By Cara Zwibel
on April 22, 2013
CCLA has written to Montreal Councillor Alex Norris who planned to introduce a motion to repeal Montreal’s controversial bylaw: P-6. The bylaw requires individuals to provide prior notice to police of their meeting places and demonstration itineraries regardless of the size of the planned protest and without making any exceptions for spontaneous assemblies. The bylaw also prohibits individuals from wearing facial coverings at a public demonstration without reasonable cause. The bylaw has been used to clamp down on peaceful protests before they have even gotten underway and individuals have received tickets of over $600 each. CCLA wrote to Montreal’s City Council in May of 2012 when the amendments to the bylaw were first considered and passed. With recent mass arrests taking place under the bylaw, CCLA has again written to the City expressing its concerns and arguing for the need to protect fundamental freedoms, including the freedom to peacefully assemble and freedom of expression.
See CCLA’s letter regarding the motion to repeal P-6 in English here and in French here.
By Cara Zwibel
on April 4, 2013
The CCLA is deeply concerned about the Montreal police force’s use of a controversial municipal bylaw to cut off social protests before they begin, detain individuals en masse, and issue costly tickets to individuals seeking to exercise their constitutionally protected rights.
In May of 2012 Montreal’s City Council adopted amendments to a bylaw that made it illegal to wear a mask during a public demonstration and required demonstrators to provide prior notification to police of their meeting place and route. At that time, CCLA wrote to the Mayor and city councillors expressing our concerns about the bylaw – in particular that these provisions placed unnecessary and unconstitutional restrictions on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, both of which are protected under the Canadian and Quebec Charters. While these freedoms may be subject to limits or restrictions, such restrictions can only be put in place where there is a demonstrated compelling and pressing objective and where the measures taken to achieve the objective do not infringe on rights more than necessary. Restrictions similar to those included in the Montreal bylaw were also in a controversial piece of provincial legislation in Quebec, Bill 78 (which subsequently became Law 12). Quebec’s new PQ government repealed Law 12 shortly after coming into power in September, but Montreal’s similar municipal bylaw remains in place.
In a series of recent demonstrations in Montreal, the Service de police de la Ville de Montreal (SPVM) has used the bylaw to “kettle” demonstrators when they fail to provide the police with a route for their demonstration. In three instance in March of 2013, police put an end to demonstrations before they even began and issued hundreds of tickets under the bylaw for over $600 each. In CCLA’s view, individuals should not have to pay to exercise their fundamental freedoms, nor should police engage in mass arrests and detentions of peaceful social protesters. CCLA has written to the Mayor of Montreal urging repeal of the bylaw and to the Chief of the SPVM urging the police to cease engaging in these troubling practices.
Read the CCLA’s letter to the Mayor of Montreal.
Read the CCLA’s letter to the Chief of the SPVM.
By Abby Deshman
on March 20, 2013
From the Toronto G20 to the Occupy movement, the widespread (and continuing) protests in Quebec and the nation-wide Idle No More actions, individuals in Canada have been participating in their democracy through diverse and creative expressive acts. As a society we have also witnessed a range of government and police responses to these grassroots movements. And on numerous occasions in recent years CCLA has called out to municipal, provincial and federal government actors to respect and facilitate freedom of peaceful assembly. Although there have certainly been some examples of government effectively facilitating peaceful protest, there have been numerous instances over the past three years where CCLA believes that this freedom has been threatened or where constitutional rights were violated.
CCLA is now joining voices with civil society NGOs from across the globe to voice shared concerns and call on the United Nations to provide meaningful protection for freedom of peaceful assembly and human rights in the context of social protest.
On March 7, a letter signed by nine national organizations spanning five continents was sent to the Member States of the United Nations Human Rights Council. Democracies must welcome diverse forms of public participation. Such activities must be actively facilitated by states if they are to comply with their obligations to protect, respect and fulfill international human rights.
CCLA and our international counterparts welcome the renewed and increased attention to freedom of peaceful assembly and the protection of human rights, including freedom of association, expression and opinion, in the broader context of social protest. As domestically-focused actors with decades of experience monitoring policing and protest, the signatory organizations have seen first hand the diverse and multiple facets of the right to peaceful assembly and rights within the context of social protest more broadly. Although our individual domestic experiences stem from diverse political contexts and legal systems, we are united by our conviction that public protest is an essential component of any vibrant democracy. We are also united by our concern for the protection of this fundamental right.
A draft resolution, “The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests”, is being debated in Geneva and is scheduled for adoption at the 22nd Session of the Human Rights Council. The civil society organizations that have signed the letter are:
American Civil Liberties Union – ACLU (USA)
Association for Civil Rights in Israel – ACRI (Israel)
Canadian Civil Liberties Association – CCLA (Canada)
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales – CELS (Argentina)
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights – EIPR (Egypt)
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union – HCLU (Hungary)
Irish Council for Civil Liberties – ICCL (Ireland)
Legal Resource Centre – LRC (South Africa)
To read the letter to the UN Human Rights Council click here.
To read the joint press release from all nine organizations click here.
By Cara Zwibel
on February 27, 2013
The Supreme Court of Canada has rendered its long-awaited decision in Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission v. William Whatcott, et al. and upheld the constitutionality of hate speech provisions in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. The CCLA had intervened in the case to argue that the section – s. 14(1)(b) – is unconstitutional under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as it acts as an overbroad and unjustifiable limit on freedom of expression. The Supreme Court did not accept this argument and said that while hate speech provisions do limit freedom of expression, the limit is justified in light of the goals of promoting the inherent dignity and equal rights of all and discouraging discrimination. The Court attempted to clarify and slightly modify the definition of “hatred” to provide tribunals and courts with more guidance when applying hate speech provisions. It held that hate speech provisions should be applied objectively, requiring tribunals to determine “whether a reasonable person, aware of the context and circumstances surrounding the expression, would view it as exposing the protected group to hatred.” The Court also held that hatred is to be interpreted as only extreme emotions of “detestation” and “vilification”. Finally, the focus should be on the effects of the expression. The question of the speaker’s intent and/or the sincerity of their belief is not relevant.
The appeal arises from the distribution of three flyers by William Whatcott in 2001 and 2002 that contained statements about homosexuality and the morality of certain types of sexual behaviour in often crude, confrontational, and polemical terms. While CCLA denounces and condemns the content of Mr. Whatcott’s flyers, we argued that the hate speech provisions are both vague and overly broad, that they chill freedom of expression and that the experience with these provisions over the years has shown them to be unworkable. The CCLA continues to believe that a mature democracy requires the least restriction on the expressive rights of its citizens and advocates a position in favour of the vigilant and principled protection of freedom of expression, including offensive statements of opinion. Indeed, the right to express an unpopular or non-mainstream opinion remains an important tool in the arsenal of equality-seeking groups. CCLA will continue to promote and protect freedom of expression for all.
Read CCLA’s factum in the Whatcott case here.
Read the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision here.
See a webcast of the Supreme Court hearing here.
By Dora Chan
on February 27, 2013
Canadian Civil Liberties Association at York University (CCLAYU) is hosting a final event on March 8, 2013 to celebrate freedom of expression, a right guaranteed under section 2(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This event will be about uniting together as a community to celebrate our differences by showcasing our various skills, identities and talents. The evening will consist of acts, such as musicians, performances, comedic monologues, and speakers. The keynote speaker for this event will be Nathalie Des Rosiers, the General Counsel of Canadian Civil Liberties Association, who is one of Canada’s most influential people. She is known for advising policy makers and the government on the effects of legislation and public policy on civil society. In addition, speakers from People With Aids (PWA) foundation and HALCO, a non-for-profit community-based legal clinic that provides free legal services to people living with HIV/AIDS in Ontario, will discuss the stigma of HIV/AIDS and the legal issues associated with HIV/AIDS. The event is FREE, however, donations would be greatly appreciated!
WHAT: 2 be Free or Not to be Me – CCLAYU Celebrates Freedom of Expression
WHERE: McLaughlin College Junior Common Room – York University Keele Campus
WHEN: Friday March 8, 2013 from 6:30pm to 10pm
Please come out and be yourself!
By Cara Zwibel
on February 21, 2013
CCLA has written to a Committee of Ottawa City Councillors considering a new special events bylaw. The bylaw requires that individuals and groups wishing to have special events seek a permit from the City. For large events of 300 people or more, a permit is required even when the event will take place on private property. The CCLA is concerned about the impact that the requirements contained in the bylaw may have on expressive freedoms and the freedom to peacefully assemble. The bylaw may have a particularly harsh impact on spontaneous demonstrations since, in most cases, the bylaw requires organizers to seek a permit at least 90 days in advance of the event. The permit holder is also responsible for obtaining significant insurance coverage, paying for medical services, paid-duty officers, and a variety of other services at their own expense. Policies and bylaws that require individuals to pay to exercise their fundamental rights have the effect of chilling expression and may discourage individuals from speaking out on matters of public importance.
Read the CCLA’s letter to the City of Ottawa here.
By Cara Zwibel
on January 26, 2013
Although we usually hear about libel or defamation in the context of disputes between private parties, Canada’s Criminal Code also includes offences relating to libel. These provisions have been used against individuals who are critical – sometimes in harsh and provocative language – of state officials, including police officers and participants in the justice system. They are arrested or charged simply for their words. CCLA believes these provisions have no place in our modern democracy and has called for their repeal. Although numerous courts throughout the country have found s. 301 of the Criminal Code unconstitutional, the law is still on the books and individuals continue to be arrested and charged as a result. This has a significant impact on freedom of expression and can severely chill expression on matters of public interest. We recently wrote to the Minister of Justice urging him to seek to have the provision repealed or amended. It is an archaic law and a throwback to an era that was not sufficiently protective of freedom of expression. Today they appear to be used to insulate public officials from criticism and undermine the purposes of freedom of expression.
Read CCLA’s letter to the Minister of Justice here.
By Dora Chan
on January 17, 2013
Canadian Civil Liberties Association at McGill Law and Pro Bono Students Canada present a panel discussion on Freedom of Expression in the Internet Age: The policy challenges of web 2.0
By Cara Zwibel
on January 15, 2013
CCLA has recently written to two universities about the issue of protests and demonstrations on campus. Universities are significant sites for discourse and debate and an environment where questioning the status quo should be welcomed. Policies around campus security and the use of campus space may, in some cases, unduly limit freedom of expression and peaceful assembly on campus. While these freedoms have limits, those limits must be justified by a compelling purpose and must be proportional to the purpose. The mere fact that a protest may cause disruption or inconvenience is not a sufficient basis for shutting it down or subjecting participants to disciplinary action.
McGill University is currently considering a draft Protocol Regarding Demonstrations, Protests and Occupations on McGill University Campuses. The University invited comments on the Protocol from members of the McGill community and CCLA has made submissions through that process. CCLA has also recently written to security personnel at York University to express concerns about the treatment of protests and demonstrations on campus.
Read CCLA’s submissions to McGill University here.
Read CCLA’s letter to York University here.
By Cara Zwibel
on January 9, 2013
CCLA is pleased that a jury has acquitted Montreal special effects make-up artist Remy Couture of charges of corrupting morals. Couture was charged because of films he made and posted online. The allegation was that the material combined sex, violence and gore in a way that the law defines as obscene. The Crown argued that the images Couture created and displayed online were harmful and that they encouraged imitation and incited violence and, in particular, violence against women. Couture argued that he is an artist, that the images don’t depict any actual violence, and that his freedom of expression under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects him from facing criminal sanctions for his art.
CCLA is pleased with the acquittal, which is a victory for freedom of expression. While we all have different levels of tolerance for images that are disturbing or frightening, the viewing public should have the right to choose what they want to watch and this should not be a matter for the criminal law. Freedom of expression does have limits, but censoring based on hypothetical reactions by hypothetical views may lead us down a very dangerous road. Moreover, this kind of prosecution wastes court time and limited resources and is not an effective route to curb or prevent violence against women.
Read a Montreal Gazette story on Couture’s acquittal here.