First Nations’ discrimination claim reaching conclusion after 7 years

Arguments on a longstanding human rights complaint, which allege unequal treatment of First Nations children by the Government of Canada, will reach its conclusion in the coming week. First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Assembly of First Nations filed a case at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal on February 26th, 2007. The parties began closing arguments over seven years later on October 20th, 2014.

The case alleges that the Federal government does not adequately fund child-welfare services on reserves.  The Winnipeg Free Press reports that services for First Nations children on reserves received 22 per cent less funding than services provided by Provincial governments to children off reserve. Cindy Blackstock, head of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society, states in the Children and Youth Services Review that the effect of inadequate funding on First Nations children is amplified by their disproportionate representation as recipients of child-welfare services, and further inequity in other critical social services. The Globe and Mail reports that there was an abundance of evidence of underfunding produced throughout the hearing. Whereas child-welfare generally falls under Provincial authority according to the Constitution Act, 1867, the Federal government is responsible for services for First Nations children on reserves. The claimants widely condemned the Federal government for failing to fulfill its obligations.

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, the case experienced serious delays due to questions of jurisdiction. In addition to arguments about jurisdiction, Blackstock said in 2010 that the Federal government contested the claim on the basis that the current funding plan is not discriminatory. The Federal government argued that in order to prove the plan is discriminatory, the claimants must show a differential treatment between claimants’ experience on reserves and the experience of First Nations children on other reserves — the comparison should not be made between First Nations children on reserves and children off reserves, as the claimants argued. Since the Provincial government is responsible for child-welfare services for children that do not reside on reserves, any comparison to the Provincial plan is irrelevant for the purpose of establishing discrimination. Therefore, according to the arguments of the Federal government, since First Nations children receive equally on all reserves, there is no discrimination.

The Globe and Mail reports that the arguments will close on October 24, with a decision expected in 2015. A livestream of the closing arguments can be found here.


UK to Increase Maximum Sentence for Internet Trolls

The UK government announced today that it will increase the maximum prison sentence for internet trolls to two years, up from six months. It will also increase the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution from six months from the day of commission to three years. This is in conjunction with the creation of a specific offence to criminalize ‘revenge porn’.

The offence is described as “cover[ing] sending a letter, electronic communication or article of any description to another person, which is in nature, or which conveys a message which is, indecent or grossly offensive, or conveys a threat or false information, with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom it is intended that its contents should be communicated.”

Chris Grayling, the Minister of Justice, has described the initiative as “a stand against a baying cyber-mob”. Neither Mr Grayling nor the official press release make any comment about the underlying discrimination found in many instances of trolling.

This announcement was made just days after a high profile trolling case was made public. The daughter of Judy Finnegan, a well-known TV presenter, had receive rape threats online because of her mother’s on-air comments regarding a convicted rapists and football player. Finnegan said that Ched Evans should be welcomed back to professional sports because the rape “wasn’t violent and the victim was drunk”. Her comments solicited wide criticisms and she has since apologized, though her daughter was consequently the target of internet trolling.

For more information, see here.

Vancouver Police Wear Body-Mounted Cameras For Oppenheimer Park Evictions

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) equipped officers with wearable cameras to encourage transparency and “prevent people from acting in a difficult or violent manner” during Wednesday’s Oppenheimer Park evictions, reports the CBC. The VPD announced the body-mounted camera program as a pilot project in late 2013. The project is associated with the force’s Evidence Gathering Team, and similar initiatives have already been used on a trial basis in Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto, and select US cities.

The original camp at Oppenheimer Park came into existence in July, largely as a reaction to Vancouver’s lack of affordable housing. Over the past months, the site became a home for the city’s displaced and marginalized people, as well as a safe community for those facing issues including housing and addiction. Pivot Legal Society extensively interviewed and provided legal assistance to those living in the park. According to Pivot, many of the campers did not identify with sleeping in the park as part of a protest, but rather as one of the only means of survival available to them amidst a lack of response from the City in regards to accessible housing. On October 8, 2014 the B.C. Supreme Court approved the City of Vancouver’s injunction to evict the homeless campers from Oppenheimer Park. The eviction deadline came into effect on October 15 at 10 p.m. Despite no specific information suggesting there would be violence or other problems at the camp, the VPD equipped eight officers with chest-mounted GoPro cameras for the eviction. The evening progressed peacefully, with many campers dispersing, while those with no alternative housing options remained at the site.

While the force already uses handheld and pole-mounted cameras, the additional equipment is meant to enhance safety and encourage people to be better behaved with the knowledge that they are being recorded, according to VPD Chief Constable Jim Chu. The Vancouver Sun reports that “police departments have argued in favour of cameras to protect officers against unfounded allegations of abuse, insisting grainy cellphone videos that find their way onto YouTube rarely tell the whole story.” The use of cameras is increasingly regarded as a way to protect both the public and the police. “There’s an argument that it will keep both sides more civil, so the police are going to try harder to use tactical communication skills and will be even less likely to use force, and also the public may be a little more responsive, more co-operative,” said Rick Parent, a former police officer and current professor at Simon Fraser University’s police studies program.

However, this attempt at police transparency has received a fair share of criticism from those worried that not all interactions between police and the public will benefit from this type of surveillance. Before Wednesday’s eviction, D.J. Larkin, a lawyer with Pivot Legal society expressed concern about bringing cameras into Oppenheimer Park. Larkin explained that filming the “very, very emotional and very destabilizing environment” of people “who really don’t have other safe options and who really can’t access the shelter system” could escalate the situation. In another report by the Globe and Mail, Larkin also brought attention to the fact that the decision to use body-mounted cameras was turning a housing issue into a police enforcement issue, thus further diluting the concerns and realities of individuals residing in Oppenheimer Park. Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association expressed his concerns about the body-mounted cameras to the CBC. Paterson’s comments echo the unease of many who feel that the balance between police interests and privacy rights of citizens should not be tipped too far in favour of the former. Paterson stated that if opting to use the technology, the VPD must adopt comprehensive policies to ensure it is not abused. Paterson added that the decision to use the body-mounted cameras sporadically or temporarily does not excuse the lack of thorough protocols.

The VPD does not have plans to introduce body-mounted cameras to all officers or for a broader range of patrol-related activities, due to cost concerns and information storage limitations. Nevertheless, Wednesday’s use of the technology raises a multitude of questions as to if, when, and how its use could be reconciled with respecting the privacy and dignity of citizens, especially in times of vulnerability and distress.


UK to Criminalize “Revenge Porn”

UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced a new law to explicitly make “revenge porn” illegal. The Crown Prosecution Service had announced that current legislation already criminalized it with a maximum sentence of 14 years. The new law will explicitly penalize distributors of digital or physical “photographs or films which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public”. The maximum sentence is 2 years imprisonment.

While revenge porn is usually characterized by spurned ex-lovers distributing pornographic images, many victims report that the only means that their photos could have been accessed was through computer hacking. It is unclear whether exes and hackers will be treated similarly under the law.

Criminalized distribution will not be limited to specialized revenge porn sites, but also to Twitter, Facebook, SMS and email. Additionally, if it is deemed a sexual offence, distributors could face up to 14 years in jail.

For more information, see here.

Le massacre de Beslan à la CEDH

Le 14 Octobre la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme s’est penchée sur les évènements entourant la prise d’otage de Beslan dans le Caucase russe en 2004. Les griefs de plus de 400 ressortissants russes, parmi lesquels l’on compte de nombreuses victimes, furent présentés devant la Cour qui tâchera d’éclaircir les zones d’ombre entourant le drame. La Cour tentera aussi d’établir la responsabilité du gouvernement russe, qui s’est défendu dans la matinée par le biais d’envoyés gouvernementaux.

Rappelons rapidement l’historique du drame. Le 1er Septembre 2004, des séparatistes tchétchènes armés prennent des centaines d’enfants et d’adultes en otage dans une école de la municipalité de Beslan, en Ossétie du nord [Russie]. Une vingtaine d’adultes sont tués dans l’opération. Après trois jours de pourparlers, le 3 septembre 2004, une explosion dans l’école cause la panique parmi les otages. Un affrontement armé chaotique des ravisseurs et des forces de l’ordre s’ensuit, dans laquelle il est allégué notamment que des chars d’assaults et des lances flammes furent utilisé par l’armée russe. Le bilan de l’échauffourée : 331 civils tués, dont 186 enfants.

447 ressortissants russes, anciens otages rescapés ou proches des victimes, demandent donc à la Cour d’éclaircir le rôle de Moscou dans les explosions initiales du 3 septembre ayant déclenché la bataille ainsi que dans sa réponse qu’ils qualifient de disproportionnée. Ce dernier a toujours blâmer les séparatistes tchétchènes pour l’explosion initiale, mais des preuves documentées des requérants pointent le doigt vers une entité extérieure de l’école.

La Cour à ajournée l’audience et est en délibérée depuis la fin de matinée du 14 Octobre. Elle se prononcera sur la recevabilité des plaintes ainsi que le fond de l’affaire à une date ultérieure non fixée.

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DOJ Lawyer Says “Miscarriage of Justice” May Have Occurred in Assoun case

Glen Eugene Assoun was convicted in 1999 of second-degree murder for the killing of Brenda Way, his ex girlfriend, who was stabbed to death and found in a Dartmouth, NS apartment.

After appealing the conviction several times and exhausting all appeal options, his case arrived at the desk of Mark Green, a lawyer with the Federal Justice Department’s Criminal Conviction Review Group who reviews cases where a wrongful conviction is alleged. After a preliminary report into the case, Green has found that there “may be a reasonable basis” to conclude that there was a miscarriage of justice.

Assoun received an automatic life sentence and must serve 18 ½ years before he can apply for parole. Assoun had always maintained his innocence, from trial through a series of appeals. Upon exhausting his appeal chances, his last attempt was to apply to the Justice Department’s Criminal Conviction Review Group, under section 696.1 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which provides for a chance of reassessment where a miscarriage of justice is alleged.

Having deemed that there “may be a reasonable basis” to conclude a miscarriage of justice, Assoun’s case now moves into an investigative phase. Assoun, meanwhile, has applied for interim release from prison, which the Public Prosecution Service will oppose. That application is set to be heard in court this fall.

For the full story, click HERE.


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.


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.

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