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.

On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, Muslim groups and civil liberty advocates launched the constitutional challenge we all knew was coming. Last week, I and many others predicted that Bill 62 would be headed straight for the courts on grounds that it violates the freedoms guaranteed in Canada’s constitution and Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights.

I’m not going to go over the details of Bill 62 as I did that last week. Instead, let’s talk about the legal challenge.

The plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge say in their court filing that:

“Such blatant and unjustified violations of freedom of religion, as well as of the quality guarantees of the Quebec and Canadian charters, have no place in Quebec or Canada,” and that this cannot be justified in a free and democratic society.

The plaintiffs include the National Council of Canadian Muslims, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, and Warda Naili (formerly Marie-Michelle Lacoste), a convert to Islam who has chosen to wear the niqab as an expression of her faith.

The CBC spoke to some women who wear the niqab, something the Couillard government failed to do before passing Bill 62. For the most part they claim they have no issue showing their faces for identification and medical purposes, but that the law’s insistence that they show their faces regularly is not only humiliating them and forcing them to act in violation of their faith, but has also exacerbated the harassment they’ve experienced due to their beliefs.

The law, it seems, has sent the message to the most bigoted repulsive members of Quebec society that harassing a woman for how she dresses is perfectly ok. All you have to do is claim religious neutrality and secularism.

The motion filed in Superior Court on behalf of the aforementioned groups comes despite claims by Premier Philippe Couillard that Bill 62 was written to ensure its compliance with the Canadian and Quebec Charters. Quebec Justice Minister Stéphanie Vallée is also on the defensive, claiming the law only applies where uncovering one’s face is needed for communication, identification, or security. She’s said she believes the law will survive a constitutional challenge, though her confidence about this seems forced.

Other leaders in Quebec, including former Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, newly elected mayor Valérie Plante, and the Quebec Association of municipalities have all come out against the law with one exception.

In a rare show of solidarity, Parti Québecois leader Jean-François Lisée has come out in support of the law, though he wanted even stricter secularist legislation. In spite of this, he too foresaw the constitutional challenge and has stated that a PQ government would use the Notwithstanding Clause to keep it in place should the courts strike it down.

The Notwithstanding Clause Lisée is so fond of is not the perfect fail safe the PQ leader makes it out to be. It is not a way for the Quebec government to flip the judiciary the legal bird should the constitutional challenge not go their way.

Section 33 aka The Notwithstanding Clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms says:

“Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.”

Sections 7 to 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms deal specifically with legal rights such as the rights of people charged with criminal conduct, as well as equality rights such as that of equal protection before the law and freedom from discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. The clause allows governments to keep legislation that violates these rights in place provided they expressly declare that the law will remain in effect notwithstanding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms…

…But there is a catch.

The Notwithstanding Clause also contains a rule stating that this declaration and the law it allows can only remain in effect for five years.

The delay was created so legislators could rework the law in question to make it conform to the Charter. The five-year delay is renewable, but even laws the most stubborn politicians take pride in are reworked after being struck down by the courts.

Bill 101 is a perfect example. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled it unconstitutional, so the Quebec Government invoked the Notwithstanding Clause. During that time, the law was tweaked so it conformed to the Canadian Charter of Rights, thus eliminating the need to renew the Notwithstanding Clause and preventing future legal challenges to it.

Lisée’s mention of the Notwithstanding Clause is an indirect admission that Bill 62 is unconstitutional and would not survive a legal challenge. Once the courts strike it down and all government appeals are exhausted, it is certainly within Couillard and any other elected provincial government’s power to use and renew Section 33, but the Canadian people’s embrace of their Charter rights would make it a highly unpopular move.

With the striking down of Bill 62 a certainty, the only question left is how much more hate Quebec governments want to push on us.

Four years after the Parti Québecois’ colossal defeat over their quietly racist but aggressively secular Charter of Values, and less than a year after a man entered a mosque in Ste Foy, Quebec and opened fire, the government we elected to spite them is bringing up a debate no one wanted to hear. Last week, the Quebec Liberals under Premier Philippe Couillard passed Bill 62, “An Act to foster adherence to State religious neutrality” and, in particular, to provide a framework for requests for accommodations or religious grounds in certain bodies.

It should be said right off the bat that this law is clearly a political ploy. The Couillard government is up for re-election in 2018. With scandal after scandal rocking his administration, he’s clearly given up on his base and is trying to attract the most secularist racist members of Quebec society who would otherwise vote for the Parti Quebecois.

It is also clear that it is meant to discriminate against non-Christians in Quebec. The law acknowledges Quebec’s history, but the decision to leave the cross up in the National Assembly means that their version of history leaves out the Jews, Muslims, and other groups that have made the province what it is today.

With all the talk about how this law will hurt people, we need to look at what it actually says.

The law applies to all employees of government departments, members of the Quebec public service, city employees with the exception of those governed by the Cree and Naskapi, public transit authorities, school boards, universities, and vocational colleges, peace officers, doctors, midwives, dentists, and anyone else appointed by the government. The employees of childcare centers and government-subsidized daycare centers are also subject to the new rules. Anyone seeking services from these bodies is also subject to the new law.

That means that contrary to the belief that the law will only affect public transport employees and people who work in government offices, teachers at all levels as well as doctors, dentists, and midwives will be subject to this law, as well as anyone who benefits from their help i.e. students, people who ride the bus or metro, and even people in need of medical care.

The law’s mantra is one of State religious neutrality, as the words “religious neutrality” are repeated constantly throughout its text. It requires that all employees subject to this law keep their faces uncovered in the execution of their duties. It also requires that anyone seeking services from employees bound by this law have their faces uncovered in order to receive them.

As only some Muslim women are required by their faith to keep their faces covered in public, the law is clearly written to prejudice them. However, as the law is pretty unclear. People with colds or flus who generously choose to cover their faces in public in order to avoid spreading illness could also find themselves denied services. The government is scheduled to put out a regulation clarifying certain aspects of the law in the near future.

Bill 62 does have some exceptions written into it. People who provide spiritual care and guidance in universities, vocational schools, and correctional facilities are exempt. Health professionals will not be barred from refusing to provide certain medical services that conflict with their spiritual beliefs. For everyone else, there is a process by which you can apply for accommodation on religious grounds, but it is a limited and complicated one.

Applications for accommodations must be based on the right to freedom from discrimination provision in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. Requests for accommodation will be handled primarily by the justice minister, who has to decide the request on the following grounds:

  • “The request is serious”
  • The accommodation requested is consistent with notions of gender equality, specifically that between women and men
  • The request is “consistent with the principle of State religious neutrality”
  • The accommodation is “reasonable and does not place undue hardship” on the state and the person seeking it has already tried to find another solution

Where the law would force someone to be absent from work, additional criteria must be taken into account:

  • The frequency and duration of the absences on religious grounds
  • The size of the body the person works for and the “interchangeability” of its workforce – in other words, if the person can easily be replaced, they will likely not be accommodated
  • The consequences of the person’s absences
  • The possibility of a modified work schedule or use of bankable hours and vacation days
  • Fairness regarding other personnel in said government body

More rules apply where the law affects school attendance. The criteria in this case include how a refusal to accommodate will affect compulsory school attendance, the schools’ basic mission to impart knowledge “in keeping with the principle of equal opportunity” and the ability of the school to provide the educational services required by law.

The arguments in favor of Bill 62 are twofold.

Couillard has publicly said that he should be able to see a person’s face when dealing with them, a remark that is not only culturally insensitive, but also rules out any exchanges done by phone or email.

The other argument is one of benevolent sexism masquerading as feminism, specifically that the law will somehow save women from oppressive religious practices. This presumes that women who wear a niqab are doing so because someone coerced them to, or they simply don’t know better. It’s an argument that infantilizes the women by making the presumption that they are not mature enough to make their own decisions about how to publicly express their faith.

This law does not save anyone. It robs them of their sense of agency. If a woman can only leave her house with her face covered and she is welcome at government funded institutions as such, she may feel comfortable going to a public library and grabbing a book on feminism. She may also be comfortable going to a sports center to take a self-defense class.

The law clearly violates the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms rules against religious discrimination and the freedom of religion and equality rights of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The moment this law comes into effect there is sure to be a constitutional challenge to it.

Let’s take comfort in that.

* Featured illustration by Samantha Gold

It is utterly disgusting that in 2017 we still need to have conversations about the unacceptability of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Though our laws guarantee equality of the sexes and freedom from discrimination, the fact that so many Canadians shared the hashtag #MeToo indicates that sexual harassment and assault are still very much a problem.

For those unfamiliar with the #MeToo movement, it started with reports that movie producer Harvey Weinstein sexually harassed and assaulted the women he worked with. The hashtag was used to show the magnitude of the problem of sexual harassment and assault, the idea being that if every victim shared it on their social media feed, society would finally understand how vast the problem is.

This article is a primer on sexual harassment and assault in Canada.

Sexual harassment is a form of harassment based on the person’s sex. According to the Quebec Institut National de Santé Publique, legally a victim must prove three things in order to prove sexual harassment:

  1. “Unwanted sexual behaviour
  2. That manifests itself repeatedly, and
  3. That has adverse effects on its victims.”

The behavior can be anything from words to actions to posters, but for the victim it has to feel “targeted and unwelcome” with adverse effects. In Quebec the behavior has to be repetitive and harassment can manifest itself in being denied raises or promotions in retaliation for refusing sexual advances, or sexual behavior in the workplace that creates a hostile environment for the victim(s).

Legal recourse for victims of sexual harassment can consist of filing a complaint against your employer with the Commission des Normes de Travail (CNT), filing a civil liability suit against their harasser, or lodging a criminal harassment complaint which could get the offender up to ten years in jail. The employee could also, where applicable, file a complaint for psychological harassment with the Commission de la santé et de la sécurité au travail (CSST) and request compensation if the harassment is so severe he or she can no longer work.

Now let’s talk about sexual assault and consent.

Sexual assault is any application of force to another person that is sexual and without the other person’s consent.

Consent is the voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity. It can be withdrawn at any time, and there is no consent where the victim was coerced, incapable of agreeing to the sexual activity due to their age or, for example, because they’re unconscious, or if someone agreed to the activity on their behalf.

There is also no consent if you abuse a position of power or trust, or of course, if the person expresses lack of consent. Passivity does not constitute consent.

Without consent, there is sexual assault. The penalty for sexual assault in Canada is a maximum penalty of five years, or if a weapon was used causing bodily harm, a maximum of ten years.

Myths

That said, we need to debunk a few myths:

  • MYTH: A woman’s behaviour or style of dress provokes sexual assault

The argument goes like this:

“If she’d been more modest (in dress or behavior) this never would have happened.”

No behavior or manner of dress excuses sexual assault.

Arguments about behavior and dress shift the blame from the assaulter to the victim, and reinforce toxic gender stereotypes against men and women by claiming that sexual assault is a woman’s problem, and that the reason assaults happen is because men are horny aggressive beasts who can’t control themselves and women provoke them.

Here’s a wakeup call: conservatively dressed people get assaulted, as do less conservatively dressed people. Quiet, modest people get assaulted, as do the bombastic and loud. Men get assaulted, as do women. To quote the Ontario Coalition of Rape Crisis Centers:

“Offenders are solely responsible for their own behaviour.”

  • MYTH: Sexual Assault is over reported

Less than ten percent of all sexual assaults are reported.

There is a huge stigma associated with reporting assaults, making harder on the victim than on the offender. This is likely because our culture still lacks a proper grasp of what constitutes consent. As a result victims are often interrogated and dragged through the mud about their behavior before and after the assault, rather than their attackers.

  • MYTH: It’s not Sexual Harassment if the victim does not complain about it

The unequal relationship that often exists between employees and their harasser will often lead to silence for fear of causing conflict that could jeopardize their job.

  • MYTH: Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault are Women’s Problems

Men are often the victims of sexual harassment and assault, though it is likely that the available numbers about it are a modest estimate due to under-reporting.

The stigma associated with males reporting their victimization is likely because our society still adheres to notions of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity pushes a narrow and repressive notion of what it means to a man, specifically that any display of stereotypically feminine traits, such as emotional vulnerability or even being victimized makes you less of a man. According to a 2015 article in Psychology Today, the men most likely to be victims of sexual harassment were those who deviated from stereotypical notions of masculinity by being members of a sexual minority or being involved in feminist causes. Men who challenged traditional gender roles were also more likely to be victimized.

It should be said that even if sexual harassment and assault were strictly women’s problems, it does not lessen importance of fixing the problem. If we as a society recognize that women are fully human, a problem that affects only them must be recognized as a problem that hurts us all.

It should also be said that gender segregation is not a solution because it puts the onus of avoiding harassment and assault on the people who are victimized. This encourages and exacerbates a culture of victim blaming.

So what is the solution?

We need to teach people about consent as early as possible, that means teaching kids about the importance of personal physical boundaries and evils of sexism and unwanted touching. The lessons should be taught to all genders and not just to girls as they generally are now.

Schools should have a zero-tolerance policy about sexual harassment and assault and even something we used to think of as a common joke – snapping bra straps – should be recognized as a form of assault and punished accordingly. Our education ministries would be wise to consult experts on sexual harassment and assault to better develop these policies and education programs.

The rules in Quebec about sexual harassment need to change.

Under our current rules, isolated incidents of sexual harassment are not considered as such, and they should be, particularly if the actions or words of the offender are significant enough to make a work environment hostile for the victim. A boss who tells a female employee “fuck me or you’re fired” and does not pursue it further should be seen as just as much of a harasser as one who regularly makes sexist jokes around his or her coworkers.

Last but not least, we need to better screen judicial appointees and law enforcement to ensure that, for example, people like former superior court judge Robin Camp are NEVER allowed to decide a rape case.

Law enforcement needs to be better trained to treat the victims like victims so they’re not so scared to come forward. Anyone lacking proper knowledge and empathy to deal with issues of sexual violence should be made to undergo sensitivity training and pass an exam to secure their position. Those who fail should be denied employment.

Sexual harassment and sexual assault are problems that affect us all. There’s no avoiding it, and there’s no denying it.

It’s time we fight it.