Posts by Michael Hackl

Three things to think about as employers during the COVID-19 crisis

March 27th, 2020 by Michael Hackl

The COVID‑19 pandemic has led to significant changes in our daily lives as governments, businesses, and individuals all try to do what they can to slow the spread of the illness. ‘Social distancing’ has become a term that is familiar to all of us as we limit our physical interactions with one another, and adjust the ways we act when we do meet with others, all in an effort to respond to the advance of this illness.

One aspect of daily life that has changed dramatically for many of us as a result of the COVID‑19 crisis is the workplace. The provincial government has issued an order requiring all non‑essential workplaces to shut down, at least until early April and possibly beyond that. Even before that order was issued, many employers were shutting down their workplaces and requiring employees to work remotely. Further, many employers who are permitted to keep their workplaces open under the government order have nonetheless shut down their workplaces in favour of having employees work from home. And with the impact that COVID‑19 is having on many businesses, some employers are laying off employees.

For many employers, these steps will also raise legal questions and issues. As this whole situation is new to all of us, we expect that the responses to the crisis will raise novel legal questions that were not anticipated. But there are already some legal questions that are arising, and it would be wise for employers to give consideration to the legal implications of any measures they may take, as well as how to respond to questions or resistance from employees. With this in mind, we are setting out a few of the issues that we have already seen, so that you can consider them in making decisions on how to manage your employees through this crisis. This article is not meant to give you the answers as to how to address those issues – that is simply not possible in light of the many different circumstances that each different employer has to address. Instead, it is meant to give you an idea of some of the issues that you might face, to help you to be aware of what you might face, and to help you think about when you might seek professional advice about these issues. Continue reading “Three things to think about as employers during the COVID-19 crisis”

Clearer rules needed for facial recognition technology

February 28th, 2020 by Michael Hackl

A version of this article was first published on

In a previous column, I wrote about the dangers that some police technology poses for civil liberties. In that column, I addressed police use of a computer program that claims to identify geographic areas that are more likely to experience crimes in order to direct police resources to those areas. Now, with Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders’ recent admission that some officers in the Toronto Police Service have been using a piece of facial recognition software called Clearview AI (named for the company that developed the software) since at least October 2019, we have another example of how law enforcement can use technology in a way that seriously threatens our civil liberties.

Clearview AI has apparently mined the internet for billions of photos of people, largely from social media sites and the open web, whereas other companies providing facial recognition technology to police rely upon government sources such as mugshots and driver’s license photos. Continue reading “Clearer rules needed for facial recognition technology”

Bill 21 allows tyranny of the majority to trump minority rights

September 27th, 2019 by Michael Hackl

This article was first published on

Earlier this week, Quebec’s Human Rights Commission released a 327-page report (a 32-page summary can be found here), documenting xenophobic and Islamophobic acts of hate. The commission found that crimes reported and classified as hate crimes have been on the rise across Canada over the past decade, and in Quebec the two most targeted groups in hate crimes reported to the police in 2017 were Muslims and Arabs (and 78 per cent of xenophobic or Islamophobic acts were not even reported to the police). Further, the respondents to the study had experienced an average of three xenophobic or Islamophobic acts, and 35 per cent of the victims said they had changed their lifestyle as a result of encountering acts of hate.

The report’s recommendations include taking steps to address systemic discrimination. Myrlande Pierre, vice‑president of the Quebec Human Rights Commission, stated: “Systemic or structural racism exists. Quebec is not exempt from this phenomenon.”

Continue reading “Bill 21 allows tyranny of the majority to trump minority rights”

A constitutional cop‑out: Federal government passes the buck on conversion therapy

April 1st, 2019 by Michael Hackl

This article was first published on

The federal government missed an opportunity to introduce a significant protection for the LGBTQ community by failing to take steps to ban conversion therapy (the discredited practice of trying to convert individuals with non-heterosexual sexual orientations to heterosexuality under the guise of therapy). Instead, in its response to a petition calling for a ban on conversion therapy the federal government passed the buck to the provinces and territories.

The petition and the government’s response

On February 1, NDP MP Sheri Benson presented a petition to the House of Commons seeking a ban on conversion therapy, with a focus on protecting minors. The petition pointed out that organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Canadian Psychological Association have issued statements indicating that the practice is not supported by scientific research, lacks medical justification, and rather than providing assistance to affected individuals, can have significant adverse effects on their mental and physical health.

Continue reading “A constitutional cop‑out: Federal government passes the buck on conversion therapy”

Police technology vs. civil liberties — science fiction or current reality?

September 27th, 2018 by Michael Hackl

I enjoy reading science fiction, especially when it considers humanity’s struggle to deal with new technologies. Often these stories present a cautionary tale about how new technologies can be misused to oppress people. This idea of science fiction as cautionary tales was summed up by author Ray Bradbury, who wrote: “The function of science fiction is not only to predict the future, but to prevent it.”

One of my favourite science fiction writers is Philip K. Dick, who wrote a number of these cautionary tales. One of them, “The Minority Report” (which you may know instead as a Tom Cruise movie — the short story is better) presented a future where police did not investigate crimes that had occurred; instead, the “PreCrime” unit stops crimes before they occur, based on predictions from precognitive mutants.

Reality imitates fiction

So imagine my surprise when I came upon an article discussing police use of a computer program called PredPol (short for predictive policing) to identify areas that are more likely to experience crimes and to direct police resources to those areas. Continue reading “Police technology vs. civil liberties — science fiction or current reality?”

Medical cannabis benefits denied: How statutory insurance plans can avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits

April 26th, 2018 by Michael Hackl

As we move toward the legalization of recreational cannabis, I thought it would be interesting to look at a recent case dealing with medical cannabis and the efforts of one person to get assistance from his province’s workers’ compensation board to contribute to the cost of the medical cannabis prescribed to him.

The case of Skinner v. Nova Scotia (Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal) provides insight into how the use of medical cannabis is sometimes still perceived as an unconventional treatment despite having been legal in Canada for almost two decades, and also how administrative law gives statutory insurance schemes ways to avoid providing benefits to individuals seeking coverage for medically prescribed treatment. Continue reading “Medical cannabis benefits denied: How statutory insurance plans can avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits”