In the wake of the massacre of the journalistic staff of Charlie Hebdo, Western political leaders have ramped up their discourse on the “war on terror”.  Here in Canada and elsewhere, we will most certainly witness the continued expansion of police investigative powers at the expense of democratic rights and liberties.  We can further expect greater military intervention in the Middle East.

There is no doubt that the Charlie Hebdo massacre was an act of terror.  But how should one define the reality of innocent civilians who die each day as a result of Western bombing missions in the Middle East?  Can it not be said that they too are victims of terror?  And what of a police officer who arrests and detains an individual in the middle of the night on suspicion alone (a power enshrined in our Combatting Terrorism Act), particularly where the suspicion proves unfounded.  Would such a person not perceive the action as one of terror?

The tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the subsequent murder of 4 hostages in a kosher supermarket must not serve to empower Western governments, in the name of the war on terror, to continue to erode our most fundamental rights and commit atrocities abroad

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The Guardian newspaper obtained a copy of a classified court order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court whereby Verizon, a major American telephone services company, was forced to turn over to the Federal Bureau of Intelligence vast calling records of all of its subscribers.  This rather chilling procedure was ostensibly authorized under the provisions of the Patriot Act, which came into force in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and was intended to better equip the nation in its war against terrorism.

No one would dispute that security agencies and police forces require special powers to combat the terrorist threat.  However, they had those powers prior to 9/11.  The police can follow suspects surreptitiously, tap their phones when authorized on proof of probable cause, and obtain search warrants to advance a criminal investigation.  Using these traditional powers, the police have successful combatted major crimes without unduly jeopardizing individual privacy, a fundamental value underlying our notion of a free and democratic society.

We have now learned that the National Security Agency has even gone further, obtaining access to servers, including those of Facebook and Google, which store vast amounts of personal information generated by their clients and users.  In a facile and disingenuous response, President Barack Obama declared that U.S. citizens were not targeted, as though Facebook or Google require proof of citizenship before the opening of an account.

The state is now spying indiscriminately on its own people, but to what end?  Given the known intelligence on the Boston marathon bombers, it is likely that this attack could have been avoided had competent police officers responded using traditional investigative methods.  Rather, the state seems content to empower faceless bureaucratic police agencies with the means to invade our individual privacy.  By blithely sacrificing these core values, it can be safely argued that the terrorists are indeed winning.

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Jean-Claude Duvalier returned to Haiti on January 16, 2011.  Within 48 hours, he had been interrogated in a proceeding launched to examine allegations of theft and money laundering.  There have been further calls that he be tried for murder.  He has been released on condition he remain in Haiti pending completion of the judicial investigation.

Allegations of corruption, torture, and murder did indeed define the Duvalier regime.  Under significant local and international pressure, Jean-Claude Duvalier left his native Haiti in 1986, in disgrace, and settled in France.  However, during the near 25 years that followed, the Haitian authorities have never requested his extradition on any charge.  How is it that charges of this magnitude could be so quickly instituted?  How is it that a nation, seemingly unable to provide its citizenry with the most basic services, finds the resources to file such significant and complex charges, overnight?

It must be borne in mind that Duvalier, pariah that he may be, still has his supporters in Haiti and as such, his political enemies.  These charges effectively squelch any hope he may have had (foolish as that may seem) of a political comeback.  Clearly, if the Haitian authorities had the required evidence, he would have been extradited long ago.  The pall of political interference contaminates this investigation.

We do not know if Duvalier is guilty of these or other crimes.  But there can be no justice unless the process is impartial and independent.  The people of Haiti deserve better.

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In July 2008, two Greenpeace activists in Japan carried out an investigation into illegal whaling activities in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.  They eventually intercepted one of nearly one hundred boxes destined for private addresses offloaded from one the ships. It ostensibly contained cardboard.  It in fact contained 23.5 kg of whale meat.  They immediately turned over this and supporting documentary evidence to the Tokyo District Prosecutor for the purposes of initiating an investigation.  Although an investigation did ensue, it was abruptly halted and the two activists arrested the same day and charged with trespass and theft.  They were detained for almost a month.  The prosecution is now asking that they be jailed a further 18 months.

All prosecutions must be carried out in the public interest.  Rather than hail the efforts of these two Greenpeace activists who sought to expose corruption in the whaling industry, the prosecution has joined hands with this same industry to compound the injustice.  This is wrong, and should be denounced.


July 2010

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New legislation has been introduced providing that as a general rule, persons denied bail receive credit for pre-trial detention on a one-to-one basis when sentenced. This initiative displaces the discretion the judiciary had had to award greater credit for time served to those denied bail while awaiting trial. Traditionally, persons sentenced to a prison term who had been denied bail would receive credit on a two-for-one basis. In other words, an individual who was to receive an 18 month sentence but who, having been denied bail, had already served two months in preventive custody would be sentenced to 14 months after receiving credit on a two-for-one basis for time (2 months) already served. This approach was developed to reflect the reality of pre-trial detention. The conditions of confinement for persons denied bail are harsher than those found in a regular prison population. Detainees awaiting trial are confined to their cells for substantial periods of the day, and have access to virtually none of the programs (education, vocational training) available to regular prisoners. Further, it is generally agreed that the psychological stress of an impending criminal trial is exacerbated by confinement to a cell. Awarding credit for pre-trial custody on a greater than one-to-one basis reflects core values inherent in our criminal justice system. Firstly, those awaiting trial are presumed innocent and as such, we generally favour the granting of bail pending trial. Secondly, where bail is denied, we tend to recognize, as mentioned above, that the conditions of confinement are far harsher than those imposed on a regular prison population. Finally, many persons denied bail are simply unable to provide the court with sufficient guarantees, often monetary, which would justify their release pending trial. What then was wrong with awarding credit for time spent in pre-trial custody on a two-for-one basis? The answer wont be found in Bill C-25. We hear a lot about “getting tough” on crime, but are we being fair about it?

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In the case of R. v. Chehil[1] it was recently held that the police could obtain certain information a traveller provides when booking a flight.   Mr. Chehil had purchased a one-way ticket at the Vancouver airport for an overnight flight to Halifax.  The ticket was paid for in cash, and he was carrying one bag.  In the view of police investigators, this was consistent with the profile of a drug courier.  His bag was removed prior to reaching the baggage carousel.  A police dog drug-sniffed the bag and reacted such that it was surmised that it likely contained narcotics.  The bag was replaced on the baggage carousel and, when Mr. Chehil retrieved it, he was promptly arrested.  The bag did indeed contain a substantial quantity of cocaine.

The information leading to the profiling was obtained from the Westjet passenger manifest at the Halifax airport, without a search warrant.  In other words, the police were able to glean the booking/check-in information of all of the passengers to determine if the profile criteria had been met.  We, of course, do not know how many other passengers had their bags removed and drug-sniffed by a police dog, with a negative result, such that the reliability of the profiling technique could be called into question.  We do know however that the police reviewed every passenger’s booking information.  In other words, without the need to obtain a search warrant, the police were able to determine the names of the passengers, how much and by what means they had paid for their ticket, when it was purchased, and how many bags they were carrying.  Of course Westjet could have refused to provide the information, but as “good corporate citizens” they and other carriers are likely more than willing to comply.

In my view, this information is deeply personal.  Why does the state have the right to know for instance where you may be travelling, whether you decided to purchase the ticket spontaneously the same day or previously, and how much you paid for your ticket? Why is the state entitled to all this information?  Why isn’t a search warrant necessary to obtain it?  Let’s bear in mind that this investigation didn’t concern flight security. While the information is clearly personal, the court seemed to feel that it was not “private” and therefore open to unconstrained inspection by the police.  It is true that had the court determined that it had been illegally obtained, the inspection (“search”) of Mr Chehil’s bag would have been unconstitutional such that he would have likely been entitled to an acquittal.  Is that too high a price to pay to keep the state from snooping into our personal lives unless they have appropriate grounds?  I don’t think so.  It is hoped that this case finds it’s way to the Supreme Court of Canada.


[1] 2009 NSCA 111

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Bernie Madoff and Earl Jones needed help

Commercial crimes have garnered the enormous media attention. There is arguably no end to the guile of fraudsters like Bernie Madoff who manage to con fortunes out of trusting investors. Fraud investigations are costly and long criminal trials require massive resources. The investors are out-of-pocket but the public ultimately foots the bill. There is nothing inherently wrong with this. The investigation and prosecution of criminals is a matter of public interest. But let’s bear in mind that criminals such as Madoff and Jones reportedly promised startling rates of return to their investors. In times when responsible citizens have to be content with near negligible interest rates, the Madoff/Jones victims were expecting growth on their investments in the range of 10% per annum. Even the most sophisticated financial managers have been unable to propose such returns. The Madoff/Jones victims should recognize that but for their own greed, society would not be compelled to cut a huge swathe out of its limited resources to investigate these crimes.

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Bernie Madoff et Earl Jones avaient besoin d’aide

Les crimes à caractère économique attirent beaucoup l’attention des médias ces derniers temps. Il n’y a sans doute pas de fin aux ruses des fraudeurs comme Bernie Madoff qui parviennent à se faire fortune en trompant la confiance des investisseurs. Les enquêtes sur les fraudes donnent généralement lieu à des procès longs et coûteux et entrainent l’utilisation d’importants fonds publics. La victime d’une fraude a souvent perdu beaucoup d’argent mais ce sont les contribuables qui doivent absorber les coûts liés à l’enquête et aux procédures judiciaires. Or, cela n’est pas en soi discutable. L’enquête et la poursuite des criminels sont des questions d’intérêt public. Mais nous devrions garder à l’esprit que les criminels tels que Messieurs Madoff et Jones auraient promis des taux de rendement faramineux à leurs clients. Malgré qu’à l’heure actuelle, l’investisseur responsable doit se contenter d’un retour pratiquement négligeable sur son placement, les Madoff / Jones avaient fait miroiter à leurs clients des taux de croissance dans la fourchette de 10% par an. Même les gestionnaires financiers les plus sophistiqués sont incapables de proposer un tel rendement. Les victimes de Madoff /Jones devraient reconnaître que, sans leur cupidité, la société ne serait pas contrainte à dédier des ressources massives provenant d’une enveloppe budgetaire limitée afin d’enquêter sur ces crimes.

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Le principe d’égalité n’est pas toujours juste

Une nouvelle législation a été adoptée prévoyant qu’en règle générale, les personnes détenues jusqu’au prononcé de la peine ne recevront plus un crédit pour la détention préventive. Cette initiative annule la discrétion autrefois attribuée aux tribunaux d’octroyer un crédit supérieur pour le temps purgé à titre de détention préventive. Traditionnellement, les juges créditaient la detention préventive suivant le ratio 2 pour 1, soit 2 journées créditées pour chaque journée passée en detention preventive. En d\’autres termes, un accusé qui devait recevoir une peine de 18 mois de prison mais qui, s’étant vu refuser un cautionnement, avait déjà purgé deux mois de détention préventive était condamné à 14 mois après l’application du crédit (4 mois) pour le temps (2 mois) déjà purgé. Cette approche a été élaborée afin de refléter certaines réalités associées à la détention préventive Les conditions de détention des personnes qui se sont vus refuser un cautionnement sont plus sévères que celles imposées à la population carcérale régulière. Les détenus en attente de procès sont confinés à leurs cellules pendant de longues périodes de la journée, et n’ont pas accès aux programmes (education, formation) offerts aux prisonniers ordinaires. En outre, il est généralement admis que le stress psychologique généré par l\’imminence d\’un procès pénal est aggravé par le confinement dans une cellule. L’attribution d’un crédit sur une base supérieure à un ratio de 1pour 1, reflétait certaines valeurs fondamentales de notre système de justice pénale. Tout d\’abord, les prévenus sont présumés innocents et, à ce titre, on favorise généralement l\’octroi d’une remise en liberté moyennant certtaines conditions. Deuxièmement, lorsqu’un prévenu doit rtester détenu en attente de son procès, nous avons tendance à reconnaître, comme mentionné plus haut, que les conditions de détention sont beaucoup plus sévères que celles imposées à une population carcérale régulière. Enfin, de nombreux prévenus restent détenus simplement parce qu’ils sont incapables de fournir au tribunal des garanties suffisantes, souvent monétaires, afin de reprendre leur liberté en attendant leur procès. Quel était donc le mal à l\’octroi d’un crédit sur une base de deux pour un dans ces cas? Le projet de loi C-25 ne nous donne pas de réponse. Cette loi s’inscrit dans la «ligne dure» sur la criminalité, mais reflète-elle les notions d’équité qui sont censées caractériser notre société?

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