Creating a Better Learning Environment: Gay-Straight Alliance Bill to be Introduced in Alberta Legislature

On Thursday November 20, Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman is set to introduce Bill 202, the Safe and Inclusive School Act, to the Alberta Legislature. The private member’s bill is aimed at making all Alberta schools safe, inclusive, and supportive learning environments for all students regardless of sexuality, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The introduction of the bill in this year’s fall session of the legislature comes after a non-binding Liberal motion to support gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools was defeated in the spring session. It remains to be seen whether the bill will receive enough support to move forward in the legislative process from the governing Conservative party and opposition Wildrose party.

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Budget Cuts, User Fees Threaten Access to Information

Canada’s federal information watchdog, Suzanne Legault, is warning that budget cuts are impeding her ability to carry out her mandate of ensuring Canadians’ right of access to information.

The Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada is tasked with investigating complaints regarding freedom of information requests under the Access to Information Act.  The Office serves a vital role in government transparency, giving Canadians recourse to an independent body if a government agency denies or unduly delays a request for information.

However, the Office has been squeezed over the past few years by budget cuts and increased user access requests. Read the rest of this entry »

A Violation of Privacy Threatens a Victim’s Career

Lori Douglas is the Associate Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench’s Family Division in Manitoba. Over a decade ago she was the victim of an invasion of privacy on the part of her late husband, Jack King, who posted nude photos of her online without her knowledge or permission. In 2010, a former client of Douglas’ husband filed a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC), alleging that the couple had sexually harassed him. According to the client, King had invited him to participate in a threesome when he posted the nude photos of his wife online. Until his death King maintained that Douglas had no part in what he later described as his “ridiculous […] grotesque” actions. The CJC dropped the sexual harassment allegations in early October, however is proceeding with the disciplinary hearing. The CJC is concerned that the photos “could be seen as inherently contrary to the image and concept of integrity of the judiciary”. On Tuesday, Douglas lost a bid to end the hearing.

Senate Approves Controversial Prostitution Bill

The Senate approved Bill C-36 on Tuesday, inching the controversial prostitution bill one step closer to becoming law.  It now needs only Royal Assent, a mere formality, to become law.

The Bill is a response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Canada v Bedford last December, which struck down the existing prostitution laws as unconstitutional. In Bedford, the Court found that the laws infringed sex workers’ s. 7 Charter rights by imposing conditions that created a dangerous working environment. Read the rest of this entry »

“Monster” anti-austerity Halloween march takes place in Montreal

A Halloween protest against the Quebec Liberal government’s austerity plan, which was announced in spring 2014, turned out to be a “monster” on October 31.

Tens of thousands participated in the march, dubbed “Austerity: A Horror Story” in acknowledgement of it falling on Halloween. Members of Quebec’s largest union federations, retirees, health care workers, community groups and approximately 85,000 post-secondary students participated. The now-famous “red square,” symbol of 2012’s Maple Spring student protests in Quebec, was again seen everywhere in the Montreal core.

The last large anti-austerity protest in Montreal was on April 3, 2014, when approximately 60,000 students went on a one-day strike and took to the streets in response to the provincial government’s budget propositions. The march was organized by the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), one of the main forces behind the Maple Spring organizing.

Police in Montreal declared the April 3 march illegal before it started, claiming that organizers did not provide them with the march route ahead of time. The protest ended with violence as police deployed tear gas, pepper spray, projectile launchers, batons and shields against participants.

The October 31 march was also declared illegal for the same reason, but took place peacefully and without any major conflicts according to the Montreal Police Service (SPVM).







Quebec courts feeling strain of Maple Spring cases

Quebec’s student uprising in the spring and summer of 2012, the Maple Spring, brought new laws and protest response tactics that resulted in hundreds of protestors experiencing fines, detention and arrest. Now, Quebec courts may be feeling the strain.

On October 23, 2014, a municipal court in Montreal dismissed the cases of 75 self-represented litigants who were fined and detained at a protest in April 2012. Judge Gilles Pelletier’s decision rested on the fact that such fines, handed out in large quantities, were creating unreasonable delays in the system. Without a plan provided by the Crown to end the cases within a reasonable time period, Judge Pelletier found the massive resources and time required to process the tickets to be unjustifiable.

The 75 litigants in question had been fined under Montreal bylaw P-6, which was amended during the Maple Spring to allow police to fine protestors wearing masks or people gathering for a protest where the itinerary had not been provided to police.

P-6 continues to be a controversial. In August 2014, the Quebec Superior Court authorized eight class action law suits against the City of Montreal involving police response to protests. The class in question includes over 1600 protestors who were ticketed and claim to have been mistreated by police.

UK to Increase Maximum Sentence for Internet Trolls

The UK government announced today that it will increase the maximum prison sentence for internet trolls to two years, up from six months. It will also increase the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution from six months from the day of commission to three years. This is in conjunction with the creation of a specific offence to criminalize ‘revenge porn’.

The offence is described as “cover[ing] sending a letter, electronic communication or article of any description to another person, which is in nature, or which conveys a message which is, indecent or grossly offensive, or conveys a threat or false information, with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom it is intended that its contents should be communicated.”

Chris Grayling, the Minister of Justice, has described the initiative as “a stand against a baying cyber-mob”. Neither Mr Grayling nor the official press release make any comment about the underlying discrimination found in many instances of trolling.

This announcement was made just days after a high profile trolling case was made public. The daughter of Judy Finnegan, a well-known TV presenter, had receive rape threats online because of her mother’s on-air comments regarding a convicted rapists and football player. Finnegan said that Ched Evans should be welcomed back to professional sports because the rape “wasn’t violent and the victim was drunk”. Her comments solicited wide criticisms and she has since apologized, though her daughter was consequently the target of internet trolling.

For more information, see here.

UK to Criminalize “Revenge Porn”

UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced a new law to explicitly make “revenge porn” illegal. The Crown Prosecution Service had announced that current legislation already criminalized it with a maximum sentence of 14 years. The new law will explicitly penalize distributors of digital or physical “photographs or films which show people engaged in sexual activity or depicted in a sexual way or with their genitals exposed, where what is shown would not usually be seen in public”. The maximum sentence is 2 years imprisonment.

While revenge porn is usually characterized by spurned ex-lovers distributing pornographic images, many victims report that the only means that their photos could have been accessed was through computer hacking. It is unclear whether exes and hackers will be treated similarly under the law.

Criminalized distribution will not be limited to specialized revenge porn sites, but also to Twitter, Facebook, SMS and email. Additionally, if it is deemed a sexual offence, distributors could face up to 14 years in jail.

For more information, see here.

Bill C-13: At Odds with the Supreme Court of Canada

Bill C-13 or the Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act, was tabled by Minister of Justice Peter MacKay. As of October 1st, it passed on a vote at its report stage despite the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling on internet privacy laws this summer.

In summary the Bill, creates a new offence of non-consensual distribution of intimate images without the owner’s consent. It provides for the authorization to have these images removed, the forfeiture of property used in commission of the offence, and the restriction of the use of a computer or the Internet by a convicted offender.  It creates the power to make preservation demands and orders to compel the preservation of electronic evidence.  It allows for the granting of a warrant that will extend the current investigative power for data associated with telephones to transmission data relating to all means of telecommunications. It also allows for the grant of warrants that will enable the tracking of transactions, individuals and things related to the legal interests at stake. The Bill also prescribes a streamlined process of obtaining warrants and orders to intercept private communications.

In June of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada in R v. Spencer recognized enhanced privacy rights online and ruled that warrants are generally required when seeking subscriber information from telecoms. The decision goes against the enhanced powers that are found in Bill C-13. The Globe and Mail reports that,

Mr. MacKay insisted the bill “does not create warrantless access” to information, saying it’s an “incorrect, factually wrong statement” to say otherwise. However, the bill plainly opens the door to police getting information without a warrant – through the immunity provisions that apply broadly, not just to telecoms, which received 1.2 million data requests from law enforcement agencies in 2011.

With the Bill going ahead, there are critics wondering as to whether or not the Bill should be allowed to move forward due to the constitutional issues now at play. The Globe and Mail reports,

“We know the Supreme Court has already quashed one of the clauses … because it provided access to data without a warrant,” NDP MP Charmaine Borg said in the House, questioning Mr. MacKay. “… His bill allows people to have warrantless access to data with no judicial verification. Is he prepared to say that [the bill] is constitutional? Because the Supreme Court has already said that it is not.” Mr. MacKay said the question was a “false dichotomy”.

One suggestion, provided in a Macleans report in June of this year, states that, “privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien and the Canadian Bar Association have recommended that the cyber-bullying bill be split in two, with one bill covering cyber-bullying and another focusing on lawful-access provisions”.

The full text of Bill C-13 can be found here.


Significant Decline in Spoiled Ballots in NB Election

The CBC reported today on the dramatic decrease in spoiled ballots during the most recent election. There were 1611 spoiled ballots cast in the New Brunswick Election and this is alarming because it is half of what was casted in the 2010 election and 1000 votes less than the record low. The explanation behind this significant drop is the electronic tabulators and the influence it had on a voter’s ability to cast protest votes.

A protest vote is a means for a citizen to participate democratically but express dissatisfaction for the choice of candidates by not selecting any of them. The electronic tabulators only counted votes of ballots that were filled out properly and rejected those that were not. If the tabulators rejected a ballot, the operators asked voters if they wanted to revote. New Brunswick voters interviewed in the article expressed a sense of violation when questioned about their choice. Wayne Anderson of Sackville opted not to revote but speculated that many persons did. The reason being that there is a certain stigma to casting a ballot that is rejected. The secrecy of the ballot is fundamental to democratic systems. Voters should not feel the need to explain their choice.

Elections NB submitted a 2007 decision by Ontario Superior Court of Justice concerning a recount where 96 votes were rejected because persons did not properly make their selection (Di Biase v. Vaughan (City), 2007 38388 (ON SC)). This decision criticized election officials for not activating the tabulators to notify elections officers when a vote was not properly received. However, it is not the place of Ontario superior court decision to impact the secrecy of voters in New Brunswick Elections. The use of electronic tabulators and the impact on protest votes and accordingly, the secrecy of the ballot is a legal question that requires an answer if electronic systems will continue to be used.

Source Article

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