A star has passed…

Jan 22, 2021 

Sheila Arthurs (1937-2021)

The arc of justice may have slipped a notch this past week with the sudden death of Sheila Arthurs of Ottawa, long a restorative justice advocate and an active participant with Smart Justice Canada.  Born and raised in Toronto 84 years ago, Sheila spent most of her professional life as a federal civil servant in Ottawa. Her passion was collaborative partnerships between justice and community health, economic, education, housing resources – and evidence-based justice policy.    “At Justice Canada, she led the coordination of federal-provincial relations, making a network of lifelong colleagues and friends from coast to coast to coast. Her commitment to social justice went beyond the traditional professional civil servant involvement and included mentoring First Nations personnel in Nunavut… People who know her would agree that one of Sheila’s greatest strengths was her ability to bring people together and make connections.”  (Obit, Ottawa Citizen, Jan 23, 2021)  Sheila, said one admirer, “had a keen intellect, passion for justice, willingness to wade into the system to do good, and resist evil.”  Her giftedness shone brightly in an enormous capacity to draw people together in common and empathic justice solutions.  “She was so nurturing, supportive and full of life,” said another.  Whatever else, the stars have lost some splendor and we who came late to this star have grounds for some real regrets.  (Obit: Ottawa Citizen Jan 20, 2021  https://ottawacitizen.remembering.ca/obituary/sheila-arthurs-1081484976 Globe and Mail  https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/theglobeandmail/obituary.aspx?n=sheila-arthurs&pid=197569104&fhid=5747 )

Toronto Star – Michael Spratt

When politicians turn a blind eye to abuse in jails a culture of impunity is legitimized

Spratt, an Ottawa defense lawyer, decries the death of Soleiman Faqiri at the hands of Ottawa jail guards from a beating inflicted while Faqiri’s hands and ankles were cuffed and while wearing a spit hood.  OPP investigating the death declined to lay any charges using what Spratt considers a deplorable and false rationale for an egregious cover-up:   “The OPP declined to charge any of the guards because they could not say for sure who delivered the fatal blow…The OPP’s absurd justification for the lack of charges is a legal fiction that smells of a cover-up. There is no requirement in law to prove who dealt the final and fatal strike. Under Canadian law, you can be held responsible for the acts of your accomplices. A joint assault that results in death should result in criminal charges for all involved.”  Spratt is insisting that jail guards and politicians who ignore jail deaths both need to be held accountable.  https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2021/01/19/when-politicians-turn-a-blind-eye-to-abuse-in-jails-a-culture-of-impunity-is-legitimized.html?rf&fbclid=IwAR1BcQ_K1LS-fxFnkj-7YpYfjEdzuJD5wtGrxs3oZvi8AMsz8cuBmnahS3Y  Related article: Ottawa Citizen – Carol Finley  COVID-19 and Canada’s prisons – we must treat inmates more humanely – Prison lockdowns during the pandemic mean community volunteers and advocates (so necessary for rehabilitation) have not been able to continue their work, and virtual family visits are constantly cancelled. The misery for the incarcerated is very real.   https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/finlay-covid-19-and-canadas-prisons-we-must-treat-inmates-more-humanely   Related article: Edmonton Journal – Jonny Wakefield  Edmonton inmate who took own life struggled to access mental health, addictions treatment, mother says  https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/edmonton-inmate-who-took-own-life-struggled-to-access-mental-health-addictions-treatment-mother-says

The Telegram (NL) – Anna Mehler Paperny, Reuters

Exclusive: Canada deporting thousands even as pandemic rages

Canada imposed a moratorium on deportations in March and lifted the ban the end of November.  In spite of the ban, the Canada Border Service Agency has been conducting more than normal deportations, exposing both the deportee and the CBSA agent to the risk of getting and spreading Covid-19. “They’re ramping it up as if there was no pandemic,” he (Refugee lawyer Lorne Waldman) said. “It’s unbelievable.”   https://www.thetelegram.com/news/world/exclusive-canada-deporting-thousands-even-as-pandemic-rages-543831/

Maytree Foundation – Alex Bezzina

Lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic could help shape the future of bail and remand

Bezzina is warning that almost overnight the situation around Covid-19 has changed in Ontario’s prisons.  “The loss of freedom because of the denial of bail, or the inability to access bail due to the lack of a surety, is the most obvious impact to the individual. And then there are the ripple effects of being held on remand: loss of employment; loss of housing; deteriorating mental and physical health; economic and psychological damage done to family and children; and the tendency to plead guilty to lesser charges, even when innocent, just to regain freedom.”  Electronic hearings, reduced prison populations (by as much as 25%0 have helped enormously but the same concerns around the convicted populations needs apply to those on remand who often cannot get bail or cannot afford bail.  https://maytree.com/publications/lessons-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-could-help-shape-the-future-of-bail-and-remand/   Related article: Edmonton Journal – Dylan Short   Older inmates at Alberta jails will be part of Phase 1B of vaccine rollout   https://edmontonjournal.com/news/local-news/older-inmates-at-alberta-jails-will-be-part-of-phase-1b-of-vaccine-roll-out   Related article: CTV News – Chris Fox   There are at least 90 COVID-19 cases at Milton, Ont. correctional facility, union confirms  https://beta.ctvnews.ca/local/toronto/2021/1/22/1_5278725.html?s=03    Related article: KW Record – Luisa D’Amato   The arrogance of courts when it comes to lockdown access   https://www.therecord.com/news/waterloo-region/opinion/2021/01/21/the-arrogance-of-courts-when-it-comes-to-lockdown-access.html    The Marshall Project (US) – Nicole Lewis and Beth Schwartzapfel   Prisons Are Releasing People Without COVID-19 Tests Or Quarantines – People getting out of prison are bringing the virus outside because lockups aren’t taking basic precautions. Overtaxed halfway houses and other re-entry programs are left to pick up the slack.   https://www.themarshallproject.org/2021/01/19/prisons-are-releasing-people-without-covid-19-tests-or-quarantines   Toronto Prisoners’ Rights Newsletter:  <torontoprisonersrights@gmail.com>

ABC News (US) – Ed White

Juvenile lifer locked up for nearly 50 years could go free – A man who has been in prison for nearly 50 years for murder when he was a teenager has won a major decision from the Michigan appeals court that should lead to his eventual release

In quite an extraordinary ruling, a Michigan court said that David Bennett, nearing 50 years incarcerated, would not be paroled because of successful mental health treatment.  “Treated mental illness is not a signal of irreparable corruption, and no evidence even hinted that Bennett’s mental illness created a realistic danger that he would reoffend,” the (appeals) court said.  Bennett has been sentenced to LWOP in 1972 at age 17.  The Appeals Court ordered a sentence of a specific number of years likely already served.  https://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/juvenile-lifer-locked-50-years-free-75430101