UK News: Court rules Journalist’s Detention was Legal under Terrorism Law

Last August, former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald’s parter David Miranda was detained and interrogated for nine hours at Heathrow Airport under the Terrorism Act of 2000 during which time Miranda’s lawyers argue his mobile phone, laptop, DVDs and other items were seized. Today, the Divisional Court of the UK High Court of Justice admitted that Miranda’s detention was “an indirect interference with press freedom,” but held that it was justified and legitimate due to “very pressing” issues of national security.

At the time of his detention, Brazilian national Miranda was transporting secret documents leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden between two journalists: Laura Poitras in Berlin and Glenn Greenwald in Rio de Janeiro. At the time Greenwald worked for The Guardian, but now both are journalists for newly-launched The Intercept.

Reaction to this morning’s ruling by civil liberties and press freedom groups has been widespread and critical.

Antoine Héry of campaign group Reporters Without Borders said:

“Once again, press freedom in the UK suffers from a confusion between journalism and terrorism by the authorities.”

Vincent Peyrègne of the World Association of Newspaper and News Publishers said:

“The future of serious public interest journalism in the UK has been dealt a serious blow by the court’s refusal to recognise that journalists also have a vital role in defending democracy.”

Leading civil liberties group Liberty stated in a press release:

“If such a barefaced abuse of power is lawful then the law must change. Miranda’s treatment showed Schedule 7 for what it is: a chillingly over-broad power, routinely misused. People are held and interrogated for hours, their property confiscated while they’re swabbed for saliva – all without any suspicion that they’ve done anything wrong.”

The Guardian newspaper was also critical and said:

“The judgment takes a narrow view of what ‘journalism’ is in the 21st century and a very wide view of the definition of ‘terrorism’. We find that disturbing.”

Members of the UK government, past and present, have also weighed in.

Former Tory shadow home secretary David Davis MP expressed strong criticism:

“This case is yet another example of heavy-handed overuse of terrorism powers that parliament entrusted the agencies with, notably stop and search, retention of DNA and the increasing mass storage of our metadata.  We have to question whether these actions of government agencies are actually increasing the security of the British people more than they are undermining our traditional liberties.”

Julian Huppert, a Liberal Democrat member of the home affairs select committee, suggests the real issues lies with the legislation itself:

“We have already made some changes to the law which are about to take effect, but I think there is still more to do.”

The Metropolitan Police who were responsible for Miranda’s detention, however, have welcomed the decision. Deputy Assistant Commissioner Helen Ball said:

“This was a very important case that has attracted considerable public attention. Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is vital in helping to keep the public safe. We are pleased that the court’s judgment states that “the stop was lawful; it was also on the evidence, a pressing imperative in the interests of national security’.”

Miranda is expected to appeal, but it is not yet known whether his appeal will be allowed. In statement released by The Intercept, Miranda said:

“I will appeal this ruling, and keep appealing until the end, not because I care about what the British government calls me, but because the values of press freedom that are at stake are too important to do anything but fight until the end.”

Beyond the ruling on the legality of Miranda’s detention, the judgement also reveals important insight into the level of surveillance experienced by journalist. Paragraph 9 and 11 of the judgement suggest that the GCHQ (UK version of the NSA) has been actively monitoring communications between Journalists Glenn Greenwald, David Miranda, Eward Snowden, and Laura Poitras.

Miranda’s case is an important test of the UK’s attitude towards journalism in an era of mass surveillance and expansive anti-terrorism legislation.  In my view, it strongly undermines freedom of the press protections by allowing journalists who expose whistleblowers’ secrets to be branded as criminals, or even terrorists, themselves. In the balance between National Security and Freedom of the Press, we must never underestimate the importance of information.  We must value the profession of journalism and afford them the protections necessary to safely and confidentially carry out their jobs, because a true democracy is an informed democracy.

Québec’s Bill-52 (Euthanasia) & SCC Implications

Conflict at the end-of-life, particularly between families and healthcare providers, involves many complex factors: differing opinions surrounding a patient’s prognosis, cultural differences, moral values and religious beliefs, associated costs, internal family dynamics, and of course, legal ramifications.
Recently, Véronique Hivon, Minister for Social Services and Youth Protection for the governing Parti Québécois in Québec, introduced Bill 52: An Act Respecting End-of-Life Care.
The purpose of this Act is to ensure that end-of-life patients are provided care that is respectful of their dignity and their autonomy. The Act establishes the rights of such patients as well as the organization of and a framework for end-of-life care so that everyone may have access, throughout the continuum of care, to quality care that is appropriate to their needs, including prevention and relief of suffering.
Bill-52 has sparked immense debate throughout Québec and across Canada. National Assembly legislators and Québec civil society continues to engage in a polarizing debate as Québec aims to become the first province to legalize euthanasia. The bill, expected to pass as early as this week, will have far-reaching implications for healthcare decision-making for families, healthcare providers, religious groups, and others.
Currently, the U.S. states of Washington, Oregon and Vermont allow physician-assisted suicide, but not euthanasia, when patients are within months of dying; other countries, such as Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, have similar laws. In fact, Belgium recently became the first country to expand euthanasia laws to children (Feb. 13, 2014.)
If Bill 52 passes, it is likely to make its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Other cases have been reviewed in the past. One of the most seminal decisions involved Ms. Sue Rodriguez, a woman who suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and, in 1992-93, challenged the validity of Section 241(b) of the Criminal Code. At both the British Columbia Court of Appeal and British Columbia Supreme Court Rodriguez claimed this provision violated Sections 7 (the right to “life, liberty and security of the person”), 12 (protection from “cruel and unusual punishment”) and 15 (equality rights) of the Charter. The case made its way to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court rendered a 5-4 decision on September 30, 1993, dismissing Rodriguez’s appeal, and upheld the status quo — prohibiting rights to physician-assisted suicide. In 1994, Ms. Rodriguez ended her own life with the assistance of an unknown physician.
On April 21, 2010, the Bloc Québécois-proposed Bill C-384: An Act to amend the Criminal Code (Right to Die with Dignity) was defeated at second reading by a vote of 228-59, after introduction by MP Francine Lalonde. There was a free vote, which received support across party lines.
The high-profile case raised many ethical and constitutional dilemmas, which are not unique to Ms. Rodriguez’s case or Bill 52 before the Québec National Assembly today, but the issue has certainly received renewed national attention. On January 16, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear a British Columbia couple’s appeal, from a lawsuit originally filed in 2011 with the assistance of the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA). The original plaintiffs, Lee Carter and Hollis Johnson, were members of Kay Carter’s family, who sued the government on behalf of their relative who travelled to a Switzerland clinic in 2010 to die by choice, after Kay Carter was denied physician-assisted suicide in Canada. Gloria Taylor, a woman with ALS who later joined the plaintiffs, died in 2012. The British Columbia Supreme Court overturned the assisted-suicide law, which was later challenged by the Canadian government and reinstated, in a 2-1 decision, by the British Columbia Court of Appeal. The BCCLA has now been granted leave from the country’s top court. Grace Pastine, litigation director with the BCCLA stated:
“There are few rights more fundamental, or more deeply personal, than the right to determine how much suffering to endure and whether to seek a doctor’s assistance to hasten death if living becomes unbearable.”
Clearly much remains to monitor at the Supreme Court. This entry has been adapted from a recent academic paper written by Matthew Ponsford, which can be accessed via Ponsford.

Québec’s Secular Charter: Former Supreme Court Justices Speak Out

It is a topic seldom discussed in Canadian politics: the lives, and influences, of former Supreme Court of Canada justices.

The power SCC justices can possess while retired from the bench is being displayed in full-force with the clashing views of former Supreme Court justices Claire L’Heureux-Dubé (1987-2002) and Louise Arbour (1999-2004).

The comments stem from Québec’s controversial proposal of Bill-60: “Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests” introduced during the 1st session of the 40th legislature of Québec’s National Assembly.

Louise Arbour published an Opinion Piece in La Presse, entitled “Choisissons la générosité” (“choose the generosity”). Ms. Arbour stated:

“Let us remember how easy it is to restrict the freedom of others, especially when this initiative comes at no cost to those who advocate it.”

But Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, called to the bar in 1952, has a different view:

“In my opinion, religion is foremost an internal commitment,” she said. “Religious signs are part of the displaying of religious beliefs, and not part of the practice of religion. All state employees are subject to standards of loyalty and restrictions on their freedom of political speech, which was upheld by the courts. Why would the freedom of religious expression be different?”

Full commentary from The Globe and Mail‘s article can be viewed here. What do you think of the Parti Québécois’ Bill-60?

L’ONU inquiète de la situation des droits de la personne en Égypte

Le Haut-Commissariat aux Droits de l’Homme (OHCHR) de l’ONU est très préoccupé par les troubles civiles qui perdurent en Égypte et par la situation des droits de la personne qui semble se dégrader dans le pays. Ce-matin, un porte-parole de l’organisme s’inquiétait des récentes arrestations de journalistes dans le pays et appelait le gouvernement à ne pas restreindre indûment la liberté d’expression. En début de semaine, c’était la Haute-Commissaire aux Droits de l’Homme elle-même qui condamnait les violences dans le pays et appelait tant les manifestants que les forces de l’ordre à faire preuve de retenue.

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McGill Concedes, Students Have a Right to Know

It’s a good day for student activism and general transparency at McGill. Though students involved are hesitant to call the settlement a victory, an ongoing access to information (ATI) lawsuit in which McGill attempted to block students from filing ATIs has been settled.  In short, it means that a variety of long-term requests will be fulfilled and future students will not be prevented from filing new ATIs.

This settlement comes after McGill filed a motion at the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec to fight a series of unrelated ATIs that they deemed to be “abusive because of their systematic nature,” which the legal counsel for the respondents deemed legally unprecedented.

Amongst the information slated for release by McGill in late February as part of the settlement are documents about the university’s sexual assault complaints and the university’s involvement with fossil fuel extraction, mining, and military research. As part of the settlement, some students also agreed to drop their requests. According to The Daily, these pertain an occupation of the James Administration building in the winter of 2012. The settlement also means that students who filed a complaint against McGill before the oversight division of the Commission d’accès à l’information du Québec will withdraw their complaint.

Student activists and university administrators alike are hesitant to call this a victory.  McGill’s secretary-general, Stephen Strople, told The Daily that “[t]he University does not see this as a ‘win-lose’ situation.” Respondent Isaac Stethem reminded The Daily that “the University does have a history of very heavily redacting some of the documents it releases” so it is important to wait and see what the documents released in late February look like while Respondent Kevin Paul wants to “avoid defining victory through the terms of a legal dispute” and considers “an important victory not only the actual disclosure of information but the freedom to act on that information.”

Click here to read the full settlement and here to read the McGill Daily article by Molly Korab.

To learn more about student activism around McGill’s environmental impact, visit Divest McGill and around McGill’s military ties, visit Demilitarize McGill.

Historic SCC decision strikes down Canada’s prostitution laws

The Supreme Court of Canada has unanimously struck down Canada’s prostitution laws — laws which previously violated life, liberty, and security of the person guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Today’s landmark ruling comes 34 years after the Supreme Court last upheld the country’s anti-prostitution laws.”

Recent news stories can be followed through The Globe and Mail, Global News, and others.

The full Supreme Court decision of Canada (AG) v Bedford, 2013 SCC 72, can be read here.

Pressure on the UK’s Guardian Newspaper “testing the limits of press freedoms”

A recent story in the Washington Post reports on the sustained pressure British authorities have exerted on the UK’s Guardian newspaper. The Guardian, along with the Washington Post, was the first media outlet to publish reports based on classified information provided by former NSA employee Edward Snowden.

In June, Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s top editor, was contacted by a senior government official and pressured to destroy hard drives storing Snowden data which were being kept at the Guardian’s headquarters in London. After further pressure, the Guardian relented and destroyed the hard-drives, according to Rusbridger, because copies of the data were already safely located outside of Britain, and because “…government officials had implied that they would take far more drastic action against the paper if he did not comply.”

Alan Rusbridger is also being forced to appear December 3rd before a parliamentary committee to explain the Guardian’s actions surrounding the Snowden documents. The committee appearance comes after the Guardian has been denounced by senior ministers, and Scotland Yard has suggested it may be investigating the paper for breaking the law.

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Opinion: Values charter runs counter to gender equality

As a feminist, I do not accept that the Quebec values charter affirms “equality between women and men.” The movement toward equality must have equality itself running through every step. Bill 60 falls short in this respect.

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Une loi sur la protection des secrets d’État au Japon très englobante

Le projet de loi présenté par le gouvernement de la coalition suscite de grandes inquiétudes au sein de la population japonaise, mais également chez les experts en droits humains des Nations Unies. Plus particulièrement, Frank La Rue et Anand Grover, rapporteurs spéciaux respectivement pour la liberté d’expression et le droit à la santé, ont exprimé de sérieux doutes quant à la validité du projet de loi. Le problème que pose ce texte de loi est qu’il élargit considérablement la notion de secret d’État en incluant toute information concernant la défense, la diplomatie, l’antiterrorisme, le contre-espionnage, etc. Or, si le peuple n’a pas accès à certaines informations d’intérêt public concernant les actions de l’État, il sera difficile de parler de démocratie. C’est d’ailleurs ce que M. La Rue tente de souligner lorsqu’il dit que :

« secrecy with regard to public affairs is only acceptable where there is a demonstrable risk of substantial harm and where that harm is greater than the overall public interest in having access to the information kept confidential. Even in the exceptional cases where authorities might establish the need for confidentiality the review of their decision by an independent body is essential,” the human rights expert noted.»

En effet, la loi en question n’établit pas un tel test visant à différencier les renseignements constituant une menace à la sécurité nationale à laquelle on accorde plus d’importance que l’intérêt du public des renseignements n’ayant aucune incidence sur la sécurité nationale. Au contraire, le projet de loi inclut tout renseignement et prévoit des peines excessives en cas de divulgation: « Selon la nouvelle loi, un fonctionnaire, ou un individu ayant eu accès à des informations confidentielles, serait passible d’une peine de 10 ans de prison, s’il est reconnu coupable de fuites. Actuellement, cette peine est limitée à un an, sauf pour les responsables de la Défense, passibles de cinq ans de prison ou dix si les données viennent de l’armée américaine.» Les journalistes et les individus de la société civiles voient également leur travail remis en question, car la divulgation d’informations confidentielles qu’ils jugent d’intérêt public les rendraient coupables et condamnables en vertu de la loi. C’est là où le rapporteur spécial pour le droit à la santé, M. Grover, déplore cette loi et ce surtout suite à la catastrophe nucléaire de Fukushima en 2001. Selon lui, c’est dans ce type de situation qu’il est primordial de s’assurer que la population reçoit à temps l’information correcte qui lui permettra de prendre les bonnes décisions concernant sa santé. Or, cette loi vient nuire totalement au travail des journalistes qui voudraient mener une enquête sur les erreurs commises simplement parce que les informations recueillies impliquant les autorités tomberaient dans la notion de secret d’État.

Harkat’s Security Certificate Hearing: Supreme Court Secrecy?

Earlier in October 2013, the Supreme Court of Canada made the unprecedented decision to hold a closed hearing regarding Mohamed Harkat’s security certificate, in which Mr. Harkat applied for judicial review. Harkat was an Algerian refugee who was originally arrested in Ottawa, Canada on suspected grounds of links with al-Qaida.

Harkat was not present at the meeting — nor was his lawyer, according to Kent Roach of the University of Toronto, writing in the Ottawa Citizen this past fall.

During the closed hearings, two advocates were appointed to represent the applicant’s (Harkat’s) interests. The advocates met with Harkat’s lawyer briefly, under tightly controlled judicial oversight.

An important question in this complex case is whether secret intelligence gathered of Harkat can be used as reliable evidence. Confidential summaries of intelligence information was constructed by Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) but the original documents had been destroyed. Not only were the original documents missing, which contained information being used against Harkat, but no adequate steps were taken demonstrating reliability of the summarized intelligence.

Of course, in a closed, secret meeting, the effective use of cross-examination is also lost. Kent Roach states:

“It [omission of cross-examination] will test the traditional view that cross-examination is the best way to determine truth.”

A plethora of information has been written on secret trials in Canada—the pitfalls, legal ramifications, widespread infringement of human rights and civil liberties, and the political efforts to stop the trials.

The issue of five muslim men held without charges back in December 2006 sparked much debate and controversy, leading the issue to be dubbed Canada’s Guantanamo Bay. None of the “secret” evidence being used against the men was accessible to the accused. Adil Charkaoui was released on bail on February 18, 2005; Mohamed Harkat on May 23, 2006. But concerns over the secret hearings remain. An interesting piece about abolishing secret trials was also written by Mike Larsen of York University.

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