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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

SCC affirms freedom of expression trumps privacy in labour disputes

In a landmark decision released this past Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Alberta Court of Appeal’s decision in Alberta (Information and Privacy Commissioner) v. United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 2013 SCC 62 (UFCW), in ruling that the province’s Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) violated the Union’s freedom of expression as protected by s. 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the UFCW case, the Union videotaped people publicly crossing its picket line at the Palace Casino in Edmonton, and stated that it would post the video on a public website. Several people, including the Vice President of the Casino, who were recorded crossing the picket line, filed complaints with the Alberta Privacy Commissioner under PIPA.

Through conducting a s.1 analysis of the legislation, the Supreme Court judges found that while PIPA did have a pressing and substantial objective in allowing individuals to exercise control over their personal information, the scope of the Act was too broad and its limitations were not proportional to the benefits it sought to promote. The SCC decision underlined the Court’s longstanding recognition of “the fundamental importance of freedom of expression in the context of labour disputes” (at para. 29). The Court noted that the information collected by the Union could easily have been collected by anyone else, including journalists, since the picketing was done in public view, hence lowering the individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The crux of the decision rested on the principle that “like privacy, freedom of expression is not an absolute value and both the nature of the privacy interests implicated and the nature of the expression must be considered in striking an appropriate balance” (at para. 38).

The unanimous SCC judgment has reaffirmed the idea that freedom of expression trumps privacy interests in labour disputes. Yet this decision also has important implications for privacy interests in other contexts, such as commercial, and the kind of bearing this decision will have on privacy legislations such as Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), and the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA) will be interesting to see. However, considering that freedom of expression does not preside as a public right in these areas the same way as it does in labour disputes, the legacy of UFCW in other privacy law spheres may be tenuous. But one can only speculate as case law in these areas continues to develop.

La dénonciation… pas toujours évidente !

La Presse canadienne souligne de nouveau le manque de soutien offert aux divulgateurs : le gouvernement conservateur de Harper contrevient à la loi qu’il a lui-même adoptée en 2007, soit la Loi sur la protection des fonctionnaires divulgateurs d’actes répréhensibles. Read the rest of this entry »

Ottawa opte pour un changement favorisant l’accès à l’information

Ce n’est pas un secret d’État: par les temps qui courent, le gouvernement Harper est ciblé et critiqué au niveau de sa façon de jongler avec l’accès à l’information, le maximisant ou le limitant, tout dépendamment des circonstances.

En avril dernier, le Conseil du Trésor a lancé un service électronique, pour lequel les requérants sont d’abord tenus de fournir des informations personnelles, c’est-à-dire préciser s’ils œuvrent dans le domaine médiatique, des affaires ou encore dans le secteur universitaire, etc. Il leur est requis de choisir une des options qui leur sont offertes, afin de compléter la demande. En d’autres mots, impossible est-il de refuser de s’identifier de la sorte. Read the rest of this entry »

University of Regina works to accommodate needs of Muslim students

The University of Regina has introduced two new measures designed to assist the almost 800 Muslim students on campus. On October 2, 2013, the U of R officially opened a new prayer room for Muslim students as well as introducing special washing stations for the convenience of Muslim students performing ablutions.

 

The prayer room is located in the Riddell Student Centre and is operated by the U of R Muslim Student’s Association. The Muslim Student’s Association maintains the prayer room and also provides weekly notice of daily prayer times for the convenience of Muslim students at the U of R. The prayer room is secure and private and the floor is marked to enable Muslim students to easily orient themselves towards Mecca.

 

The special washing stations were installed in two U of R washrooms in September. Muslims pray five times a day and wash hands, feet, face, and head before prayer. The washing stations allow Muslim students to easily and comfortably perform these ablutions. Before the washing stations were installed, students wishing to wash their feet had to attempt to wash their feet in the hand basin.

Watch this story on CBC Saskatchewan

 

What happens when we consider telecommunications to be a basic social right

The Department of Telephones was created in 1908, not long after Saskatchewan became a province. At that time, the population of Saskatchewan was largely concentrated in rural areas. The provincial government saw the value of the telephone as a way of connecting such a diffuse population but also recognized that Saskatchewan’s geographic realities would never attract private companies to develop telephone infrastructure. The investment necessary to provide telephone services to rural areas would never be borne by private telephone companies because it was simply not profitable. Accordingly, the province created a provincially owned telephone infrastructure in order to deliver telephone services to all areas of the province.

 

Since then, the Department of Telephones was reorganized as a Crown Corporation which is now called SaskTel. SaskTel has continued to build and improve Saskatchewan’s telecommunications networks and has developed significant expertise in overcoming geographical challenges when delivering telecommunications services. While SaskTel is now a corporation whose aim is to be profitable and not just to deliver service, the Crown Corporation remains committed to ensuring that Saskatchewan people have access to communication services. On November 4, SaskTel has announced a partnership to bring 4G cellular service to several remote communities in northern Saskatchewan. “The project is being done under SaskTel’s community participation model, which allows communities to cover the shortfall when it is not economically feasible for SaskTel to finance a new cellular site alone.”

 

What is interesting about the development of telecommunications in Saskatchewan is that telecommunications services have been seen as an essential utility that should be available to all residents. From very early on, the Saskatchewan government was determined to provide this infrastructure when private companies would not. Saskatchewan enjoys almost 100% high speed internet coverage and 98% cellular coverage. This is significantly higher than the Canadian average of 72.2% coverage. Today, access to telecommunications services, high speed internet in particular, is truly an essential component necessary to engage with society. The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) has stated that “The ability for all to access and contribute information, ideas and knowledge is essential in an inclusive Information Society.” Around the world, access to telecommunications infrastructure is beginning to be thought of as a right, rather than a privilege.

See the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan for more information on the development of telecommunications in Saskatchewan: http://esask.uregina.ca/entry/telecommunications.html

UK News: Lobbying Bill on 6 Week Hold to Allow for Consultation

Just moments ago, a controversial bill that was being rushed through the house of parliament was granted a six week “pause” to allow for consultations. Debate around the Transparency of Lobbying, non-Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration Bill, which has attracted strong criticism from many fronts, had begun in parliament this afternoon.

The bill seeks to limit influence of lobbyists on government decision-making practices. It imposes limits on the time and money that can be devoted to campaigning issues of political importance in the year ahead of an election.  Critics argue the bills will muzzle political debate.

According to government, the bill “introduces a statutory register of consultant lobbyists and establishes a Registrar to enforce the registration requirements”; “regulates more closely election campaign spending by those not standing for election or registered as political parties”; and “strengthens the legal requirements placed on trade unions in relation to their obligation to keep their list of members up to date.”

Deputy Lords leader Lord Wallace stated that he and his ”colleagues in government responsible for this bill will consult widely with all the interested parties – members of this House and the many others outside.”

The news comes after considerable campaigning against the bill from a wide range of groups from the Royal British Legion, to Oxfam, to the RSPB.  The site 38 degrees, which allows people to start and run their activist campaigns, garnered more than 10,500 signatures on for its online petition against the bill.

Campaigners against what those opposed to the bill call the “gagging law” have developed this video to explain the bill’s implications:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDtFoPWBoLc

News of the “pause” is quickly spreading on twitter.  #Gagginglaw and #Lobbyingbill are trending.

For more information on the bill, please visit the UK Parliament website.

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