By Cara Zwibel
on June 6, 2014
On June 5, 2014 CCLA appeared before the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights as part of its consideration on Bill C-13, the government’s so-called cyberbullying legislation. Other than creating a new offence to deal with the non-consensual distribution of intimate images, the Bill has very little to do with cyberbullying. It includes a number of new investigative powers available to police and other public officers that may be applied to all offences. CCLA has a number of concerns about the Bill and highlighted these concerns in its testimony. In particular, CCLA believes the new offence (non-consensual distribution of intimate images) may be addressing a gap in the current law, but is draft in a way that is overly broad and unreasonably restricts freedom of expression. CCLA also takes issue with a number of the new investigative powers, some of which allow access to a detailed profile of an individual’s activities on the low standard of “reasonable grounds to suspect”. In addition, the powers do not come with appropriate accountability and transparency mechanisms.
Read the notes from CCLA’s presentation before the Committee.
Read CCLA’s written submissions to the Committee.
Watch the Committee’s meeting from June 5, 2014.
By Cara Zwibel
on May 30, 2014
On May 28, 2014, Ontario’s Divisional Court released its decision in Taylor-Baptiste v. OPSEU, confirming the right of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal to consider Charter values, including freedom of expression, when assessing whether there has been discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The CCLA had intervened in the case to promote a robust understanding of when and how tribunals can consider the Charter in their decision-making. The judgment also has implications for employee privacy and freedom of expression in the Internet age.
The case arose in the context of a fractious labour dispute between management and correctional officers at a Toronto-area jail. The union representing workers at the jail created a blog to communicate with members. After an incident in the workplace, the union local president published a post criticizing the performance of a female manager. Unfortunately, the blog post used demeaning and sexist language to describe her. The manager subsequently applied to the Human Rights Tribunal, arguing that the blog post constituted discrimination with respect to employment – which is prohibited under section 5 of the Ontario Human Rights Code. However, the Tribunal ultimately concluded that the post did not fall under the Code. In reaching this decision, the Tribunal relied on a number of different factors: there was no evidence that the union president worked on the blog while at work; his posts focused on issues of union-management concern; the manager occupied a position of relative power in the workplace. Among other things, the Tribunal noted that Charter rights were engaged by this scenario – particularly freedom of expression and freedom of association. Ultimately, the Tribunal concluded that, in this particular case, the blog post was not covered by the relevant provision of the Human Rights Code.
The manager asked the Divisional Court to review this decision arguing, in part that it was inappropriate for the Tribunal to invoke the Charter in this context. CCLA’s intervention in the case focused on persuading the Court that administrative tribunals are not only entitled, but required, to consider Charter rights, among other factors, when making rendering judgments. In this case, the Charter was relevant to deciding whether the Human Rights Code applies to a particular constellation of facts. This approach is necessary to ensure that the Charter is woven into the fabric of everyday administrative decision-making.
The Taylor-Baptiste decision also has ramifications for employee privacy and freedom of speech in the Internet age. Employees often turn to blogging, social media and other online platforms to express themselves after work hours – sometimes on issues that are connected to their jobs. The Tribunal held that some of these communications may be covered by the Human Rights Code, but not all. In each case, the Court or Tribunal will consider the entire context to determine whether there was a sufficient connection between the communications in question (e.g. a blog post) and the workplace. CCLA applauds the Divisional Court’s decision which led to a a sensible and nuanced result.
Read the CCLA’s factum before the Divisional Court.
By Cara Zwibel
on March 27, 2014
CCLA is very concerned about reports coming out of the province of Quebec that individuals, particularly students, are facing barriers in registering to vote in the upcoming provincial election. Media reports suggest that people who are eligible to vote have been turned away when registering on the basis that they could not establish their domicile or an intention to remain in Quebec. Many reports suggest these people have documentation that establishes their eligibility but are nevertheless turned away. It is not the first time that CCLA has raised concerns about unclear voting rules resulting in disenfranchisement.
If you have encountered difficulty registering to vote in Quebec, but believe you meet the requirements, please contact Cara Zwibel, Director of the CCLA’s Fundamental Freedoms Program, at email@example.com.
By Cara Zwibel
on March 17, 2014
CCLA has been granted leave to intervene in Loyola High School, et al. v. Attorney General of Quebec. This case, scheduled to be heard by the Court on March 24, 2014, is the second time that the Court will consider an issue related to 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.
While CCLA recognizes that freedom of religion is often thought of as an individual right, it also has significant associational and expressive aspects. Therefore, in certain cases, where a non-profit institution is primarily a vehicle through which individual members exercise their own freedom of religion, association and expression, the institution itself can make a claim under the Charter freedom.
Read CCLA’s factum in the case here.
By Cara Zwibel
on February 27, 2014
CCLA is seriously concerned about the detention of Mohamed Fahmy in Egypt. Mr. Fahmy is a Canadian citizen and a journalist.
We commend the Canadian government for providing consular assistance, and for highlighting the rights to freedom of expression and the need to protect journalists. Both Canada and Egypt are state parties to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which protects not only freedom of expression but also fair trial rights. Both of these rights are implicated in Mr. Fahmy’s situation.
As fellow state parties to the ICCPR, Canada has the right to insist that Egypt comply with its legal obligations under the ICCPR which includes upholding freedom of expression, the rights of journalists and all fair trial rights. We call upon Canada to continue to provide consular attention to Mr Fahmy, with particular regard to the specific observations of Justices O’Connor and Iacobucci regarding consular visits made in the two Federal Commissions of Inquiry.
By Cara Zwibel
on February 19, 2014
CCLA recently intervened before the Supreme Court of Canada in Mounted Police Association of Ontario et al. v. Attorney General of Canada, a case that revolves around the fundamental freedom of association protected by s. 2(d), and the limitations placed on the rights of members of the RCMP to organize and bargain collectively on behalf of the membership. RCMP members are excluded from the labour relations legislation that governs most of the federal public service and has an alternative scheme in place. Under this scheme – the Staff Relations Representative Program – is the only means by which RCMP members can address labour issues with management. The Mounted Police Association of Ontario and the British Columbia Mounted Police Professional Association, were formed by members in the hopes of being a collective means of resolving employment disputes, but under the current law, this is not possible.
The associations sought to have the relevant legislative provisions declared unconstitutional, arguing that they impose unreasonable limits on the rights of RCMP members to associate and bargain collectively. Since the SRRP was created by management and is not fully independent of it, the associations argue that they cannot effectively bargain or represent their own interests though the SRRP. CCLA intervened in the case to argue that the right to associate and to bargain collectively is only meaningful if individuals can choose an association that is independent from management. Any restrictions on the right to associate within an association of one’s choosing must be narrowly limited and, in CCLA’s view, a compelling reason had not been established in this case. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in mid-February, 2014.
Read CCLA’s factum here.
By Cara Zwibel
on January 23, 2014
Earlier this year, CCLA, in conjunction with partners from nine other countries around the globe, released a report on threats to the right to protest around the world. The report, Take Back the Streets, documented case studies from ten countries that demonstrate the constraints being placed on the right to peacefully protest. Unfortunately, the patterns documented in the report are once again in the news. There are reports that protesters in the Ukraine are experiencing serious violence at the hands of police and the government has recently passed extremely restrictive anti-protest laws.
By Cara Zwibel
on December 20, 2013
CCLA has submitted a brief to the Quebec National Assembly’s Committee on Institutions’ as part of its general consultation and public hearings on Bill 60. Bill 60, or the Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality and of equality between women and men, and providing a framework for accommodation requests, is a deeply troubling law that would infringe basic rights and cannot be justified in a free and democratic society. In our submissions, CCLA argues that the Bill infringes freedom of religion, freedom of expression and the right to equality and to be free from discrimination. CCLA also points out some concerning inconsistencies in the proposed law which would have a disproportionate impact on individuals from minority religious groups and, in particular, women from these groups. We are urging the Quebec government not to move forward with the proposal and hope to have an opportunity to address the Committee in person in their public hearings, which are scheduled to start in mid-January, 2014.
Read CCLA’s brief here (English submissions follow French).
By Cara Zwibel
on December 5, 2013
CCLA has written to the Secretary-General of McGill University regarding court proceedings that the University has initiated in light of a number of access to information requests made by McGill students. The University first applied to the Quebec Commission d’acces a l’information (access to information commission) asking for permission to disregard a number of existing requests for information along with future requests that meet certain criteria. The Commission denied this request and McGill is asking the Court of Quebec to hear an appeal from that decision.
CCLA is committed to the principles of openness and transparency in public institutions and wrote to McGill to lay out these principles and how they apply to the case McGill has started. CCLA encouraged the University to take a more proactive approach to disclosure of information, arguing that this would provide students with information they are seeking and pose less of a burden on administration in responding to multiple requests. We also proposed that the University organize discussions or forums where information about ongoing research work or corporate partnerships could be shared with students and feedback could be solicited.
Click here to read a copy of CCLA’s letter.
By Peter Goffin
on December 2, 2013
On November 29, CCLA joined 12 other organizations including Greenpeace, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Sierra Club Ontario and the David Suzuki Foundation, in writing to Ontario Attorney General John Gerretsen to voice their support for Bill 83, known as the Protection of Public Participation Act, 2013.
Passing the bill would enact anti-SLAPP (strategic law suits against public participation) legislation, and help to protect freedom of expression in Ontario.
Read the full letter here.
Learn more about CCLA’s stance on Bill 83 and anti-SLAPP legislation here.