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.

Mayor of Montreal says no to Jewish Defence League chapter

Denis Coderre, mayor of Montreal, tweeted a clear message to the Jewish Defence League (JDL) on February 16 that it is not welcome in his city.

CBC reports that the Jewish Defence League was identified 15 years ago by the FBI as a right-wing terrorist group and that two of its members were arrested in 2001 under suspicion of planning to blow up a mosque in California. The JDL, which is already established in Canada, explains on their website that Montreal has become a “focal point for radical Islamic ideology” and that establishing a Montreal chapter will “solidify relationships with other anti-jihadist forces in Quebec…and shut down institutions” that promote that ideology.

The Huffington Post quoted Montreal police Cmdr. Ian Lafrenière, who says the police are gathering intelligence and monitoring the group’s activities in Montreal but that they have nothing yet to suggest the group will commit violence or is violent. The JDL held a meeting on February 16 in a Montreal restaurant where approximately 100 people attended under heavy security.

JDL Canada’s website describes the group’s goals as, among other things, the restoration of Jewish values, the abolition of hatred and bigotry, and resistance to Jewish victimization and anti-Semitism. Their site also states that Jews must “recognize that [they] have become legitimate targets to be wiped off the face of this earth.”


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 »

Montreal imam will be refused permit to open community centre, city says

A controversy surrounding Montreal imam Hamza Chaoui is raising issues of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association and national security in Quebec. Chaoui, who denounces homosexuality and has said that democracy is “incompatible” with Islam, will be denied a permit to open an Islamic community centre in the Montreal borough of Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve for the time being.

In January, Chaoui announced that he intended to open an Islamic community centre in the borough. On February 2, the borough passed a bylaw freezing the issuing of any new permits for community centres while it studies a “zoning change that would distinguish between activities associated with places of worship and those associated with offering community services.”

The bylaw has raised concern among human rights experts. Lawyers Pearl Eliadis and Julius Grey argue that if the purpose of the municipal bylaw is to constrain or silence particular views, then it is an improper use of the borough’s lawmaking powers and may infringe on fundamental freedoms. Eliadis says that it is appropriate for the municipality to be concerned about preventing hate speech or about keeping community centres from being places where radicalization can take place. Using a municipal bylaw to do so, however, is reminiscent for her of the era of Maurice Duplessis, who allowed police to padlock any building used for spreading communist views.

A number of Parti quebecois politicians, such as Agnès Maltais and Kathleen Weil, have denounced Chaoui’s views as radical, specifically his views on democracy and gender equality. Premier Philippe Couillard has also responded to Chaoui’s statement that he is considering legal action against the municipality, stating that his number one priority is the security of Quebeckers. Montreal mayor Denis Coderre’s response has been similar, stating that he is against all forms of radicalism.  Chaoui, for his part, argues that he is not a radicalization agent and that his stated views do not amount to hate speech or promote violence.






New Bill Threatens Privacy, Liberty and Citizenship

Bill C-44 was tabled by Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney. The Bill named, An Act to amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and other Acts will have large repercussions on privacy and Canadian citizenship. On January 28th it was reported back to the House without amendment and it received concurrence at the Report Stage in the House of Commons. A motion was also passed on that day in order to allocate no more than one further sitting day for debate of C-44 at both the report stage and third reading.

Read the rest of this entry »

After Paris, UK’s “Snooper’s Charter” Back on the Table

Shortly after the attacks in Paris, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, is one of many around the world calling for increased police powers to monitor the activities of those who may pose a threat to domestic security. He told reporters that he is “not particularly bothered with this civil liberties stuff”.

Johnson is mirroring the sentiments of the Conservative government, who have plans to revive the controversial Communications Data Bill. The Bill is known as the “Snooper’s Charter” as it would allow the government to monitor and store internet and mobile communications from all UK citizens for a full year.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has come out against the Bill, worrying that it would confer too many powers. While advocating for a change in the existing laws, he says there are other ways to “identify the needle without inferring guilt on the whole of the haystack”.

Jury Selected for Couple Charged with Plotting to Blow Up British Columbia Legislature

John Stuart Nuttall and Amanda Korody were arrested in July 2013 for allegedly planting pressure-cooker explosive devices on the premises of the provincial legislature in Victoria, B.C. on Canada Day. The pair was charged with knowingly facilitating a terrorist activity, making or possessing an explosive device, conspiracy to place an explosive device with the intent to cause death or injury, and conspiracy to murder persons unknown. On Tuesday, they both plead not guilty.

Shortly after the pleas were entered, jury selection for the highly publicized trial began. More than 300 potential jurors were present for the scheduled first day of jury selection at the B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver. Jury selection took place in courtroom 20, an enhanced-security courtroom built for the Air India trial and often used for high-profile B.C. cases. By the end of the day, all 14 jurors (7 women and 7 men) had been selected.

In a surprising move, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bruce issued a publication ban on many details of the proceedings, including much of the jury selection process.

The trial is scheduled to begin February 2 and is anticipated to continue for 18 weeks.

Read more here.


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