Civil Rights

Do efforts to protect Canada’s electoral system from foreign interference go far enough?

November 29th, 2018 by Shelina Ali

This article was first published on rabble.ca

The federal government’s efforts to address foreign interference in next year’s federal election came into the spotlight recently after it was reported that the Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, told the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee that it would be “virtually impossible” to prevent foreign interference in the upcoming election.

In response to the threat of foreign interference in the Canadian democratic process, the government has proposed a variety of amendments to the Canada Elections Act, through Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act. Bill C‑76 undoes many of the amendments passed by the Harper government through the Fair Elections Act (which were widely criticized as undemocratic at the time), and attempts to address foreign interference by prohibiting the use of funds from foreign entities for political advertising or election surveys and by amending the prohibition in the Canada Elections Act against making false statements about political candidates. Despite these efforts, the amendments, particularly around making false statements, do not go far enough in addressing the problem of “fake news” and the use of social media to spread it. Read the rest of this entry

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. Read the rest of this entry

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. Read the rest of this entry

Signing on to silence: Confidentiality agreements in sexual assault cases

January 29th, 2018 by Michael Hackl

This article was first published on rabble.ca

The case of Larry Nassar, who for years was a doctor for Michigan State University and the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Olympic team, and who has pleaded guilty to seven counts of criminal sexual conduct, is truly disturbing. In the sentencing phase of the trial, 156 victims made statements to the court about the impact of his acts on their lives.

This case also drew attention to situations where an attempt is made to silence victims through a non disclosure or confidentiality agreement. One of Nassar’s victims, McKayla Maroney, reached a settlement with USA Gymnastics (USAG) in December, 2016, which included such an agreement, prohibiting her from speaking about any abuse she suffered at the hands of Nassar. The confidentiality agreement also contained a provision that if Maroney violated the agreement, USAG could “fine” her US$100,000. This raised the question of whether she would, or could, make a victim impact statement at Nassar’s sentencing hearing. Ultimately, USAG confirmed that it would not seek to enforce those provisions if Maroney made a victim impact statement.

As a result of USAG’s decision, in this case the confidentiality agreement will not have prevented Maroney from speaking out. But what about other victims who have signed confidentiality agreements in the course of settling sexual assault claims, in cases when the other party to the settlement agreement will not agree to waive the confidentiality agreement? Are those persons free to speak without any repercussions? Unfortunately, in Canada, the answer is not clear. Read the rest of this entry

The law is settled on sexual assault. When will the legal system catch up?

March 30th, 2017 by Shelina Ali

This article was first published on rabble.ca

Over the past year, the treatment of sexual assault complainants in the justice system has received a great deal of mainstream media attention. Much of the coverage has focused on how unfairly sexual assault complainants are treated. Examples include:

  • The cross-examination of complainants in the Jian Gomeshi case and the judge’s findings that inconsistencies in the complainants’ testimony made them not credible.
  • Comments made by Justice Robin Camp during a sexual assault trial in Alberta — asking why the victim didn’t keep her knees together — that ultimately led to his resignation.
  • A comment by a Nova Scotia judge that a drunk person can consent — in a trial where the complainant was found by police unconscious and undressed in the back of a cab.

And then, just this past week, the Supreme Court of Canada released a one-sentence decision that sums up the exasperation at the failings of the justice system when it comes to sexual assault.

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With judges like Robin Camp, how impartial is Canada’s justice system?

September 29th, 2016 by Shelina Ali

This article was first published on rabble.ca

I was recently listening to a radio program featuring racialized lawyers in Ontario discussing the challenges they faced in the legal profession and was struck by my reaction. I thought: how unfortunate that this was all being shared publically. Unfortunate, not because I did not believe the experiences of these individuals or sympathize with the challenges they were describing, but because I didn’t want people to know about the challenges. Why would anyone hire a racialized lawyer if they knew that the lawyer felt that there was a higher standard placed on them in court, by judges, as compared with their non‑racialized colleagues?

I wish my reaction was that this was the unusual experience of one lawyer and not a reflection of the justice system’s treatment of marginalized groups generally. Instead, it was one which exposed my own distrust in the Canadian judicial system and its impartiality. And my belief that the justice system as a whole does not provide the same opportunities and access to justice for individuals of colour, women, and other marginalized groups.

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