Significant Decline in Spoiled Ballots in NB Election

The CBC reported today on the dramatic decrease in spoiled ballots during the most recent election. There were 1611 spoiled ballots cast in the New Brunswick Election and this is alarming because it is half of what was casted in the 2010 election and 1000 votes less than the record low. The explanation behind this significant drop is the electronic tabulators and the influence it had on a voter’s ability to cast protest votes.

A protest vote is a means for a citizen to participate democratically but express dissatisfaction for the choice of candidates by not selecting any of them. The electronic tabulators only counted votes of ballots that were filled out properly and rejected those that were not. If the tabulators rejected a ballot, the operators asked voters if they wanted to revote. New Brunswick voters interviewed in the article expressed a sense of violation when questioned about their choice. Wayne Anderson of Sackville opted not to revote but speculated that many persons did. The reason being that there is a certain stigma to casting a ballot that is rejected. The secrecy of the ballot is fundamental to democratic systems. Voters should not feel the need to explain their choice.

Elections NB submitted a 2007 decision by Ontario Superior Court of Justice concerning a recount where 96 votes were rejected because persons did not properly make their selection (Di Biase v. Vaughan (City), 2007 38388 (ON SC)). This decision criticized election officials for not activating the tabulators to notify elections officers when a vote was not properly received. However, it is not the place of Ontario superior court decision to impact the secrecy of voters in New Brunswick Elections. The use of electronic tabulators and the impact on protest votes and accordingly, the secrecy of the ballot is a legal question that requires an answer if electronic systems will continue to be used.

Source Article

New Australian law gives spy agency extensive surveillance powers

Last Wednesday, the “National Security Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014″ passed both houses of the Australian Parliament and is now awaiting Royal Assent. This new law dramatically increases the powers of Australia’s domestic spy agency, ASIO, giving it the ability to monitor all of the Australian Internet with a single warrant. It could also send anyone who “recklessly” discloses information that “relates to a special intelligence operation” to jail for up to 10 years. And any operation can be declared as “special”. Many lawyers and academics have criticized the law for being too broad and fear the agency will abuse this power.

Read more here.

Quebecor Conflict of Interest Rears its Head Again in PQ Leadership Race

UPDATE November 28, 2014: Pierre Karl Péladeau has now confirmed that he will run for leadership of the Parti Québécois.

Conflicts of interest involving Parti Quebecois Member of the National Assembly (MNA) Pierre Karl Péladeau were at the surface again on October 4, as provincial PQ MNAs met to decide the details of their party’s upcoming leadership race.

Péladeau, or PKP as he is known in Québec, caused major debate when he decided to run for MNA in his riding of St-Jérôme in April 2014. As he is majority shareholder of Québec’s dominant media conglomerate, Quebecor, PKP faced intense criticism when he announced that he would not sell his shares if elected. Quebecor owns Videotron, a large telecommunications company, and a number of media outlets including Sun Media Corporation, the largest press group in Canada. Quebecor posted gross sales of $4.3 billion in 2013.

Now, Péladeau is emerging as a very likely, and popular, candidate in the upcoming PQ leadership race. His potential opponent, fellow MNA Jean-François Lisée, has called on Péladeau again to end his conflict of interest by either selling his Quebecor shares or putting them in a blind trust.

“You cannot be head of a party, let alone Premier, and control the first media in Québec,” Lisée was quoted as saying Saturday.

Meanwhile, it seems other PQ MNAs have remained relatively silent on the issue while PKP has again affirmed the shares will not be sold. The National Assembly’s ethics commissioner is expected to make a ruling on the situation in mid-October.


First Nations Blockade Opening of St Martian Channel

The National Post reports that Interlake First Nations communities have established a blockade on Lake St. Martin to prevent reopening of an emergency channel. Protesters contend that opening the emergency channel will damage the fishing industry in the region while the province argues that the channel will help reduce flooding in southern Manitoba. The blockade has led the Manitoban government to threaten legal action and officials have already contacted the RCMP for assistance.

Notably the protests have occurred in the context of a recent Supreme Court decision on Aboriginal land title rights. In Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia, where ownership rights have not been signed away in treaties, “… the court recognized the existence of aboriginal title on a particular site…” and defined Aboriginal title as”… control [over...]  ancestral lands and the right to use them for modern economic purposes, without destroying those lands for future generations.” The court also recognized that in some instances governments would be able to intrude on these land rights where Aboriginal interests are reconciled with wider public purposes.

For more information, please refer to the Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia decision here.

Moncton shootings: The challenge of detaining someone who poses a risk

The fatal shootings in Moncton New Brunswick, of three RCMP officers, and wounding two others, reveals the challenges that parents face when they worry that their child may cause harm to themselves or the public. When the police get called, the only way they can detain somebody or take them to hospital is if they are a danger to themselves or others. However, gathering enough proof can be difficult.

The CBC reports that the father of Moncton shooting suspect, Justin Bourque, and his wife attempted to get help for their son from police, however they were told they couldn’t do anything about it. His Facebook page, which exhibited posts about gun rights, did not reveal anything that could have been used to detain him.

Anthony Moustacalis, president of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association commented on this difficult balance. He stated, “Ultimately we live in a society that quite rightly values civil liberties, and that means you don’t take someone’s liberty away, even if they’re not well mentally, unless you have a proper legal basis. And where we’ve drawn the line is they have to be a threat to themselves or someone else.”


Moncton may ban giving money to panhandlers

CBC reports that Moncton politicians are considering implementing an anti-panhandling bylaw, which would outlaw panhandlers from asking for money and people from giving it to them. City councillors expressed their support of the bylaw earlier this week. The general manager of community safety services for the City of Moncton maintained that presently the proposal is merely a consideration.

Many Moncton residents have complained of the persistent panhandlers asking for money downtown. However, the proposal is gaining mixed reviews as some would like rules to control panhandlers and others worry the bylaw goes too far. In the meantime, the city is installing a camera and the RCMP have two officers who will be permanently downtown during the summer.

Moncton is not the only city facing pressure to control downtown panhandling. A business group in Fredericton has also been receiving complaints about aggressive panhandlers. They would like a bylaw that distinguishes between panhandlers and buskers, who perform and ask for donations.


Nova Scotia Union Files Court Challenge Over New Home-care Labour Law

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) has filed a statement of claim against the provincial government of Nova Scotia, challenging the Essential Home-Support Services (2014) Act, reports the Cape Breton Post. The NSGEU claims the Act violates the rights of home-support workers to bargain collectively. The Union also claims that the Act is discriminatory towards women since around 90% of the home-support workers affected are female.

The legislation was passed on March 1, 2014, in order to end a one-day strike of approximately 400 of the province’s home-support workers. The provincial government claims the Act does not remove the right to strike, writes the Globe and Mail. Premier Stephen McNeil states that the legislation, which prohibits home-support workers from striking, is in place to protect vulnerable citizens until a collective agreement is arranged that outlines what workers are considered essential.

The Essential Home-support Services (2014) Act can be read here.




Voices-Voix: Silencing Dissent in Canada

Voices-Voix is a national, non-partisan coalition of Canadians and organizations in Canada committed to advocating for rights to dissent and democratic space across the country. The organization was founded on April 21, 2010 when over 100 representatives from some of the country’s most reputable organizations gathered in Ottawa to discuss increasing attacks by the federal government. Decisions of the coalition are made by consensus, and today, more than 219 organizations are members of the coalition. That number continues to grow.

Recently, the organization launched a web video series — “Silencing Dissent in Canada” — which features three Canadian leaders:

Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada

John Bennett, Executive Director of the Sierra Club Canada

Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy

As of April 2013, 81 cases of silencing dissent by the Government of Canada have been documented, including: Environment – 8.6%, Immigrants and Refugees – 7.4%, Military and Veterans – 8.6%, International Development – 8.6%, Watchdogs – 19.8%, Aboriginal Peoples – 9.9%, Women – 12.3%, and Other Targets at 24.7%.

32 years of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Today, April 17th, marks the 32nd anniversary of the establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as part of Canada’s Constitution Act. Liberal MP Irwin Cotler and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, now Professor Emeritus at McGill University, has written a thoughtful and reflective opinion editorial in The Globe and Mail:

“On this Charter anniversary, let us reflect upon all that Canada has gained from the Charter in its short existence, and appreciate the contributions the document has made alongside the role of women and minorities in its crafting. All Canadians should be proud of this monumental constitutional moment, and look forward to having an inspiring reason to celebrate April 17 in years to come.”

Mr. Cotler also reflects on the Charter‘s role in fostering a sense of justice, equality, and fairness for all:

“Simply put, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is promotive and protective of what the pursuit of justice is all about. It is promotive and protective not only of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, but the equal dignity and worth of all human beings – where one can aspire to a society which celebrates both equality and human dignity – a society which not only speaks to us in terms of who we are – that recognizes the dignity of difference – but also in terms of what we as Canadians, both collectively and individually, can aspire to be.”

Edward Snowden: “technology represents the most significant new threat to civil liberties in modern times.”

Speaking from Moscow to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, whistleblower Edward Snowden provided live testimony, declaring:

“Technology represents the most significant new threat to civil liberties in modern times” (8 April 2014).

"Edward Snowden speaks via video link with members of the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg" (The Guardian).

Prominent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were alarmed to learn that the National Security Agency (NSA) in both the United States and the United Kingdom have intercepted telephone and information exchanges from high-level human rights staff. Snowden stated:

“The NSA has specifically targeted either leaders or staff members in a number of civil and non-governmental organisations…including domestically within the borders of the United States.”

Asked if the NSA had intercepted “highly sensitive and confidential communications,” Snowden replied: “The answer is, without question, yes. Absolutely.”

Snowden emphasized the wide-scale implications of these practices on reputable human rights organizations, and the safety of their human rights workers and staff, and how data-mining practices violate European Union privacy laws, including XKeyscore. He mentioned the NSA operated a “de facto policy of guilt by association.” The Guardian stated:

“XKeyscore allows analysts to search with no prior authorisation through vast databases containing emails, online chats, and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

In response to those who criticize his [Snowden's] outspoken account of the inner-workings of the NSA as a former analyst:

“I would like to clarify I have no intention to harm the US government or strain [its] bilateral ties.”

The Council of Europe defended the organization’s choice to invite Snowden’s testimony:

“Edward Snowden has triggered a massive public debate on privacy in the internet age. We hope to ask him what his revelations mean for ordinary users and how they should protect their privacy and what kind of restrictions Europe should impose on state surveillance.”

Amnesty International UK issued a press release following stark revelations. Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International Senior Director of International Law and Policy, stated:

“These allegations, if substantiated, would confirm our long-held fears that state intelligence agencies like the NSA and GCHQ have been subjecting human rights organisations to mass surveillance all along.

This raises the very real possibility that our communications with confidential sources have been intercepted. Sharing this information with other governments could put human rights defenders the world over in imminent danger.

When these concerns were raised before the US Supreme Court, they were dismissed as being ‘speculative’. Snowden’s latest revelation shows that these concerns are far from theoretical – they are a very real possibility.

We now need a full and frank disclosure of the extent of these surveillance programmes as well as water-tight legal guarantees against such indiscriminate surveillance in the future.”

NB: this opinion editorial was written in a personal capacity and does not represent the views of any of the organizations noted above.

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