By Cara Zwibel
on April 15, 2015
The CCLA applauds the Supreme Court decision in Mouvement laïque québécois, et al. v. City of Saguenay, et al., which held that the recital of a prayer at the beginning of public city council meetings violates provisions of the Quebec charter of human rights and freedoms. The Court found that the recital violated the state duty of neutrality and upheld the Human Rights Tribunal’s finding that there had been discriminatory interference with freedom of conscience and religion for the purposes of ss. 3 and 10 of the Quebec Charter.
Mr. Simoneau, a non-religious citizen of the respondent City of Saguenay attended the meetings of the municipal council. A municipal by-law allowed council members to stand and say a prayer at the start of council proceedings if they wished. Mr. Simoneau and the Mouvement laïque québécois filed an application against the City and its mayor with the province’s human rights tribunal alleging that they had violated Mr. Simoneau’s freedom of conscience and religion and his right to respect for his dignity (ss. 3, 4, 10, 11 and 15 of the Charter). They asked that the recitation of the prayer cease and that religious symbols be removed from the proceedings rooms. The tribunal allowed Mr. Simoneau’s application in part, but the Court of Appeal set aside the decision on the ground that the content of the prayer did not violate the duty of neutrality imposed on the City, and that even if the recitation of the prayer interfered with Mr. Simoneau’s moral values, the interference was trivial or insubstantial in the circumstances.
The CCLA intervened in light of the case’s importance for understanding religious equality, freedom of religion and conscience, and state neutrality. Before the Court, the CCLA argued that State-sponsored religious coercion, in the form of the recital of a religious prayer at public city council meetings, violates the right to equality and freedom of religion and conscience, and that these violations cannot be justified under either the Quebec or Canadian Charters. The CCLA argued that there can be no justification for state compulsion in matters of belief, and the context of the particular case pointed to the bylaw’s clearly religious purpose and effect.
The CCLA welcomes the Court’s decision and its strong statement on state neutrality. The Court found that the state’s duty of neutrality means that a state authority cannot make use of its powers to promote or impose a religious belief. The Court emphasized that a neutral public space free from state coercion or judgment in matters of spirituality is intended to protect every person’s freedom and dignity. The Court found that the prayers frustrated this purpose by creating a distinction, exclusion, and preference based on religion, a distinction that turned the city council meetings into a preferential space for people with theistic beliefs. Specifically, the Court reasoned that the prayers excluded, isolated, and stigmatized Mr. Simoneau for his atheistic beliefs and thereby impaired Mr. Simoneau’s freedom of conscience and religion. On these grounds, the Court upheld the Tribunal’s finding that the prayers violated Mr. Simoneau’s freedom of conscience and religion as reasonable.
Read the CCLA’s factum here.
Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision here.
on April 14, 2015
CCLA welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R v Nur released today. CCLA had intervened in R v Nur and in the companion case R v Charles to argue that the three-year and five-year mandatory minimum sentences imposed under sections 95(2)(a)(i) and (ii) of the Criminal Code constitute cruel and unusual punishment in reasonable hypothetical cases. Section 12 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects against cruel and unusual punishment. Today, the majority of the Supreme Court agreed with CCLA’s position and struck down sections 95(2)(a)(i) and (ii) as being unconstitutional and in violation of section 12 of the Charter.
In its majority decision, the Supreme Court held that the mandatory minimum provisions were too broad in their application, casting a wide net that could foreseeably catch individuals with a much lower degree of culpability. For example, a responsible gun owner with a registered restricted weapon, which is legally possessed and stored locked, could be caught by the law if he or she is mistaken about where he or she is permitted to store the ammunition. Given the reduced blameworthiness and risk of harm in this situation, a three-year sentence would be grossly disproportionate. Overall, the Court took the opinion that a three-year term of imprisonment for a licensing infraction is out of sync with Canadian sentencing values.
In our intervention, CCLA specifically argued that sentences must be tailored to the specific circumstances of both the offence and the offender; to do otherwise would be to ignore the purposes and principles of sentencing listed in sections 718, 718.1 and 718.2 of the Criminal Code. In particular, there is no consideration of a mens rea requirement, nor adequate regard to proportionality or attainment in sentencing of a valid penal purpose. The CCLA further argued that section 95 applies to a broad range of conduct, ranging from criminal offences to regulatory licensing infractions. As such, the law would be grossly disproportionate in its application to three reasonable hypothetical scenarios:
- When an accused is knowingly in possession of an unloaded restricted or prohibited weapon with ammunition stored nearby;
- When an accused has an authorization to possess the firearm and has registered the firearm, but to his or her knowledge, the authorization does not permit possession of the firearm at the place or in the manner in which the accused has possession; and
- The possession of the firearm is not connected to any unlawful purpose or activity and the offender is not engaged in any dangerous activity with the firearm.
CCLA has long argued against mandatory minimums in general as being unfair, disproportionate, unconstitutional; as having no demonstrated value as a deterrent; and as failing to further other criminal justice objectives of rehabilitation and restorative justice.
CCLA was represented by Fasken Martineau DuMoulin in this case. We thank our counsel Jennifer McAleer and Kimberly Potter and our agent Yael Wexler for their excellent representation.
To read CCLA’s factum in R v Nur Click Here
To read CCLA’s factum in R v Charles Click Here
By Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
on March 23, 2015
CCLA has joined Human Rights Watch and the New York Bar Association, as well as human rights organizations from the UK, South Africa and Argentina, to support the right to same sex marriage in the U.S.. A joint amicus brief was filed by the organizations in the case of Obergefell v Hodges before the Supreme Court of the United States. In their brief, the organizations showed how issues raised before the US Supreme Court in this case are similar to those raised – and addressed – in many other countries where same sex marriage has been legally recognized. These include issues such as: the right to marry, the marginalization of LGBTQ people, and the fact that same sex marriage does not harm the family or undermine religious freedom. Many of these issues have been addressed in Canadian courts, and the comparison to Canadian jurisprudence features significantly in the amicus brief filed.
To read the amicus brief, click here.
By Cara Zwibel
on March 19, 2015
The Supreme Court has rendered its decision in Loyola High School v. Quebec (Attorney General). The case examines the province of Quebec’s Ethics and Religious Culture (ERC) curriculum which was put in place several years ago when the province went through the process of moving away from a confessional system of education. Loyola, a private Catholic high school in Montreal, sought an exemption from the Minister of Education on the basis that it taught a course that was equivalent to the ERC course but was in keeping with its mission as a Catholic school. The Minister denied the exemption arguing, in part, that as a religious institution (and not an individual), Loyola could not make a freedom of religion claim under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The Minister also took the position that a denominational course could not be equivalent to the ERC.
The CCLA intervened in the case in light of its importance to the more general understanding of freedom of religion in Canada. Before the Court, CCLA argued that while freedom of religion is often thought of as an individual right, it also has significant associational and expressive components. Therefore, in certain cases, where an institution is primarily a vehicle through which individual members exercise their own freedom of religion, the institution itself can make a claim under the Charter. CCLA also argued that the Minister was required to consider freedom of religion in making its determination on the exemption. The Supreme Court decision contains two sets of reasons, but both affirm that freedom of religion has communal aspects that will benefit from Charter protection and that the Minister had to consider freedom of religion in making the exemption decision in this case.
The Supreme Court judgment recognizes strong protections for freedom of religion. Four judges formed the majority and found that the Minister’s decision denying Loyola the exemption was unreasonable because it precluded Loyola from teaching Catholicism from a Catholic perspective. This infringed on religion freedom in a way that was disproportionate to the scheme underlying the ERC. The majority sent the decision back to the Minister for reconsideration. While the majority found that it was not necessary to decide whether corporations enjoy religious freedom in their own right under the Charter, the decision recognizes clearly that freedom of religion has communal aspects and, in any event, the Minister was bound to consider the Charter-protected religious freedoms of members of the Loyola community.
Three judges wrote a separate opinion, that concurred only partially in the result. The concurrence explicitly held that the collective aspect of freedom of religion is protected by the Charter and that an organization can benefit from freedom of religion protection where the organization is (1) constituted primarily for religious purposes, and (2) its operation accords with these purposes. The concurring decision acknowledges that claims brought by organizations will be different from those brought by individuals, and provided some guidelines for how to consider evidence in these kinds of cases. At the same time, the concurrence recognizes that it will be left to future cases to test the boundaries of when an organization can claim protection under freedom of religion. The concurring judges also would have simply granted Loyola the exemption, rather than sending the case back to the Minister for a decision.
Read the CCLA’s factum here.
Read the Supreme Court’s decision here.
By Cara Zwibel
on February 17, 2015
In January 2015 CCLA intervened in an important professional discipline case before Ontario’s Divisional Court. The case, Groia v. Law Society of Upper Canada, concerns the question of when a lawyer can be subject to professional discipline for statements made in court during highly contested litigation. Joseph Groia, the lawyer at the centre of the case, has been disciplined for professional misconduct on the basis of ‘incivility’. The Law Society of Upper Canada, which regulates lawyers in the province, has argued that statements and arguments made by Mr. Groia when defending a client against a serious securities prosecution, crossed the line from zealous advocacy to professional misconduct. CCLA intervened in this case before the Law Society’s Appeal Panel and and in Mr. Groia’s further appeal to the Divisional Court.
CCLA accepts that lawyers have professional obligations that may create some limitations on their freedom of expression. However, we are concerned that a broad reading of the Rules of Professional Conduct that require civility could have a chilling effect on lawyers, who are often looked to for candid commentary and criticism of the justice system and its core participants. CCLA argued that the threshold for disciplining a lawyer for incivility based on in-court statements should be very high, and that a penalty should be imposed on a lawyer only in the clearest of cases, where there is or is likely to be a miscarriage of justice. The Divisional Court’s decision was handed down in early February. The Court dismissed Mr. Groia’s appeal, upholding the Law Society Appeal Panel’s finding of professional misconduct. The Court’s reasons do aim to clarify when incivility will amount to professional misconduct and focused on the impact of the lawyer’s behaviour on the administration of justice. While CCLA feels this is a more helpful standard than the one established by the Appeal Panel, we remain concerned about the chilling impact this may have on legal advocacy.
Read CCLA’s factum.
Read the Divisional Court’s decision.
By Cara Zwibel
on February 13, 2015
The Supreme Court of Canada today struck down unconstitutional provisions in the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act (“Act”), in its decision in Canada (Attorney General) v. Federation of Law Societies of Canada.
In summary, the Act and its Regulations required lawyers to record and retain records on clients for transactions above three thousand dollars ($3000) separate from bail and legal fees. These records were to be accessible to the Government (including FINTRAC) for potential use in laying charges and future prosecutions, and included wide-sweeping search and seizure powers of law offices. Lawyers who did not comply with these provisions were subject to imprisonment and penalties.
CCLA intervened in this case to argue that these provisions of the Act and Regulations were unconstitutional because they wrongly impinged upon solicitor-client privilege, and because they wrongly impinged upon a lawyer’s liberty interests.
CCLA argued that the provisions would have a chilling effect upon solicitor-client privilege, and that solicitor-client privilege is a key component of the principle of access to justice, and the principles of fundamental justice, protected in section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“Charter”). CCLA argued that the provisions made lawyers into unwilling agents of the State. CCLA also argued that the potential sanctions against lawyers unconstitutionally impinged upon their independence and liberty interests safeguarded by section 7 of the Charter.
The Court unanimously struck down the provisions as they applied to lawyers – while upholding the provisions for other professions such as accounting. The Court found that solicitor-client privilege must “ remain as close to absolute as possible”, and that solicitor client privilege is part of the principles of fundamental justice. Lawyers have a duty “of commitment to the cause of their clients”.
The Court further ruled that “the scheme taken as a whole limits the liberty of lawyers in a manner that is not in accordance with the principle of fundamental justice relating to the lawyer’s duty of committed representation.” A minority of the Court disagreed that solicitor-client privilege is protected by principles of fundamental justice.
The Court unanimously found the provisions of the Act which enabled wide-sweeping warrantless searches of law offices to be unjustifiable breaches of the right to be free against unreasonable search and seizure in section 8 of the Charter, striking down those provisions.
CCLA was represented by Mahmud Jamal, David Rankin, and Pierre- Alexandre Henri.
To read CCLA’s factum click here.
To read the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada click here.
General Counsel & Executive Director
By Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
on February 12, 2015
The Supreme Court of Canada will be holding a two day hearing this Monday and Tuesday to consider laws that could penalize individuals for having assisted refugees enter Canada. The act of providing such assistance to people in danger is being termed, under a very broad interpretation of the law, “human smuggling” or “people smuggling.” However most of the individuals whose cases are before the Court are themselves claiming refugee status, or were assisting refugees, or both; most of them are not accused of any crime, and are not believed to have made a profit, or to have engaged in late-night border-running. These individuals are being penalized as “smugglers” for having assisted themselves as refugees and/or other refugees travelling with them to safety.
CCLA has intervened in the case to argue that if “smuggling” is interpreted so broadly that it encompasses any person who assists another to enter Canada, this could capture a refugee mother who brings her child with her, a refugee husband and wife who assist each other, or a humanitarian worker saving someone’s life. CCLA has argued that such laws would be unconstitutional and inconsistent with Canada’s international obligations to protect refugees.
CCLA is represented by Andrew Nathanson and Gavin Cameron (Fasken Martineau)
To read CCLA’s factum, click here.
By Cara Zwibel
on February 6, 2015
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) welcomes today’s decision from the Supreme Court of Canada striking down the assisted suicide provisions of the Criminal Code. The CCLA intervened in the case to argue that an absolute prohibition on assisted suicide restricts personal autonomy in a way that unreasonably limits the rights to life, liberty and security of the person. Control of bodily integrity is a crucial aspect of the rights to life, liberty and security of the person; the current Criminal Code provisions violate these rights. Prohibiting any and all forms of assistance in dying overrides the thoughtful and informed choices of terminally ill, suffering individuals and denies them the chance to preserve dignity and control over the final days of their lives.
“Today’s decision marks an important first step for Canada in granting individuals autonomy over their end of life choices,” said Sukanya Pillay, General Counsel & Executive Director of the CCLA. “Governments and civil society will have to work together to ensure regulations effectively protect true end of life choices and vulnerable persons.”
The Supreme Court found that the prohibition on physician-assisted dying deprives competent adults of help in circumstances where they clearly consent to death and where they have a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes intolerable and enduring suffering. This amounts to a violation of the constitutionally protected right to life, liberty and security of the person, and is not reasonable or justified. The Court noted that a number of jurisdictions now permit some form of physician-assisted death and that the evidence supports the view that safeguards can be put in place to protect vulnerable individuals.
The decision marks a fundamental shift for Canada and CCLA welcomes the opportunity to engage with Canadians about how the law should deal with physician-assisted death in a way that upholds autonomy while protecting individuals from abuse.
CCLA is grateful to Chris Bredt, Margot Finley and Ewa Krajewska of Borden Ladner Gervais LLP for their excellent representation in this case.
Read CCLA’s factum in the case here.
Read the Supreme Court decision here.
By Noa Mendelsohn Aviv
on January 27, 2015
“Solitary confinement deprives the prisoner of vital human contact. This practice has devastating effects on the prisoner’s mental and physical wellbeing, and constitutes the harshest form of punishment that may be administered in Canadian penitentiaries. As such, the ready, routine and prolonged use of solitary confinement in Canadian penitentiaries is unjustified, unethical, and ultimately, unconstitutional.”
||- Notice of Appplication, Corporations of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies
Constitutional challenged filed Janary 27th, 2015
The CCLA is deeply concerned about the practice of solitary confinement in Canadian prisons, and has long worked to uphold the rights of prisoners. CCLA has advocated with respect to these concerns, and noted the disproportionate representation of vulnerable groups in segregation including individuals with mental health issues and Aboriginal Peoples. CCLA has also conveyed in various fora its concerns regarding failing safeguards and an absence of adequate oversight with respect to segregation, and recently, the wholly inadequate response of the Correctional Service of Canada to the Ashley Smith Inquest recommendations.
Read CCLA’s Notice of Application here.
Background – the Impact of Solitary Confinement:
Solitary confinement – also known as segregation – can cause severe mental and physical pain or suffering. In the case of prolonged segregation of over 15 days, some of its harmful psychological effects can become irreversible. These findings, based on psychological studies, have been affirmed by international human rights bodies. Indeed, according to a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatement (August 2011), when segregation is used “as a punishment, during pre-trial detention, indefinitely, prolonged, on juveniles or persons with mental disabilities, it can amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and even torture.”
In addition, given the closed nature of prisons generally, and the isolation of solitary confinement, any abuses, misuse of authority, or mistreatment – such as that experienced by Ashley Smith – may go undetected and unchallenged.
There is also a troubling connection between segregation and suicide in federal penitentiaries, and a disproportionately high rate of suicide among prisoners in segregation. According to a recent report by the Office of Correctional Investigator (September 2014):
“A major finding of this review, one that is repeatedly supported by the literature, is that suicide rates are more prevalent in physically isolated cells (segregation, observation and mental health cells) than in general population cells. The literature is also clear that physical isolation and separation increases the risk of suicidal behaviour. Placement of a mentally disordered inmate in segregation or in an observation or special suicide-resistant cells has both perceived and actual punitive aspects… As this Office has long advocated, long-term segregation of mentally disordered inmates or those at risk of suicide or serious self-injury should be prohibited. Such a prohibition would be more consistent with existing policy on managing suicide risk than the status quo.”
In November 2009, CCLA announced that it was joining with the Criminal Lawyers’ Association to call for an immediate government response to the alarming increase in the use of solitary confinement in Canada’s federal penitentiaries.
- Click here for more information.
On March 15 2010, CCLA – jointly with the Criminal Lawyers Association, the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies, the John Howard Society of Canada, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, and the Schizophrenia Societies of both Ontario and Canada – sent a letter to the Minister of Public Safety concerning the use of segregation and the special needs of prisoners with mental health issues.
- For more information and to read the letter, click here and here.
Inquest into the Death of Ashley Smith – In March 2011, CCLA sought status as a public interest party in the Inquest into the Death of Ashley Smith. CCLA was represented on a pro bono basis by Allison Thornton (Koch Thornton LLP), assisted by Amy Slotek (CCLA). CCLA was a party to the Inquest and remained actively involved in it, through its various phases, until its conclusion in December 2013. During this time, CCLA questioned witnesses, called Prof. Andrew Coyle as an expert witness (from the U.K.), worked with the other parties to draft, where possible, joint recommendations for the jury, made oral submissions, endorsed and opposed the final submissions submitted by Coroner’s Counsel, and submitted its own Additional Recommendations to the inquest jury.
- To read the recommendations of Coroner’s counsel (many endorsed, and some opposed by CCLA), click here.
- To read CCLA’s Additional/Alternative Recommendations, click here.
In May 2012, CCLA addressed the issue of solitary confinement in its report to the UN Committee Against Torture, making a number of submissions, and referring specifically to the Ashley Smith inquest which was at that time ongoing.
- To read CCLA’s submissions to the UN Committee Against Torture, click here.
- For more information on CCLA’s submissions and the concluding observations of the committee, click here and here.
CCLA’s Sukanya Pillay published an op-ed in honour of Prisoner’s Justice Day 2012. The op-ed addressed, among other things, the overuse of segregation of people with mental health issues.
In December 2013, nearly a year following the conclusion of the Inquest into the death of Ashley Smith, Correctional Service Canada released its response to the Inquest recommendations. CCLA was deeply disappointed by this response, as failing to adequately address the practice of administrative segregation, place firm time limits on its use, or provide for meaningful oversight and accountability mechanisms.
- To read CCLA’s position on CSC’s response to the Ashley Smith Inquest, click here.
By Cara Zwibel
on January 27, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 27, 2015- The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) are challenging the inhumane practice of placing individuals in solitary confinement in Canadian prisons. This morning CCLA and CAEFS filed a petition in the Ontario Superior Court to challenge the constitutionality of legislative provisions which allow for solitary confinement.
“In 2011, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment declared solitary confinement contrary to the successful rehabilitation and reintegration needs of prisoners,” asserted Kim Pate, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the Sallows Chair in Human Rights at the University of Saskatchewan College of Law. “Recently, Canada’s own Correctional Investigator reported that 14 of 30 prisoner suicides in the past three years occurred in segregation, which elevates suicide risk. Most prisoners who died in segregation had a documented history of mental health issues.”
“The link between torture, cruel treatment and solitary confinement is too important for Canadians to remain silent,” said Sukanya Pillay, General Counsel and Executive Director of CCLA. “We cannot equivocate about measures that result in torture. We must protect the prison population’s most vulnerable members, which includes people with mental health issues.”
The CCLA and CAEFS have long worked to uphold the rights of prisoners particularly with respect to the concerning segregation, and the disproportionate representation of vulnerable groups in segregation including individuals with mental health issues and Aboriginal Peoples. Failing safeguards and an absence of adequate oversight over uses of segregation, and the wholly inadequate response of the Correctional Service of Canada to the Ashley Smith inquest recommendations prompted CAEFS and CCLA to take action.
“The practice of solitary confinement in Canada is fatally flawed,” remarked Jonathan Lisus of Lax O’Sullivan Scott Lisus LLP, Counsel in the petition to Superior Court. “Our clients are bringing these challenges to end practices that have violated the constitutional guarantee against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment”.
“Canadian prisons subject inmates to solitary confinement without any limit on duration, without any guarantee of independent review, and without any consideration of the frailties of the inmate” said Michael Rosenberg of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, Counsel in the petition to the Superior Court. “The ready, routine and prolonged use of solitary confinement in Canadian penitentiaries is unjustified, unethical, and ultimately, unconstitutional”.
The CCLA and CAEFS have also urged Canada to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, which would allow independent visits of detention centres.
CCLA and CAEFS acknowledge the work of their colleagues in British Columbia who last week launched a suit also challenging provisions enabling solitary confinement. “It is incumbent on all members of civil society to speak out against torture,” said Pillay, “we support their efforts and our joint suits reinforce the importance of these issues central to CCLA’s mandate.” Kim Pate, a Canadian expert who has worked to end solitary confinement for decades, argues that, “The preventable deaths of such prisoners as Ashley Smith, Kinew James, and Edward Snowshoe, have galvanized opposition to the use of segregation, especially for Indigenous prisoners and those with mental health issues. Eliminating or severely curtailing the use of isolation is a laudable objective. But the Correctional Service of Canada, by defining certain units as “special needs”, “mental health observation”, or “intensive psychiatric care”, often avoids the current review requirements stipulated by the Act. The resulting, often punitive, disciplinary responses exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues. Not only do we need accountability, but we need to recognize that in Canada, entire prisons for youth, men and women, have been managed for months and sometimes years, without segregation units.”
CCLA—an independent, non-partisan, non-profit, non-governmental organization—works to protect the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. Its mission is to promote respect for and observance of fundamental human rights and civil liberties, and to defend, extend, and foster recognition of these rights and liberties.
CAEFS –is a federation of twenty-five autonomous societies which work with, and on behalf of, marginalized, victimized, criminalized and institutionalized women and girls.
The CCLA and CAEFS are represented on their petition to the Superior Court by Lax O’Sullivan Scott Lisus LLP and McCarthy Tétrault LLP.
Canadian Civil Liberties Association
(416) 363-0321 ext. 230