The Canadian Civil Liberties Association released a report last week titled “Set up to Fail: Bail and the Revolving Door of Pre-trial Detention,” which questions the extensive rise in pre-trial custody populations and identifies the extreme personal and financial costs of current practices in Canadian bail courts. The report reveals that more than half of the inmates in provincial jails across the country are simply awaiting trial or a determination of their bail, and have not been convicted of anything. However, the study shows that P.E.I., with fewer than 20 per cent of inmates awaiting trial, has the lowest remand rate in the country.
Charles Thompson, a justice of the peace who conducts bail hearings in Charlottetown, believes the rest of Canada can take some lessons from P.E.I.’s justice system, the CBC reports.
Download the CCLA’s full report, Set Up to Fail: Bail and the Revolving Door of Pre-trial Detention.
Read the CCLA’s quick bail and pre-trial detention fact sheets:
The Montreal Gazette reports that a Quebec woman was ordered by the Quebec Human Rights Tribunal to pay $30,000 for hateful racial harassment toward her next-door neighbours. The couple may unfortunately never receive any of the award, as the respondent has disappeared, making it a judgment by default.
Through the judgment, the Quebec Human Rights tribunal wants to send a clear message about racial discrimination and its harmful effect to victims and society. The couple that brought the claim say the neighbour constantly yelled racial slurs at them, even in front of their young daughter. The accused neighbour was seen to own a gun and also made death threats against them. The couple also filed a criminal complaint, in which their neighbour was sentenced to six months of community service. They were ultimately forced to move because of the threats and harassment. According to the executive director of the Centre for Research-Action on Race relations, who helped bring the claim to the Tribunal, this decision sets an important precedent that demonstrates “this kind of hateful, violent, racial harassment will … be treated harshly.”
The European Court of Human Rights released its decision on Tuesday upholding France’s ban on face-covering veils in public, a law that prevents Muslim women from wearing the burqua or niqab. In S.A.S. v France, a French Muslim woman brought a challenge against the law, arguing that it constitutes discrimination on the basis of sex, religion and ethnic origin. Though it rejected France’s argument that the ban protects security and gender equality, the European Court of Human Rights ruled the law is justified in order to promote harmony and “living together” in a diverse population.
Critics of France’s law argue that it infringes on the rights of Muslim women and that it is wrong to criminalize those who chose to wear the veil. Human Rights Watch criticizes the European Court of Human Rights for upholding a law that undermines women’s rights to express their religion freely and interferes with their personal autonomy. For women who are coerced into covering their faces, those who the law supposedly intends to protect, they will simply be forced into isolation and confined to their homes.
The extensive explorations into Ashley Smith’s death and her experience in the Canadian penal system, along with the increasing number of exposés on the use of solitary confinement has brought many questions about the treatment of prisoners to the fore in Canadian news once again. The intersection of politics, the prison and legal systems, mental health, and prisoner’s rights in these cases create a complex dialogue that needs to be teased out.
As Canadians, we have come to believe in our Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter), in the values that it promotes and the resulting rights that we have come to enjoy as citizens. Many of us identify with the image or reflection of humanity it fosters. When an individual is convicted of a crime, as a prisoner, some of his or her fundamental rights are inherently limited by the very nature of being confined within a penitentiary. More specifically, in prison, one’s liberty interest is compromised, often justified on the basis of ensuring safety of another population. Once imprisoned, however, the rights of individuals are not entirely revoked. Instead, these rights are often treated as resources and sources of tension offered as rewards for good behavior and retracted as punishment. This grey area is often difficult to navigate, with deference given to correctional service authorities. Legal processes in this way are very important mechanisms for prisoners as a way to ensure that they continue to be treated humanely and as citizens of the country.
In this short series, I will look at one line of inquiry that tends to be sidelined in mainstream media, that is, prisoner’s rights. I will suggest that the right to liberty, while a substantive right, is often compromised based on a procedural focus. Instead, examining the temporal-spatial aspects of liberty within the prison context refocuses our attention on the need to reform not only prison procedures, but the nature of the space itself in order to protect this fundamental right. Read the rest of this entry »
Alberta has given a new birth certificate to a 12-year-old transgender boy living in Edmonton, Huffington Post Canada reports. Wren Kauffman, born a girl, filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission concerning his inability to change his sex on his birth certificate. In Alberta, transgender persons can only change the sex on their birth certificate following a reassignment surgery. This bars minors, as an individual must be over 18 years of age to undergo the operation. However, Premier Dave Hancock states this requirement will be abandoned. Following Premier Hancock’s announcement a judge ruled that the provincial law dealing with birth certificates violates the rights of transgender individuals.
This has also been an issue in other provinces. In 2012, Ontario amended its law after a ruling came down that held it was discriminatory to require surgery in order to change an individual’s sex on their birth certificate. Now, changes can be made so long as a note from a doctor or psychologist is provided confirming the change in person’s “gender identity.” You must also be over the age of 18.
In Saskatchewan, however, reassignment surgery is still required. The recent Alberta ruling also coincides with recent discussion about health care coverage for transgender individuals. In Saskatchewan, two reassignment surgeries are available for transitioning from a male to female: a complete sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and orchiectomy surgery. For SRS, coverage under SaskHealth is tough and carries a price tag of approximately $20,000. For transgender individuals in Saskatchewan, this may mean paying huge costs for sterilization simply in order to change their gender on their birth certificate. The Chief Commissioner of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission David Arnot has responded to the recent discourse by stating that the Commission will continue to monitor events in other provinces.
Global reports Justice Perry Schulman ruled that fees charged to residential school survivors “were in many cases illegal and in some cases unconscionable.”Although lawyers were to receive a maximum of 30 percent of the award, many claimants were forced to pay the companies that assisted them with the completion of forms.
Justice Schulman stated in court that “… many of the services performed by form-fillers …. are within the role of claimant’s counsel.”
The ruling concerned a $5 billion settlement agreement, which is purported to be one of the largest class action settlements in Canada. The case involved claims of abuse against more than 100 residential schools across the country.
The Provincial government in Prince Edward Island has rejected a proposal to have physicians come into the province to perform abortions, the Globe and Mail reports. Proposed by the Washington-based National Abortion Federation, the plan would have seen three doctors travel to P.E.I. on a regular basis to provide abortions. Currently, no doctors perform the procedure in the province, and women must travel to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick to access the procedure. The P.E.I. government pays for out-of-province abortion services if they are done in hospital with a doctor’s referral, but they do not pay for travel costs.
The debate over abortion access in the Maritime provinces has been brought to the forefront in recent weeks following the announcement that the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton will close this July. The Morgentaler clinic is the only private clinic in New Brunswick, meaning that women in that province will now have to go to one of two approved hospitals where they can access abortion services only after they have received approval from two doctors certifying that the procedure is medically necessary.
Read the rest of this entry »
U of S students have organized around the slogan “DefendUS” in hopes to end TransformUS, the University’s plan to tackle the deficit. The organized group wrote a letter to Gordon Barnhart on Friday, the acting president of U of S, which has more than 850 signatures from faculty, staff, and students. The letter also demands more collegial decision-making with greater input from students and staff.
This is just the most recent event that has stemmed from U of S over the past few weeks that started with the firing of Dr. Robert Buckingham after he spoke out against the university’s leadership. Although the University’s provost resigned, former president Ilene Busch-Vishniac let go, and Professor Buckingham hastily re-hired, the school continues to struggle with its damaged reputation. U of S has received a barrage of criticism from civil liberties advocates who assert that freedom of expression has been stifled in the very institutions that should promote such fundamental rights.
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%.
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.”