Freedom of Expression or Discriminatory Advertising on Buses: City of Edmonton in Court

On February 20 2015, the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench will hear a contentious case about freedom of expression and the right to place ads about honour killings on public buses. In 2013, Edmonton Transit rolled out new ads on their public buses reading “Muslim Girls Honour Killed by their Families” and asking “Is your family threatening you? Is there a fatwa on your head?” Almost immediately, there were a number of complaints to the city over concerns of racism and discrimination, resulting in their removal. In summer of 2014, the American Freedom Defence Initiative (AFDI), a New York-based non-profit organization that funded the ads, initiated an action suing the city, claiming the removal violates their freedom of expression.

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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.






Whole-Life Sentences Not Against Human Rights

The European Court of Human Rights just ruled on an appeal by a UK man sentenced to a whole-life tariff for the brutal murder of three victims.  They decided in a six to one judgment that under the current interpretations of the law, there is no human rights violations in the application of a whole-life sentence.

In 2013, the same Court ruled that whole-life sentences were incompatible with Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which reads “no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” However, since then, the allegedly unclear laws regarding whole-life sentences have been clarified by domestic courts which accounts for the change in rulings.

The Court has ruled that as long as there is a “mechanism or possibility for review”, whole-life sentences are compatible with Article 3 of the Convention.

Commentators are saying “the ruling is perhaps more significant politically than it is legally” as the Conservative government had cited the 2013 ruling as impetus to replacing the European Human Rights Act with a domestic British Bill of Rights.

L’affaire Badawi : L’Arabie Saudite sous pression

Jour après jour, le nombre d’organisations internationales qui défendent la libération de Raif Badawi ne cesse de monter.

La semaine passée, le Haut-Commissaire des Nations unies aux droits de l’homme, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, a demandé au roi saoudien de suspendre la peine de Badawi. Selon lui, la sanction corporelle appliquée au citoyen de cet État viole la dignité humaine et ne respecte pas la Convention contre la torture.

De son côté, l’Amnistie internationale a lancé récemment la campagne « #jesuisbadawi », à travers laquelle elle exige que les coups de fouet cessent et que Raif soit mis en libéré inconditionnellement. Il faut que l’État saoudien « respecte ses obligations en matière de droits humains et qu’il abolisse la flagellation », argumente l’ONG.

Des manifestations populaires font du bruit.

Selon La Presse Canadienne, un mouvement de protestation est de plus en plus fort à travers le monde. Les ambassades de l’Arabie saoudite font face à des manifestants qui dénoncent le dossier Badawi et la cruauté des peines corporelles.

Blogueur et fondateur du site Free Saudi Liberals, par lequel il défendait la liberté religieuse en Arabie Saoudite, Raif a été condamné en 2012 à 1 000 coups de fouet et 10 années de prison pour insulte à l’islam. Après sa condamnation, sa femme et ses jeunes enfants se sont réfugiés au Canada, vivant depuis lors à Sherbrooke, dans l’est du Québec.

Il est difficile de déterminer si les demandes seront accueillies par les Saoudiens. Au moins, il est clair que la mobilisation vient de remporter une importante victoire : la deuxième séance de flagellation de 50 coups de fouet que le blogueur devait recevoir ce vendredi a été annulée.

Australian government intimidates journalists reporting on immigration issues

Over the past 12 months, journalists reporting on the federal government’s asylum-seeker policies have been repeatedly referred to the Australian federal police (AFP) by federal government agencies in attempts to uncover confidential sources and whistleblowers.

Almost every referral made to the AFP by federal government agencies “for unauthorised disclosure of commonwealth information” since September 2013 has been directly related to immigration reporting by journalists. At least eight of these referrals to the police were made on the subject of asylum seeker stories many of which have been materialized into active police investigations.

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Battle for Burnaby Mountain: Part Three (The Protestors)

To read more about the National Energy Board hearings and the City of Burnaby’s legal challenges, read Parts One and Two of this series.

Public protests against the Kinder Morgan pipeline have been making news since September, when workers first cut down trees as part of they survey work. Since then protestors have grown in numbers, and the standoff reached an apex in November when Kinder Morgan won an injunction from the BC Supreme Court. The court ordered protestors to stay away, starting on November 16, from certain areas in which Kinder Morgan was conducting survey work or risk being arrested (2014 BCSC 2133). The BCSC found an injunction to be necessary, and relied on the distinction between legitimate protest involving freedom of expression and that of unlawful activity, as set out in MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. v. Simpson ([1996] 2 SCR 1048). The court found that while there would be some harm to the rights of the protestors, Kinder Morgan’s interests as a private member would be more severely and irreparably harmed, given the substantial costs and potential loss of revenue associated with the delays caused by the protests. A more complete analysis of the legal arguments and defenses presented by both sides can be found here. 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”.

Victoire pour le peuple autochtone NunatuKavut de Newfounland

Après plus de deux ans, les 10 manifestants de la région de NunatuKavut célèbrent leur victoire. En décembre 2012 et en avril 2013, les manifestants avaient défendus leurs droits à l’appropriation territoriale des chutes de Muskrat. Une injonction avait été octroyer leur empêchant ainsi de démontrer publiquement leur mécontentement face au projet hydraulique, les manifestants affirmaient cependant que celle-ci est contraire à leurs droits fondamentaux, notamment à leur liberté d’expression.

Le mois dernier, la cour de plus haute instance de Newfoundland-Labrador à l’unanimité a déclaré l’annulation de l’injonction prévoyant que les manifestants n’avaient pas le droit de s’exprimer . Maintenant, les accusations qui pesaient sur les manifestants furent abandonnés. Une zone sera désormais destiné aux manifestants afin que ceux-ci puissent démontrer leur mécontentement face au projet hydraulique de Nalcor Energy situé  dans la région du Bas-Churchill.

Nova Scotia school board to implement transgender guidelines

In April 2013, Jessica Durling, a transgender student at Hants East Rural High, was disciplined for using the women’s washroom. She was issued a one-day suspension. The suspension was later cancelled by the Chigneto-Central Regional School Board.

The incident made one thing obvious: the School Board’s policies needed to change. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Anti-Terrorism Bill Would Require Teachers to Denounce Students

The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill, currently before the UK House of Commons, includes a directive which could force teachers to invade their students’ privacy. The Bill would require teachers to monitor students in order to prevent them from “being drawn into terrorism” and to report them when inappropriate comments or behaviour are witnessed.

One of the most common criticisms of the Bill is that is includes pre-school teachers and nursery staff. While most of the commentary has revolved around the absurdity of reporting on terrorist toddlers, civil rights proponents are also worried about forcing teachers to spy on their pupils’ families. Teachers, meanwhile, fear that the directive would foster an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion between themselves and their students’ families.

As the Bill would create an additional duty on teachers, it is unclear exactly how it would be implemented or enforced.

For more information, see here.


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