To be free…

April 15, 2019

Globe and Mail – Patrick White
Supreme Court grants federal prisons reprieve on 15-day solitary-confinement cap

Just a few days ago, the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered recompense for inmates in solitary and ordered a limit of 15 days maximum.  “In a landmark ruling last month, the Court of Appeal sided with the CCLA (Canadian Civil Liberties Association) in finding that any term of solitary longer than 15 days amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, breaching Section 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It gave the Correctional Service of Canada just over two weeks to impose the new limit.”  In an expedited decision, Supreme Court Justice Suzanne Côté has ordered a stay for the implementation of the order.  The stay will be lifted when the court rules on the appeal; the deadline for written submissions is April 25.

Slate News (US) – Mark Joseph Stern
Federal Judge: Donald Trump Is Leading an “Assault on Our Judiciary”

The article and links are to a striking defense of the US judiciary in the light of the Trump era politicization of the process and practice of judicial appointments in the US.  Federal Judge Carlton Reeves of the District of Southern Mississippi offered this scholarly but decidedly experiential reflection on the judiciary and its role in establishing justice on receiving the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Law Award at the University of Virginia.   The address itself is found at: (A 16 page downloadable pdf.)   Related article: CNN – Federal judge delivers unprecedented swipe against Trump

CBC News – Jason Warick
‘Unconscionable’: Senator blasts rejection of bill she says would protect Indigenous women 

Senator Lillian Dyck of Saskatchewan managed to get a bill for harsher sentences on those convicted of violence towards Indigenous women.  When the bill reached the House, it was rejected, largely it seems on the grounds that such legislation would condemn Indigenous people themselves to harsher sentences.  Critics suggested that the power for such sentences is already in the discretion of judges and the legislation would fly in the face of the efforts to make the Gladue provisions work better.

Southern Poverty and Law Center (SPLC, US)
Weekend Read: Alabama’s illegal – and deadly – prison system

Ghandi once said:  ‘The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.’  The SPLC is a reputable law and social justice advocate in the US.  This longer article is an appalling description of the conditions in Alabama’s state prison system – the worst system by far in the US – as uncovered and reported by the US federal Department of Justice.  “The DOJ describes the system as plagued by “rampant violence,” “unchecked extortion,” and “severe and widespread sexual abuse” – something we’ve known all along. Prisoners are, in fact, subjected to “a high level of violence that is too common, cruel, of an unusual nature, and pervasive.”   Related article: The Marshall Project – Morgan Godvin   Money Changed Everything for Me in Prison

The Nation – Alfred McCoy
America’s Drug War Is Ruining the World

“For the past half-century, the United States has also waged its own “war on drugs” that has complicated its foreign policy, compromised its electoral democracy, and contributed to social inequality. Perhaps the time has finally come to assess the damage that drug war has caused and consider alternatives.”

The Guardian (Manchester, UK) – Frances Perraudin
The woman jailed for a £4,742 council tax debt she could not pay

The practice of jailing people for failure to pay municipal property taxes is not widespread in the UK (306 people in last six years) but it does continue, and serves to illustrate the capacity of a misdirected justice system to deprive women in particular of far more than just liberty.  There is a growing realization that her 81 day sentence to jail wreaks far more damage than even imaginable good, that single women are likely most frequently victimized, and that the justice system has the capacity to impoverish poor people further.  Naima Sakande, a women’s justice advocate says:  “Prison should be reserved for the most serious of offences. It is unconscionable that we use the sanction for such a thing as civil debt…Poverty is not a crime. England must step into the modern world and abolish imprisonment for council tax debt.”

CBC News
An Indigenous artist takes a vacation alone — and CBSA holds him, X-rays him for drugs

This article is a rather stark and intimidating reminder of the power of Canadian Border Service agents to detain, search and even x-ray Canadian citizens returning to Canada.  Tim Hogan, an Indigenous artist and former Canadian Forces member, went through five hours of suspicion and checks for drug smuggling before CBSA conceded there were none.  Critics have long complained about the unchecked power of the CBSA who operate without any external oversight and can basically do what they want towards Canada’s own citizens.  Says Cyndee Todgham-Cherniak, an international trade lawyer: “The Customs Act allows the CBSA to detain persons. You don’t have charter rights at the border saying you can’t undergo a strip search, or you can’t be detained for an X-ray search.”

CBC Radio – Sunday Edition
When adults are sent to jail, their children are an ‘invisible group,’ lawyer says

A survey of sentencing reports commissioned by the Quakers Canadian Friends Service Committee has confirmed what many advocates have known for some time:  children of an accused are ignored in the courts and they become secondary victims because they are invisible in the trial and sentencing process.  In fact, lawyer Verena Tan could find no case where the child’s best interests were considered in a review of one year’s worth of sentencing.  The report also found a disproportionate impact on women and Indigenous families.  (A 27 minute interview with Tan)

CBC News – Mike Crawley
Doug Ford government scrapping law that compensates crime victims

Ford’s government has buried in its recent budget promised legislation to repeal Ontario’s Compensation for Victims of Crime Act.  The existing act capped the payment to $25,000 to families of murder victims or $1,000 monthly to people injured in a criminal act, including sexual or domestic assault but according to Andre Marin the bureaucratic process often took up to three years, the delay focus on the Ministry of the Attorney General.  The solution, says the government, is to change to an administrative process through the Attorney General.  Critics think the victim support will disappear in the promised new legislation. Related article: Globe and Mail – Andrew Jackson   To fight populism and racism, close tax loopholes for the rich  Related article: Ottawa Citizen:  Editorial – April 13, 2019   Ontario, alcohol and public health

NBC News (US) – Reuters
United States added to list of most dangerous countries for journalists for first time

The number of professional journalists killed doing their jobs in the United States has risen to 63 and merited adding the US to the list of countries where journalists are not safe.  The addition of the US to the list came after the killing of five journalists at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland and the death of Jamal Khashoggi.  The US now rounds out the top five most dangerous countries after Afghanistan, Iraq (countries at war) and Mexico, India and the US (for countries not at war).   Full report: Reporters without Borders: World Wide Round-up of Journalists Killed, Detained, Held Hostage or Missing in 2018