Environmental law is a fairly new topic in legal discourse. It is only in the past hundred years or so that humans have been made aware of the environmental consequences of their actions and even now there are forces in our society that demand that said consequences are negligible or worth ignoring. It is, however, impossible to ignore and even major polluters like Exxon Mobil have come to acknowledge their role in climate change.

This article is going to give a brief overview on the rules that punish polluters in Canada and then focus on the punishments individuals might face in Canada for certain kinds of pollution.

Environmental law is one of those fields of law that covers almost every kind of law there is. Rules to protect the environment can be found in agricultural law, federal fisheries legislation, rules governing industry, civil law, municipal law, and even criminal and international law.

In Canada, large scale pollution is regulated by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, the Federal Fisheries Act, the Criminal Code, and provincial laws such as the Quebec Environmental Quality Act. In the cities, it is municipal by-laws that control the nuisance caused by littering and other forms of pollution.

Some types of pollution by individuals will result in fines, whereas others can lead to lengthy prison terms. So let’s talk about those.

For the purposes of this article, I will focus on Montreal municipal laws. Other cities on the island such as Westmount and Cote-Saint-Luc have their own sets of rules.

In the early two thousands, the City of Montreal tightened its rules regarding littering resulting in outrage from citizens, landlords, and business owners. Under the new by-law, tagging and other forms of graffiti on public roadways, sidewalks, and buildings on public property can result in a fine of a hundred to a thousand dollars. The same goes for leaving broken motor vehicles on public property as well as dumping garbage in public waterways.

The by-law elaborates by specifying that everything from garbage, to ashes, to flyers, syringes, and bandages count as things prohibited from being dumped on public property. There are exceptions to these rules with regards to graffiti on public property in which a person can get authorization from the City of Montreal, presumably to make room for artists to beautify the city with murals and other works of art.

The new by-law takes penalties for littering even further, with punishments for throwing garbage and other forms of waste on public property ranging from sixty to a hundred dollars for a first offense. That means that the seemingly mundane act of throwing your coffee cup or cigarette packet on the ground could land you a hefty fine if you’re caught. Fines for a second offense range from a hundred to three hundred dollars, and for every subsequent offense it’s a fine of three hundred to a thousand dollars.

Recently, the City of Montreal has also opted to crack down on the use of wood burning fireplaces. Montreal is one of the oldest cities in Canada so the presence of houses with indoor fireplaces is inevitable. Unfortunately, they’re dirty and polluting and studies show that they don’t actually warm your house that much.

In 2017 the City of Montreal adopted the By-law Concerning Solid Fuel Burning Devices and Fireplaces. Under the new by-law those in possession of fireplaces or other solid fuel burning devices may not use them in Montreal as of October 2018 unless they are certified to emit no more than 2.5g/hr of fine particulate matter into the atmosphere.

The fines for use of fireplaces after the deadline range from a hundred to five dollars for a first offense, five hundred to a thousand dollars for a second offense, and a thousand to two thousand dollars for every subsequent offense.

The by-law does however allow for exceptions in cases of major power outages and other natural disasters in which a fireplace may be the only source of heat. The rules also do not apply to devices used for food preparation – so charcoal barbeques are fine, as well as for commercial use or in places where authorization to install such a device in a building for commercial use was authorized. Those with fireplaces have the option to either stop using it, or have it replaced and declare it to the City.

In order to face jail time for polluting, the offense has to be quite severe. For example, anyone who, as per the Criminal Code, “makes a device or possesses, uses, transfers, exports, imports, alters or disposes of nuclear material, radioactive material or a device or commits an act against a nuclear facility or an act that causes serious interference with or serious disruption of its operations,” with intent to cause death, serious bodily harm, or substantial damage to property or the environment is facing life in prison if found guilty.

Laws punishing polluters are in place for a reason. Pollution not only tarnishes the beauty of our city, but it makes the environment you live in less healthy, putting all of us at risk. Until we come up with cleaner, more sustainable ways to do things, we need to keep these laws in place and think twice before littering.

Gun control is a hot button issue right now thanks to thousands of kids in the US. On March 24th, 2018, high schoolers, parents, and teachers across America took the trauma of surviving or hearing about school shootings and turned it into righteous anger at the people who govern them. They marched on Washington in numbers that made the Orange Egotist’s inauguration look like a One Direction concert on a school night.

The demands of the marchers were simple ones: stop taking money from people who value guns over lives. Make assault weapons less accessible to those who want to turn their anger on the world around them. Stop ranting about the importance of child safety while doing nothing to ensure it.

They recognize that their government is too well compensated by the gun-obsessed losers in the US and that dramatic action is needed. They want background checks, and licensing, and all sorts of other measures to ensure that dangerous people do not get access to guns.

What they are asking for is what we Canadians consider to be the bare minimum. On March 21, 2018, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale introduced Bill C 71 which would beef up Canada’s existing gun control legislation.

This article is going to give you a crash course on gun control in Canada, specifically with regards to individual rights to gun possession.

Gun control is governed primarily by two laws: The Canadian Firearms Act and the Canadian Criminal Code. They define different kinds of weapons under Canadian law and set out rules regarding which weapons are legal in Canada and under what circumstances.

The Canadian Criminal Code defines a weapon as anything used, designed to be used, or intended for use in causing the death or injury to any person, or for the purpose of intimidating them. This includes firearms and anything used, designed to be used, or intended to be used to bind or tie someone up against their will.

That said, not all weapons in Canada require a license.

Only firearms, prohibited firearms, restricted firearms and weapons, and prohibited devices require a license under Canadian law.

A prohibited firearm is any handgun with a barrel equal to or less than 105mm in length and is designed to discharge a 25 or 32 caliber bullet. Prohibited firearms also include sawed off shotguns and automatic weapons.

Prohibited weapons include switchblades or any other knife with a blade that can open via hand pressure to a button or other mechanism, as well as any other weapon considered prohibited but which is not a firearm.

A prohibited device includes any part of or accessory to a weapon that is considered prohibited. It also includes handgun barrels equal to or less 105mm in length, with an exception allowed for competitive sport shooting weapons required by the rules of the International Shooting Union. Anything used to silence, muffle, or stop the report of a firearm is also considered a prohibited device.

A restricted firearm includes any handgun not considered a prohibited firearm and has a barrel less than 470 mm in length. It also has to be capable of discharging ammunition in a semi automatic way.

Restricted weapons are any weapon considered as such that is not a firearm. Crossbows generally fall into this category (apologies to any medieval weapon enthusiasts).

In order to have access to any such weapons, you have to apply for a licence as per the Federal Firearms Act. You are considered ineligible for a licence if in the interests of the safety it is best you not possess a weapon or ammunition.

It is generally up the chief firearms officer named by the Federal Public Safety Minister or a provincial court judge to decide eligibility. In determining applications for licenses, they generally look at the following criteria and whether or not these apply over the last five years prior to the application:

  • Have you ever been convicted of or received a discharge for offenses in which violence against a person was attempted, used, or threatened?
  • Have you ever been convicted of or received a discharge for firearms or other weapons offenses?
  • Have you ever been convicted of criminal harassment?
  • Have you ever been convicted of certain drug related offenses?
  • Have you ever been treated at a hospital, mental health institute, or psychiatric clinic for a mental illness that was associated with threatened or attempted violence (this fact is looked at regardless of whether or not an applicant was confined at the aforementioned treatment facilities)?
  • Is there is a court mandated prohibition order barring you from possession a weapon?

Once these criteria are assessed, a person must successfully undergo the “Canadian Firearms Safety Course” for the class of weapon for they want a license for and pass the corresponding exam. They also must fill out forms and provide character references.

The more dangerous the weapon for which a license is being requested, the more likely the references will be checked. Firearms themselves have to be registered with the Firearms Registrar.

It must be noted that the Firearms Act does have exceptions including those rights guaranteed as per existing aboriginal or treaty rights.

Bill C 71 proposes a few changes to the Canadian Firearms Act and the Criminal Code.

The new law proposes to do away with the five-year limit on criteria for licenses set out in the Firearms Act. It also requires that any firearms seized by or surrendered to peace officers due to a prohibition order be automatically forfeited to the Crown unless the order specifies otherwise. The remaining rules pertain primarily to grandfather clauses written into the Firearms Act in order to protect those legally possessing firearms at the time the law was put into force.

If the law is passed, C 71 will come into force in the summer of 2018. The law is likely to pass because unlike the leaders to the south, Canadians care about protecting each other from gun violence.

* Featured image by Steve Rainwater via Wikimedia Commons

Endangered species are a pet cause for many and a nuisance for many others. Social media is regularly flooded with a barrage of memes, online petitions, and articles about species on the brink of extinction due to natural or man-made causes. On March 9th, Quebec’s caribou population came into the spotlight when the Couillard government announced that they would not spend money to save them in Val D’Or.

According to the provincial Minister of Forests, Wildlife, and Parks Luc Blanchette, it would cost seventy six million dollars over the next fifty years to protect the habitat of caribou in the region. The caribou in the area have been on steady decline since the 1950s due to the logging industry.

The government had originally planned to move the remaining animals to a zoo in 2016 but that idea was withdrawn when environmental groups pointed out that the animals would not survive in captivity. The government has deemed saving them too expensive, so instead the government plans to focus on saving other caribou herds in the province.

As it stands, Canada’s caribou are considered endangered under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA). While it is tragic that the animal that adorns our coinage is at risk, this article is not about them. It is about endangered species in Canada and what rules are in place at the federal and provincial levels to ensure their survival.

Sadly, protecting endangered species is not a simple matter in Canada, and we partly have the federalist system to blame. According to the articles of our constitution specifying federal and provincial jurisdictions, all waterways and marine life matters as well as land not claimed by the provinces are federal, whereas the management and sale of public lands in provincial territory, the exploration of non-renewable natural resources, and “the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural resources and forestry resources in the province” are provincial. In cases where there is a jurisdictional conflict, the federal government takes precedence.

The current federal law to protect endangered species is the aforementioned Species at Risk Act which was enacted in 2002, though some of its provisions only came into effect in subsequent years. The main goal of the act is to prevent species from becoming extirpated or extinct. Extirpated as per the act means that the species is no longer found in Canada and “extinct” means the species no longer exists at all.

It has jurisdiction only over federal land, aquatic species, and migratory birds. Federal land only makes up about four percent of provincial land in Canada and even then, only areas classified as Critical Habitat are protected under the law. The federal act allows species to be classified as “at risk” or “not at risk” with assessments done by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

The Committee consists of experts, academia, politicians and aboriginal representatives and has the task of assessing the status of Canadian wildlife species; their recommendations for the classification of a given species are then passed on to the federal government. Their science-based findings are publicly available.

Once the Committee has classified a species, it must do a reassessment every ten years to see if the ones at risk are still at risk. The criteria they use are those established by the United Nations’ Red List for critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species.

According to Environment Canada’s website, as of 2017 there are currently five hundred and twenty-one species of plants and animals classified under the Species At Risk Act as being at risk of extinction or extirpation in Canada. Once the Committee has established those at risk, it’s up to the government to decide whether or not to adapt their action plan to save a species by introducing measures such as incentives to support people helping to protect species at risk, awards and recognition programs, public awareness programs, and protecting habitats.

In Quebec, endangered species fall under the Act Respecting Threatened or Vulnerable Species. It mandates the Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change to carry out research regarding species that need protection or whose habitats need protection, establish programs to promote their survival, and delegate and enter into agreements with the people they delegate to in order to implement these measures. The Minister can also, with the government’s assent, lease or acquire land by expropriation for the protection and management of threatened or vulnerable plant species.

For those of you unfamiliar with expropriation, it is the process by which the government decides to take land for itself by offering the owner(s) compensation based on what the property is valued at. The value of the land is determined by government appraisers. In cases where the owner feels the indemnity they are offered is insufficient, they will often turn to private appraisers and attorneys to seek fairer compensation.

Several private appraisers in Montreal told me that this is quite common, and in some cases cities will even halt development on a given parcel of privately owned land for ecological reasons, resulting in them being sued for “disguised expropriation”. It is in this respect, among others, that endangered species protections can be a nuisance for some.

The Quebec government can also be gifted or left land in a will for the sake of protecting vulnerable species.

It is up to the aforementioned Minister of Sustainable Development, the Environment and the Fight Against Climate Change and the Minister of Forests, Wildlife and Parks to come up with a list of threatened or vulnerable species in Quebec, how they should be identified, and where they are located.

The law does have exceptions and allows for parties to act in spite of it if an exemption is written into government regulations, if activities are carried out in accordance with government standards, the activity is required for educational or scientific purposes, or if activities are being carried out to repair damage caused by a catastrophe or to prevent it.

The government, like those who adopt it as a pet cause, recognizes the importance of protecting Canada’s vulnerable species as part of the fight against climate change. Let’s keep electing governments that continue to do so.

* Featured image by By Mickael Brangeon(Peupleloup) via WikiMedia Commons

One of the cornerstones of any liberal democracy is a judiciary that is independent, fair, and free from bias. Unfortunately, judges are human beings and therefore vulnerable to having the same prejudices many of us have.

An ideal government will name judges that can separate their own preconceptions from what is fundamentally right and legal in rendering their decisions. Unfortunately, this is not what happened in the case of former Alberta judge Robin Camp, and it is clearly not what happened in the case of Judge Eliana Marengo.

Her story is one that shows the dangers of aggressive Quebec Islamaphobia and racism masquerading as legal secularism.

In February 2015, Rania El-Alloul went to court to get her car back after it had been seized by the SAAQ. The issue was a simple one, but Judge Marengo turned a molehill into a mountain by refusing to hear El-Alloul’s case unless she took off her headscarf, inappropriately comparing the hijab to hats and sunglasses which are not permitted in court.

El-Alloul was not wearing a headscarf. She was wearing a hijab mandated by her faith, which she politely told the judge. Judge Marengo in a recording of the proceedings said that the court is a secular space, mentioning that there is no cross on the wall of the courtroom. She then reprimanded El-Alloul, refusing to hear her case because she was “not suitably dressed” as per the regulations of the Court of Quebec.

As there is no record of Judge Marengo denying others their day in court due to them wearing visible crosses, clergy collars, or a kipa, it is most likely she refused El-Alloul because she is Muslim.

Judge Marengo gave El-Alloul two options, she could take off her “headscarf” or request a postponement and consult a lawyer. El-Alloul refused to remove it and thus far, her case has yet to be heard.

When the story broke, numerous complaints were made to the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature (“the Council”), the organization responsible for disciplining provincially appointed judges in Quebec. The complaints came not just from El-Alloul herself, but from many others unrelated to the case who felt the judge’s conduct was inappropriate of her high office.

Prime Justin Trudeau expressed his disapproval of Marengo on Twitter, saying:

In February 2016, the Council decided to form a committee to investigate Judge Marengo’s conduct. Marengo, for her part, tried to block the investigation into her conduct by challenging the legitimacy of the Council itself. She claimed that the refusal to hear El-Alloul amounted to a judicial decision that must be addressed in an appeal and that to investigate her via the Council would be a violation of judicial independence.

Fortunately, the Superior Court of Quebec sided with Council the following year. Marengo appealed the decision but the Quebec Court of Appeal agreed with the Superior Court.

An investigation into Judge Marengo’s conduct is now underway or will be soon.

How exactly does the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature work?

It’s a lot like the Canadian Judicial Council responsible for investigating federal judges.

In addition to administrative duties and a general responsibility to improve the justice system in the province, the Quebec Conseil de la Magistrature is responsible for investigating the conduct of judges sitting on the Court of Quebec, the Professions Tribunal, and the Human Rights Tribunal. It has 16 members consisting of eleven judges, one justice of the peace, two lawyers, and two members of the general public.

They generally conduct investigations in response to complaints filed with them. Complaints to the Quebec Council can be filed online via their website.

Like their federal counterpart, the Conseil cannot overturn judicial decisions or verdicts as those have to go through the appeals process. All the Quebec Council can do is reprimand a judge or in the worst cases, recommend to the government that the judge be removed from the bench. In their investigations, the Council must consider the Judicial Code of Ethics, a set of rules governing the behavior of judges in Quebec.

Judge Marengo will likely be investigated with regards to whether her conduct violated articles two and eight of the Judicial Code of Ethics which have been used to reprimand the racist behavior of judges in the past. They read as follows:

  • 2. The judge should perform the duties of his office with integrity, dignity and honour.
  • 8. In public, the judge should act in a reserved, serene and courteous manner.”

Judge Eliana Marengo’s behavior towards Rania El-Alloul was unacceptable. Not only did it deny an innocent woman her day in court, but it is also against the values of diversity and freedom from discrimination Quebec supposedly embraces.

Here’s hoping the Council agrees.

* Featured image of the Palais de Justice in Montreal by Jeangagnon via Wikimedia Commons

Protesters in Montreal are no longer required to provide a route to police. The Quebec Superior Court invalidated section 2.1 of Municipal Bylaw P-6 which was added at the height of the Maple Spring student protests in 2012 by then-Mayor Gerald Tremblay.

Over the past few years, Montreal Police (SPVM) used this provision to kettle and ticket protesters and to stop marches minutes after they started. The annual Anti-Police Brutality March being a frequent target.

The Quebec Superior Court had already invalidated Section 3.2 of the bylaw, the provision banning masks at protests, back in 2016. In the same ruling, the court put some restrictions on 2.1, but didn’t eliminate it entirely.

Not content with a partial victory, the plaintiffs, which included protest mascot Anarchopanda, decided to appeal. Today they won and the problematic parts of P-6 are gone and the court’s decision is effective immediately.

“Let’s not forget that this victory belongs to our comrades who take to the streets and risk police and judicial repression to fight for all our rights,” Sibel Ataogul, one of the lawyers fighting the appeal said in a Facebook post, adding: “Despite victories, judiciarisation is not the solution. Only the struggle pays.”

* Featured image by Chris Zacchia

It must be said that there is no issue more personal than that regarding our health care and family planning choices. It must also be said that in a country that constitutionally recognizes the equality of men and women, the choice of family planning method – which could include abstinence, the pill, condoms, IUDs, or abortion – is NOBODY’s business but the person directly affected by them.

Our government is responsible for upholding the constitution, which includes making sure that groups that do not recognize people’s constitutional right to make their own decisions regarding their healthcare will not get public funds. The Canadian federal government has made this clear via their recent announcement regarding the Canada Summer Jobs Program (CSJ).

The Canada Summer Jobs Program is an initiative by the federal government to encourage employers to take on summer students at the secondary and post-secondary levels by offering to subsidize the students’ wages for them.

The subsidy works for public and private employers as well as non-profit organizations and small businesses and has several priorities including the supporting employers who hire students from underrepresented groups such indigenous Canadians, the disabled, and visible minorities, and those that support opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) for women. Applications for the subsidies must be made by potential employers, though recently the Trudeau government added an additional catch to the program’s requirements.

Those who apply to the CSJ program now have to attest that:

“Both the job and the organization’s core mandate respect individual human rights in Canada, including the values underlying the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as other rights. These include reproductive rights and the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of sex, religion, race, national or ethnic origin, colour, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”

The federal government’s website adds the recognition that women’s rights are human rights and that their rights include “sexual and reproductive rights — and the right to access safe and legal abortions.”

This announcement was never meant to turn Canada into the next front in the battle between those that believe people have a right to their choices and those who do not. That issue was already settled in the early 90s when, following the Supreme Court striking down Canada’s abortion laws in 1988, the Senate voted against a new abortion law put before Parliament by the Mulroney government. Public opinion confirms this, for according to a 2017 Ipsos poll, 77 percent of respondents feel abortion should be permitted.

The announcement was simply meant to be a way to fix a subsidy issue after the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada published a report indicating that federal funding was going to anti-abortion groups in the summer of 2016. Federal Employment Minister Patty Hadju’s office then put out a statement apologizing for the oversight and stating that “no such organizations will receive funding from any constituencies represented by Liberal MPs.”

All the Trudeau government is doing is obeying the law by enforcing the gender equality statutes in the Canadian Charter of Rights by making anyone who does not conform to them ineligible for Federal funding.

It is Conservatives who have turned this minor subsidy issue into a religious crusade about abortion. The fiasco that followed is not an ideological debate about religious freedom but rather the result of some groups’ anger at losing government money they feel they are entitled to.

Organizations like The Southern Alberta Bible Camp who have publicly said “we don’t believe abortion is right” stand to lose about $40 000 in subsidy money if they refuse to sign the aforementioned attestation.

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has accused the Prime Minister – a self-proclaimed “proud feminist”- of imposing his views on faith groups. This is the same Andrew Scheer one of his supporters assured me would not take on abortion rights in Canada following his election to leadership of the party.

“I believe that the federal government should respect the freedoms that Canadians enjoy to have different beliefs and that by imposing personal values of Justin Trudeau on a wide variety of groups is not an appropriate way to go,” Scheer has said.

The government has not said that groups that openly condemn abortion and LGBTQ2 groups cannot operate in Canada. As per our religious freedoms and right to freedom of speech guaranteed in the constitution, they can do as they please within reasonable limits prescribed by law. All the federal government has done is said that they cannot get government money to hire young people to help them do it.

Since the Conservatives have turned this into an abortion issue, let’s look at those that claim to believe in women’s equality and still be pro-life.

Despite the claim of many conservatives, one cannot recognize the constitutional right of women’s equality to men and be pro-life at the same time. It is not feminism these self-proclaimed “pro-life feminists” are embracing, but rather benevolent sexism.

The reason is this: the most secular anti-abortion arguments rest on the unspoken notion that women are not strong enough, mature enough, or intelligent enough to make their own decisions regarding their reproductive health. They are welcome to every freedom men have, except with regards to their deeply personal reproductive choices. ]

They will use arguments about sex selective abortions to make this point, while completely ignoring the numbers and whether or not the procedure was necessary to save the woman’s life. It is the same kind of benevolently sexist argument the most vicious secularists make in Quebec when trying to force Muslim women to stop wearing the hijab or niqab: the infantilizing argument that presumes that no woman is capable of making such a decision of her own free will but rather makes difficult decisions out of selfishness, impulsivity, or external pressure.

It is a notion that must be recognized for what it is: a contradiction of the notion of gender equality entrenched in Canadian law.

Those who stand to lose funds as a result of this will be doing so because their mandate does not fit with that of the Canadian government. We also need to ask how much the federal government will be checking up on those who do sign the attestation.

Is this an administrative rubber stamp where people can attest to one thing and do another? Or will the federal government take steps to make sure that those who do get the funds stay true to their attestation?

Without any sort of checks, the attestation is meaningless.

If it is meaningless, then groups who really want to the money to hire a student to distribute photos of fetuses outside clinics should have no trouble signing it.

As long as you have a bank account and an identity, someone will do their best to steal it. There is a myth that scammers only target the elderly because they’re technologically illiterate and so desperate for attention and that they are blind to being cheated. It’s a myth because it’s ageist and anyone can fall victim to a scam and be defrauded of their money, their credit, and their good name.

It’s the price we pay for being human, and for having access to modern technology. Being scammed does not make you stupid or naïve, it just means that are people eager enough to screw you for their or their client’s gain and they will use immoral and illicit ways to get it via the same things – email addresses, IDs, bank cards, websites etc., – we take for granted.

This article is going to be a little different than my other legal pieces. Instead of walking you through the law and the penalties for committing these scams, I’m going to focus on you – the potential victims. I am going to walk you through a few different kinds of scams and what to do if someone is trying to rope you into one. In cases where you may have already fallen victim to a scam, I will also provide some information on the action you can take.

We all know frauds and scams are illegal in Canada, but what many people don’t know is how they work and what you can do about them.

I want to help. So let’s talk scams.

Ponzi schemes are perhaps one of the oldest there is. Named after the con artist Charles Ponzi who operated the scam in the 30s, it’s a scam that presents itself as a wonderful investment opportunity. All you have to do is invest a ton of money and you’re guaranteed more money in interest.

The catch is that the business you are investing in doesn’t actually make any money. The interest cheques you are getting are actually the result of the scammer recruiting more people to invest. The scammer simply passes on some of the new investors’ money as the interest you allegedly earned on your investment.

It counts on the recruitment of more and more people. Once the scammer cannot recruit anymore, they’ll take the money and run, if they don’t get caught first.

A good rule to follow is that if an investment opportunity seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you’ve fallen victim to one, gather or print up all the information you have and contact the police.

Another common scam is the pyramid scheme. With a pyramid scheme, you’re offered a “great” business opportunity to “be your own boss”. With jobs in Canada paying poorly and with no benefits, more and more people are falling prey to these scams hoping to find a better lot in life.

Like Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes rely on recruitment in order to survive, but unlike the former, the scheme is actually an illegal version of multi-level marketing. This means that they claim to exist for the purpose of selling products via independent distributors.

Legit multi-level marketing companies will disclose the different levels of earnings by people who join and the average earnings of a typical participant. With pyramid schemes, the products themselves are not what makes money. They rely on the sellers to buy a ton of the product first which they can sell afterward. The money comes from one distributor recruiting more distributors.

The ones the first distributor got to join will then buy the products in huge amounts hoping to sell them. The first distributor will get a cut of the money from the sale of all these products to the new distributors. This second batch of distributors will then have to recruit more distributors to buy a ton of the stuff so they can earn money off those sales, with some of it going to the first person, and the cycle continues.

If you are wondering if someone is trying to court you into a pyramid scheme and you’re thinking of signing up, look online before giving an answer. If the company is facing numerous accusations of being such a scheme, it’s best to stay away. Companies facing such accusations include Nu Skin and Herbalife, whose recruitment has decimated communities in the US.

If you’ve fallen prey to one, get out while you still can and report it to the police and the federal Competition Bureau which ensures that Canadian businesses operate legally and fairly.

Now let’s talk about a couple of computer scams.

When it comes to computer scams, there are a few prevention methods you can take. First, change your passwords often and make them as complicated as you can; that means using numbers, capital letters etc. The second thing you can do is back up all your files using a viable website, USB key, or portable hard drive, as viruses and malware are an inevitable part of having technology and often our data does not survive on infected machines.

Some of the most sinister scams are emails or text messages from companies that seem to be the legit ones you deal with such as your wireless or cable provider, your bank or a company like PayPal.They’ll claim that your account has been hacked or there has been some suspicious activity and that all you have to do is click on a link and log in to fix it.

With these schemes, they are not necessarily after your money but your personal information. It is therefore best to not click on the link provided. Take a good look at the email address or phone number the message is coming from and compare it to other legit communications you have gotten from the company. If you do mess up and click, check out the URL of the web page it sends you to, as the site may look the same, but the URL won’t be.It is very common for these scammers to use numbers and email addresses that are extremely similar to the real thing, so be diligent and contact the company directly just to be sure.

Another sinister computer scam is ransomware. This is a kind of malware that can infect your computer and lock it or encrypt your files unless you pay the scammer a ransom. A lot of these will claim to be from a legit law enforcement agency that has locked your machine saying you’ve been caught doing something illegal and have to pay a “fine”. That said, it’s the kind of malware that’s hard to prevent but there are a few things you can do if infected.

Though most scammers will unlock your computer once you pay, there’s no guarantee you’ll get your files back, so it is best to avoid paying the ransom. If however there is highly sensitive information on your device and you’d rather pay the money to get it back, pay it.

If infected, disconnect the computer from any other devices it can spread to. Take a picture of the ransom note using your phone or take a screenshot (if you can) in case you want to file a police report later on. Then you can take it to a computer repair shop – there are many – who will do their best to get rid of the malware and recover your data.

You can also try and or use a legit anti-virus or malware program to remove it and then do your best to recover any files.

Anyone and everyone can fall victim to a scam, but with a little knowledge, we can scammers less successful.

* Featured image by Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier via Flickr Creative Commons

When it comes to criminal justice, it’s safe to say that pop culture has ruined its meaning in the minds of all but a certain few. Shows like Law and Order and CSI champion police and prosecutors, ignore or sugar coat endemic problems of racism, sexism, and LGBTQIphobia in law enforcement, and equally problematic, skew people’s understanding of how certain crimes are defined by the law.

The most obvious example is with regards to how the law defines first and second degree murder.

Though everyone is dreading the next 2018 celebrity death, we need to remember that ordinary people are dying too, and often in horrible circumstances. Nothing shows this more clearly than Montreal’s first murder of 2018.

This article will tell a little about the people involved and give a crash course on how first and second degree murder are defined in Canadian Criminal Law.

On January 28, 2018 at 11:15 pm someone called 911. A woman had been stabbed in the back at her home in the LaSalle borough of Montreal. Before she died from her wound, the 61 year old victim told police her daughter had stabbed her.

The daughter, 34 year old Meng Ye, was not unknown to the police as they’d been called to the home before when she’d been in psychological crisis. The mother of a one and a half year old has since been charged with first degree murder.

According to a former neighbor, the victim had a poor grasp of Canada’s official languages and though she seemed a rude person, there was nothing about her that would provoke someone to violence.

People’s general understanding of first degree murder is a murder that is planned and deliberate. A second degree murder is thought to be more spontaneous. There is truth to both definitions, but they are incomplete.

In Canada, first degree murder is where a person causes the death of another, having meant to kill them or cause them bodily harm that is likely to cause their death. It is also considered first degree murder if you do something that you know is likely to cause death and it does, notwithstanding the fact that you didn’t want anyone to die. The rules for first degree murder however do not end there.

You are guilty of first degree murder if you cause the death of someone while you are committing treason, sabotage, piracy, hijacking, and escaping or rescuing someone from prison or another form of lawful custody. It is first degree murder if you cause someone’s death during a sexual assault, while assaulting a peace officer, breaking and entering, robbery, arson, hostage taking, and kidnapping.

The death is considered first degree murder regardless of whether or not you intended to cause the death and whether or not you knew someone would likely die IF:

  • You meant to cause bodily harm in order to commit the crime or
  • You meant to cause bodily harm in order to facilitate fleeing the scene right after you committed or attempted to commit the crime

And the death ensued from the bodily harm.

The definition of first degree murder also includes causing the death of a person if the death resulted from you administering a stupefying or overpowering thing, i.e. you poisoned or sedated the person, for the purpose of causing bodily harm to commit the crime. It is also considered as such if the death is caused by bodily harm you inflicted on a person to facilitate you fleeing the scene or you intentionally made a person stop breathing so you could commit a crime and they died as a result.

Killing a peace officer of any kind or a warden or other prison employee is all considered first degree murder regardless of whether the murder was planned and deliberate. It is also considered first degree murder if you killed someone while uttering threats intended to make them fear for their safety or the safety of anyone they knew.

If you kill someone while committing an act of terrorism, the murder is considered murder in the first degree regardless of whether it was planned and deliberate.

Last but not least, if you had a contract in which you were compensated to kill someone, “assisted” in causing the death of that person, or were paid to counsel someone to kill the person, you are guilty of first degree murder. Same goes if you killed someone for the benefit of or on orders from a criminal organization or if you killed someone while committing another crime on their behalf.

Anything that is not considered first degree murder is second degree murder. As Canada has long since abolished the death penalty, those guilty of either degree of murder are facing a minimum sentence of life in prison.

What will happen to Meng Ye and her child remains to be seen.

When it comes to issues of racism and police brutality, Canadians suffer from a bad case of denial. We think these are the problems of people in the United States despite evidence of cops brutalizing Indigenous Canadians and spraying peaceful protesters in the face with pepper spray. It is particularly clear when attacks by authorities come completely unprovoked and the perpetrators scramble to protect their own while the victim is left permanently damaged.

No case demonstrates this so clearly as that of Majiza Philip.

“I was charging them with excessive force and misconduct,” Majiza said of her latest court battle with the Montreal Police (SPVM), a case she is now demanding be reopened. This followed a judge throwing out charges of assault, resisting arrest, and obstruction of justice levied against Majiza by the police in 2014.

Majiza Philip was not looking for trouble. She had been warned by family members in the past to comply with the police who have a habit of thinking the worst of people of colour.

What happened to her was not only a display of police brutality, but of gross injustice. It demonstrates the need for an Ethics Commissioner truly independent from our province’s police forces and the abolition of laws that protect the authorities when they deliberately hurt those they have sworn to protect.

This article will tell Majiza’s story and point out all the mistakes made by those who abused their authority to hurt her. This is her version of events. Since the burden of proof in criminal cases is so high and her account was the one deemed credible by the courts, there is no reason to doubt her story.

One night in November 2014 Majiza and her friend were at a rap concert. Security was high that night due to the rapper’s reputation for drugs and violence.

After the concert her friend was forced to wait outside while she got their coats. He was soon arrested and put in a police car.

Majiza went to check on him and was informed by authorities that he’d been arrested for loitering and public drunkenness. She asked which station they would bring him to and then lightly tapped on the window of the back seat of the police car to get her friend’s attention and see if he was ok.

Suddenly, she felt a push from behind. It was a large white male officer who accused her of assaulting another officer. Majiza backed away in fear and self-defense, rightfully stating that the officer had no right to touch her.

She pleaded with onlookers for help as undeterred, the officer slammed her down on the hood of a police car. With the help of other cops, he began wrenching her arms behind her back. At one point she felt pressure followed by her left arm going limp.

Majiza was shoved into a police car and was only spared the pain of her broken arm in the short time that followed due to the adrenaline from trying to protect herself. She pleaded with the police for help as the pain kicked in and her hands numbed, but they were dismissive.

“They laughed at me a couple of times,” she recalled, noting that they were more interested in discussing their dinner plans.

“It’s REALLY hurting,” she remembers telling the officers, “and they were like ‘Oh, whatever.’ I kept telling them there was pain.”

At this point Majiza didn’t know her arm was broken. All she wanted was the cuffs off so when it finally occurred to the police to ask if she wanted medical attention, she refused.

Prosecutors would later try and use this refusal against her at trial when any medical professional would testify that you have at least fifteen minutes before the pain and extent of your injuries finally kicks in.

It eventually occurred to the police to call an ambulance where EMTs confirmed Majiza’s arm was broken. Before she was lifted into the ambulance, the police attempted to have her sign a notice to appear at her hearing but high on pain and concerned that the document was actually a waiver exonerating those who arrested her, she refused to sign it.

“I’m not signing anything,” she told the police at the time, “I don’t know why I’m here. You never told me I was under arrest.”

She told them to send it to her by mail, and though she was legally entitled to it, she never received anything.

After a disastrous attempt to get care at Saint Luc Hospital – they denied her care because her pain interfered with her ability to speak to medical professionals in French – she was given a sling and a painkiller and sent home. She went to Saint Mary’s hospital in the morning where doctors immediately put her in a cast and booked her for surgery in the following weeks.

She now has a massive scar and pins holding her arm together, the pain returning when the weather is damp. It took over three months before she could go back to work.

Majiza has no criminal record.

In addition to managing a small café in Montreal, she teaches tap-dancing to children and works in her community. The latter jobs require police checks, which she clears every time.

The night she was arrested the only reason the cops had to believe she was a danger was the colour of her skin and the fact that she was at a rap concert. Though the arresting officers made no racial slurs, Majiza points out that though her friend was also arrested that night, he – a white male – was treated far less roughly by police and with a great deal more courtesy than she was. She believes the police have a racism problem as many of them come from places in rural Quebec where attitudes towards ethnic diversity are less than enlightened.

“I just spoke up for him,” Majiza said referring to her friend, “I didn’t assault anybody, didn’t do anything and I got my arm broken and I got hit with a bunch of charges. I can’t say it was racially motivated but I do feel like they treated me differently because I was black.”

When she was able, Majiza Philip contacted the Center for Research- Action on Race Relations (CRARR), a non-profit that works towards diversity and racial equality in Montreal. They helped her file a report with the police Ethics Commissioner who allegedly took her complaint seriously and filed a year-long investigation. Unfortunately, as per the current Loi sur la Police, officers are not legally obligated to cooperate with investigations of complaints against them.

According to Majiza Philip and CRARR, this needs to change as it affords citizens no real justice against police who abuse their power, protecting the cops over the people they hurt.

At her trial she was represented pro-bono by criminal justice lawyer Arij Riahi, facing charges of assault, obstruction of justice, and resisting arrest. Prosecutors tried to argue that Philip had weak bones, making them more susceptible to breaking. Whether this is true or not is irrelevant, as Canadian law has long since recognized the “Thin Skull Rule” making a defendant liable for a victim’s injuries even if they’re especially severe due to a pre-existing yet stable condition.

The trial concluded last month with the judge throwing out all charges against her, finding Majiza’s testimony far more credible than that of the officers who mostly spent the trial scrambling to protect themselves with the one responsible for her broken arm conveniently suffering from concussion-induced amnesia. The police never even mentioned at trial that they broke her arm – a fact the judge found outrageous.

Majiza is now demanding that the new Ethics Commissioner reopen her case. With the Ethics Commissioner who handled her complaint now suspended, perhaps she now has a chance of getting justice.

Though the Commissioner has never reopened cases, Majiza can demand it in the face of new evidence. She knows that incidents like hers are more likely to be avoided with the introduction of body cameras on officers, as well mandatory ethnic diversity quotas on the police force. In addition, she calls on the government to change the law and make a police Ethics Commissioner who is truly independent of the people they are charged to investigate.

The Quebec government has two choices here.

They can confirm the stereotypes that Quebec is racist and hostile to ethnic and religious diversity, or they can give victims like Majiza Philip the justice they deserve.

* Featured image by Kym Dominique Ferguson courtesy of Majiza Philip

The case of Joshua Boyle and his wife Caitlan Coleman is one where the questions are more important than the answers.

Just over five years ago, Boyle and Coleman were backpacking in Afghanistan when they were taken captive by the Haqqani, one of many Islamic extremist groups in the region. They were held for five years, during which Coleman was raped and forced to miscarry, Boyle was beaten, and one of their three children – all of whom were born in captivity – was beaten with sticks.

When they got back to Canada, Boyle and his wife were hailed as heroes. Their picture appeared in all the major news sources as the couple that survived being prisoners of Islamic militants. They got to visit with Prime Minister Trudeau and even now the photo of our leader bouncing Boyle’s youngest on his knee circulates online.

Unfortunately, the Boyle case is a perfect demonstration of how quick society is to make heroes of people without knowing all the facts. On January 3, 2018 Joshua Boyle, the same guy we all saw as a heroic survivor of militants was arrested on fifteen charges including assault, sexual assault, illegal confinement, uttering death threats, misleading police, and forcing someone to take a noxious substance. Boyle will be facing serious jail time if convicted of any one of these crimes.

Court orders prevent details like the identity and gender of his accusers for their own safety, which means it is difficult to form a hypothesis of what happened. However, with speculation based on what we do know about Boyle’s story, it is possible to construct an alternate narrative to the one the public has been fed entirely through Boyle’s own account of events in Afganistan and when the family returned home.

It’s one that posits that maybe Boyle wasn’t such a hero after all.

For your consideration…

What do we know about Joshua Boyle and Caitlan Coleman?

Joshua Boyle is thirty-four years old and he is Canadian from New Brunswick. Caitlan Coleman is American from Pennsylvania. The rest of what we know is mostly what Boyle has been telling the press on the couple’s behalf. That said, there are a lot of questions Boyle and Coleman need to answer.

Why were they backpacking in the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan so soon after the war?

Boyle claims that their goal was purely humanitarian. They wanted to help those villagers in areas of Afghanistan where no aid worker would dare to go.

However, the circumstances under which they attempted to help people make their alleged goal questionable at best. Though they were aware that the area they were traveling in was dangerous, they made no secret of their destination, making them easy pickings for anyone with malicious intent.

This is not to suggest that they intended to be taken captive by militants, but they certainly did nothing to prevent it.

Why did Coleman agree to accompany her husband on this trip?

Caitlin Coleman was five months pregnant when captured and the area of Afghanistan they were traveling in is not known for its enlightened attitudes towards women. Though one would think her safety and that of her unborn child would be top priorities, she put herself and her baby at risk by accompanying her husband into hell.

Why has no one spoken directly to Caitlin Coleman about what happened to her and her husband in Afghanistan?

Most of what we have heard about their family’s ordeal has come from the lips of Joshua Boyle. Though Caitlin Coleman endured the worst torments during their captivity – forced miscarriage, sexual assault, and being forced to witness the abuse of her child – her husband is still speaking for her.

Coleman’s story is just as important as that of Boyle’s and her experience is unique as the only adult woman in this saga. When she was speaking to Maclean’s a few weeks before her husband’s arrest, Joshua Boyle refused to leave the room, as though he were controlling Coleman with his presence.

Why no one has speculated if she has been victimized by her husband is odd given how little she has been allowed to say publicly. Her behavior goes beyond that of a demure religious woman and is more indicative of someone living in fear and possibly suffering from mental health issues.

Why did Joshua Boyle provoke his captors?

According to Boyle, he was regularly pressured to join his captors in their cause. Instead, he, a practicing Muslim, woke up early and prayed loudly, waking his captors up and effectively accusing them of being bad Muslims. He regularly called them “munafiq” or hypocrites and annoyed his captors so much they raped his wife to punish him.

Anyone with a lick of sense knows you do not provoke your kidnappers, and that Islamic militants are notorious for mistreating female captives. Boyle’s actions indicate either extreme stupidity, insanity, or a selfish disregard for the safety of himself and his wife.

Though Joshua Boyle’s behavior did not merit the brutality with which he and his family were treated, anyone held captive by people known for their brutality would tread VERY carefully in their presence.

The case of Joshua Boyle and Caitlin Coleman is an ongoing one. As more facts come to light, public sympathy for Boyle wanes. He seems increasingly like a manipulative attention-seeker who would do society good in an environment where he could no longer hurt people.

As his star falls, we begin to see the real victims: Caitlin Coleman and her children.

* Featured image: CTV video screengrab

New Year’s Eve is coming and with it, parties, booze, and tragedies caused by idiots who cannot accept that they are too drunk to drive and jerks who willfully ignore the rules of consent. For those of you planning to party on New Year’s Eve, I’ve provided a short but concise list of legal tips to help start the year off without anybody getting hurt.

If you are drunk, do not drive.

This should go without saying as it’s not only the law, it’s common sense. If you’re caught for drunk driving and are lucky you’ll just get a fine and the suspension of your driver’s license. If unlucky, drunk driving charges can result in a jail term ranging from four months to life in prison.

When in doubt, don’t do it.

The legal definition of drunk has nothing to do with how you feel. It is an arbitrary standard: if you have more than eighty milligrams of alcohol in your system for every hundred milliliters of blood, you are considered above the legal limit.

You may feel perfectly fine and sober but that does not matter if a breathalyzer indicates that you are above this limit. The golden rule to follow on New Year’s Eve or any other time is: when in doubt, don’t drive. Sleep over, get a lift, or call a cab or Operation Nez Rouge to get home safe.

You’ll save lives, including your own.

Drunken consent is not legally consent.

Rapes happen all the time, and in environments where booze is free flowing, there is always that scum bag who says the victim agreed to sex even though said victim was very drunk at the time of the attack. If a person is drunk they are in no shape to consent to sexual activity. They are incapable of consenting to sexual activity because their ability to freely give consent was affected by the alcohol. If a person is in no shape to drive, they are in no condition to agree to sex with you, so do the noble, legal thing and don’t have sex with them.

If a person is unconscious, they cannot consent.

The inevitable result of too much drinking and partying is often a loss of consciousness. If a person is passed out, this is not an invitation to touch, grope, or spoon with them. If a person is too drunk to say “no” to whatever it is you want to do with them, they are also too drunk to say “yes”.

Their passivity does not equal consent. The legal definition of sexual assault is sexual touching without consent, so if a person is unconscious, keep your hands to yourself.

When in doubt, check in.

A lot of people find the idea of double-checking for consent an unsexy mood-killer. You know what’s really unsexy? Sexual assault and the ten or more years in prison you get if convicted.

When in doubt, check with the person you’re with to make sure they’re consenting freely to all of what you are doing together. Check often if you have to. It’s better than violating your partner and will keep you out of trouble.

Remember that fireworks are dangerous and cities usually have rules about where you can set them off.

New Year’s Eve can be a blast and to celebrate you may want to set off some fireworks. Do your homework first.

Fireworks are extremely dangerous and every New Year’s Day the news is filled with horror stories of people who blew their fingers off and burned their houses down. Remember that at the end of the day, fireworks are basically just explosives and are just as dangerous.

Read the instructions on the package, do not use them when drunk and be sure use them far from buildings and facing away from people. You should also call the city or check out your municipal website to make sure there are no bylaws in place forbidding the use of fireworks within city limits.

In Montreal it is forbidden to use fireworks, bottle rockets, or other pyrotechnics without authorization from the city. Failure to obey the laws could result in hefty fines and if there is property damage or people get hurt, you could also be looking at jail time.

The perk of adulthood is that we can welcome the New Year the way it was meant to be welcome: with a glass of something boozy and a kiss at midnight. Unfortunately it’s also one of the most dangerous nights to be out celebrating.

Let’s start this year off right by making sure our world is a little safer.

HAPPY 2018 EVERYBODY!

On April 13, 2017 our parliament began its first reading of Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act. Recently this bill was passed in the House of Commons and has now been submitted to the Senate for debate and voting. If it passes in the upper house, the Governor General will provide their royal assent and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have successfully legalized cannabis in Canada.

Justin Trudeau made a lot of promises to get into office. He promised to fix unemployment for Canada’s young people, but chickened out, informing hoards of his voters after the election that they should get used to temporary employment with poor wages and non-existent benefits. He promised election reform, but cowardly backed out of that, undoubtedly realising that our problematic system worked in his favor.

All we have left to hope for from him is cannabis legalization. If the Prime Minister fails to do this, he’ll prove to his voters that he’s nothing but another corrupt politician with a pretty face.

The cannabis bill does what Trudeau promised: it legalizes cannabis. Unfortunately, the bill shows the haste in which the Liberals are desperate to fulfill at least one of their election promises. There are glaring holes in the law, which, if permitted to pass, will leave the courts and their discretion to fill them in.

The goal of the Cannabis Act is to provide legal access to cannabis and control and regulate its production, distribution, and sale. It has strict rules with criminal penalties for selling marijuana and accessories to minors, and like with tobacco products, also prohibits packaging, displays, and ads that would make it attractive to people under the age of 18.

It also sets up a licensing system, as well as one for federal inspections to make sure only those with permits are distributing and selling cannabis products, and sets up a system of fines and jail time for various violations. The Act also calls for the establishment of a cannabis tracking system, a sort of national registry of people legally authorized to “import, export, produce, package, label, send, deliver, transport, sell, and dispose of cannabis.”

Cannabis legalization is a good thing. Historically cannabis laws were used to persecute Mexicans and hippies and scientists have been reluctant to study marijuana’s health benefits due to the stigma and criminal charges connected with the plant. Legalization will facilitate more studies on its medical use for everything from chronic pain to post traumatic stress, as well as its effects on youth, aging and fetal development.

It should, however, be said that those who want access to marijuana will find a way to get it, and a black market for the drug will continue to flourish if illegal prices remain reasonable. The only way legal cannabis could reduce the black market for the drug is if legal prices for it remain competitive with those of illicit sources. One palliative care patient I spoke to was offered a prescription for medical cannabis products from her physician but was informed that it would cost her between two hundred and three hundred dollars a month for a product she could get for half that amount on the street.

The law tries to limit access to cannabis accessories such as bongs, pipes, and vapes, an attempt that is clearly impractical as most of these items can easily be used for tobacco products. Though the law indicates that enforcement will be left to a federal minister, it does not say which one will be put in charge. As cannabis is a topic in which health care, criminal justice, science and technology, environment, and international trade cross, any federal minister could be put in charge.

Perhaps the most glaring hole in the law is its failure to address those currently serving time, indicted, or on remand for marijuana related offenses that would be legal if the Cannabis Act passes. If the act passes, those charged with marijuana possession will find themselves facing or serving punishments for acts that are no longer against the law.

If the Cannabis Act fails to address this, Canada’s court system will find itself inundated with applications from people arguing that their punishments are unconstitutional. This will not only cost Canadian taxpayers millions in court costs, but also leave a very important clarification up to the discretion of federally appointed judges.

The Cannabis Act is rushed, and it’s incomplete. Though for once the Prime Minister’s heart is in the right place, his government should have taken the time to create as thorough a legalization bill as possible.

Our only hope is that the Senate recognizes this and sends the government back to drawing board to add the missing pieces of the law. If it does not, many people will have a very unhappy new year.

* Featured image via Ground Report (Creative Commons)

Quebec has a love-hate relationship with its Catholic heritage. The province began as a settlement ripped from First Nations by Catholic France before the British took the colony. Quebec owes its first schools, public records, and health care and social welfare facilities to the Catholic Church who set them up at time when secular governments stayed out of them.

During the Duplessis era from the mid 1940s to late 1950s, the Church cooperated with the near dictatorial government to try and keep the people of Quebec obedient and unquestioning of authority. The Quiet Revolution that followed emptied the churches as French Canadians embraced women’s liberation, free sex, and the right to question even the Pope.

Though the province now claims to be aggressively secular (see Bill 62), it is determined to hold on to Catholic symbols such as the crucifix in the National Assembly and the tacky cross currently adorning Mount Royal in the name of glorifying a heritage that credits Quebec society solely – and incorrectly – to its white, Catholic, French-speaking founders.

As any place with Catholic roots, Quebec is not immune to the scandals erupting from the sexual abuses of children carried out by priests, nuns, and friars working in the province’s many schools. At the end of November, The Quebec Court of Appeal approved a class action lawsuit by the victims of sexual abuse who are suing Montreal’s Saint Joseph’s Oratory and the Province Canadienne de la Congregation de Sainte-Croix for the molestation they endured while attending schools the defendants operated.

This article will look at how our legal system handles civil suits against religious authorities accused of participating in sexual abuse and the St Joseph’s case in a little more detail.

Courts in Canada are generally sympathetic to the young victims of sexual assault by Catholic clergy.

In 2004’s John Doe v. Bennett, the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of the Roman Catholic Episcopal Corporation of St. George’s in Newfoundland who had been found liable for the sexual abuse of boys by a priest operating under their authority for two decades. Though provinces have their own civil laws, the principles of this case are similar to such civil suits in Quebec.

In John Doe, the Church invoked in its defense the same defense it uses whenever it is accused of complicity in abuse cases by people acting under their authority: they claim that the bad apples were independent and that the Church had no power to control their actions. This has been used to explain their refusal to apologize for their role in the sexual abuse and cultural genocide of the residential school system, and to try and escape any liability for the rape and molestation of children by their clergy in schools they ran.

It is a defense that is generally rejected by the courts in these cases.

In 2014, the Quebec Superior Court in Tremblay v. Lavoie was asked to determine the liability of Lavoie, the Rédemptoristes Congregation, and the Collège Saint-Alphonse (formerly the Séminaire of Saint Alphonse). Tremblay had instituted a class action lawsuit against the congregation for its role in the sexual abuse of himself and other students by Lavoie and other priests while they attended the boarding school run by the Rédemptoristes.

In order to determine liability of the religious organization in cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests, the courts generally look at the following factors:

  • The relationship between the religious hierarchy named in the case and its clergy
  • Whether the religious hierarchy was aware of the behavior of the people in question – “did they display willful blindness and gross negligence akin to bad faith”
  • If aware, did they fail to take the necessary measures to halt the sexual abuse and prevent further incidents or did they simply conceal its existence?

In the case of Tremblay, the court found the congregation, school, and Lavoie liable on all fronts and ordered them to pay the victims a hefty sum. According to the legal decision, not only did the Rédemptoristes know of the ongoing abuses but, as their priests could not work in the schools without the permission of their superior, they failed in their responsibility to ensure that those chosen to do so would not abuse their power.

The St Joseph’s Oratory case was not a case to determine the liability of the congregation or its pedophile priests. The case was an appeal of a technical decision required in all class action lawsuits. In order to institute a class action lawsuit in Quebec, you need the authorization of the courts and the appointment of someone to lead the suit on the plaintiffs’ behalf.

The group named J.J. -one of many victims of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy in charge of schools attended by J.J. and the other plaintiffs – as the representative plaintiff in the suit. The Superior Court agreed with St. Joseph’s and Ste. Croix who protested the class action suit and J.J. as representative, with claims including J.J’s desire to remain anonymous, the lack of evidence, and the notion that the delay to file a class action has expired. J.J and the other plaintiffs appealed the decision and won.

In their decision allowing the class action lawsuit, the Quebec Court of Appeal pointed out the reason for J.J’s desire to remain anonymous – namely the stigma and shame associated with the abuse he endured. The only factors that would interfere with him representing his fellow victims include a conflict of interest, own interest in pursuing the suit, and conflicts with the other plaintiffs.

The court refused to address whether the delay to file suit has expired, claiming that this is a defense reserved for their lawsuit itself and not for the authorization hearing. They also mentioned that there is a lot of information and case law that support the claims in the suit and allow more latitude to the plaintiffs in civil sexual assault cases involving the clergy.

The Catholic Church has a lot to atone for from persecuting women, gays, and non-Catholics, to protecting those guilty of raping children. As society becomes more intolerant of the worst behaviors of people claiming to act in God’s name, they and other organized religions need to do what’s needed to weed out the offenders and hold them accountable to the people they hurt. If not, then they deserve to be sued and forgotten.

* Featured image of Saint Joseph’s Oratory via WikiMedia Commons

In a decision by the Quebec Court’s Youth Division last week, Judge Annie Savard awarded a mother full custody of her children. The kids, age 11 and 13, had been in foster care for ten years due to their birth mother’s inability keep a steady home and job, and her drug problems.

Now sober and reformed, the mother sought out her kids, only to find that they were being neglected and the foster home they were living in was filthy and vermin infested. Judge Savard agreed, and roasted Batshaw Youth and Family Centers, an organization established under Quebec’s Act Respecting Health Services and Social Services to oversee adoptions, child placements etc. for failing to fulfill their mandate where these two children were concerned.

This article is not about this decision. After years of living in squalor, the children and their mother have been through enough.

This is about youth protection in Quebec.

Youth protection is an issue where criminal laws and provincial civil and youth protection laws cross. Crimes that are committed against people under the age of 18 are punished more harshly than those affecting adults. Sentencing guidelines for young offenders as per the Youth Criminal Justice Act have, among others, the goal of instilling a sense of responsibility in youth.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to focus on cases where young people come to harm at the hands of their caregivers, the rights kids have, and the circumstances in which authorities intervene.

The main law in Quebec governing this matter is the Youth Protection Act (“the Act”). Its goal is to protect children – meaning anyone under the age of 18 – whose safety and development are at risk, and to supplement the Quebec Civil Code’s rules on adoption.

The authorities charged with enforcing it are the Director of Youth Protection or DPJ, the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse established by the Charter of human rights and freedoms, and the Youth Division of Quebec Court.

Children’s rights as per the act include:

  • The right to receive an education from an educational body
  • Where the DPJ must intervene, the right to be treated with courtesy, fairness, and understanding in a way that respects their dignity and autonomy
  • During an intervention, the right to be provided with information and explanations in language appropriate to their age and level of understanding
  • In the DPJ’s interventions, the right to present their point of view and have their concerns heard
  • Where the child is placed with a foster family or rehabilitation center, the right to consult confidentially with his or her case worker
  • Unless the court decides otherwise, they also have the right to communicate confidentially with their parents and siblings
  • The right to have their identity kept confidential

Unless otherwise decided by a court of law, “the care, maintenance, and education” as well as ensuring the children are supervised lies with their parents.

Any interventions by the Director of Youth Protection have to be conducted in a way as to end and prevent the recurrence of any threats to a child’s safety and development. Said measures must also allow the child and parents to take an active role, where appropriate, in the decisions best for them. Any decisions made by the DPJ have to be made in the interests of the children and in respect for their rights, though they must also have the goal of ideally keeping the child within the family environment.

In cases where a child cannot be kept with their family and must be placed in an institution or foster care, measures must be taken so that the people important to the child, such as grandparents and extended family, can remain in contact. Even in cases where parents no longer care for their children, their involvement in their kids’ lives must be encouraged.

That said, let’s talk about how and when the DPJ can intervene.

The DPJ can inquire into any issue under their jurisdiction. They can and must intervene where the safety and development of the child is in danger. It is considered as such if the child “is abandoned, neglected, subjected to psychological ill-treatment or sexual or physical abuse, or if the child has serious behavioural disturbances”. A child is considered neglected if their basic needs are not met and the act explicitly states that ideological considerations such as notions of honour do not excuse abuse.

Anyone, especially professionals involved in child care, can refer a case to the DPJ. Pollyanna (name has been changed for privacy reasons), a retired social worker, described to me how the DPJ can intervene in cases referred to them from the public health care system.

Social workers at the CLSCs and hospitals will receive a file referred to them by a doctor or nurse detailing their reasons for suspecting a child is at risk. This can include signs of severe malnourishment, poor hygiene, physical abuse, unusual behavior from parents and children, and where files are referred to social workers from obstetrics, the age or behavior of the mom-to-be (i.e. she’s unusually young). It is then up to the social worker to decide whether or not to contact the Director of Youth Protection, but Pollyanna says she preferred to err on the side of caution and contact them anyway.

It is up to the Director of Youth Protection to investigate and decide whether or not to intervene. Pollyanna points out that like most public organizations in Quebec, the DPJ are understaffed and underfunded and therefore only intervene if there is sufficient evidence to support their involvement. In most cases, she said, they do nothing, though they do their due diligence and in emergencies will send someone immediately to deal with it.

Despite their best efforts, the system of youth protection in Quebec has room for improvement. Failure to acknowledge this and work to fix it will only lead to more cases of neglect and abuse.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected because of a lot of promises he made. He promised electoral reform and greater political transparency, but then backtracked and chickened out. He won the young vote by promising to improve employment opportunities, only to tell Canada’s youth less than a year into his term that they should get used to temporary employment with lousy pay and no benefits. There is, however, one promise our leader made that he actually seems to be following through on, and that is the legalization of marijuana in Canada.

As it stands, marijuana is still considered a controlled substance under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) which works with the Canadian Criminal Code to control drug offenses. Drug offenses are usually lumped into two categories, possession related – which can result in up to six months in prison for a first offense, and supply related – which can result in at least of five years in jail less a day.

Trudeau’s plan is to legalize pot by July 2018 and he’s told the provinces to get ready. Though Quebec is pleading for more time to set up the necessary administrative bodies and laws to control the sale and distribution of legal marijuana, they recently tabled a bill to get the ball rolling.

The law in question is Bill 157, An Act to constitute the Société québécoise du cannabis to enact the Cannabis Regulation Act and to amend various highway safety-related provisions.

As indicated by the law’s title, the organization that will control the sale and distribution of legal cannabis in Quebec will be the Société québécoise du cannabis, which will be a subsidiary of the Societé des Alcools. Its mission is carefully worded as “to ensure the sale of cannabis from a health protection perspective” and keep consumers buying it legally “without encouraging cannabis consumption”, language undoubtedly chosen to alleviate the worst fears of those opposing legalization.

In order to carry out its functions, the Société québécoise du cannabis will be able to buy cannabis for commercial purposes from a producer that meets certain government standards. It will also be able to operate cannabis retail outlets, sell it online, and authorize people to transport, deliver, and store the cannabis on the Societé’s behalf. It will also be able to set the price of what they sell. Employment by the Societé will be conditional on their personal integrity and the obtainment of security clearance.

In addition to rules governing the Société québécoise du cannabis, the law contains the new Cannabis Regulations Act, which sets out specific rules regarding cannabis possession and consumption under legalization in order to “prevent and reduce cannabis harm”. To this end, minors will be prohibited from possessing pot or pot products, and those caught with five grams or less will be committing an offense subject to hundred dollar fine with larger fines for subsequent offenses.

Adults will be prohibited from having more than a hundred and fifty grams of pot, and anyone who breaks this rule will be looking at a fine ranging from two hundred and fifty dollars to seven hundred and fifty dollars. The new law also forbids cannabis products in schools at every level from preschool to adult ed with similar fines for violations.

Cannabis has to be stored in a safe place that cannot be accessed by minors. People will be allowed to have and cultivate up to three plants for personal use, but having more than said plants will result in a fine for a first offense, with the amount doubling for subsequent offenses.

The rules regarding the actual smoking of pot are similar to the restrictions imposed on tobacco smokers. You will not be able to smoke in any enclosed health or social services institutions, nor will you be able to smoke pot on the grounds of post secondary schools. Pot smoking is also prohibited in any enclosed spaces where childcare or activities for minors is provided, though there is an exception if activities are held in a private residence.

You cannot smoke pot in any enclosed spaces where “sports, recreational, judicial, cultural or artistic activities or conferences, conventions or other similar activities are held”. Marijuana smoking is also prohibited at parties that are by invitation only, the enclosed spaces of non-profit organizations, as well as the common areas of residential buildings containing more than two dwellings and workplaces.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, as the list of spaces where pot smoking is prohibited is quite long. The fines for breaking these rules will range from five hundred dollars to fifteen hundred for a first offense.

Despite the restrictions on pot smoking in enclosed spaces, the law does allow certain places to set up smoking rooms exclusively for the purpose of consuming cannabis on their grounds. These include facilities maintained by health and social services, common areas of seniors’ residences, and palliative care facilities.

It should be noted that Bill 157 is worthless until the federal government passes the promised cannabis legalization bill. Until it does and the provincial governments know for sure what’s in it, no law regarding the distribution and consumption of marijuana can be enacted.

That is why Quebec’s law has been tabled, meaning that it’s simply been taken into consideration, not passed. It is probable that when the federal government’s legalization bill is presented in Parliament, Bill 157 will have to be changed to accommodate any federal rules as the central government maintains control over criminal law.

Despite the whining of critics paranoid about children getting their hands on weed, Canada for the most part seems united on the subject of legalizing mostly harmless and widely used herb. Here’s hoping our governments do it right.

On November 9, 2017, the Quebec government passed Bill 144, An Act to Amend the Education Act and other legislative provisions concerning mainly free educational services and compulsory school attendance. The law, which comes into effect next summer, was enacted to tackle the ongoing problem of illegal schools and better regulate homeschooling in the province.

The trigger for this law is a lawsuit brought by Yohanen Lowen and his wife Shira. The two are former members of Tash, a Chasidic religious Jewish community in Boisbriand, Quebec. Lowen left his community over ten years ago and discovered that his education left him completely unprepared for life on the outside.

Though Lowen can speak Yiddish and read Aramaic, he did not know basic arithmetic, nor could he read and write English and French. He and his wife are suing the provincial government for failing in their legal obligation to ensure that they, like all other children in Quebec, receive a proper education.

The case is due to be heard next fall, with the Education Ministry and leading members of the Tash community named in the suit. It should be noted that while Lowen is unemployed and making up for lost time by working for his high school diploma, neither he nor his wife are seeking financial compensation. What they want is a declaratory judgment forcing the government to make people in religious communities teach their children the provincial curriculum.

The issues at play are threefold. First, there is parental discretion and the right of parents to choose the education that will best prepare their children to be functioning members of society.

There is also the issue of government supervision which prevents child abuse and deprivation by setting legal limits on said parental discretion. This why, for example, parents can be punished for starving their kids or beating them into comas.

The third issue is one of discrimination and religious freedom. Quebec is currently a hotbed of intolerance with laws like Bill 62 exacerbating existing prejudices and emboldening the most vile members of society into expressing their hatred openly. There are concerns that because Bill 144 was enacted primarily to tackle illegal Chasidic schools, religious Jewish communities will be the primary targets of the new law.

I had the privilege of speaking to a Modern Orthodox Jewish couple who both work as educators within Jewish schools approved by the province. Like many religious Jews, they keep Kosher, and the Sabbath, and codes of modesty, but unlike members of ultra religious communities like Tash, they do not avoid pop culture and modern technology.

The male half of the couple, a Rabbi, pointed out the difficulty with legislation like this as in Quebec most schools receive public funds, and that to receive it they have to conform to certain standards set by the province. He explained that religious communities like Tash believe they are providing their children with a proper education, but it is an education that will only serve them if they choose to remain within the community. The kids are taught with the assumption that they will never leave, and therefore are given no lessons that would allow them to thrive outside of it.

Yohanen Lowen would have been just fine had he chosen to remain in Tash. His decision to leave is what created problems regarding the education he got.

Both the couple and another Orthodox Jewish teacher I spoke to agree that certain subjects should be taught in all schools, particularly basic science, math, English, and French. They do, however, point out that some curriculum topics interfere with the most literal interpretations of religious texts.

Science, for example, conflicts with creationism. Moral education lessons that teach about other religions which would be perceived as fostering cultural sensitivity for the less religious would be perceived as making kids question their faith by these communities.

Sadly, Bill 144 does not contain anything requiring that a basic curriculum be taught to homeschooled kids, not directly anyway. What the law says is that parents who choose to homeschool must send written notice to the competent school board in their area and submit a “learning project” for approval.

It also requires that parents inform their kids of their rights under the Quebec Education Act, specifically those covered in articles 14 to 17 which cover the rights of children in receiving an education. This includes the right of all children to attend school from the age of 6 to the age of 16.

The new law requires that the government set standards for home schooled children and specify how the local school boards can monitor them. It allows inspectors designated by Education Minister to enter premises suspected of schooling kids illegally and collect information on the children and their parents. The law permits the Education Ministry official to access the health records of children to confirm their identities.

It is the last part of the law that homeschooling advocates like Noemi Berlus, president of Quebec’s homeschooling association, take issue with, feeling that it is a violation of privacy. Education Minister Sébastien Proulx claims that the law is in accordance with Quebec’s privacy rules.

It is the imposition of a standard curriculum that has religious Jews most concerned, as some have pointed out that such a law could force these illegal schools deeper underground by either not registering their children, or sending them to the United States where education is not as closely monitored.

As it stands, Bill 144 is vague, and it is perhaps that vagueness that gives reason to hope, as assessments by inspectors and school board officials could use their discretion to be more culturally sensitive. What must be remembered, however, is that vagueness can also pave the way for more intolerant interpretations.

If Quebec is truly committed to a message of tolerance, the law must be applied to everyone regardless of faith and care must be taken to make sure groups are not targeted unfairly.