Water Shut Off in Detroit Hurting “The Most Vulnerable”

Detroit has been facing an unimaginable situation: in the past nine months, the municipality has shut off water services to over 27, 000 of its residents. The City chose this course of action in response to its residents’ inability to pay their bills, and as an attempt to reduce the utility company’s multi-million dollar debt. Under the policy, customers that are over 60 days late in bill payments are at danger of having their water services shut off. This forces many poor Detroiters to make some very difficult, unimaginable choices – for example, “to pay the water bill or to pay their rent.”

The UN has recently taken up the mantle of determining whether these water shut offs qualify as a violation of basic human rights. According to Catarina de Albuquerque, UN Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, and Leilani Farha, UN Special Rapporteur on housing, the shutoffs hurt “the most vulnerable and the poorest”. Ultimately, it is the low-income and African-American populations that have been disproportionately affected.

The Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Alexis Wiley, has defending the City’s actions by bringing attention to the unfair nature of forcing paying Detroit residents to “pick up the tab” for those who are not. In fact, some Detroit residents are receiving bills of over $4, 000 because, according to Ms. Wiley, “there are so many people who aren’t paying”.

The city has introduced a plan to help to help its residents pay their bills over the next two years. There have also been private donations made to qualifying residents. According to Ms. de Albequerque, however, this is not enough. The UN officials have recommended the creation of a mandatory federal water and sewage affordability standard and a special allowance for particularly vulnerable persons, such as “persons with disabilities, the chronically ill, and households with small children”.

This past September, federal bankruptcy judge Steven Rhodes ruled that there is no right to free water, and that the city could not afford to lose that revenue. While the UN does not have the authority to order the city to end its water shutoff program, and while it is unable to direct the U.S. government to intervene, it has stated that Detroit should restore its water service and only shut off water to those who have the money to pay, but refuse to do so. As of October 20, 2014, there are still roughly 2,300 homes without water.
Check out the Detroit Water Brigade, a volunteer-led alliance seeking to bring emergency relief to Detroit’s residents and advocating under the belief that water is a human right.

For more information, look here, here, here and here.

Problème d’accès à la justice dans la Vallée de Goose Bay, Newfoundland



La peur de parler

Il y a quelques semaines des travaillantes du sexe de Newfoundland ont allégué avoir été victimes d’agressions sexuelles. Elles ont peur de parlé, peur d’être arrêtées, peur d’être traitées comme des prostitués et non comme des victimes d’agression sexuelles, ainsi elles préservent le silence. VICE s’est interrogé sur le pourquoi, pourquoi est-ce que les travaillantes du sexe ne veulent pas parler et pourquoi aucune enquête ne fut entreprise, ils ont réussi à obtenir quelques réponses d’une travaillante du sexe de St-John’s, voir le lien qui suit :


B.C. Legislature Contemplating Heightened Security Measures After Ottawa Shooting

In light of Wednesday’s tragic events in Ottawa, questions are being raised about security measures at the B.C. Legislature. CTV Vancouver reports that the premises continue to remain closed to the public for a second day, as staff reassess safety protocols and determine whether to increase security. CTV’s Lisa Rossington said “some people at the B.C. legislature are suggesting the guards should carry firearms and that all public entrances should have metal detectors.”

Speaking to MLAs on Wednesday, B.C. Premier Christy Clark said there would be a careful review of security at the B.C. Legislature. According to CBC, Clark also told reporters that “it was important to find a balance between necessary concerns over security and being very careful not to shut the public out,” adding that ensuring public access to the Legislature and other institutions was a priority. The debate was intensified by reports that Clark and select members of the B.C. Legislature received information about security concerns in Ottawa in the days prior to the shooting.

Security in Metro Vancouver has also been increased for the time being, with a more noticeable police presence at select public buildings and near transit. The CBC reports that heightened security is to be expected at upcoming Remembrance Day ceremonies as well. The scope of these heightened measures is likely to be affected by information regarding the nature and motive of the Ottawa shooting, to be released in the days to come.

Read more here.









Death of Lucia Verga Jimenez Reveals Shortcomings in YVR Immigration Detention Facility

Lucia Vega Jimenez was found hanging from a shower stall inside the YVR underground immigration detention centre operated by a private security firm on December 20, 2013.  A coroner’s inquest was launched in an effort to prevent similar deaths from occurring. Video showing Jimenez entering bathroom can be found here.

Jimenez was a Mexican national, and was allegedly stopped by transit police, who suspected she was in Canada illegally, and was subsequently delivered to the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA). Jimenez was held in a facility staffed by Genesis Security, which provides private security contract positions to the three immigration-holding centers run by the CBSA. Genesis Security won the Top Choice Award for Top Security Guard Services in Vancouver of 2014. Current and former Genesis Security guards testified at the inquest that they often had to pay for their own training, and only received a pamphlet in lieu of suicide prevention training.

The inquest also heard that Genesis frequently understaffed security guards at the CBSA site, and that the records of mandatory checks on detainees were falsified. On the day of Jimenez’s death, the female guard required for checks on the female detainees was offsite, and ex-Genesis guard Jivan Sandhu failed to check on Jimenez for over 40 minutes after she entered the showers. Sandhu agreed with the statement by BCCLA lawyer Jason Gratl that Genesis had “too many jobs and not enough bodies”

The jury at the inquest was allowed to make recommendations to prevent similar deaths, but was not tasked with finding any individual liable.  The jury made a series of recommendations, including:

  • That legal counsel and NGOs be allowed access to the YVR Holding Centre immediately, and that the facility be closed as it failed to meet international human rights standards.
  • That the CBSA reassess their use of restraints, handcuffing and shackling to only those situations where they required absolutely.
  • That immigration holding facilities be operated by government employees and not private security companies.

The BCCLA issued a statement reacting to the inquest in which it reiterated the failures on the part of the private security firm in handling immigration detainees, and emphasized the detention “is the job of the government, and then only in the rarest circumstances in which detention is absolutely necessary”

A confidential Red Cross report made to the CBSA was released under an Access to Information request, as reported in Macleans. The report revealed that in 2012, an estimated 3,952 immigration detainees were held in correctional institutions alongside criminal populations. The report also stated that this practice can be “extremely stressfulThis is a particular concern for refugee claimants who have experienced armed conflict, torture, and other traumatic experiences”.

An Access to Information request made by the Globe and Mail revealed an internal CBSA memo that stated “current legislative agenda concerning immigration matters and the potential for an increase in the daily detained population”. Changes to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act have made it easier to detain newcomers. 

The CBSA issued a statement following the inquest that it would be carefully reviewing all findings and recommendations.

Junior hockey statement of claim alleges minimum wage legislation violations

CBC reported yesterday that a statement of claim has been filed in Toronto alleging that the Canadian Hockey League pays its players less than minimum wage in its respective regions. In New Brunswick, that wage is currently $10.00 per hour.

The Canadian Hockey League is the umbrella organization for the Western Hockey League, Ontario Hockey League, and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). The latter currently has 3 teams in New Brunswick playing out of Saint John, Moncton, and Bathurst. Age restrictions of the QMJHL mean that players of that league must be between the ages of 16 and 20.

This statement was claimed was filed in relation to a $180 million lawsuit which is seeking class action certification, and also alleges player entitlement to holidays, overtime pay, and vacation pay. See the full article here.

These claims have not been proven in court.

U.S. Supreme Court has Allowed Texas’s Controversial New Voter ID Law

On Saturday, October 18, a majority of Supreme Court Justices, without providing reasons for their decision, rejected an emergency request from the Justice Department and from civil right groups to prohibit the state from requiring that voters produce certain forms of photo ID in order to cast a ballot.  This interim decision was likely made in response to the quickly approaching early voting period, which began on Monday, October 20. Just a week before the Supreme Court’s decision, a U.S. District Court Judge in Corpus Christi had struck down the voter ID law following a nine-day trial. It currently awaits review by the Fifth Circuit, which put the trial judge’s decision on hold.

The ID law, enacted in 2011, was passed with the stated intention of preventing voter fraud, a problem with which the NAACP Legal Defense Fund says Texas’s electorate has had no prior experience. Section 5 of the Voter Rights Act, which was effectively eliminated by the Supreme Court in the June 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, had effectively blocked the Texas law. The Act aimed to prevent several states with a history of discrimination, including Texas, from changing election laws without permission. With its elimination, however, Texas officials are now able to enforce the voter ID law. Eric Holder Jr. released a statement this past Saturday in which he stated that, during its nine-day trial, the Federal Court had already determined that the law “was designed to discriminate”.

Under the voter ID law, there are only seven approved forms of ID, which include concealed handgun licenses, state drivers license, military ID, or passports. College IDs are not accepted, although this is a common practice in other states. At the federal court level, the judge found that this law would exclude approximately 600, 000 voters, many of them black or latino, from voting. The U.S. District Judge called it an “unconstitutional burden on the right to vote”.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan dissented. In a scathing, six-paged dissent, Justice Ginsburg warned that, “The greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.”

Justice Ginsburg also explained how the cost of obtaining the required ID was an unconstitutional barrier to voting: “A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID”. “For some voters”, Justice Ginsburg states, “the imposition is not small”.

The Court did not deal with the issue of the law’s constitutionality during its decision to not intervene. It therefore remains quite likely that the case will return to the Supreme Court after the Federal Court of Appeals passes a decision.

For more information, see here, here , here, here, and here.


Shrinking Caribou Population Clashes with Inuit Land Rights

The Kitikmeot Inuit Association heard a presentation by the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board concerning the shrinking number of caribou in the area. It was expressed that this startling decline in population could be a result of the Kitikmeot Inuit’s enterprise of selling the caribou meat online.

Pau Emingak, the executive director of the Kitikmeot Inuit Association stated that the Nunavut Wildlife Management Board is:

“concerned that, especially with caribou, that if caribou were to be sold to other communities for profit, then that would diminish the herds in the communities”

To the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Inuit have the right to sell all wildlife that has been acquired in accordance with the law. At present, the only restrictions for caribou hunting by Inuit in this area are on Southampton Island.

The decline of the caribou population in Nunavut is concerning. However, this latest crises may prompt a deeper inquiry into the balancing of Aboriginal rights with the preservation of certain animal species.

The Northwest Territories is facing similar concerns regarding the decline in caribou population.

See original story here.


President of Police Association: Time to Arm Police Officers

Greg O’Connor, the President of New Zealand’s Police Association, opined that with the frequency of armed incidents on the rise, it is “[t]ime to get real and arm our police.”

New Zealand Police (NZP) typically do not carry firearms. They do, however, have access to an arsenal of non-lethal weapons, such as batons, pepper spray, and tasers. Even so, NZP’s use of non-lethal weapons has not always been above reproach. Specifically, NZP’s reliance on tasers has created controversy as several groups, including the Mental Health Foundation, argue that a disproportionate number of taser victims suffer from mental illness.

NZP’s tactic of eschewing firearms in exchange for non-lethal weapons has been described as “policing by consent.” Such an approach emphasizes mutual trust between officers and the public. This approach may strike those of us living in countries where police customarily carry firearms as nearly incomprehensible.

Nearly incomprehensible because we have seen the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) rely on “a strategy of co-operation and non-confrontation… in the hope of facilitating peaceful and safe demonstrations,” during G8 and G20 protests and the 2010 Olympics. Further, we have seen the inverse of the policing with consent phenomenon; namely, the militarization of police forces has the tendency to escalate tension, with Ferguson, Missouri being a recent example.

Undoubtedly, O’Connor’s statement was prompted by a concern for the public’s safety and the safety of the NZP. However, it would be most unfortunate if the NZP abandoned its tradition of policing with consent in exchange for a policing model that has proven so very problematic for Canada and the United States, among others.

Vancouver Police Wear Body-Mounted Cameras For Oppenheimer Park Evictions

The Vancouver Police Department (VPD) equipped officers with wearable cameras to encourage transparency and “prevent people from acting in a difficult or violent manner” during Wednesday’s Oppenheimer Park evictions, reports the CBC. The VPD announced the body-mounted camera program as a pilot project in late 2013. The project is associated with the force’s Evidence Gathering Team, and similar initiatives have already been used on a trial basis in Victoria, Edmonton, Toronto, and select US cities.

The original camp at Oppenheimer Park came into existence in July, largely as a reaction to Vancouver’s lack of affordable housing. Over the past months, the site became a home for the city’s displaced and marginalized people, as well as a safe community for those facing issues including housing and addiction. Pivot Legal Society extensively interviewed and provided legal assistance to those living in the park. According to Pivot, many of the campers did not identify with sleeping in the park as part of a protest, but rather as one of the only means of survival available to them amidst a lack of response from the City in regards to accessible housing. On October 8, 2014 the B.C. Supreme Court approved the City of Vancouver’s injunction to evict the homeless campers from Oppenheimer Park. The eviction deadline came into effect on October 15 at 10 p.m. Despite no specific information suggesting there would be violence or other problems at the camp, the VPD equipped eight officers with chest-mounted GoPro cameras for the eviction. The evening progressed peacefully, with many campers dispersing, while those with no alternative housing options remained at the site.

While the force already uses handheld and pole-mounted cameras, the additional equipment is meant to enhance safety and encourage people to be better behaved with the knowledge that they are being recorded, according to VPD Chief Constable Jim Chu. The Vancouver Sun reports that “police departments have argued in favour of cameras to protect officers against unfounded allegations of abuse, insisting grainy cellphone videos that find their way onto YouTube rarely tell the whole story.” The use of cameras is increasingly regarded as a way to protect both the public and the police. “There’s an argument that it will keep both sides more civil, so the police are going to try harder to use tactical communication skills and will be even less likely to use force, and also the public may be a little more responsive, more co-operative,” said Rick Parent, a former police officer and current professor at Simon Fraser University’s police studies program.

However, this attempt at police transparency has received a fair share of criticism from those worried that not all interactions between police and the public will benefit from this type of surveillance. Before Wednesday’s eviction, D.J. Larkin, a lawyer with Pivot Legal society expressed concern about bringing cameras into Oppenheimer Park. Larkin explained that filming the “very, very emotional and very destabilizing environment” of people “who really don’t have other safe options and who really can’t access the shelter system” could escalate the situation. In another report by the Globe and Mail, Larkin also brought attention to the fact that the decision to use body-mounted cameras was turning a housing issue into a police enforcement issue, thus further diluting the concerns and realities of individuals residing in Oppenheimer Park. Josh Paterson, executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association expressed his concerns about the body-mounted cameras to the CBC. Paterson’s comments echo the unease of many who feel that the balance between police interests and privacy rights of citizens should not be tipped too far in favour of the former. Paterson stated that if opting to use the technology, the VPD must adopt comprehensive policies to ensure it is not abused. Paterson added that the decision to use the body-mounted cameras sporadically or temporarily does not excuse the lack of thorough protocols.

The VPD does not have plans to introduce body-mounted cameras to all officers or for a broader range of patrol-related activities, due to cost concerns and information storage limitations. Nevertheless, Wednesday’s use of the technology raises a multitude of questions as to if, when, and how its use could be reconciled with respecting the privacy and dignity of citizens, especially in times of vulnerability and distress.


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