Disability is part of the Equality program. You can find more information about it on its main program page.

Join the CCLA at Toronto’s Metro Hall this Sunday, August 10, 2014, for Mental Health in the Canadian Justice System: A discussion in recognition of International Prisoner’s Justice Day

By on August 7, 2014

For more information, or to make accommodation requests for special needs, please contact Marianne Baker at 416-363-0321 ext. 221, or email media@ccla.org.

CCLA Awaits Release of Police Encounters with People in Crisis Report

By on July 23, 2014

July 24, 2014 – The CCLA eagerly awaits the release of Justice Iacobucci’s report tomorrow, Police Encounters with People in Crisis. The CCLA made written submissions, found here, and Executive Director and General Counsel Sukanya Pillay, participated in a round-table discussion with stakeholders. The report is the culmination of the Independent Review looking in to the issue of police use of force and interactions with people suffering from mental illness.

Federal Court Decides: Cuts to Refugee Healthcare are Shocking, Unconscionable, Unconstitutional

By on July 9, 2014

CCLA welcomes the decision of the Federal Court, reinstating healthcare that had been provided for more than 50 years to refugee claimants and others seeking Canada’s protection. 2012 cuts to this coverage, according to today’s ruling, had the effect of denying these individuals funding for life-saving medications such as insulin and cardiac drugs, for basic pre-natal, post-natal and obstetric care, or in certain instances, for any medical care at all.

As to the impact on children, the court described the 2012 changes as cruel, and described, for example, what the cuts would mean for a child “screaming in pain because of an ear infection,” who would not be entitled to see a doctor or receive antibiotics. The impact would be far more severe for others. Indeed, the court concluded, the 2012 cuts would potentially jeopardize the health, safety and the very lives of “innocent and vulnerable children in a manner that shocks the conscience and outrages our standards of decency.”

In addition, the court rejected stereotypical rationalizations for the healthcare cuts and discriminatory depictions of refugees as “bogus” or cheats. The court explained that children are innocent victims of family circumstances, and that individuals whose refugee claims ultimately fail may do so simply because of changing country circumstances or differing standards with respect to country conditions and safety.

In conclusion, the court held, the 2012 changes were discriminatory, and constituted “intentional targeting of an admittedly poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged group for adverse treatment,” thus violating sections 15 and 12 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

CCLA welcomes the thoughtful and detailed decision of the Federal Court, that will restore healthcare for refugee claimants and others who are vulnerable and in need of protection.

To read CCLA’s 2012 letter to Minister Jason Kenney calling for him to rescind the cuts, see: http://ccla.org/2012/06/29/refugee-healthcare/ .

Homicide – Verdict in the Ashley Smith Inquest

By on December 19, 2013

The jury of five delivered their verdict this morning, determining that Ashley Smith died as a result of homicide.

This is a sad victory, as justice can never be done for Ashley Smith.

However, CCLA is hoping it will result in a clear message sent to the Correctional Service of Canada that significant changes need to be implemented to ensure that such tragedies cannot recur.  CCLA will continue working to protect the rights of all incarcerated persons including in particular those with mental illness; to demand meaningful accountability; and to call for meaningful monitoring and oversight systems in the prisons.

We thank Allison Thornton (Koch Thornton LLP), assisted by Amy Slotek, for excellent representation of CCLA in this Inquest.

Concerns persist about illusory access to medical marijuana

By on February 4, 2013

The Ontario Court of Appeal has released its decision in R. v. Mernagh, a challenge to the constitutionality of the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations. The Regulations are supposed to allow ill Canadian suffering from serious, debilitating illnesses to access to a legal source of dried marihuana for medical purposes. Individuals’ experiences from across the country, however, strongly suggest that patients are having significant difficulty accessing the drug, largely because it can be very difficult to find doctors that are willing to sign the medical marijuana form required by the Regulations.

In the lower court’s 2011 decision, Justice Taliano ruled that the government program established in 2001 to regulate the medical use of marijuana was ineffective and struck down the Regulations as unconstitutional. The judge found that medical practitioners were boycotting the program en masse, therefore making extremely difficult, if not impossible, for seriously ill patients to access marijuana for medical purposes. Medical practitioners have expressed concern that they have been made the gatekeepers to access medical marijuana considering the relative lack of research and education around the medical benefits of the controversial drug.

The Court of Appeal overturned the decision, largely because it found there were problems in the lower court’s factual findings and evidentiary record. The CCLA is concerned that the evidentiary burden the Court of Appeal has placed on defendants in similar situations – namely to find and pay a doctor to assess their individual circumstance and testify to their MMAR eligibility – will be too onerous for many individuals who are criminally charged after using marijuana to alleviate debilitating symptoms.

CCLA is also disappointed that the Court did not use this opportunity to change one of the most significant barriers to legally accessing medical marijuana – the requirement that doctors confirm that conventional treatments have been tried or considered, and found to be ineffective or medically inappropriate. This essentially requires patients to make marijuana a medication of last resort, and it can be a particularly difficult standard for individuals that have not been able to find or keep a primary physician. As was evidenced by Mr. Mernagh, new physicians may suggest retrying all ‘conventional’ treatments, including pharmaceuticals with debilitating side effects, before considering a patient’s request for marijuana. We do not believe that such a rigid regime is necessary to fulfill the government’s objectives, and will continue to watch for opportunities to ensure that ill individuals can effectively access their preferred treatment without risk of arrest or incarceration.

To read CCLA’s factum in this case click here.

To read the Court of Appeal’s decision click here.

Ashley Smith Inquest began last week

By on January 21, 2013

The coroner’s inquest into the death of Ashley Smith resumed in Toronto on Monday January 14th, 2013.   An earlier inquest was discontinued after the retirement of the first coroner.

Ashley Smith died tragically at the age of 19 inside her cell at Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, after spending many months in segregation (solitary confinement). At the age of 13, Ms. Smith became involved with the youth criminal justice system. Prior to her death, she spent time in a number of federal and provincial correctional facilities and struggled with mental health issues while in jail.  The young woman died after tying a ligature around her neck while guards, instructed not to intervene before she stopped breathing, watched.

Public inquests are held when an inmate dies in custody and serve two important functions: to determine the facts surrounding an inmate’s death and, where possible, to prevent similar deaths from occurring in the future. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) is participating in the inquest as a party in order to ensure that there is a full public accounting of the circumstances surrounding Ms. Smith’s death.  CCLA also has experience in ensuring that adequate oversight of government and authorities, and accountability mechanisms are in place to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all people, including the right to life.  Meaningful and transparent oversight is essential to ensure that prisons operate within the law.

Please stay tuned for further updates regarding the inquest on our website.

CCLA is represented at the Inquest by Allison Thornton of Koch Thornton LLP.

The proceedings of the inquest are being broadcast live via webcam and are available at the following link: http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/DeathInvestigations/office_coroner/PublicInquest/OCC_inquest_stream.html

Click here to read more about our past work on this issue.

For media inquiries, please contact:

Allison Thornton, special counsel for CCLA at the Inquest, a partner at Koch Thornton LLP

email:    allison.thornton@ktbarristers.com

phone: 416-216-0225

(In the alternative, please contact Noa Mendelsohn Aviv, Director of CCLA’s Equality Program, at mendelsohnaviv@ccla.org or 647-780-9802)

CCLA Reacts To Senator’s “Give Them Rope” Idea

By on February 3, 2012

Email sent to Senator Boisvenu by CCLA general counsel Nathalie Des Rosiers on February 3, 2012


Many efforts are being made to prevent suicide particularly for people who suffer from depression. Remarks from a public figure like you, Senator, that encourage people to commit suicide are particularly damaging to the various campaigns for suicide prevention. On behalf of the families who have lost one of theirs to suicide, I ask you to refrain from continuing to promote it, and even if your proposals arepopular with some victims. (Globe & Mail, February 3).

There are currently in federal and provincial Canadian prisons a large number of prisoners who suffer from depression and mental health problems. The Office of the Correctional Investigator notes that the suicide rate in federal prisons is already seven times higher than the national average. Most people are incarcerated for crimes related to drug trafficking: it is irresponsible to associate all inmates with the image of Cliff Olson or Mr. Shafia.

I invite you to inform yourself better with regards to practices for suicide prevention and to observe them. Your words are causing great harm to all those who work in the field of mental health and are trying to prevent people from resorting to suicide. Your duty should not be to encourage victims to promote suicide but to recognize the extent of mental health problems in prisons and the need to respond to these issues proactively to ensure better security.

Nathalie Des Rosiers

General Counsel, Canadian Civil Liberties Association

Call for Guidelines Regarding Non-Disclosure of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections

By on December 23, 2011

In light of some very serious charges laid against individuals who had, in a variety of circumstances, not disclosed their HIV status to sexual partners, CCLA has written to the Attorney General for Ontario calling on him to develop guidelines concerning the criminal investigation and prosecution of allegations of non-disclosure of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).  Such guidelines would further several fundamental legal and constitutional principles, including transparency, accountability, fairness, non-discrimination, the rule of law, and the need to make public policy based on cogent evidence.  Appropriate guidelines might also help mitigate some of the unnecessary stigma associated with HIV and AIDS.

Today’s letter was sent after more than a year since CCLA had endorsed a call with many organizations and individuals calling for these guidelines.  To date, no such guidelines have been developed.

To read CCLA’s letter to the Ontario Attorney General, click here.

Victory at the Supreme Court of Canada

By on September 30, 2011

Today, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that ministerial discretion cannot be exercised so as to violate the Charter. The case pitted the clinic which operates INSITE medical services for people with drug addiction in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side, and the Federal Government which was considering not renewing an exemption of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which has been allowing employees to make injections under medical supervision.

Since the Act allowed exemptions for medical or other purposes, the Supreme Court ordered that Minister to grant this exemption in this case given that it has been proved that the INSITE service saves lives and significantly reduces the incidence of diseases such as AIDS or Hepatitis C without necessarily increasing consumption. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association intervened in the case to argue that the application of Article 7 of the Charter (right to life, liberty, and security of the person) requires an exemption from the application of criminal provisions.

CCLA welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision. It is a triumph for public health policy in Canada and more generally for the duty of every government to act rationally in situations where life and human health are at stake

>> Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision: http://csc.lexum.org/fr/2011/2011csc44/2011csc44.html

>> Read about CCLA’s intervention: CCLA to Intervene in Support of Safe Injection Sites

>> In the news: Supreme Court ruling opens doors to drug injection clinics across Canada

Federal Court of Appeals Upholds Denial of Healthcare Coverage to Ill Woman

By on June 28, 2011

The Federal Court of Appeal has upheld a decision to not provide healthcare coverage to a very ill woman because of her precarious immigration status – a decision that has and will now continue to jeopardize the woman’s ability to receive life-saving medical treatment.

Since 1957, the government of Canada has, for humanitarian reasons, taken responsibility for certain people in precarious immigration situations and provided such coverage.  The Canadian Civil Liberties Association had intervened in this case and argued that the denial of life-saving healthcare to a person living in Canada with precarious immigration status violates our Canadian values as well as our humanitarian laws: it violates her right to life and to equality as guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and contravenes Canada’s obligations under international law.

Click here to read the CCLA’s factum in this case.

Click here to read the decision.