Annual Amnesty International Report Released: Human Rights Situation in South Africa “Pretty Grim”

Amnesty International released its annual report on International Human Rights this week. The report details the status of human rights in countries around the world and highlights areas with room for improvement. The report on South Africa points to access to treatment for people living with HIV, decline in maternal deaths, increase in life expectancy, and improved action against hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity as areas where progress was made in 2014. Unfortunately, there are many areas where human rights are being ignored and progress is stagnant.  Amnesty International South Africa regional director, Deprose Muchena, has stated that the report’s findings about South Africa are “pretty grim.”

 

Problem areas for South Africa include excessive use of force, poor treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and harassment of human rights defenders.  2014 saw the end of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry into the fatal police shootings of 34 striking mine workers in Marikana in 2012. The Inquiry exposed serious excessive use of force by police and indications of officers attempting to conceal and destroy unfavourable evidence. Conditions for refugee and asylum seekers in South Africa continued to deteriorate with numerous instances reported of threats and violence against refugees and asylum seekers and many being displaced. Human rights activists and defenders faced significant harassment and threats as well.

 

To see the full Amnesty International report on South Africa click here.

 

Bill C-51 to receive further scrutiny

The Conservatives have agreed to hold an additional 6 days of meetings on Bill C-51 at the public safety committee of the House, tripling the amount of time the Conservatives originally allocated for hearings on the controversial bill.

The move comes in response to an NDP filibuster and significant criticism (see here, here and here) from academics, terrorism and security experts, and former Prime Minsters and Supreme Court justices regarding the bill’s expansion of surveillance powers and creation of new, vaguely worded criminal charges.  Bill C-51 may also be contrary to previous Supreme Court rulings.

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Manitoba Human Rights Commission releases report on service animals

As Winnipeg Free Press reports, the Manitoba Human Rights Commission has released a report addressing the obligations owed to persons who benefit from the assistance of a service animal. While service animals are commonly understood in the context of persons with physical disabilities, such as guide dogs for persons with visual impairments, concern has arisen about whether obligations are owed where disabilities are less visible and what those obligations may include. For example, persons with developmental or intellectual disabilities, or psychological conditions, may benefit from an animal that provides emotional or therapeutic support.

The report was released after a period of consultation with the public, including representatives of service and residential sectors. The report has six recommendations. Two of those recommendations are the following:

(1)  The Commission will provide this report specifically to the Government of Manitoba and request that the Government review existing legislation to ensure that it is consistent with the definition of “service animal” as it is defined in The Code.

(2) The Commission will develop public awareness materials that provide information about service animals and the extent to which they are used by individuals with disabilities. The materials will specifically focus on the rights and responsibilities of service animal users under The Code and the corresponding obligations of employers, service providers such as restaurant and retail owners, and landlords and condominium boards.

Criteria for “service animal” were not discussed in detail and will need to be developed by the Commission.  Furthermore, Manitoba does not have any standardized identification process for service animals, and there is interest in possibly developing such a program.  The Commission will work collaboratively with organizations representative of service and residential sectors, and the Government of Manitoba to effect these recommendations.

The full report can be found here.

Nunavut Considering Wellness Courts to Assist Mentally Ill and Addicted Offenders

The Nunavut Justice Department is looking into instituting wellness courts in order to assist mentally ill criminal offenders. Wellness courts have been instituted to assist offenders with mental illness and addition disorders. Offenders who suffer from these conditions can be sent to these specialized courts and are subject to intensive monitoring as opposed to incarceration, including regular drug and alcohol testing, lifestyle monitoring, finding a job and place to live, possibly returning to school and therapy. If the terms set out by the wellness court the judge will be able to tale that account during sentencing, which usually becomes probation or community-based sentences.

The Yukon has a wellness court which is very successful and can provide a useful model for Nunavut if the go ahead is given to put a wellness court into play. Advocates for the institution of this court say that this would be useful for the Nunavut community as half of the cases that presently come before courts are committed by offenders with addition and mental health issues. Wellness courts seek to solve the underlying issues that prompt criminal behaviour, and results in Yukon have shown that they are affective.

For more information see the original story here.

Balancing Civil Liberties and Community Safety in the “Era of Terror”

Following the recommendations of the counter-terrorism review from August, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is scheduled to announce changes to national security later today.

The anticipated changes include: developing an anti-extremism strategy, appointing a terrorism coordinator, and simplifying the terror threat alerts system.

To justify the changes, Prime Minister Abbott is expected to reference the rising number of Australians returning home from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Prime Minister Abbott has stated that “[t]housands of young and vulnerable people in the community are susceptible to radicalisation.”

Prime Minister Abbott has warned that the new “Era of Terror” means that Australians must reconsider “where it draws the balance” between civil liberties and community safety.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten noted that while Australians’ safety is a top priority, he is concerned that the Government may be going too far. To this end, he stated: “I don’t believe our nation can only be safe if we get rid of the liberties of people, nor do I believe that the liberties of people in every sense should trump national security.”

A well-known human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside QC, took a more cynical approach to the proposed changes. While questioning the Prime Minister’s motivation, Mr. Burnside stated that “there’s a real risk that he’s [Prime Minister Abbott] doing this in order to play on community fears and thereby gain a bit of political popularity.”

New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry: Allegations of Police Corruption

Established 12 November 2012, the New South Wales (NSW) parliamentary inquiry into “Operation Prospect” began hearings on 29 January 2015. Operation Prospect was the name given to the Ombudsman inquiry into “Operation Mascot Florida.”

Operation Mascot Florida was a 15-year-long internal investigation into police corruption.

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas stated that Operation Mascot Florida involved illegal surveillance of police officers, and that while the purpose of the investigation was to root out corruption in the force, officers used the Operation to pursue personal vendettas against their colleagues.

According to Mr. Kaldas, his office and home were bugged, as well as the home of his former wife. Mr. Kaldas claims that he was wrongly targeted.

As of February 10, 2015, the Committee decided that it would no longer publish any submissions online.

The Committee’s final report is scheduled to be released on February 25, 2015.

Victims’ Rights

On Friday February 20th,  Parliament, members are scheduled to give third reading debate to the Victims Bill of Rights Act (Bill C-32), for its only allotted day at this stage. Bill C-32, An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain Acts seeks to secure statutory rights to victims of crime. Some of these rights include a right to protection, right to participation, and the right to restitution. The Bill would also amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Some of these amendments include permitting victims to have access to information about the offender’s progress in relation to the offender’s correction plan and to permit the disclosure of information to victims concerning an offender’s deportation before the expiration of the offender’s sentence. The Bill was introduced in April 2014 and was sponsored by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

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Freedom of Religion Violations Added to List of Complaints Concerning Canada’s ‘Cardboard Prison’

The Baffin Correctional Centre is one of many correctional facilities in Canada housing presumptively innocent persons in pre-trial custody. A Muslim inmate, speaking anonymously to the CBC, alleges that while on remand he was unable to freely practice his religion:

”Staff here told me that I don’t need to practise my religion because I might become radical,” he says. “I asked for no pork or no ham or bacon, and they just gave me what has touched bacon or ham, but I have refused those meals.”

Additional concerns regarding inmate treatment at the facility were detailed in a 2013 Office of the Correctional Investigator Report, obtained by the CBC. According to the report “[the Baffin Correctional Centre] has been grossly overcrowded for many years, and it is now well past its life expectancy. The current state of disrepair and crowding are nothing short of appalling, and negatively impacts on both inmates and staff.”

The report describes in detail the shortcomings that plague this troubled correctional facility. It states that 70% of the inmates are presumptively innocent and being held in remand awaiting trial, but goes on to note that infrastructual problems prevent segregation of those on remand from those serving custodial sentences.

The report concludes that the “[Baffin Correctional Centre] is past its best before date, and needs to be closed and replaced by a new facility or facilities. BCC physical infrastructure is not safe for either staff or inmates, and hinders the ability of NU Corrections to fulfil its legal mandate of humane custody and rehabilitation.”

Sources:

Muslim says he’s not allowed to practise religion at Baffin Correctional Centre

Baffin Correctional Centre ‘appalling’ and should be closed, report says

Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator (Canada)on the Baffin Correctional Centre and theLegal and Policy Framework of Nunavut Corrections

Human Rights Commission’s report into children in detention tabled by the government

On 11 February 2015, The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission was tabled by the Australian Parliament.

The report has called for a royal commission after finding 233 recorded assaults involving children and 33 incidents of reported sexual assault. It also reported  207 incidents of “actual self harm” and 436 incidents of threatened self harm. In addition, high rates of physical and mental illness have also been discovered among the child detainees.

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BC Advocacy Group Leads Battle For Improved Veterans’ Benefits

Tensions between Veteran Affairs and unhappy veterans have been intensifying over the last year. The Canadian government introduced the New Veterans Charter (NVC) in 2006, and since then complaints about reduced funding, failures to meet obligations, and massive red tape hurdles have resulted in discontent amongst Canadian veterans. Equitas, a group of injured Afghan veterans based in BC, filed a class-action lawsuit arguing that the NVC violated their Charter rights, because it removed lifetime disability payments for injured military personnel and replaced it with a lump sum payment instead.

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