Into the minds of the condemned: statements from Death Row

By: Lawrence Gridin · September 30, 2009 · Filed Under Criminal Law · 1 Comment 

What’s it like to live on Death Row? What’s it like to die there?

I wonder how a person can  stand to wait in a small cell, watching the second hand of a clock tick down to their execution? After an average 10 year wait, the person is finally led down a hallway, strapped to a gurney, and injected with a lethal cocktail of drugs.

Since 1982, when Texas began utilizing lethal injections to kill people, 441 people have been executed by the State. Moments before the execution, the warden asked each of these inmates whether they had any last words. All of their last statements have been recorded.

A friend of mine sent me a link to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Death Row page, which contains every last statement given since 1982.

I have to admit that I sat for an hour and read over a hundred of these last statements. There was something incredibly powerful and compelling about the final words that a person speaks when they know they are about to die. I had a hard time pulling myself away from them.

It doesn’t matter whether you are for or against capital punishment. If we move beyond the cold statistics of the offender’s height, race, and education level, their last statements poignantly remind us that these convicts are human beings that bleed and feel pain like you and I.

Many of the statements express remorse. Others are shocking. Some are even funny. But the common thread that ties all of the statements together is the foreboding sense of inevitability, resignation, and acceptance of a pre-determined fate. I have reproduced some of the statements below (in their entirety):

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National security invoked to block testimony

By: Law is Cool · September 30, 2009 · Filed Under Evidence · Comments Off 

Ottawa seeks to gag Afghan prisoner probe witnesses

Federal lawyers are trying to block government witnesses from testifying before a military watchdog investigating the treatment of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, The Canadian Press has learned.


Visitor visa fairness

By: Law is Cool · September 30, 2009 · Filed Under Administrative Law · 1 Comment 

When visa’s rejected, where to go?

Nicholas Keung writes for the Toronto Star:

A grieving son in China rejected for a visitor’s visa to Canada for his mother’s funeral. Guests from the Philippines turned away at the border for a Toronto wedding. A group of Anglican priests from Myanmar refused entry for a missionary event in Vancouver.

Currently, these rejected visitors to Canada – 200,000 yearly – could do little else than pay another $75 for a new visa application, which can involve costly travels to a Canadian visa post in another city or country.


Try again?

By: Law is Cool · September 30, 2009 · Filed Under Civil Rights, Immigration Law · Comments Off 

Third security certificate is double jeopardy, court told

Mahmoud Jaballah was first detained under a security certificate in 1999. He was released after the courts found the certificate to be unreasonable. Jaballah was re-arrested in 2001 under a new certificate. He was released in 2008 after the Supreme Court struck down the security certificate law. After Parliament passed a new law, the government signed a third certificate against Jaballah.

Brendan Kennedy writes for the Toronto Start:

[Jaballah's lawyer] argued in court that proceedings against Jaballah should be stayed, because there was no new evidence to justify the second and third certificates.

“The essence of the allegations against Mr. Jaballah, and the nature of the proceedings remain unchanged from 1999 to today,” he said in court.


Have a Wi-Fi Device in Your Pocket? You Can Be Tracked!

By: Vitali Berditchevski · September 28, 2009 · Filed Under Privacy, Technology · 4 Comments 

Introduction (Surprise!)

I got a new iPod Touch today and one of the first things I did was fire up wi-fi and launch google maps. I noticed a button that allowed the system to automatically zoom in to my “current location”. Because the iPod does not have a GPS chip, I was expecting it to use my IP to narrow me down to a city or even a province. Imagine my surprise when it narrowed me down with an accuracy 30 meters (~100 feet)!

The first time I tried this, I was at the university. I was not too surprised by this because I know that the university has static IPs that may well be in some geo-locator database. I was more surprised (and concerned) when this worked at home. My IP is dynamic, so there is no way it could be stored in a central database. For curiosity, I looked my current IP up in a geo-locator database and it pointed me to Kingston, ON, which is 500km off, but it makes sense because my ISP operates all over Canada.

Technical Explanation (With Limited Amounts of Geekiness)

So how did the iPod do it? A few minutes of googling took me to a company called Skyhook Wireless. Without getting too technical, what this company does is it sends out about 200 cars in all cities in North America and they do what is known as “wardriving”. Essentially, they take a unique ID (MAC address for the technically inclined) from all wireless routers and log the physical location of those routers in a central database. The MAC address is freely available, even from protected networks. To be perfectly clear: you do not need to connect to a network (and thus do not need any passwords) in order to get a MAC address.

Once the location is in a central database, it is available for triangulation. Say I’m walking down the street with my iPod and press the “locate me” button. The Wi-Fi radio on my iPod sends Skyhook the MAC addresses of all the routers around me in a 80-200 meter radius. If three of those are in Skyhook’s database, I am triangulated, and skyhook knows where I am (give or take a few meters). The data is sent back to me and I get a google map of my surroundings.

Implications (Why You Should Turn Off the Wi-Fi on Your Cell Phone/iPod)

The negative implications of this can be quite clear. What if, for example, you’re not the one who requested your location? What if it was done by a virus/trojan or spyware (brings a new meaning to the term, eh?)? But your location is probably of little use to petty hackers and virus-writers. It’s also not precise enough for someone to physically walk up to you, especially if you’re in a dense place such as any city center. 30 meters worth of error downtown Toronto (or even downtown London) is enough for someone to never find you.

But what if your location is wanted by someone who knows you personally? Let’s say a spouse/significant other who thinks you’re cheating. Then your location with a 30 meter margin of error becomes more than enough for that person to know what you’re doing.

Legal Issues (This is a Law Blog, right?)

I can’t definitively say whether any of this is an invasion of privacy. Skyhook’s technologies does not circumvent any security systems and uses only information that is publicly available. I am not sure whether posting a location of a MAC address constitutes invasion of privacy (an enterprising “enthusiast” found a way to query Skyhook’s database to get Lat/Lon coordinates associated with MAC addresses). There’s an argument to be made both ways and of course none of this has been tested by a court.

What’s more concerning is that router owners cannot opt out of this. Furthermore, once a router’s MAC address is in the database, it cannot come out. The company’s stance on the issue is the following:

“we cannot remove individual access points…every access point by
definition broadcasts a radio beacon …The only way to stop an access point from broadcasting its
presence is to unplug it….we don’t actually identify the location of access points, just the signals
that they create”

That statement is technically true, but misses the point entirely. “The signals” (MAC address broadcasts) can be definitively associated with the physical router because every router has a unique MAC address (otherwise their system wouldn’t work). So, yes, they are tracking the location of access points. It is true though that once that access point (router, switch, etc.) is no longer broadcasting, it cannot be identified. This is the same thing that was said by computer security experts back in the 1980′s:

“…the only truly safe computer system is one that is disconnected from the network, switched off and buried six feet under ground…and even then I’m not sure.”

Mitigating Factors (Why You Should Not Lose Sleep Over This)

I have already alluded to some of the mitigating circumstances. Some of them are social (i.e. your location within 30 meters is useless to 99.999999% of the population) others are more technical. For example, most devices that are not laptops shut off wi-fi connectivity when their screens turn off in order to conserve their batteries. This is certainly true for iPods and iPhones and is also true for every Windows Mobile device I ever owned. Also, an internet connection is not needed to establish your coordinates (unconnected wi-fi is enough), but an internet connection IS required in order to do anything with those coordinates (i.e. send them to someone).

Also note that there need to be at least three known broadcasting access points within at most 200 meters, which likely means that this positioning system will not work in rural areas.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I did not find any evidence of this system being misused. So far, there has not been any malware written that would take advantage of Skyhook’s database to track people. That doesn’t mean it cannot happen, it just means that it is not something to worry about today.

For More Info…

For the more technically inclined, you can check out my source material: (Background and tricking the system, very technical) (Wikipedia entry on skyhook. Describes the technology) (Wikipedia entry on wifi. Look at “Reach” for wifi service ranges)

Cross-Posted at

Former airline hijacker, Windsor law graduate

By: Law is Cool · September 28, 2009 · Filed Under Administrative Law · 1 Comment 

Former terrorist wants to be lawyer

John Goddard writes for the Toronto Star:

Parminder Singh Saini, 46, blames youth and naïveté for his role in a violent airline hijacking 25 years ago in his native India and says he is rehabilitated.

Mr. Saini was admitted into Canada in 1995 on a fake passport. A few months later, the authorities declared him a national security threat and ordered him deported. As he was fighting this order, Mr. Saini completed a BA at York and a law degree at Windsor. He has already finished his articles. Mr. Saini’s case is now before the Law Society of Upper Canada.

“Over the course of the last 15 years, (Canadian) courts and tribunals have declared that he is a danger to the public and security in Canada and that he shouldn’t remain,” law society counsel Susan Heakes told the hearing this month into whether to accept Saini’s licence application to practise law.


Beware the libel

By: Pulat Yunusov · September 28, 2009 · Filed Under Torts · Comments Off 

Simon Singh, a British journalist and a popularizer of science, is fighting a lawsuit. In his article for the Guardian, Singh wrote that the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) promoted bogus treatments. The BCA sued him for libel. Is it right that our words can cost us dearly? What about the freedom of speech? First of all, let’s find out what the freedom of speech really is all about. Then, let’s see why we have libel laws and what we can learn from the Singh case. The Internet gives everyone a potential audience, so watch what you say if you have libel laws in your country.

The Western culture loves the freedom of expression. In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms calls it a “fundamental” freedom that “everyone” has. In the US, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech.” We value our right to speak freely, and we believe it is essential for democracy. It’s not surprising then that libel suits ruffle a few feathers. But constitutional laws like the Charter and the Bill of Rights protect our speech from the government, not from our neighbours.

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The Competition Bureau is Watching

By: Navraj Pannu · September 28, 2009 · Filed Under Regulatory Law · Comments Off 

As a Leaf’s fan, I wouldn’t mind another team in Ontario. It would add to a new rivalry. But understandably, I wouldn’t want a new kid buying out my candy from the candy store either.  So are the Leafs allowed to veto against the new kid?

Purpose of the Competition Act:

1.1 The purpose of this Act is to maintain and encourage competition in Canada in order to promote the efficiency and adaptability of the Canadian economy, in order to expand opportunities for Canadian participation in world markets while at the same time recognizing the role of foreign competition in Canada, in order to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises have an equitable opportunity to participate in the Canadian economy and in order to provide consumers with competitive prices and product choices.

Relevant Provision?

45. (1) Every one who conspires, combines, agrees or arranges with another person
(a) to limit unduly the facilities for transporting, producing, manufacturing, supplying, storing or dealing in any product,
(b) to prevent, limit or lessen, unduly, the manufacture or production of a product or to enhance unreasonably the price thereof,
(c) to prevent or lessen, unduly, competition in the production, manufacture, purchase, barter, sale, storage, rental, transportation or supply of a product, or in the price of insurance on persons or property, or
(d) to otherwise restrain or injure competition unduly,
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years or to a fine not exceeding ten million dollars or to both

Call Them Feel-Good Expenditures, but These Girls Will Cost You

By: Omar Ha-Redeye · September 27, 2009 · Filed Under Ethics, Health Law, Humour, Law Career, Tax Law · Comments Off 

Running a call-girl business is an inherently risky venture.  The lines frequently blur, and participants end up in what the law would describe as prostitution.

To sort out these complicated legal dilemmas operators frequently have to hire counsel.  Should these expenses be reportable for tax purposes?

The now-defunct Exchequer Court examined the issue back in 1964, in Canada (Minister of National Revenue – M.N.R.) v. Eldridge, when several employees of the respondent were arrested on prostitution charges.

The Taxation Division provided Notices of Assessment of $22,046.75 and $19,103.77 for the previous two years.  Objections over the government collecting taxes on illegal revenue were dismissed by Mr. Justice Cattanach,

25 … it is abundantly clear from the decided cases that earnings from illegal operations or illicit businesses are subject to tax. The respondent, during her testimony, remarked that she expressed the view to the officers of the Taxation Division that it was incongruous that the government should seek to live on the avails of prostitution. However, the complete answer to such suggestion is to be found in the judgment of Rowlatt, J. in Mann v. Nash ((1929-1932) 16 T.C. 523.) where he said at p. 530:

It is said again: “Is the State coming forward to take a share of unlawful gains?” It is mere rhetoric. The State is doing nothing of the kind; they are taxing the individual with reference to certain facts. They are not partners; they are not principals in the illegality, or sharers in the illegality; they are merely taxing a man in respect of those resources. I think it is only rhetoric to say that they are sharing in his profits, and a piece of rhetoric which is perfectly useless for the solution of the question which I have to decide.

The court was more lenient with some of the substantial business expenses excluded, namely $1,925 legal fees for some of the girls who had been arrested.

The court held that the fees were properly deductible because:

  1. it was for the purpose of income, because the call girl could not earn any income while she was imprisoned
  2. it was part of the arrangement that the operator would assume legal fees in the possibility of legal troubles

Most criminal lawyers would say that $1,925 is  not a lot of money for that kind of an operation, even back then.  And maybe there’s good reason why they skimped on legal fees.  A more sizable deduction for $16,500 was rejected, because it was claimed as “protection fees.”  The recipient of the fees was none other than the local law enforcement.

So if prostitutes can claim their legal fees as a tax deduction, can lawyers claim prostitutes as a legitimate tax deduction as well?  It’s a disbursement that many Bay St. firms probably wouldn’t flaunt in their recruiting brochures.

Garry Slapper of Times Online suggests that the answer, at least before the U.S. Tax Court, is that they cannot.

William G Halby, a tax lawyer from Brooklyn, claimed $111,364 in 2002 for therapeutic sex.  His 2005 claims were more detailed, $5,005 in books, magazines, and videos, and $42,152 for specifically for prostitutes.  He cited section 213 of the Internal Revenue Code:

§ 213. Medical, dental, etc., expenses
(a) Allowance of deduction
There shall be allowed as a deduction the expenses paid during the taxable year, not compensated for by insurance or otherwise, for medical care of the taxpayer, his spouse, or a dependent (as defined in section 152, determined without regard to subsections (b)(1), (b)(2), and (d)(1)(B) thereof), to the extent that such expenses exceed 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income.

Brian L. Friedman, Administrative Law Judge, said in the case,

…portions of petitioner’s “sex therapy” were, in fact, sex for a fee, in violation of Penal Law § 230.02. Such expenses were not paid to medical professionals or for activities prescribed by medical professionals but were made to unlicensed providers for legally proscribed services. (See Penal Law § 230.00.)

Additionally, even if it were accepted that sex constitutes medical care, such expenses would be more for petitioner’s general well-being rather than cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of a specific disease or condition.

…petitioner failed to produce evidence that the claimed expenses were for prescribed activity, and he had little regard for physician’s advice on sexually related matters. As the periodicals cited by petitioner were neither specific towards him nor for a specific illness, they cannot possibly constitute a prescription or medical advice. Because petitioner purchased the videos, books, periodicals, pornographic materials and sexual performance aids without prescription, and they were not medically necessary to treat a specific disease or condition, they are not medical expenses for which an income tax deduction is warranted.

We still have to overcome cases like Nina Baccala of North Providence, cum laude from the New England School of Law and clerk for Superior Court Judge Raymond J. Brassard, one of the many new law graduates who moonlight as an escort. Her case was only revealed after an assault last year while on the “job.”

With a clever title for a Constitutional paper like, “A Guide to Aborting Roe v. Wade and All of Its Bastard Progeny,” I would’ve hoped Baccula could come up with some fundamentally different choices in life.

But at least next time someone cracks, “What’s the difference between a prostitute and a lawyer,” you can give them a different answer:


Cross-posted from Slaw

Billionaire to give $20M to Dal Law

By: Ryan MacIsaac · September 27, 2009 · Filed Under Law School · Comments Off 

Canadian super-philanthropist Seymour Schulich is donating $20 million to Dalhousie Law School. At least half the money will go toward scholarships, and Schulich hopes that the boost will raise Dal Law’s standing in the annual Maclean’s ranking, for those who pay attention to that. Universities including York and McGill have faculties named after Schulich, but this is the first time that he is giving a major donation to a faculty of law. Schulich’s promise came with disparaging comments about the stinginess of Maritime donors, which didn’t go over too well in some parts. An official announcement of the donation is expected Oct. 15th.

Lawyers be warned: Dress well for court

By: John Magyar · September 26, 2009 · Filed Under Constitutional Law, Humour · 1 Comment 

Lawyers be warned: Dress well for court

A federal judge in Brooklyn, New York, has thrown out a complaint by a lawyer alleging a constitutional right to wear jeans and a baseball hat in a courtroom.

Could this be a step backwards with respect to the right to bare arms?

AG Ont. Chris Bentley Speaks on Human Rights

By: Law is Cool · September 26, 2009 · Filed Under Administrative Law, Civil Rights, Politics · Comments Off 

The Attorney-General of Ontario, Hon. Chris Bentley, spoke to students at the University of Toronto on the issue of human rights.

Min. Bentley did a podcast interview with us previously on a similar subject.   Human rights tribunals are likely to become a hot issue in the next provincial election, given that Tim Hudak has suggested he will campaign on having them scrapped.

Min. Bentley cites the Dresden case, and explains how human rights are the foundation of our society, even for those citizens we have neglected and abandoned abroad.

Video of his talk at UofT below, with an intro from Omar Alghabra:

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