“Home Burglary Bill” Targets Indigenous Youth

The Western Australia Parliament is currently debating a bill that would disproportionately target Indigenous youth, says Amnesty International.

The Criminal Law Amendment (Home Burglary and Other Offences) Bill 2014 expands mandatory sentencing laws for youth aged 16 and 17.  It is estimated that the Bill would put an extra 60 juveniles behind bars within four years.

Amnesty International claimed that Indigenous peoples were already over-represented in the prison system, and the Bill would make “that problem worse.”

Since 1996, offenders receive a strike for every burglary conviction. However, if several burglary charges were heard concurrently, then the offender would only receive one strike. If an individual received three “strikes,” then that individual was subject to a one-year mandatory minimum sentence.

The Home Burglary Bill amends Australia’s “three strikes” law in two ways. First, offenders will receive a strike for every burglary conviction, even if those convictions are heard at the same time. Second, the one-year mandatory minimum is doubled to two years for adult offenders. Juveniles are still subject to a one-year mandatory minimum.

Julian Cleary, Indigenous Rights Campaigner at Amnesty International Australia, recognized the importance of safe communities in Western Australia but criticized the proposed Bill for failing to “address the underlying reasons that cause people to commit burglary.”

Auditor General’s Report Finds Inadequate Rehabilitative Programming for Yukon’s Prison Population

According to Canada’s auditor general, Michael Ferguson, Yukon’s correctional system is failing in its task of providing the programs necessary to adequately rehabilitate its inmate population.

When an offender is sentenced for a criminal conviction the sentence imposed serves different objectives depending on the nature of the offence. Violent offences typically attract sentencing objectives of denunciation, separation, and deterrence. Other, less serious, offences might require a stronger focus on rehabilitation and restoration.

A criminal sentence that includes rehabilitation of the offender as a sentencing objective might still result in incarceration. The concern for the offender, the community, and possibly the victim, is that while imprisoned, the offender will have access to meaningful rehabilitative programs that will help ensure success reintegration into society.

According to the CBC, Michael Ferguson’s report also notes that programming in the community is virtually non-existent. It is trite to say that there is relationship between crime and socio-economic indicators. Many within Canada’s prison population are young adults who come from marginalized groups or who might suffer from mental health and addictions issues. If one of the goals in Canada’s sentencing regime is to lower the rate of recidivism, communities and correctional facilities alike must ensure that adequate programming exists.

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Class Action Against Nova Scotia’s East Coast Forensic Hospital Certified

This past week, Justice Boudreau of Nova Scotia’s Supreme Court certified a class action lawsuit against the East Coast Forensic Hospital (ECFH) in Dartmouth.

On October 16, 2012, thirty-three ECFH patients were stripped and searched for illicit drugs. Brenda Mate, Rehabilitation Manager of the ECFH, swore that she believed the ECFH had reasonable and probable grounds for the search. No illicit drugs were found on any of the thirty-three patients searched.

Mark Murray, one of the forensic patients strip-searched, filed a Notice of Action in Nova Scotia Supreme Court. He is suing the ECFH for breach of his section 8 Charter right to be secure against unreasonable search and in the tort of intrusion upon seclusion (a cause of action recognized in 2012 by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Jones v Tsige). He also sought an order certifying his action as a class proceeding and appointing him as the representative plaintiff.

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UK MPs Challenge Unlimited Detention for Immigrants

A non-partisan Parliamentary group submitted in a report that the use of detention for immigrants arriving in the UK is “disproportionate and inappropriate”. The report outlines many severe problems about the over-reliance of detention and the treatment of immigrants.

The UK is currently the only member of the EU which does not limit the the amount a time an immigrant may be detained. Accordingly, many immigrants are detained for years for purely administrative reasons. In contrast, the group suggests detaining immigrants for no more than 28 days, before either allowing entrance in the UK or repatriation.

The report also alleges that the Home Office, responsible for immigration and security, is failing to follow its own guidelines which suggest that detention for immigration purposes should be used sparingly. The Home Office relies on private contractors to run the detention centres, a standard criticized by some MPs.

At the centre of the report is the alleged mistreatment of the detained immigrants. An undercover journalist filmed guards referring to the inmates as “animals” and encouraging violence against them. The MPs also heard testimony suggesting sexual harassment and abuse, a lack of available healthcare, and a total loss of privacy. Suicide is a widespread problem.

For more information and inmate profiles, see here.

Annual Amnesty International Report Released: Human Rights Situation in South Africa “Pretty Grim”

Amnesty International released its annual report on International Human Rights this week. The report details the status of human rights in countries around the world and highlights areas with room for improvement. The report on South Africa points to access to treatment for people living with HIV, decline in maternal deaths, increase in life expectancy, and improved action against hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity as areas where progress was made in 2014. Unfortunately, there are many areas where human rights are being ignored and progress is stagnant.  Amnesty International South Africa regional director, Deprose Muchena, has stated that the report’s findings about South Africa are “pretty grim.”


Problem areas for South Africa include excessive use of force, poor treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and harassment of human rights defenders.  2014 saw the end of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry into the fatal police shootings of 34 striking mine workers in Marikana in 2012. The Inquiry exposed serious excessive use of force by police and indications of officers attempting to conceal and destroy unfavourable evidence. Conditions for refugee and asylum seekers in South Africa continued to deteriorate with numerous instances reported of threats and violence against refugees and asylum seekers and many being displaced. Human rights activists and defenders faced significant harassment and threats as well.


To see the full Amnesty International report on South Africa click here.


Bill C-51 to receive further scrutiny

The Conservatives have agreed to hold an additional 6 days of meetings on Bill C-51 at the public safety committee of the House, tripling the amount of time the Conservatives originally allocated for hearings on the controversial bill.

The move comes in response to an NDP filibuster and significant criticism (see here, here and here) from academics, terrorism and security experts, and former Prime Minsters and Supreme Court justices regarding the bill’s expansion of surveillance powers and creation of new, vaguely worded criminal charges.  Bill C-51 may also be contrary to previous Supreme Court rulings.

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Balancing Civil Liberties and Community Safety in the “Era of Terror”

Following the recommendations of the counter-terrorism review from August, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is scheduled to announce changes to national security later today.

The anticipated changes include: developing an anti-extremism strategy, appointing a terrorism coordinator, and simplifying the terror threat alerts system.

To justify the changes, Prime Minister Abbott is expected to reference the rising number of Australians returning home from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Prime Minister Abbott has stated that “[t]housands of young and vulnerable people in the community are susceptible to radicalisation.”

Prime Minister Abbott has warned that the new “Era of Terror” means that Australians must reconsider “where it draws the balance” between civil liberties and community safety.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten noted that while Australians’ safety is a top priority, he is concerned that the Government may be going too far. To this end, he stated: “I don’t believe our nation can only be safe if we get rid of the liberties of people, nor do I believe that the liberties of people in every sense should trump national security.”

A well-known human rights lawyer, Julian Burnside QC, took a more cynical approach to the proposed changes. While questioning the Prime Minister’s motivation, Mr. Burnside stated that “there’s a real risk that he’s [Prime Minister Abbott] doing this in order to play on community fears and thereby gain a bit of political popularity.”

New South Wales Parliamentary Inquiry: Allegations of Police Corruption

Established 12 November 2012, the New South Wales (NSW) parliamentary inquiry into “Operation Prospect” began hearings on 29 January 2015. Operation Prospect was the name given to the Ombudsman inquiry into “Operation Mascot Florida.”

Operation Mascot Florida was a 15-year-long internal investigation into police corruption.

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Nick Kaldas stated that Operation Mascot Florida involved illegal surveillance of police officers, and that while the purpose of the investigation was to root out corruption in the force, officers used the Operation to pursue personal vendettas against their colleagues.

According to Mr. Kaldas, his office and home were bugged, as well as the home of his former wife. Mr. Kaldas claims that he was wrongly targeted.

As of February 10, 2015, the Committee decided that it would no longer publish any submissions online.

The Committee’s final report is scheduled to be released on February 25, 2015.

Victims’ Rights

On Friday February 20th,  Parliament, members are scheduled to give third reading debate to the Victims Bill of Rights Act (Bill C-32), for its only allotted day at this stage. Bill C-32, An Act to enact the Canadian Victims Bill of Rights and to amend certain Acts seeks to secure statutory rights to victims of crime. Some of these rights include a right to protection, right to participation, and the right to restitution. The Bill would also amend the Corrections and Conditional Release Act. Some of these amendments include permitting victims to have access to information about the offender’s progress in relation to the offender’s correction plan and to permit the disclosure of information to victims concerning an offender’s deportation before the expiration of the offender’s sentence. The Bill was introduced in April 2014 and was sponsored by the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada.

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Freedom of Religion Violations Added to List of Complaints Concerning Canada’s ‘Cardboard Prison’

The Baffin Correctional Centre is one of many correctional facilities in Canada housing presumptively innocent persons in pre-trial custody. A Muslim inmate, speaking anonymously to the CBC, alleges that while on remand he was unable to freely practice his religion:

”Staff here told me that I don’t need to practise my religion because I might become radical,” he says. “I asked for no pork or no ham or bacon, and they just gave me what has touched bacon or ham, but I have refused those meals.”

Additional concerns regarding inmate treatment at the facility were detailed in a 2013 Office of the Correctional Investigator Report, obtained by the CBC. According to the report “[the Baffin Correctional Centre] has been grossly overcrowded for many years, and it is now well past its life expectancy. The current state of disrepair and crowding are nothing short of appalling, and negatively impacts on both inmates and staff.”

The report describes in detail the shortcomings that plague this troubled correctional facility. It states that 70% of the inmates are presumptively innocent and being held in remand awaiting trial, but goes on to note that infrastructual problems prevent segregation of those on remand from those serving custodial sentences.

The report concludes that the “[Baffin Correctional Centre] is past its best before date, and needs to be closed and replaced by a new facility or facilities. BCC physical infrastructure is not safe for either staff or inmates, and hinders the ability of NU Corrections to fulfil its legal mandate of humane custody and rehabilitation.”


Muslim says he’s not allowed to practise religion at Baffin Correctional Centre

Baffin Correctional Centre ‘appalling’ and should be closed, report says

Report of the Office of the Correctional Investigator (Canada)on the Baffin Correctional Centre and theLegal and Policy Framework of Nunavut Corrections

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