Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil apologizes to former residents of Nova Scotia’s Home for Colored Children

October 10, 2014 – On Friday, Premier McNeil apologized to former residents of Nova Scotia’s Home for Colored Children. Former residents of the Halifax orphanage allege they suffered physical, sexual and psychological abuse for decades at the hands of orphanage staff. For years, demands for an apology had gone unanswered.

McNeil’s formal apology comes on the heels of a $34 million settlement in a class action lawsuit launched by former residents against the home and the Province.

Community groups and former residents welcome the apology, but make it clear that the apology is just the first step in a larger struggle to render visible the injustices of this long, somber chapter in Nova Scotia’s history.

A public inquiry into the experiences of the home’s former residents is to begin next year.

For more on this story, click HERE.


Brutal Video Footage Depicting RCMP Treatment of Robert Wright Re-Ignites Calls for Investigation

Nearly two years ago, Robert Wright’s experience in a Terrace, B.C. jail cell left him in hospital requiring twelve stitches and sustaining a traumatic brain injury. A recently released video of the event has sparked further shock and renewed calls for an investigation.

Wright was taken into custody by Terrace RCMP in April 2012, after authorities received a call from his wife requesting police assistance. The video of the incident shows three officers present in the cell with Wright, who is handcuffed and kneeling. Despite being verbally combative, Wright appears to pose no immediate threat to the officers, when he is thrown to the floor by one of them. The pool of blood which rapidly forms around Wright’s head is the unfortunate foreshadowing of the severe and irreversible injuries he has contended with since. Wright now suffers from significant memory loss and requires around-the-clock care from his wife, Heather Prisk-Wright.

Wright has filed a lawsuit against the RCMP officer who allegedly assaulted him. The case was previously investigated by the New Westminster Police Department, but the recommended charges against at least one RCMP officer were not approved. The Crown relied on expert reports, as well as video and audio (which had not yet been disclosed to the public) in declining to proceed to trial. The BC government has not acted on a request by the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs calling for the province to appoint a special prosecutor to review the case.

The release of the video has prompted familiar and largely unaddressed concerns about the treatment of Aboriginal peoples within Canada’s justice system. Grand Chief Steward Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs has highlighted the need for accountability and change, remarking: “When will the violence against Indigenous people stop in this province? This video shows how little value was placed on Robert Wright’s humanity. He can never go back.” Time will show if the government and justice system will go back on Wright’s behalf, to provide a transparent and thorough explanation.


To view the video click HERE. WARNING: Link contains offensive language.


8 Year-Old Transgender Girl Told She Cannot Use Girls’ Washroom

A Manitoba school informed one of its students, Isabella Burgos, that she is no longer allowed to use the girls’ washroom. Isabella, who was born male, informed her parents over the summer of her gender identity. Her parents said to Global Winnipeg that the staff and students were supportive at first, allowing the eight-year old girl to use both the gender neutral and girls’ washrooms. The attitude changed when a parent of one of the other students expressed disapproval.

According to reports from CTV News and Global Winnipeg, the River East Transcona School Division has characterized the policy as consistent with guidelines provided by the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, an administrative body responsible for adjudicating complaints under Manitoba’s The Human Rights Code. The guidelines suggest how protected characteristics can be reasonably accommodated.

Isabella’s parents disagree with the school division’s interpretation of The Human Rights Code and have filed a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission.


Bill C-36

In December 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the prostitution laws because they violated prostitutes’ right to safety. The Supreme Court proposed that Parliament bring in a new law within a year. Six months later in June, Bill C-36 was introduced by Justice Minister Peter Mackay.

Earlier in September, the National Post reported that: “Justice Minister Peter Mackay defended his prostitution bill Tuesday as a balanced policy that criminalizes the purchase of sex but gives prostitutes “immunity” from prosecution so they can ply their trade more safely”

In summary, the Bill creates an offence that prohibits purchasing sexual services or communicating these services in any place. The Bill criminalizes the buying of sex for consideration. The penalties include up to five years of incarceration and minimum, cash fines that go up after a first offence. Sex workers also face penalties under the Bill. For example, it would be illegal to discuss the sale of sex in certain areas and it would also be illegal for a person to get a “material benefit” from the sale of sexual services by anyone other than themselves. The Bill creates an offence that prohibits the advertisement of sexual services offered for sale and authorizes the courts to order the seizure of materials containing such advertisements and their removal from the internet. The Bill also expands the definition of a weapon to include: “any thing used, designed to be used or intended for use in binding or tying up a person against their will”.

On October 2nd, the National Post reported that in response to the Senate hearing on the Bill, former dominatrix Terri-Jean Bedford threatened to reveal the names of politicians she claims to have employed sex workers.  The opposition parties opposed the Bill and there have been many critics of the proposed Criminal Code amendments since.

The government has allegedly pledged $20 million over five years in order to help sex workers to get out of the trade. However, Parliament has not specified how this money is to be spent.

Bill C-36 can be found here on the Parliament of Canada website.


The Burqa Ban: Thinly Veiled Discrimination

On Thursday, the Australian Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) released a circular outlining a new security measure that segregates Muslim women who wear face veils from other visitors to Parliament. The so-called “burqa ban” is an interim measure, which follows Liberal Sentator Cory Bernardi’s request to have burqas banned entirely from Parliament.

Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that the Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, found the burqa “a fairly confronting form of attire” and “wish[ed] it was not worn.”

The divisive statements prompted an immediate outcry from human rights commissioners, politicians, and the Muslim community. Tim Soutphommasane, the Race Discrimination Commissioner, stated: “No one should be treated like a second-class citizen, not least in their own parliament.”

Following the backlash, the Prime Minister has allegedly asked Speaker Bronwyn Bishop and Senate President Stephen Parry to reconsider the new security measure. As of midday Friday, a spokesperson for the Speaker denied having received any such request from the Prime Minister or his office.

The need for the “burqa ban” has been couched in terms of national security and the facilitation of proper identification, leaving the impression that the public gallery in Parliament is riddled with extremists in disguise.  In reality, the Prime Minister himself has noted that, “as far as we are aware, no one has ever sought to enter into the building so attired.” As Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull notes: “We don’t want to have debates like this being turned into some sort of coded attack on the Muslim community.”

SCC Asked to Block Romeo Phillion’s Wrongful Prosecution Lawsuit

This past October 2nd was the first annual Wrongful Conviction Day. Spearheaded by the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted (AIDWYC), the day aims to draw attention to wrongful convictions by raising public awareness. Not coincidentally, one of the worst cases of a wrongful conviction in Canada is currently making national headlines. Romeo Phillion, the longest serving Canadian inmate to have a murder conviction overturned, now faces a new challenge in his wrongful prosecution lawsuit.

The Ottawa Police Service and the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General are applying to the Supreme Court to block Phillion’s lawsuit for prosecutorial misconduct. Phillion’s lawyer, David Robins, claims that this move is simply an attempt to delay proceedings in the hope that Phillion, now in his mid-70′s, passes away while the suit is appealed.

Leave has not yet been granted to hear the appeal, however, AIDWYC and other supporters and interveners are in stark opposition to the move, and believe that Phillion’s lawsuit should be heard on its merits alone.

Phillion’s case hilights one of the most common causes of wrongful convictions: false confessions. In 1972, he was convicted of second degree murder in the death of Ottawa firefighter Leopold Roy, based on a confession that he recanted almost immediately. He was sentenced to life imprisonment, and astonishingly, refused to seek parole as he believed that would amount to an admission of guilt. He ultimately spent 31 years in prison.

After years of attempted appeals, the Federal Government finally referred the case to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2009, where his conviction was quashed and a new trial ordered. As part of its review, the Court found that police had initially verified an alibi that proved Phillion’s innocence. However, this was never disclosed to the defence, as some investigators at the time felt that it was likely untrue. Following that decision, the Crown withdrew the murder charge on the basis that too much time had passed since the original trial, and there would be no reasonable prospect of conviction.

Read the rest of this entry »

Saskatchewan Judges Failing to Implement Gladue

Retired British Columbia Judge Cunliffe Barnett, said that judges in Saskatchewan have been reluctant to implement Gladue principled sentencing, reports the Star Phoenix. In both Gladue and Ipeelee, the Supreme Court of Canada mandated that Aboriginal circumstances be taken into account during sentencing. Section 718.2(e) of the Criminal Code provides that “all available sanctions or options other than imprisonment that are reasonable in the circumstances should be considered…with particular attention to the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders.” Gladue reports provide a judge with details about the unique life circumstances of First Nation, Métis and Inuit people and offer recommendations for sentencing. In Saskatchewan, Gladue factors are taken into account in sentencing, but Gladue reports have been underutilized.

Barnett drew attention to Trevor Machiskinic’s recent twelve month sentence for aggravated assault. Machiskinic, a young Aboriginal man, spent time in a residential school and in foster homes during his youth, and was found to have limited intellectual abilities. His case was one of the first in the province where a full Gladue report was prepared. Barnett argued Justice Mona Dovell appeared to pay “only scant attention to it.” Mr. Machiskinic’s case is currently on appeal.

Wheelchair user says basic human rights are being ignored in N.S.

After suffering from Encephalitis, Halifax-resident Denise Fitzgerald became wheelchair-bound and was released from the hospital this past January, writes Global News . It was this experience that caused her to notice the accessibility issues in Halifax. Finding accessible apartments, medical offices, stores, restaurants in Halifax is a challenge, according to Fitzgerald.

Nova Scotia has the highest per capita percentage of self-identifying persons with disabilities, writes Global News. The Minister of Community Services, Joanne Bernard, who responsible for the Disabled Persons Commission, said that last month an advisory panel was created to look at accessibility legislation. The goal of the advisory panel is to design accessibility legislation what will be introduced in 2016.


Debate about doctors’ right to refuse treatment for religious reasons re-ignited

The Ontario College of Physicians and Surgeons is conducting a policy review that is renewing the debate surrounding whether doctors should be allowed to refuse treatment due to their religious beliefs, writes the Ottawa Citizen. Currently, there are three doctors that work at an Ottawa CareMedics walk-in clinic that refuse to prescribe birth control because of their religious views, outlining their position by distributing flyers to patients.

The Ottawa Citizen explains that, under the currently policy, “doctors have the right to refuse treatments and procedures for religious or moral reasons as long as they communicate their position clearly, advise patients of all potential options, advise patients they can see another physician and treat patients with respect.”

The policy review is part of a routine human rights code check. The College is asking the public and doctors for their opinions and feedback on the issue. It will also have consultations with other groups, including the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The new policy will be published by the end of the year.

On the College’s website, the response to the poll question, “Do you think a physician should be allowed to refuse to provide a patient with a treatment or procedure because it conflicts with the physician’s religious or moral beliefs?” has been met with 70% of people answering no.

Manitoban Mayorial Candidate is Target of Racism

After a debate in St Boniface, CBC News reports that Robert-Falcon Ouellette, a 37 year old Aboriginal Program Director  at the University of Manitoba, received racist comments on his Facebook page because he had argued entirely in French.  St Boniface is an area of the Winnipeg city that is the centre of the Franco-Manitoban community and Ouellette had spoken French to honour the hosts of the debate. But as a result of the decision, he received abusive messages criticizing his Aboriginal and French background.

For Oulette, this has not been the first time he has faced prejudice. He acknowledged that despite his many years of education and service to his country, there would still be some who cared more about his background than his campaign platform. Other candidates, including Dan Vandal, a Métis, had also faced racism while campaigning. Despite these incidents, many believe that the prejudice is not representative of the city and are hopeful about the prospects of electing a mayor from a diverse background.

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