Annual Amnesty International Report Released: Human Rights Situation in South Africa “Pretty Grim”

Amnesty International released its annual report on International Human Rights this week. The report details the status of human rights in countries around the world and highlights areas with room for improvement. The report on South Africa points to access to treatment for people living with HIV, decline in maternal deaths, increase in life expectancy, and improved action against hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity as areas where progress was made in 2014. Unfortunately, there are many areas where human rights are being ignored and progress is stagnant.  Amnesty International South Africa regional director, Deprose Muchena, has stated that the report’s findings about South Africa are “pretty grim.”

 

Problem areas for South Africa include excessive use of force, poor treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and harassment of human rights defenders.  2014 saw the end of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry into the fatal police shootings of 34 striking mine workers in Marikana in 2012. The Inquiry exposed serious excessive use of force by police and indications of officers attempting to conceal and destroy unfavourable evidence. Conditions for refugee and asylum seekers in South Africa continued to deteriorate with numerous instances reported of threats and violence against refugees and asylum seekers and many being displaced. Human rights activists and defenders faced significant harassment and threats as well.

 

To see the full Amnesty International report on South Africa click here.

 

Bill C-51 to receive further scrutiny

The Conservatives have agreed to hold an additional 6 days of meetings on Bill C-51 at the public safety committee of the House, tripling the amount of time the Conservatives originally allocated for hearings on the controversial bill.

The move comes in response to an NDP filibuster and significant criticism (see here, here and here) from academics, terrorism and security experts, and former Prime Minsters and Supreme Court justices regarding the bill’s expansion of surveillance powers and creation of new, vaguely worded criminal charges.  Bill C-51 may also be contrary to previous Supreme Court rulings.

Read the rest of this entry »

Balancing Civil Liberties and Community Safety in the “Era of Terror”

Following the recommendations of the counter-terrorism review from August, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is scheduled to announce changes to national security later today.

The anticipated changes include: developing an anti-extremism strategy, appointing a terrorism coordinator, and simplifying the terror threat alerts system.

To justify the changes, Prime Minister Abbott is expected to reference the rising number of Australians returning home from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Prime Minister Abbott has stated that “[t]housands of young and vulnerable people in the community are susceptible to radicalisation.”

Prime Minister Abbott has warned that the new “Era of Terror” means that Australians must reconsider “where it draws the balance” between civil liberties and community safety.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten noted that while Australians’ safety is a top priority, he is concerned that the Government may be going too far. To this end, he stated: “I don’t believe our nation can only be safe if we get rid of the liberties of people, nor do I believe that the liberties of people in every sense should trump national security.”

A well-known human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside QC, took a more cynical approach to the proposed changes. While questioning the Prime Minister’s motivation, Mr. Burnside stated that “there’s a real risk that he’s [Prime Minister Abbott] doing this in order to play on community fears and thereby gain a bit of political popularity.”

New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry: Allegations of Police Corruption

Established 12 November 2012, the New South Wales (NSW) parliamentary inquiry into “Operation Prospect” began hearings on 29 January 2015. Operation Prospect was the name given to the Ombudsman inquiry into “Operation Mascot Florida.”

Operation Mascot Florida was a 15-year-long internal investigation into police corruption.

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas stated that Operation Mascot Florida involved illegal surveillance of police officers, and that while the purpose of the investigation was to root out corruption in the force, officers used the Operation to pursue personal vendettas against their colleagues.

According to Mr. Kaldas, his office and home were bugged, as well as the home of his former wife. Mr. Kaldas claims that he was wrongly targeted.

As of February 10, 2015, the Committee decided that it would no longer publish any submissions online.

The Committee’s final report is scheduled to be released on February 25, 2015.

Freedom of Religion Violations Added to List of Complaints Concerning Canada’s ‘Cardboard Prison’

The Baffin Correctional Centre is one of many correctional facilities in Canada housing presumptively innocent persons in pre-trial custody. A Muslim inmate, speaking anonymously to the CBC, alleges that while on remand he was unable to freely practice his religion:

”Staff here told me that I don’t need to practise my religion because I might become radical,” he says. “I asked for no pork or no ham or bacon, and they just gave me what has touched bacon or ham, but I have refused those meals.”

Additional concerns regarding inmate treatment at the facility were detailed in a 2013 Office of the Correctional Investigator Report, obtained by the CBC. According to the report “[the Baffin Correctional Centre] has been grossly overcrowded for many years, and it is now well past its life expectancy. The current state of disrepair and crowding are nothing short of appalling, and negatively impacts on both inmates and staff.”

The report describes in detail the shortcomings that plague this troubled correctional facility. It states that 70% of the inmates are presumptively innocent and being held in remand awaiting trial, but goes on to note that infrastructual problems prevent segregation of those on remand from those serving custodial sentences.

The report concludes that the “[Baffin Correctional Centre] is past its best before date, and needs to be closed and replaced by a new facility or facilities. BCC physical infrastructure is not safe for either staff or inmates, and hinders the ability of NU Corrections to fulfil its legal mandate of humane custody and rehabilitation.”

Sources:

Muslim says he’s not allowed to practise religion at Baffin Correctional Centre

Baffin Correctional Centre ‘appalling’ and should be closed, report says

Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator (Canada)on the Baffin Correctional Centre and theLegal and Policy Framework of Nunavut Corrections

Human Rights Commission’s report into children in detention tabled by the government

On 11 February 2015, The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014 report by the Australian Human Rights Commission was tabled by the Australian Parliament.

The report has called for a royal commission after finding 233 recorded assaults involving children and 33 incidents of reported sexual assault. It also reported  207 incidents of “actual self harm” and 436 incidents of threatened self harm. In addition, high rates of physical and mental illness have also been discovered among the child detainees.

Read the rest of this entry »

EU HR Court Rules Prisoner Voting Ban Against Convention, Again

In a recent ruling, the European Court of Human Rights ruled against the UK government when it decided that the right of over 1,000 prisoners to free elections had been violated. The prisoners were denied the vote in elections during the years 2009-2011.

Despite similar rulings in 2005 and 2014, the British government has yet to remedy the human rights violations. It is a contentious issue in British politics, with the government insisting that it be decided domestically. It has contributed to the move towards a British Bill of Rights.

However, the Court and the British government did agree on one matter: costs. The Court rejected the inmates’ request for both compensation and legal costs.

For more information, see here.

Supreme Court to weigh legality of overseas spying

The Supreme Court will weigh in on the legality of spying on Canadian citizens beyond our borders.

The case began in 2009 when the Canadian Security Intelligence Service won Federal Court permission to spy on two Canadians abroad. Prior to then, CSIS’ warrant authorizations were largely limited to domestic activity. Out of concern for other countries’ sovereignty, Federal Court Judge Richard Mosley required that communications involving the two individuals be intercepted from within Canada by the Communications Security Establishment. Read the rest of this entry »

Winnipeg Mayor Supports New Whistleblower Protection For City Employees

Mayor Brian Bowman and his executive policy committee unanimously approved a proposal by Councillor Matt Allard to improve whistleblower protection for City employees. The City’s existing regulations state that “The City will protect and support employees who report in good faith any suspected acts of fraud, theft, misappropriation or other related irregularities” and that “[r]etaliation against an employee who … [reported] … in good faith … is a violation of this Administrative Standard”. Examples of retaliation are listed and include: dismissal, suspension, intimidation, or any type of penalty. The city also set up a hotline in 2012 that employees could call to report fraud, conflicts of interest, and other issues; however it only received sixteen calls in 2013.

Councillor Allard has proposed an amendment to the City Charter incorporating whistleblower protection. His objective is to bring such protection in line with that afforded to provincial employees. Allard’s proposal also includes measures to increase awareness of the fraud hotline and whisteblower protection in general and mandatory training for new employees.

Carter Decision 7th “Strike” Against Harper Government

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s landmark Supreme Court decision in Carter v. Canada on Assisted Suicide represents the 7th major “strike” against the Harper government’s criminal law agenda dealt by the Supreme Court.

Below is a list of other major decisions handed down by the SCC that opposed the Conservative crime agenda:

April 25th, 2014: the SCC ruled that Parliament alone could not impose Senate term limits, allow for consultative elections for Senate candidates, or abolish the Senate altogether.

April 11th, 2014: the SCC struck down the Truth in Sentencing Act, which would have barred judges from giving inmates extra credit for pre-trial custody.

March 21st, 2014: the SCC ruled that Federal Court of Appeal Justice Marc Nadon, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Prime Minister Harper, was ineligible.

March 20th, 2014: the SCC ruled that proposed retroactive changes to parole eligibility were unconstitutional, as they were effectively a new form of  ”double jeopardy.”

Dec. 20th, 2013: the SCC struck down the Criminal Code’s prostitution provisions (brothels, streetwalking, and living off the avails), which were strongly advocated by the Harper government.

Sept. 30th, 2011: the SCC ruled that the controversial “safe injection” facility Insite in Vancouver, BC, could stay open. The Conservative government attempted to shut it down, but the Court found that this denied principles of fundamental justice.

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