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.

Victims’ Rights

On Friday February 20th,  Parliament, members are scheduled to give third reading debate to the Victims Bill of Rights Act (Bill C-32), for its only allotted day at this stage. Bill C-32, An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain Acts seeks to secure statutory rights to victims of crime. Some of these rights include a right to protection, right to participation, and the right to restitution. The Bill would also amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Some of these amendments include permitting victims to have access to information about the offender’s progress in relation to the offender’s correction plan and to permit the disclosure of information to victims concerning an offender’s deportation before the expiration of the offender’s sentence. The Bill was introduced in April 2014 and was sponsored by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

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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.”


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.

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Penalties, Prison and Punishment

The Conservative government is determined to increase overall penalties and sentences for offenders and has been working on even more tough on crime initiatives these last couple of months.

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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 Will Consider Constitutionality of Enhanced Credit Provisions

The Supreme Court granted leave to appeal of the Ontario Court of Appeal decision R v Safarzadeh-Markhali, which considered the constitutionality of the new enhanced credit for pre-sentence custody provisions of the Criminal Code. Where an accused is remanded into custody pending their trial and subsequently convicted, courts would often apply a credit of 2 days for every 1 day spent in custody to their sentence. There are two main reasons for this: timelines for parole eligibility and statutory release do not take into account time spent in pre-sentence custody, and conditions in pre-sentence detention centres tend to be poor, with overcrowding and no access to programs. Read the rest of this entry »

Regional Psychiatric Centre could face eviction, student group argues

Solidarity for Those in Solitary, a University of Saskatchewan student group that advocates ending the practice of solitary confinement, says that there are legal grounds to close a federal corrections facility that operates on university lands.

Saskatoon’s Regional Psychiatric Centre is a tenant of the university. The group argues that its ongoing use of segregation could be grounds for eviction under Saskatchewan’s community safety laws.

Dan LeBlanc, a third-year law student, explained that under Saskatchewan’s Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods laws “[y]ou just have to prove that there are activities occurring at the residence which pose a serious and immediate threat to one or more residents of the property.” LeBlanc argues that the use of solitary confinement for mentally ill inmates meets the threshold for eviction.

Officials with Correctional Service Canada declined to comment.

The CCLA and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies recently filed a petition in the Ontario Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of legislative provisions which permit solitary confinement.

Whole-Life Sentences Not Against Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights just ruled on an appeal by a UK man sentenced to a whole-life tariff for the brutal murder of three victims.  They decided in a six to one judgment that under the current interpretations of the law, there is no human rights violations in the application of a whole-life sentence.

In 2013, the same Court ruled that whole-life sentences were incompatible with Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which reads “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” However, since then, the allegedly unclear laws regarding whole-life sentences have been clarified by domestic courts which accounts for the change in rulings.

The Court has ruled that as long as there is a “mechanism or possibility for review”, whole-life sentences are compatible with Article 3 of the Convention.

Commentators are saying “the ruling is perhaps more significant politically than it is legally” as the Conservative government had cited the 2013 ruling as impetus to replacing the European Human Rights Act with a domestic British Bill of Rights.

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