, the Department acknowledged that the personal information was “vulnerable to unauthorised access,” and internal investigations were ongoing.

Following the breach, several asylum seekers applied to the Federal Circuit Court for orders preventing their deportation and mandating that the security breach be considered when their claims for asylum were processed. The Federal Circuit Court delivered conflicting judgments pertaining to the privacy breaches. Appeals from the Federal Circuit Court judgments were heard together on Friday, October 24, 2014.

The Guardian reported that the Federal Court held that the appeals should be allowed for two of the claimants and the matter was referred back to the Federal Circuit Court. The Federal Court also determined that the Minister of Immigration was obliged to pay costs. The Federal Court Judges took the opportunity to criticize the Minister’s handling of the privacy breach. In particular, the Federal Court was critical of a letter sent to asylum seekers stating that the Department would examine the privacy breach’s impact on the claimants “as part of its normal processes.” However, the Minister’s counsel conceded during the appeal that there was, in fact, no “normal processes” in place.

The written judgment, while not available at the time this article was posted, will be published here in due course.

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