On Substantive Liberty: Challenging Prolonged Administrative Segregation

For many of us, it is difficult to conceive of what really happens when you go to jail.  Many people have never seen the inside of a cell, let alone understand what it means to be placed there without human contact for long periods of time. What we can all agree on is that to be treated this way would be awful.  In some ways, this understanding acts as a deterrent to ‘bad behaviour’.  This oversimplification is meant to draw attention to the numerous underlying assumptions we have about criminal behavior, about mentally sound reactions to deterrence, and about solitary confinement as a viable penal option.

In December of 2013, a coroner’s inquest jury declared the death of 19 year old, Ashley Smith a homicide.  The announcement reinvigorated a discussion on the use of administrative segregation also known as solitary confinement in Canadian correctional institutions focusing especially on its impact with inmates struggling with mental health issues. Ms. Smith’s treatment while incarcerated is particularly stunning given international condemnation of the practice. Read the rest of this entry »

UK campaigners lose ‘right to die’ case

BBC News UK reports that campaigners for the right to die have lost their appeal at the UK Supreme Court. However, there was a positive step that arose from the outcome- the judges said that Parliament should act on this now. The Justices ruled against Paul Lamb (who was paralyzed in a road crash) and Jane Nicklinson (the widow of Tony Nicklinson, who had locked-in syndrome) by seven to two. They were advocating for the law to change in order to allow doctors to assist patients to die. A man named Martin lost his attempt to have the current prosecution guidance on assisted suicide clarified.

However, five justices concluded that they had the power to declare the current law breaches the right to a private life. Had the court made this decision, the government would be forced to enact new legislation to amend the current law on assisted suicide. A majority of the judges concluded that the question they were being asked to address included moral judgments as opposed to points of law. Instead, they said the issue must be addressed by a democratically-elected Parliament.  Nine justices were required to determine whether a prohibition on assisted suicide was compatible with the right to respect for private and family life under the European convention on Human Rights. Five decided that the court did have the constitutional authority to make a declaration, and two of the five said they would have done so.

Mr. Lamb and Mrs. Nicklinson felt that the conclusions were a positive step in the fight for change. Andrew Copson, Chief executive of the British Humanist Association, which supported the campaigners, said: “It is clear that the Supreme Court went as far as it was able in urging Parliament to take action on the vital issue of assisted dying.”

 

Drop minor convictions from criminal record checks, UK Supreme Court rules

BBC News UK reports a monumental Supreme Court decision, which ruled that all police cautions and minor convictions should not be required to be disclosed in criminal record checks. According to the judges, any requirement to do so would conflict with human rights legislation in England and Whales. This ruling affects those people applying for jobs working with the vulnerable sector or children.

The decision upholds a Court of Appeal ruling, which involved the case of a job applicant who was forced to reveal police cautions he received at age 11. He was supported by Liberty, a human rights advocacy group, which claimed the Supreme Court’s judgment was “an injection of proportionality into our criminal records system”.

The Rehabilitation of Offender Act 1974 provides that after a period, a person’s criminal convictions are spent and therefore do not need to be disclosed to a perspective employer. A caution is spent as soon as it is given. However, prior to the successful Court of Appeal ruling last year, there was a regime where for certain jobs, including those working with the vulnerable sector and children, all convictions and cautions which would otherwise have been spent were disclosed. The Supreme Court ruling means that some past cautions and convictions remain protected and private, and have no role in a person’s job application. The judges said that the disclosures in the cases presented to them were not necessary in a democratic society and were not based on any rational assessment of risk.

 

Op Ed: The Right to a Fair Trial is a Fundamental Human Right

When I came to law school three years ago, I had no idea what a security certificate was. I first learned about this regime in my immigration and refugee law class. I remember thinking that I must be missing something because it couldn’t be possible that this existed in Canada – the right to a fair trial is a fundamental human right. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court upheld the security certificate regime as constitutional.

Security certificates allow the government to deport or detain persons indefinitely that are deemed to be a risk to the security of Canada. The named person need not be charged with a crime. In a criminal trial, the accused must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Under the security certificate regime, there must be reasonable grounds to believe that the person is a risk to the security of Canada. It is also easier for the government to use secret evidence in a security certificate proceeding than a criminal trial (see paras 65 – 66 of the Harkat decision).  The security certificate regime is not a criminal trial, but the consequences of each are the same: a deprivation of liberty, and, in the case of named persons subject to security certificates, the possibility of deportation to a country where there is a risk of torture or death. Like a criminal trial, the security certificate regime involves the same fundamental human right – the right to a fair trial.

What I find most striking is the contrast to the Supreme Court’s discussion of the right to a fair trial in Harkat compared to criminal law cases I have read in law school. For example, in R v NS, when considering the right to a fair trial for an accused in a criminal proceeding, Chief Justice McLachlin wrote:

The right to a fair trial is a fundamental pillar without which the edifice of the rule of law would crumble.  No less is at stake than an individual’s liberty — his right to live in freedom unless the state proves beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed a crime meriting imprisonment.  This is of critical importance not only to the individual on trial, but to public confidence in the justice system (para 38).

In contrast to NS, the Harkat decision is missing any meaningful discussion of the right at stake for named persons – the deprivation of liberty – and of the fundamental importance of guaranteeing the right to a fair trial for the rule of law in Canada. The Court mentions no international legal obligations. In fact, the Supreme Court stated that Mr. Harkat has “benefited from a fair process” (para 111). Mr. Harkat’s “fair process” included the use of summaries of destroyed intercepted phone conversations that were only ever disclosed to Mr. Harkat in an abridged form (paras 94 – 99) and that were destroyed as a result of “unacceptable negligence” by the Minister (para 94).

The Supreme Court ruled that the security certificate system is not perfect, but it is fair (para 110). However, making a process fairer, with the introduction of special advocates, does not necessarily make it fair. On the Supreme Court’s focus on the judge’s discretion to ensure that named persons are given a fair process, Amnesty International said, “when it comes to protecting fundamental rights, including something as essential as fair trial rights, discretion is simply never good enough.”

Most Canadians may not be personally affected by security certificates, but this is an issue all Canadians should care about. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms can only be meaningful if the rights guaranteed by it are meaningful for all. This includes suspected terrorists. The Criminal Code contains terrorist offences, which these men could be charged with.

Recently, I went to the premiere of Secret Trial 5 at the Hot Docs film festival. The documentary was a powerful reminder that there are real people subject to and affected by the security certificates. The constitutionality of the security certificate regime is not about whether the named persons are guilty or innocent. It is about a fundamental human right. In the words of Justice McLachlin herself, “the right to a fair trial is a fundamental pillar without which the edifice of the rule of law would crumble.”

More information about the Secret Trial 5 documentary can be found at http://secrettrial5.com.

 

Voices-Voix: Silencing Dissent in Canada

Voices-Voix is a national, non-partisan coalition of Canadians and organizations in Canada committed to advocating for rights to dissent and democratic space across the country. The organization was founded on April 21, 2010 when over 100 representatives from some of the country’s most reputable organizations gathered in Ottawa to discuss increasing attacks by the federal government. Decisions of the coalition are made by consensus, and today, more than 219 organizations are members of the coalition. That number continues to grow.

Recently, the organization launched a web video series — “Silencing Dissent in Canada” — which features three Canadian leaders:

Cindy Blackstock, Executive Director of the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society of Canada

John Bennett, Executive Director of the Sierra Club Canada

Katie Gibbs, Executive Director of Evidence for Democracy

As of April 2013, 81 cases of silencing dissent by the Government of Canada have been documented, including: Environment – 8.6%, Immigrants and Refugees – 7.4%, Military and Veterans – 8.6%, International Development – 8.6%, Watchdogs – 19.8%, Aboriginal Peoples – 9.9%, Women – 12.3%, and Other Targets at 24.7%.

32 years of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Today, April 17th, marks the 32nd anniversary of the establishment of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as part of Canada’s Constitution Act. Liberal MP Irwin Cotler and former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, now Professor Emeritus at McGill University, has written a thoughtful and reflective opinion editorial in The Globe and Mail:

“On this Charter anniversary, let us reflect upon all that Canada has gained from the Charter in its short existence, and appreciate the contributions the document has made alongside the role of women and minorities in its crafting. All Canadians should be proud of this monumental constitutional moment, and look forward to having an inspiring reason to celebrate April 17 in years to come.”

Mr. Cotler also reflects on the Charter‘s role in fostering a sense of justice, equality, and fairness for all:

“Simply put, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is promotive and protective of what the pursuit of justice is all about. It is promotive and protective not only of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being, but the equal dignity and worth of all human beings – where one can aspire to a society which celebrates both equality and human dignity – a society which not only speaks to us in terms of who we are – that recognizes the dignity of difference – but also in terms of what we as Canadians, both collectively and individually, can aspire to be.”

Edward Snowden: “technology represents the most significant new threat to civil liberties in modern times.”

Speaking from Moscow to the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, France, whistleblower Edward Snowden provided live testimony, declaring:

“Technology represents the most significant new threat to civil liberties in modern times” (8 April 2014).

"Edward Snowden speaks via video link with members of the Council of Europe, in Strasbourg" (The Guardian).

Prominent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were alarmed to learn that the National Security Agency (NSA) in both the United States and the United Kingdom have intercepted telephone and information exchanges from high-level human rights staff. Snowden stated:

“The NSA has specifically targeted either leaders or staff members in a number of civil and non-governmental organisations…including domestically within the borders of the United States.”

Asked if the NSA had intercepted “highly sensitive and confidential communications,” Snowden replied: “The answer is, without question, yes. Absolutely.”

Snowden emphasized the wide-scale implications of these practices on reputable human rights organizations, and the safety of their human rights workers and staff, and how data-mining practices violate European Union privacy laws, including XKeyscore. He mentioned the NSA operated a “de facto policy of guilt by association.” The Guardian stated:

“XKeyscore allows analysts to search with no prior authorisation through vast databases containing emails, online chats, and the browsing histories of millions of individuals.”

In response to those who criticize his [Snowden's] outspoken account of the inner-workings of the NSA as a former analyst:

“I would like to clarify I have no intention to harm the US government or strain [its] bilateral ties.”

The Council of Europe defended the organization’s choice to invite Snowden’s testimony:

“Edward Snowden has triggered a massive public debate on privacy in the internet age. We hope to ask him what his revelations mean for ordinary users and how they should protect their privacy and what kind of restrictions Europe should impose on state surveillance.”

Amnesty International UK issued a press release following stark revelations. Michael Bochenek, Amnesty International Senior Director of International Law and Policy, stated:

“These allegations, if substantiated, would confirm our long-held fears that state intelligence agencies like the NSA and GCHQ have been subjecting human rights organisations to mass surveillance all along.

This raises the very real possibility that our communications with confidential sources have been intercepted. Sharing this information with other governments could put human rights defenders the world over in imminent danger.

When these concerns were raised before the US Supreme Court, they were dismissed as being ‘speculative’. Snowden’s latest revelation shows that these concerns are far from theoretical – they are a very real possibility.

We now need a full and frank disclosure of the extent of these surveillance programmes as well as water-tight legal guarantees against such indiscriminate surveillance in the future.”

NB: this opinion editorial was written in a personal capacity and does not represent the views of any of the organizations noted above.

UN Approves Inquiry into Rights Abuses in Sri Lanka

This week, the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution (A/HRC/25/L.4/Rev.1), which requests the Office of the High Commissioner to investigate the alleged human rights abused by both parties in Sri Lanka during the civil war. A previous United Nations report estimated that at least 40, 000 civilians had been killed in during the civil war. The resolution also expressed concern about continuing human rights abuses, including sexual and gender-based crimes, disappearances and torture. Twenty-three countries voted in favour of the resolution, twelve voted against and twelve abstained.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the Human Rights Council, Ravinatha Aryasinha, called the resolution “a grave threat to the sovereignty of U.N. member states.” Juliette De Rivero of Human Rights Watch called the resolution “long overdue” and said that “Sri Lanka should seize the moment and work with the UN to deliver what the victims of the war need: justice.”

Freedom of Conscience & Religion: Loyola High School v Québec (AG)

On March 24, 2014 the Supreme Court of Canada heard arguments in the case of Loyola High School et al v Attorney General of Québec.

The case deals with freedom of conscience and religion and the province’s mandatory ethics and religious culture  (“ERC”) program. In 2008, the Québec provincial government made the class mandatory. Loyal High School applied for a ministerial exemption which was denied.

Question before the court: Could the appellant (Loyola), a private Jesuit school in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Québec, refuse to teach a compulsory comparative religions and ethics class, which is taught in a secular context?

In 2010, the case was heard at the Québec Superior Court, namely: Loyola High School v Courchesne, 2010 QCCS 2631, Courchesne serving as the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports at the time. The court ruled the mandatory nature of the class would violate the school’s religious freedom, concluding:

[333] GRANTS the reamended motion of the plaintiff Loyola High School;

[334] QUASHES the decision of the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports dated November 13, 2008 (P-5) and signed by Line Gagné;

[335] DECLARES the plaintiff Loyola High School exempt, in accordance with the first paragraph of section 22 of the Regulation respecting the application of the Act respecting private education, from using the program established by the Minister of Education, Recreation and Sports (exhibits PGQ-31 and NK-3) and contemplated in the first paragraph of section 32 of the Act respecting private education (R.S.Q., c. E-9.1) to teach the compulsory subject ERC in the two cycles of general secondary education, namely, Secondary I, II, IV and V;

[336] AUTHORIZES the plaintiff Loyola High School to teach the compulsory ERC course using its program described in Exhibit P-2, as clarified in exhibits P-1 and P-4;

[337] THE WHOLE with costs, including expert costs.

In 2012, the same case was appealed by the Minister of Education to the Québec Court of Appeal, namely: Québec (Attorney General) v Loyola High School, 2012 QCCA 2139. The earlier decision by the Québec Superior Court was overturned.

June 13, 2013, leave to appeal from the Québec Court of Appeal was granted to the applicants (Loyola High School) by the Supreme Court of Canada and arguments were heard on March 24, 2014.

The court considered Section 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“freedom of conscience and religion”) and Section 3 (“freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association”) of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms of Québec.

The decision will now take several months for release. The case will determine important constitutional and administrative matters.

Conservatives may consider renaming Nadon to SCC

Despite the Supreme Court of Canada’s 6-1 decision regarding the unconstitutionality of Marc Nadon’s appointment to the high court, Justice Minister Peter MacKay wouldn’t rule out advancing Mr. Nadon’s nomination to the SCC:

Peter MacKay won’t rule out renaming Marc Nadon to Supreme Court.

“As you would expect, we’ll look at all the details of the decision, which I did read already with interest, including Mr. Justice [Michael] Moldaver’s dissent. And we’ll look at the details of the decision, we’ll examine our options as we ensure that the Supreme Court has its full complement,” MacKay said.

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