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.

 

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.

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.

More Mandatory Minimums Ahead

The latest development in the Conservative “Touch on Crime” approach is the Tougher Penalties for Child Predators Act. Bill C-26 had it’s second reading in the House as of November 20th 2014.

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UK May Criminalize Drinking While Pregnant

A case was heard at the UK Court of Appeal last week that could determine whether drinking while pregnant constitutes criminal negligence.

The case is on behalf of a six year old girl with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). While an administrative decision ruled that her FAS was a direct result of her mother’s drinking during the pregnancy, the girl was denied access to compensation from the Criminal Injuries Authority. They are now arguing on her behalf that the mother’s behaviour fulfills all the elements of the offence of criminal negligence so she can be deemed eligible for victim’s compensation.

If it is ruled in her favour, the decision risks criminalizes any woman who imbibes while pregnant. There are fears that the criminalization could extend to any amount of alcohol, despite any absent of damage. It could also be extended to drug-use during pregnancy. It may even eventually extend to criminalizing all sorts of behaviours, such as eating sushi or drinking caffeine.

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Enforcement and Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program Rules

Bill C-43 the Omnibus budget Bill sponsored by Conservative Joe Oliver had its second reading in the house on October 31st 2014. The changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program would give the government the power to list employers who are found to be in violation of federal immigration rules. This is found in Division 24 of the Bill some of which is excerpted below:

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Justin Bourque sentencing phase underway this week in Moncton

Earlier this week, a two day sentencing hearing commenced in Moncton for Justin Bourque, the 24-year old who pleaded guilty to 3 counts of first-degree murder in connection with the deaths of 3 police officers in Moncton earlier this year.

CBC has reported that as a result of a change of Criminal Code sentencing laws in 2011, the ineligibility period of parole for Bourque for these convictions may be as high as 75 years. Crown prosecutor Cameron Gunn is reported to be seeking the maximum parole ineligibility period, whereas defence attorney David Lutz has argued for a parole ineligibility period of 50 years. In argument, Lutz stated that anything besides 50 years would be academic as Bourque would be 99 before being eligible for parole under the maximum ineligibility period. More can be read on these proceedings here.

Today in an interview with the CBC, St. Thomas University criminology professor Karla O’Regan weighed in on the sentencing hearing and called for a more methodological and uniform approach to criminal justice sentencing rather than basing it on potent emotions and reactions of fear. Her entire interview can be seen here.

Suicide, Violence and Over-Crowding Up in UK Prisons

The UK prison system is under fire this month after a comprehensive report was released.

The report details a 69% rise in self-inflicted deaths in prison in just one year, totaling 88. One article cites 125 suicides in 20 months, averaging on 6 suicides a month. The report also details a 14% rise in prisoner-on-prisoner assault, including a 38% rise in serious assault among adult male prisoners. Additionally, it lists a rising problem with drugs.

The report blames overcrowding as the root cause of the problem. The prison system is currently using 99% of “the usable operational capacity”. One group also attributes the problems to massive budget cuts. While the numbers are uncertain, between 27 and 41% of prison jobs have been cut since the election of the Cameron government. Meanwhile, employees who have spoken publicly about the safety implications these job cuts have created are allegedly being reprimanded and may loose their jobs.

For more, see here.

Quebec courts feeling strain of Maple Spring cases

Quebec’s student uprising in the spring and summer of 2012, the Maple Spring, brought new laws and protest response tactics that resulted in hundreds of protestors experiencing fines, detention and arrest. Now, Quebec courts may be feeling the strain.

On October 23, 2014, a municipal court in Montreal dismissed the cases of 75 self-represented litigants who were fined and detained at a protest in April 2012. Judge Gilles Pelletier’s decision rested on the fact that such fines, handed out in large quantities, were creating unreasonable delays in the system. Without a plan provided by the Crown to end the cases within a reasonable time period, Judge Pelletier found the massive resources and time required to process the tickets to be unjustifiable.

The 75 litigants in question had been fined under Montreal bylaw P-6, which was amended during the Maple Spring to allow police to fine protestors wearing masks or people gathering for a protest where the itinerary had not been provided to police.

P-6 continues to be a controversial. In August 2014, the Quebec Superior Court authorized eight class action law suits against the City of Montreal involving police response to protests. The class in question includes over 1600 protestors who were ticketed and claim to have been mistreated by police.

Asylum Seekers Win Appeal Against Immigration Department

In February 2014, The Guardian reported that the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection (Department) accidentally released the personal information of 10,000 people seeking asylum in Australia. Asylum seekers’ full names, nationalities, location, and arrival date were inadvertently posted on the Department’s public website. The egregious mistake has been labelled as “one of the most serious privacy breaches in Australia’s history.” The breach raised serious questions regarding the possibility of asylum seekers falling prey to retributive actions if they returned to their countries of origin.

In addition to security issues, the breach highlights the Department’s failure to adhere to privacy laws. Australia’s Privacy Act regulates the government’s collection, use, disclosure, and storage of personal information. One of the guiding principles of the Privacy Act requires government organizations in possession of personal information to “take such steps as are reasonable in the circumstances to protect the information… from unauthorised access, modification or disclosure.” In a statement reported by the The Guardian, the Department acknowledged that the personal information was “vulnerable to unauthorised access,” and internal investigations were ongoing.

Following the breach, several asylum seekers applied to the Federal Circuit Court for orders preventing their deportation and mandating that the security breach be considered when their claims for asylum were processed. The Federal Circuit Court delivered conflicting judgments pertaining to the privacy breaches. Appeals from the Federal Circuit Court judgments were heard together on Friday, October 24, 2014.

The Guardian reported that the Federal Court held that the appeals should be allowed for two of the claimants and the matter was referred back to the Federal Circuit Court. The Federal Court also determined that the Minister of Immigration was obliged to pay costs. The Federal Court Judges took the opportunity to criticize the Minister’s handling of the privacy breach. In particular, the Federal Court was critical of a letter sent to asylum seekers stating that the Department would examine the privacy breach’s impact on the claimants “as part of its normal processes.” However, the Minister’s counsel conceded during the appeal that there was, in fact, no “normal processes” in place.

The written judgment, while not available at the time this article was posted, will be published here in due course.

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