CCLA Launches Rights Watch blog
CCLA is proud to present the newest addition to its website, the Rights Watch blog. Updated and maintained by law students across the country, the blog compiles local and national news and events regarding basic rights and freedoms in Canada. There are posts on relevant issues that arise in the news, before the courts, in government, and anywhere else that might catch the eye of our dedicated bloggers. Click here to visit the Rights Watch blog and see what’s been making the news! You can also sign up to have daily news links – from the blog and more – sent straight to your inbox.
Canada’s no-fly list
Hani El Telbani, a Montreal student of Palestinian origin, was prevented from boarding a flight to Saudi Arabia in June 2008 as a result of his improper inclusion on Canada’s “no-fly” list. Independent consultants engaged by Transport Canada determined that Mr. El Telbani’s name was improperly included on the “no-fly” list. He is now seeking judicial review by the Federal Court of the decisions that prevented him from flying, in what will be the first court case to challenge Canada’s Passenger Protect Program (PPP). Mr. El Telbani’s experience raises serious concerns about how information is procured for the Program, and how decisions are made to determine whether or not a person is permitted to fly. It also raises further concerns relating to the Charter rights of listed persons, including their rights to security of the person, mobility and privacy.
The PPP is created under the Aeronautics Act, but there is no clear legal framework for how it should operate. Rather, it functions under several administrative policies and practices which lack transparency and accountability. The PPP is fraught with the potential for error, ‘false positives’, and the exercise of improper discretion in decision-making. It is in need of significant reform if it is to continue to be a part of Canada’s aviation security strategy.
In CCLA’s view, there must be a timely and comprehensive review of this program, with special attention given to its compliance with the Charter and legal fairness requirements. Greater accountability and transparency must be provided through the creation of a comprehensive legal framework that clearly prescribes how decisions to “list” people are made and regulates key operational components of the PPP, such as the collection and sharing of information. When an individual is prevented from flying under the PPP, that person must be provided with thorough written reasons for that decision, access to their file, and an opportunity to appeal the decision to an effective and independent review body.
We continue to monitor developments on this issue.
CCLA to advocate for equal access to civil marriage
Since the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2004, there has been an ongoing controversy in Saskatchewan regarding whether civil marriage commissioners with contrary religious beliefs should be required to solemnize same sex unions. This past summer the government of Saskatchewan proposed amendments to the Marriage Act which would allow civil marriage commissioners to refuse to marry same sex couples; however, rather than tabling the proposed amendments in the legislature, the government chose to first ask the Court of Appeal to rule on their constitutionality.
CCLA will be intervening before the Court to argue that the proposed amendments would lead to unjustifiable violations of the right to equality. The purpose of civil marriage is to provide a form of purely secular marriage ceremonies available to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs. Civil marriage commissioners in Saskatchewan are the only government employees able to perform these secular marriage ceremonies, and allowing equal access to a basic government service is part of their jobs. Religions have diverse doctrines regarding marriage, including stipulations on divorce and inter-faith unions. Allowing a general right to deny a government service based on personal religious beliefs would open the door for marriage commissioners to deny a civil marriage based on a multitude of factors. Members of the public should have equal access to government services such as marriage, and same-sex couples should not have to fear that the government employee they ask to sign their papers will refuse to do so because he or she feels they are not entitled to marry.
Although CCLA believes that these amendments are unconstitutional, it should be noted that we remain staunch advocates of freedom of religion and reasonable accommodation. We continue to strongly support the rights of priests, rabbis, and other religious officials to decline to perform religious marriages based on their beliefs. CCLA has previously argued that private individuals should not be compelled to serve, or contribute to, a cause to which they have a deeply held moral objection. In the case of marriage commissioners, however, the fact that their core function is to provide a basic government service, means that they are required to serve the public equally.
CCLA seeks meeting with Minister on national standards for Tasers
The Minister of Public Safety recently announced that the federal and provincial governments are working together to develop national standards for the use of Tasers by police. This initiative could bring greater clarity to the circumstances under which police are permitted to deploy Tasers and ensure that the risks associated with the weapon’s use are reduced. It is of great importance at this critical juncture to make sure that the right Taser standards are developed and implemented.
To ensure that its views on Taser issues are considered in the national standards development process, the CCLA has requested a meeting with the federal Minister of Public Safety, Vic Toews to discuss this issue. As part of its long-standing interest in the issue of police accountability, CCLA has been monitoring the use of Tasers by police for several years. During this time, CCLA has made submissions to various governments which are set out in our brief A Measured Approach to Conducted Energy Weapons.
Upcoming panel discussion on proposed cyber surveillance laws
CCLA and the Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights will be co-hosting a panel discussion on proposed powers to increase the ease with which police can obtain electronic telecommunications data. The event, Overdue Update or Big Brother? Lawful Access and Cyber Surveillance, will take place at the U of T law school on February 25 from 12:30 – 2:00 p.m. Topics covered will include: the emerging realities of internet privacy, informational privacy, and defence and crown perspectives on proposed “lawful access” legislation. Speakers will include Professor Lisa Austin, from the U of T law school, Bob Hubbard, from the Ministry of the Attorney General, criminal defence lawyer Adam Boni, and David Murakami Wood, Canada Research Chair in Surveillance Studies at Queen’s University. For more details, click here. Please RSVP by registering on the Asper Centre Website: www.aspercentre.ca.