Verdict Delivered in High-Profile South African Shooting Case

Shrien Dewani was found not guilty yesterday of the 2010 shooting death of his wife Anni Dewani. Ms. Dewani was shot to death during a suspected carjacking while the couple were on their honeymoon just outside of Cape Town. Judge Traverso found that the prosecution’s evidence was plagued with inconsistencies and subsequently dismissed the case.

This verdict was announced two days before the expected decision on whether an appeal will be allowed in the Oscar Pistorius case. In a case with many similarities to the Dewani case, Pistorius was convicted for the culpable homicide shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. The prosecution argued yesterday that, as a point of law, Pistorius should not have been acquitted of the more serious charge of murder and that his five-year sentence for culpable homicide was too lenient.

Many critics see Dewani’s acquittal and Pistorius’ low sentence as examples of South Africa’s struggle with the institutionalization of violence against women and corruption in the justice system.

Following the Dewani verdict, Justice Minister Michael Masutha requested a full inquiry into the Dewani case, the Pistorius case, and the investigation into the shooting death of South Africa’s national soccer team captain, Senzo Meyiwa. Mr. Masutha wants to reflect on how the police and the prosecution operated in these cases and why these cases are receiving so much negative attention at the national and international levels.


CPI: les poursuites contre le président kenyan sont abandonnées

La CPI a annoncé, vendredi le 5 décembre, l’abandon des poursuites contre Uhuru Kenyatta, l’actuel président du Kenya. Étant le premier président en exercice à être accusé, il faisait face à des charges de crime contre l’humanité.

Kenyatta était accusé avec 5 autres de ses collaborateurs. Les gestes lui étant reprochés remontent à 2007.  Suivant les élections, les partisans du parti de l’opposition alléguaient être victimes de fraude électorale. Les contestations ont vite dégénéré et se sont avérées très sanglantes. Les victimes sont nombreuses – selon Human Rights Watch, plus de 1300 personnes auraient péri lors des évènements. S’ajoutant à ce nombre près de 220 000 déplacés, c’est-à-dire des individus ayant été forcés de fuir leur domicile en raison des violences. Kenyatta était accusé d’avoir organisé et financé le déplacement, le viol et la mort de plusieurs opposants. Les charges ont été retirées en raison du manque de preuve.

La chambre de première instance de la Cour a souligné, dans sa décision de refuser l’ajournement du procès, le défaut de collaboration des autorités kényanes. Ce faisant le gouvernement aurait violé le Statut de Rome, en ne respectant pas son obligation de “coopération de bonne foi”. La procureure a affirmé que plusieurs obstacles ont entravé le déroulement de l’enquête, notamment des campagnes médiatiques d’envergure au Kenya visant à rallier l’opinion publique et des menaces qui auraient été profanées à l’égard de potentiels témoins. Malgré l’abandon des charges contre Kenyatta, il est important de souligner que les charges via-à-vis les autres accusés dans cette affaire sont encore à l’étude.

Il est possible de consulter la décision de la CPI ici et l’avis d’abandon des charges ici.



Yukon Justice Critic Calls for End to Solitary Confinement

Lois Moorcroft, NDP Justice Critic for the Yukon, is calling on the Yukon government to cease the use of solitary confinement at the Whitehorse Correction Centre.

According to Ms. Moorcroft inmates at the corrections facility have be known to spend upwards of 15 days in solitary confinement. United Nations experts stated in 2011 that prolonged applications of solitary confinement “can amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and that “[t]he practice should be used only in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible.”

In the absence of a complete ban on the use of solitary confinement the Canadian Medical Association recently urged Canada to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (United Nations: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights). The objective of the protocol is to “establish a system of regular visits undertaken by independent international and national bodies to places where people are deprived of their liberty, in order to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

In response to Ms. Moorcroft’s remarks, Yukon Justice Minister Mike Nixon claims that the use of segregation procedures is rooted in the need to protect staff, other inmates, and the segregated inmate. He also noted that the practice is employed as a last resort.

Quebec daycare workers protest over continuing reforms

The Quebec Liberal (PLQ) government’s recent changes to provincial subsidized daycare costs, including raised fees and potential fines for parents who hold “ghost spots,” have not been well-received by daycare workers, working class parents, and opposition parties.

In early November, thousands of daycare workers and families participated in province-wide protests when rumours began circulating of the PLQ’s plans to raise fees at its subsidized daycares. Introduced in 1997, Quebec’s subsidized daycare program funds about 223,000 places and has the lowest fees in the country, at a cost of $2.7 billion according to the PLQ. Fees were originally set at a universal flat rate of $5 per day per child. That rate was raised to $7 per day in 2004 and then to $7.30 in October 2014, when premier Philippe Couillard fulfilled an election promise that the PLQ would index the rate to the cost of living. Now, the PLQ has officially proposed setting a sliding scale for subsidized daycare fees based on family income.

Under the new regime, families earning less than $50,000 per year would still pay $7.30 per day, with rates increasing up to a maximum of $20 per day for families earning more than $150,000 per year. Daycare rates will be indexed annually to the cost of living starting in 2016.

Additionally, Quebec’s Family Minister Francine Charbonneau tabled Bill 27 on November 27, which would put in place expensive fines for parents who hold “ghost places” for their children at subsidized daycares. These spots are paid for at the subsidized rate by parents on parental or maternity leave who want to hold spots for their children for when they return to work, meaning the spot goes unused during that time. Bill 27 would introduce a fine for parents who hold these empty spots of $60 per day for up to three months and fines for daycares of up to $1000 for each infraction. The PLQ argues that in 2013-2014, 10 million hours of daycare time went unused at a cost of $280 million to the government.

Gina Gasparini, president of the association representing Quebec daycares (AGCPE), argues that parents and daycares will essentially be fined for the fact that the subsidized daycare system itself is broken. She has also called the move to a sliding scale fee system one of the “worst possible moves” the government could make.







UK’s New Anti-Terrorism Bills Criticized by Civil Rights Activists

The UK government has published the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill ahead of its first reading in the House of Commons, scheduled for today. It includes several measures that have civil rights activists concerned.

Among them is the ability to temporarily exclude British citizens from returning home if they have been suspected of engaging in terrorists activities outside of the UK. This could leave some UK nationals stateless while overseas.

Another concern regards forcing internet providers to retain more identifying data to provide to the government for anti-terrorism purposes.

Other issues involve the ability to cancel passports at the border for up to 30 days, a ban on insuring ransoms, requiring more data from airlines, mandating anti-radicalization measures from educational institutions, and greater control on the domestic movements of suspected terrorists.

David Anderson, QC, the independent review of terrorism legislation (and appointed by the government), voiced his concern over the bill.

“The concern I have about this power and the central concern about it is: where are the courts in all of this? …One could look at it in terms of young, possibly vulnerable people caught up with the wrong crowd in Syria – didn’t really know exactly what they were doing… Do you want to throw the book at them straight away in terms of arrest and charge? Or is there something to be said, even though you do suspect them of having fought, of keeping them under a very light regime where they might have to report daily to a police station? They might have to notify [of] their residence; they might have to go along to meetings with probation or with some similar which perhaps might be for some people be a more sensible way of dealing with them than putting them straight into the criminal justice process.”

For more details of the bill and its specific concerns, see here.

Supreme Court to Hear Case Regarding Métis and Non-Status Indians

On Thursday, the Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to appeal in the case Harry Daniels v Canada (Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development). The court will be asked to consider whether Métis and non-status Indians are “Indians” for the purposes of the Constitution, and whether they are owed a fiduciary duty and have the right to be consulted by the Canadian government.

The case was initiated by the Congress of Aboriginal peoples, Métis leader Harry Daniels and several others in 1999. The Federal Court ruled in their favour, and on appeal the court partially upheld that ruling, finding that Métis are Indians for the purposes of the Constitution, but non-status Indians would be subject to a case-by-case determination.

In a comment on the importance of this case, Congress of Aboriginal Peoples National Chief Betty Ann Lavallee stated that “[s]elf-determination is fundamental to the exercise of the aboriginal rights recognized in section 35 of Canada’s Constitution. CAP wholeheartedly supports that right and is working toward its recognition on behalf of all Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.”


The StoneChild Inquiry Ten Years Later

It has been 10 years since the Stonechild Inquiry casting a dark pall on the city of Saskatoon from Mr. Justice David Wright. The inquiry stemmed from the freezing death of a 17 year-old adolescent Neil Stonechild and the infamous “Starlight Tours” which cast an even darker shadow on the Saskatoon Police Service serving to strain relations with Aboriginal groups.

Since his scathing report in 2004 from Justice David Wright relations between the SPS and the Aboriginal community appear on the mend. Central to Justice Wright’s report was an approach on how to fix the damage that had been done. As of today there are 51 members who identify themselves as First Nations on the Saskatoon Police Service. Recently, Lawrence Joseph, the former chief of the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations was quoted by the Star Phoenix that “the process has brought down walls and that it has built bridges in our society”

Given that Saskatoon is known as the bridge city this recollection is a powerful metaphor for the reconciliation process between the Saskatoon Police Service and First Nations group. In fact there is now a movement to name the new North Commuter bridge the “Neil Stonechild Memorial Bridge.” Perhaps this is the sort of symbolic gesture that will aid in the healing process.

Budget Cuts, User Fees Threaten Access to Information

Canada’s federal information watchdog, Suzanne Legault, is warning that budget cuts are impeding her ability to carry out her mandate of ensuring Canadians’ right of access to information.

The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada is tasked with investigating complaints regarding freedom of information requests under the Access to Information Act.  The Office serves a vital role in government transparency, giving Canadians recourse to an independent body if a government agency denies or unduly delays a request for information.

However, the Office has been squeezed over the past few years by budget cuts and increased user access requests. Read the rest of this entry »

Sentencing for Multiple Murders

There is a certain kind of anger and pain we feel as citizens when there is an act of senseless violence perpetrated against the persons who take on the role of protecting us. The truthfulness of these statements resonates with all Canadians these past few weeks. It resonated in New Brunswick and across Canada this past June when three RCMP officers where gunned down in Moncton, New Brunswick. On Friday of last week, Justin Bourque was sentenced to life in prison with no eligibility of parole for 75 years for the murders of RCMP Constables Fabrice Gevaudan, Douglas Larche and Dave Ross.

This is an unprecedented sentence in Canada and was the second time the Protecting Canadians by Ending Sentence Discounts for Multiple Murders Act was used in sentencing. It has been described in the media as the harshest sentence since death penalty was abolished. The characterization as a death sentence is accurate because Justine Bourque will be 99 years olds before he is eligible for parole. After Canada abolished the death penalty persons who committed first-degree murder were sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after 25 years. This 2011 Criminal Code amendment grants judges the discretion to sentence persons who have committed multiple murders to serve the periods they are ineligible for parole consecutively.

Read the rest of this entry »

Class action plaintiffs lose at Nova Scotia’s highest court, ordered to pay costs to government defendants

The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal delivered its decision on costs in a major class action lawsuit last week. The class action, which was first initiated about a decade ago, sought redress for environmental contamination allegedly caused by the governments’ decades long operation of the Sydney Steel plant.

Last year, the provincial and federal governments successfully appealed the class action’s certification. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal decertified the class action in December 2013. Just last week, the Court of Appeal released its decision respecting costs.

The Court ordered that the plaintiffs, who were unsuccessful on appeal, pay part of the federal and provincial governments’ costs. The costs order amounted to over $700,000.

When asked what the costs award meant for her, Neila MacQueen, a plaintiff in the case, explained “I thought it was intolerable for us to be charged $700,000. We can’t afford it. We would go bankrupt. We would lose our homes.”

Critics worry the award sets a troubling precedent.  Significant cost awards against class action plaintiffs undermine access to justice, critics say.  Those who might otherwise pursue a class action may feel deterred from doing so given the cost implications.

The Court explained at paragraph 56 of its decision that, while it considered access to justice concerns in rendering its decision, these factors must be weighed against others and, in this case, the Court believed that it “would not be fair and reasonable” to order no or nominal costs “given the complexity of the certification hearing, the amount at stake in the litigation and the success of Canada and Nova Scotia.”

Ultimately, Ray Wagner, who acted for the plaintiffs, explained that his law firm will pay the award.  The firm had taken out the equivalent of an insurance policy that, in the event of a defeat, would cover a large portion of the costs.

Nonetheless, Wager explained that, “$733,000 would chill any plaintiff or any lawyer from participating in a class proceeding in this province.”

For more on this story, click here.  To read the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal’s decision, click here.


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