Staffing shortages lead to more lockdowns in Ontario jails

The recent staffing shortage of correctional officers has led to a rapid increase in lockdowns across the province. Last year, there were over 900 lockdowns due to staffing issues – tripling 2009’s rate of 259. These figures solely reflect lockdowns triggered by staffing shortages. They do not include lockdowns caused by security breaches, transfers of high-risk prisoners, violence, or contraband.

The staffing shortage began in 2010 when Ontario put in place a hiring freeze. In addition to the freeze, the province beefed up aspects of the hiring process for correctional guards, changing the manner in which background checks are conducted. The province began hiring again in 2014, but have yet to hire enough to meet current demands.

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External panel for consultations on physician-assisted death created

Catherine Frazee, Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov, and Benoît Pelletier are the members of an external panel, announced by the federal government today, which will conduct roundtable discussions on the issue of physician-assisted death.

Last February, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously held in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) [Carter] that Criminal Code provisions which prohibited physician-assisted dying violated section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Supreme Court issued a declaration of invalidity and suspended the law for 12 months, giving Parliament and provincial legislatures the option of enacting legislation that would be constitutional.

The panel will consult with medical authorities and interveners in Carter, as well as the Canadian public through an online consultation. Justice Minister Peter MacKay listed faith-based interests and disabilities communities as examples of stakeholders whose perspectives would be sought.

Minister MacKay indicated that the government would request an extension beyond the 12 months given by the Supreme Court. The panel will provide a final report to the Ministers of Justice and Health to assist the government in forming a legislative response to the Supreme Court’s decision. The report is expected to be ready by late Fall 2015.

Visit the site of the External Panel on Options for a Legislation Response to Carter v. Canada here

Former inmate points to province for breaching solitary confinement rules

The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services has allegedly violated their settlement with former inmate, Christina Jahn, who is now seeking legal action against the province.

In 2011, Jahn spent a total of 210 days in solitary confinement at the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. Jahn suffered, and remains to suffer, from mental illness and terminal cancer. She did not receive adequate treatment for her health conditions while in segregation and recalls her time there as “brutal and humiliating.” Jahn was serving sentences for charges including theft, mischief, resisting arrest, and causing a disturbance.

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Aboriginal Offenders Serve More Time Before Being Paroled

The Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) has released a report entitled Corrections and Conditional Release Statistical Overview.

Among its many findings, the report showed that aboriginal offenders serve more time on average in prison before they are paroled.

Parole is an important part of rehabilitation and social reintegration. As Lydia Bardak, a spokesperson for the John Howard Society, said, “Releasing someone at the end of their sentence does not make a safe community.”

Aboriginal offenders are more likely to spend their entire sentence in prison than non-aboriginal offenders. They are thus at a disadvantage as compared to their non-aboriginal peers.

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Magna Carta turns 800

In a meadow in Runnymede, on June 15, 1215, at the behest of his rebellious barons, King John affixed his seal to Magna Carta, the Great Charter, which guaranteed certain fundamental rights for the people of England.

The basic protection of the rule of law was enshrined in clauses 39-40 of the original document, which can be translated as:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.”

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Abortion on the agenda in Prince Edward Island

On Tuesday, a petition signed by hundreds of Islanders will be tabled in the Prince Edward Island legislature. The petition calls for abortion services to be provided on the island. As the Charlottetown Guardian reports,

[T]he word ‘abortion’ has only been uttered three times in the P.E.I. legislature. In each instance, abortion was only being used as an example of a controversial health service. There has never been any real debate or discussion about abortion in the legislative assembly of the only province in Canada that does not offer abortion services.

For more than 30 years, Island women have been unable to legally access abortions on-island. Instead, they must travel to New Brunswick or Nova Scotia for the procedure. If the women have the abortion in a hospital, PEI Medicare will pay the physician and hospital costs, but will not if the woman has the abortion in a private clinic, like Fredericton’s Morgentaler clinic (now Clinic 554). In either case, the woman must pay for their travel and accommodation expenses themselves. Until recently, Island women had to seek a referral from an island doctor. As the CCLA argued in 2011,

Setting up procedural barriers, such as requiring doctors’ referrals in advance of such a time-sensitive medical procedure, is prohibitive and discriminatory.

Removing that requirement is a good first step toward respecting the civil liberties of Island women. Seriously considering abortion access in the legislature will be a good second step.

High Court rules that Medical Marijuana includes Brownies, Teas and Oils

On June 11, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down limits on what constitutes legally acceptable medical marijuana products.

The court ruled unanimously that medical marijuana can be legally consumed in a range of ways, from cannabis-infused cookies and brownies to cooking oils and teas.

The challenge was brought by Owen Smith’s arrest in 2009. The CBC reports that:

Smith, a baker for the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, was found with more than 200 cookies and 26 jars of liquids, including cannabis-infused massage oils and lip balms.

Until now, federal regulations stipulated that authorized users of medical marijuana could only consume dried marijuana, as per Sections 4 and 5 of the Controlled Drug and Substances Act

The Court noted in its judgment however, that limiting medical consumption to dried pot infringes on liberty protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The seven justices said the national medical pot program was flawed, impinged patients’ fundamental rights, and was not saved by the section of the constitution that allows reasonable infringements for worthy societal goals.

The initial trial judge in Smith’s case gave the federal government a year to change the laws around cannabis extracts, but the Supreme Court said that its ruling takes effect immediately.

While this ruling offers relief to many patients, it has been met with strong and swift criticisms from the government.

Read the full decision here:

Federal government’s funding for sex workers of limited reach

Last Friday, Justice Minister Peter MacKay commented that there are more groups than money available for the government’s proposed $20 million plan to help sex workers exit the industry.

The government is set to announce which groups will receive funds. Having the criteria to determine how funding will be delivered is a “challenge,” according to Justice Minister MacKay. At least one organization has reportedly already had their request for funding turned down.

The funding, to be distributed over 5 years, was included under Bill C-36: An Act to amend the Criminal Code in response to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Concerned groups and individuals stated early on that $20 million would not be enough.

Bill C-36 was drafted in response to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Canada (Attorney General) v. Bedford, which found several provisions of the Criminal Code regulating sex workers to be unconstitutional, violating prostitutes’ right to life, liberty and security of the person under section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The bill became law last November.

Jakarta paye le prix?

Le gouvernement de Joko Widodo a protesté hier contre la décapitation d’une citoyenne indonésienne condamnée en Arabie Saoudite pour le meurtre de son employeur. L’exécution de Sitti Zeineb a eu lieu à Médina mardi dernier.

Selon la lettre de protestation de la diplomatie de l’Indonésie, qui a été suivie de la convocation de l’ambassadeur saoudien à Jakarta, ni la famille de Zeineb ni l’ambassade indonésienne n’ont pas été préalablement informées de la date de l’exécution. Les autorités indonésiennes, qui ont récemment condamné et exécuté des prisonniers étrangers, avaient en vain fait appel à la miséricorde en faveur de sa citoyenne.

Le quotidien The Jakarta Globe affirme que l’Indonésie a perdu la morale pour y demander clémence et note que le pays paye le prix de sa politique de sécurité basée sur la peine de mort. Il y a actuellement 229 indonésiens condamnés à l’étranger, notamment en Malaisie et en Arabie Saoudite.

Sources :

Inquest into Inmate Death Reveals Staff Didn’t Perform Required Checks

A jury has recommended changes following an inquest held last week into the death of inmate at the Prince Alberta Correctional Facility.

Nineteen year-old John Bob Glen Custer hanged himself in his cell while being held on remand and was found on November 24, 2013.

At the inquest, the two corrections officers on duty at the time of Custer’s death revealed that they did not perform the hourly checks on cells in segregation as required. One officer admitted to filling out log sheets detailing the hourly checks in advance. The other described how on the night in question, the two officers watched two movies instead of performing the required checks. Both officers no longer work at the correctional facility.

The director of the PA Correctional Centre testified that since Custer’s death cameras have been installed to monitor the cells and there have been policy changes. There have not been any cameras installed to keep staff accountable.

PA Correctional Centre has not indicated whether it will implement the recommended changes which include increasing staff on the night shift, providing suicide awareness and education training and checking more frequently on at-risk inmates.

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