Public Interest – Law is Cool The law school blog and podcast from Canada Wed, 30 Sep 2015 13:10:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 1338880 Students Writing LSAT With Accommodation Will Not Have Law School Applications “Flagged” Thu, 05 Jun 2014 17:28:10 +0000 The non-profit organization Law School Admission Council (LSAC) based in the United States was penalized $7.7 million USD to compensate over 6000 students from the past 5 years for application to accommodate. Prior practice included Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores being “flagged” on law school applications if accommodation for extra time was applied during examination. The decision impacted domestic United States schools and many other schools abroad where they accepted LSAT scores with law school applications. The United States Department of Justice claimed of “widespread and systemic discrimination” by the LSAC where they intervened with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The LSAT continued to be a key criterion for law school admissions in the United States where excellence in the LSAT was highly prized. The LSAT scores are used throughout Canada and played an important role to determine how schools were ranked. There was no French language LSAT version so Quebec-based schools and University of Ottawa’s French section were not affected. Due to jurisdiction issues, Canadian school officials do not have control over LSAT’s examination policies and procedures. Lorna Turnbull, the dean of Manitoba’s Robson Hall Law School indicated such powerlessness and commented on the incredible amount of money potentially required to exclude LSAT scores for law school admission. Canadian officials are required to accommodate students in accordance with the relevant human rights legislation within their respective jurisdictions. Lorna Turnbull added that Canadian schools have suffered from such passive acceptance for quite some time. The class action lawsuit was initiated by 3 students in California and ballooned to almost 40 claimants where it prompted the United States Department of Justice to issue a consent decree to the LSAC to have breached the Americans with Disabilities Act with systemic discrimination. Sarah Triano, a teenager from the state of California and the class action initiator from 1997 was repeatedly denied accommodation due to her immune deficiency disorder and battles with depression. A piece of statistic from the Osgoode Hall Law School 2013 entering class showed 8% of the students with some sort of disability. The interviewees to the article noted accommodation was meant to create equal opportunity. Ravi Malhotra, an Ottawa law professor and human rights committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities was concerned the practice of “flagging” accommodated students infringed the human rights of Canadians.

by Ho Cheung

Source: Canadian Lawyer Mag

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Not all marriage licences are the same Mon, 02 Jun 2014 04:52:29 +0000 If you are planning on getting married anytime soon, then keep reading as you need to know that not all marriage licences are created equal.

By: Pagan Cheung, Paralegal Student. Published: Sun Jun 01 2014


Photo Credit: Kim Seidi Photography via Stacy & Jeff’s wedding

As according to the Star, the secret to saving for your wedding starts with the marriage licence. To begin planning for your wedding, the first thing you have to do is to obtain a marriage licence and the price is different for some Ontario municipalities.

According to the Ontario Marriage Act, municipalities are required to charge a minimum of $75 for a licence and $48 of this ends up back in the pockets of the province. Other than that, the municipalities can charge whatever administrative fees they feel are necessary to cover their expenses.

For instance, the city of Toronto charges $140 that “covers staff and infrastructure costs, including searches through historical records. The city issued 14,375 licences last year.”

Although it seems unfair that each municipality has the autonomy to charge different administrative fees as one would assume that the work involved for staff is basically the same, the statute does allow municipalities this flexibility in their differing fee schedules.

For better prices on marriage licences, couples should consider venturing into small towns in rural areas. They can purchase their marriage licence anywhere in Ontario no matter where they are living or where the wedding will take place.

Here is a breakdown of the prices for a marriage licence in Ontario.

Price list for Purchase of a Marriage Licence in Ontario Municipalities
 Ajax    $125
 Aurora    $145
 Brampton    $135
 Brock      $75
 Burlington    $145
 Caledon    $120
 Clarington    $125
 East Gwillimbury    $125
 Georgina    $100
 Hamilton    $141
 Markham    $147
 Milton    $161
 Mississauga    $140
 Newmarket    $125
 Niagara Falls    $125
 Oakville    $145
 Oshawa    $125
Toronto    $140


The best bargain seems to be located in the township of Brock where a marriage licence is still only the required minimum of $75 as set out in the Ontario Marriage Act.

While the drive and the cost of gas may not seem to be worth the effort for some couples, keep in mind that the licence is valid for three months from date of purchase and they can plan ahead to host their wedding near the township. While a savings of $50 may not seem like much but why not spend the money for other things, like your honeymoon?

This is exactly what many couples are doing; for instance, “Ingersoll (population of 12,000) sold 227 licences in 2013 with three-quarters of them going to out-of-town couples.”

Do you think that all Ontario municipalities should charge the same minimum rate of $75?

Please leave your comments below.

SOURCE:  Toronto Star

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Big Box Law Mon, 02 Jun 2014 03:57:27 +0000 By: Farrah Rajan

Walmart has brokered a deal with Axess Law to provide legal services in select Walmart locations. The founders of Axess Law are hoping to promote access to justice by alleviating the fear people have of consulting a lawyer. They provide a walk-in service for a small number of matters that they deal with on-site and refer matters out of their scope to other firms. With this business model, they are able to offer affordable rates and provide service in the evenings and on the weekends.

While some people may be hesitant to seek the services of a lawyer at their local Walmart, the lawyers at Axess Law are still governed by the Law Society Act and must conduct themselves accordingly. Customers buy groceries, electronics and toys from Walmart and don’t expect the items to be potentially unsafe, so why should legal services be any different? Also, Walmart already offers a number of speciality resources that require licensed staff such as pharmacy, vision, and vehicle maintenance services that contribute to their overall success.

Promoting access to justice should be a fundamental goal for all legal professionals in order to maintain the integrity of our legal system. I commend Axess Law for this endeavour and hope to see them expand their offerings in the future.

On an extremely biased side note, adding licensed paralegals to their practice would be a phenomenal step forward.


Doug Jasinski, The Office

Francine Kopun, Walmart shoppers can now get $99 wills

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“Woman’s custody battle highlights problems in legal aid system” Mon, 02 Jun 2014 03:05:52 +0000 By: Dhanvir Sohal


The article deals with a vital issue in the Canadian legal system, the lack of providing legal aid to the people in need.


Who is entitled to Legal aid?
The article states that legal aid is only being provided to the very poor which is constantly resulting in large number of cases being self represented and is causing lengthier resolution times and worse outcomes for the cases. Similarly, the article discusses the case of an office administrator at a law firm, Rhonda Nordlander, making $40,000 a year and that amount being considered high for being eligible for legal aid. The applicant states that after paying high legal fees for her initial stage for divorce and custody of her children, she is insolvent by the beginning of this year. Thereby, she was forced to self-represent upon being denied legal aid by the courts.
What criteria is considered for granting Legal Aid?
Moreover, the article also explains the steps taken by the courts to deal with the issue of scarcity of financial resources available to the courts.

The courts are “triaging” the cases to distribute legal aid among the cases that needs it the most, assessing based on:

  1.  The complexity of the case
  2. Ability of the applicant
  3. Seriousness of the case and the impact of delay on the parties involved

By considering the criteria for “triaging” the cases, the judge in the present case decided that the applicant is intelligent enough to understand the complexity of the case and by this means is being able to self represent.

What is the impact of being self-represented?
However, the applicant opposes the above view by stating that it would be beneficial for her to have a legal representative as it would result in speedier resolution times and fairer results.  The studies advocate this, stating that even the most capable individual would feel overwhelmed when self representing. Aditionally, the applicant describes the results of self-representing as causing “post traumatic court disorder” to her, causing high stress and anxiety after court appearances. The studies also support this by stating that the post court appearance disorder is highly present in the self-represented cases involving personal matters, particularly the custody of the children.

Thus, the eligibility for receiving a legal aid being a subjective criteria, leads to high number of cases in need denied legal aid and being forced to self-represent. Consequently, the large number of cases being self represented results in higher resolution times, worse outcomes and causing high level of stress and anxiety to individuals.

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Islamophobia in Canada: A Primer Wed, 08 Feb 2012 07:34:00 +0000 by Fathima Cader and Sumayya Kassamali

Ten years after September 11, 2001, the term “Islamophobia,” once largely obscure, has become all but inevitable when discussing contemporary politics. As Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden became household names, Western fear of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims has also grown. Canada has been no stranger to this phenomenon. Despite its reputation as a haven of multicultural tolerance, one 2011 poll showed that 56% of Canadians believe Western societies are in “irreconcilable conflict” with Muslim societies. 40% of the 1500 respondents approved the profiling of airplane passengers who appear Muslim.  As Canada enters its seventh year of Conservative rule, how are progressives to understand and respond to this trend?

Islamophobia relies on characterizations of Islam and its adherents as uniquely prone to certain things, such as violence and sexism, and uniquely hostile to others, such as democracy and secular government. It includes discrimination based on perceived religious identity, such that non-Muslims, including Sikhs and Arab Christians, have also been targets of anti-Muslim violence in cases of “mistaken identity.” Meanwhile, Muslims in North America who do not appear to come from the Middle East or South Asia, such as Muslims of European or East Asian descent, have been less centrally targeted in this blurry overlap of religious and racial discrimination.

In this primer, we do not attempt to cover every instance of Islamophobia in Canada in the past decade. Rather, we provide an overview of its broad assumptions, particularly focusing on two themes that have proven central to discussions about Muslims: sexism and violence.

In offering this analysis, we stress that responses to Islamophobia must be placed within the context of Canada’s ongoing conservative political shift — from its increased military engagements around the world to its anti-immigrant policies at home, and from its vast cuts in social service funding to its ever-increasing levels of state surveillance. While numerous civil liberties and human rights organizations have reported on the rise of anti-Muslim hate crimes in Canada, we emphasize that Islamophobia is not just interpersonal: it is systemic. In fighting it, therefore, we must engage with the many other forms of oppression that also organize Canadian society.


Mainstream Canadian discussions about Muslim women generally exhibit an indefatigable insistence on “liberation.” This often-militaristic saviour complex, best demonstrated by the invasion of Afghanistan, requires a willful denial of the intelligence and resilience of Muslim women.

Yet Muslim women, in surviving and resisting the intersecting forces of oppression in their lives, suffer not from a lack of leadership, but of mainstream recognition. Thus, in opposing Islamophobia, we must engage with Muslim feminist leadership. These are women who challenge both mainstream stereotypes of Muslim women and comfortable liberal conceptions of free will. Recent controversies around the niqab (face veil) and Toronto’s Valley Park Middle School offer two instructive examples of leadership by Muslim women.

Niqab: From Quebec to the Queen 

In 2010, Quebec proposed Bill 94, which would deny essential government services, public employment, education, and health care to Muslim women who wear niqab. Proponents relied on the misconception that no woman would freely choose to wear a niqab. Moreover, they insisted that women who do choose to wear the niqab must be civilized into disrobing. They argued that by forbidding women from wearing certain clothes, they were in fact protecting a woman’s right to sartorial choice.

In response, Muslim women and their allies pointed out that the Bill would legislate a culture of paranoia around the small number of women who wear the niqab by forcing them to choose between their clothes and essential government services. Further, while many Muslim women do freely choose to don various forms of veiling, legislating shame around those who veil under external pressure only reinforces their marginalization, because Bill 94 would exclude those very women from public spaces.

For instance, the Right 2 Wear group, formed in 2011, stated that “We are tired of everyone — governments, our families, religious scholars, the justice system, our peers — being obsessed with what we wear. Muslim women and girls have the right to choose how we outwardly express our faith and religion.”

On the other hand, Bill 94’s supporters include Tarek Fatah, founder of the regressive Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC). In one moment of staggering cliche, he proclaimed, “I welcome the rescue of all Muslim-Canadian women.”  Fatah has also declared that the Ontario Court of Appeal “made a fool of the Canadian judicial system and values of gender equality” for allowing a  rape victim to testify against her alleged attackers in court in the clothes in which she felt most comfortable, namely her niqab.  For all his concern for “gender equality,” Fatah refuses to acknowledge that he infantilizes Muslim women by constantly policing how they dress.

Yet however trite Fatah’s language may be, it is effective. By using liberal rhetoric as a vehicle for conservative ends, Fatah appeals to people from across the political spectrum. Thus, he has become a media darling, the go-to Muslim mascot for sexist and racist policies.

2011 was also the year that Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, famed homophobe and anti-abortion activist,  banned the niqab from citizenship ceremonies. Kenney, whose contempt for the rule of law in immigration tribunals has already invited the condemnation of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin,  harrumphed “I’m sure they’ll trump up some stupid Charter of Rights challenge.”

In January 2012, the MCC officially applauded Kenney for the ban. At that event, Raheel Raza, another MCC spokesperson, posed in a niqab only long enough to tear it off for Kenney’s benefit.  Kenney promptly used the photo-op as proof of “widespread” support. This disingenuousness is unsurprising, coming from a man who describes renowned environmental and First Nations groups who oppose tar sands development as “radical” foreign-funded saboteurs. Indeed, Kenney has managed to connect faux-feminism even with his rampant anti-environmentalism: he actively supports the Conservative-backed Ethical Oil project, on the basis that local tar sands are the only ethical alternative to importing oil from Saudi Arabia, because of its record on women’s rights.

Valley Park Middle School: A Guide on How to Liberate Young Muslim Women 

In July 2011, the Christian Heritage Party (CHP), the Jewish Defence League (JDL), and Canadian Hindu Advocacy (CHA) picketed the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), because it had allowed Muslim students to pray at Valley Park Middle School. The news went from a fringe story about extremist racists “fighting the Islamization” of the TDSB to front-page headlines when the media reported that the prayers were gender-segregated.

Public debate promptly shifted from Muslim lust for world domination to Muslim hatred for women. The liberal Toronto Star ran a column by Heather Mallick entitled, “Time for someone to speak up for shy young girls.”’s Women’s Rights administrators, Shelby Knox and Alex DiBranco, disseminated a petition opposing the prayer arrangement created by a fan of far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders (whose fan-base also includes Anders Breivik, the white supremacist Oslo terrorist). That petition has yet to have secured the support of a single Muslim women’s organization, least of all the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, whose name the website touts. In an email, DiBranco stated that “the petition itself has done better than many other actions we’ve emailed on,” missing the fact that prevalence of Islamophobia in North America is precisely what makes their petition possible and so popular.

Shortly thereafter, the CHA crowed on Twitter, “Thx to CHA, Islamist mysogyny [sic] in TDSB schools exposed. We hope once we liberate Muslim women from oppression, they’ll thank us.”  (The JDL, CHP, and CHA commemorated the tenth anniversary of 9/11 with a gathering at TDSB headquarters.)

Liberal or conservative, these positions are sexist. They assume that not only do Muslim women have no voices, their voices must — for their own good — be supplanted by those of their would-be saviours. In other words, these self-appointed saviours would rescue Muslim women not only from the male Muslim oppressors ever implicit in their lives, but even from themselves.

Accordingly, despite all the hand-wringing over the fate of poor Muslim women, public discourse failed to feature the perspectives or actions of the Muslim students at Valley Park. It is especially insulting to the young Muslim women — the so-called “shy young girls of tender age” — who bore the task of confronting the racist protestors’ hate, such as the anonymous Muslim middle-school students captured onYouTube footage  and on CityTV.

Yet female Muslim community organizers rallied together around Valley Park, as they do every day on the myriad of issues that impinge on the ability of all women in Canada to access substantive equality. From deputations at Toronto City Hall against proposed cuts to social service funding to community mobilizations to ensure shelters and schools are sanctuaries safe from the deportation-crazed Canadian Border Services Agency to classrooms across this country, from their homes and from their workplaces, these women are activists and community leaders who have amassed an awe-inspiring collection of histories and strategies.

Discussions about what gender-equitable prayer spaces would look like are ongoing within diverse Muslim communities. After all, it is Muslim women who have direct experience grappling with sexism in their prayer spaces and in organizing those spaces into arrangements that meet their needs. This work is deeply inspiring for the examples it provides of principled feminist solidarity. The courage and creativity of that work is entirely lost in a mainstream framing that persists in depicting Muslim women as devoid of strength or intelligence.

It is vital that leftists, when feeling flames of righteous rage on behalf of Muslim women (or other marginalized groups), do their research. For one thing, it is not enough to have allies, if our allies have proven themselves racist and sexist. For another, we need to acknowledge that the Muslim women most affected by the issue of the month were dealing with it long before the media ever picked it up, and that they will have already developed a diversity of perspectives and strategies.

Above all, if “solidarity” is to mean anything, we must remember to take leadership from marginalized voices, not space: feminism’s role is to facilitate, not liberate.


In a nationally-broadcast interview with Stephen Harper that marked the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the Prime Minister warned that “Islamicism” — a word he appears to have personally coined — offers the greatest current threat to Canadian security.  (His office later clarified he was referring to the threat of Islamic militants.) Harper attempted to qualify his statement by saying his comments were not applicable to all Muslims; however, a decade into the seemingly unending “War on Terror,” his words come as no surprise to an audience accustomed to constant warnings about the impending Muslim threat.

Indeed the most instinctual aspect of Islamophobia is to associate Islam with violence. Accordingly, an awe-inspiring amount of popular and academic attention has been devoted to proving Islam’s supposedly unique propensity for violence, whether by pointing to Qur’anic edicts that preach jihad or to cultural proclivities towards irrational destruction. The global rise of geopolitical actors espousing ideologies of power that use the language of Islam has made these assumptions hard to shake off. From Iran to Iraq, Palestine to Kashmir, New York to London: what is it with these Muslims? Why do they always seem to be killing? Must we not defend ourselves in response?

It is worth noting that these claims are not limited to celebrated racists like Canadian writer Mark Steyn or US political commentator Daniel Pipes. The more palatable liberal version of this claim simply differentiates between the good Muslims and the bad. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful — it is simply a rotten minority that threaten our freedoms.

Hence many Muslim figureheads (including mainstream leaders, not simply fringe groups like the Muslim Canadian Congress) regularly rush to condemn any global act of violence committed by Muslims, often explicitly dismissing the very Muslimness of the perpetrators. The Islamic Supreme Council of Canada responded to Harper’s remarks about “Islamicism” by demanding he apologize because “the actions of fanatics do not represent Islamic beliefs.” Muslim community leaders repeatedly reassure us that anyone who perpetrates “terrorism” simply cannot be Muslim, because Islam is a religion that preaches peace, compassion and respect for the sanctity of human life.

While this reading of Islamic edicts may have its own merit, it simplistically assumes that events in the world can be read at face value and are not the product of complex social and political factors. Acts of war declared by liberal capitalist states are rarely interpreted as the result of liberal ideology, but violence framed in Islamic language is regularly taken at face value as if it were exclusively motivated by religion — at best a tragically incorrect religious interpretation.

The only room for response left by such an approach is the promotion of “correct” religious interpretations (those that look comfortably peaceful and patriotic), and the acceptance of state involvement in policing the internal affairs of Muslim communities. The call for precisely such interventions can be found in reports by Canada’s Integrated Threat Assessment Centre (ITAC), a body created in 2004 to monitor a range of foreign and domestic threats to Canadian security.

In 2010, a declassified ITAC report argued that Canadian Islamists are building “parallel societies,” in which Muslim organizations “do not advocate terrorist violence but promote an ideology at odds with core Western values.” The report stated, “The creation of [these] isolated communities can spawn groups that are exclusivist and potentially open to messages in which violence is advocated… At a minimum, the existence of such mini-societies undermines resilience and the fostering of a cohesive Canadian nation.” Thus the key concern of this report is not Islamists plotting imminent attacks. Rather, we are warned that these domestic Muslims, although not (yet) violent, threaten the nation-building project of Canada itself. Hence the report argues, “Islamist social ideology appears to have gone unstudied”, and calls for greater government attention to be directed at how Muslims think, communicate, and organize their day-to-day lives.

It is important that we question what the accusation of isolation refers to here. Surely it does not mean the withdrawal of Muslims from all social life, since it is near impossible to live in Canada without some connection to a range of public and private institutions, participation in the economy, and interaction with members of an impressively diverse population. Indeed none of the groups described in the report advocate the building of self-sustainable, Muslim-only communes.

On the contrary, many directly invoke laws and regulations of the Canadian state in an attempt to participate more fully within it. This is evident in requests for Muslim legal codes to be permitted for consideration within family courts, and for private Muslim schools to receive government funding comparable to schools of other religious denominations. The perceived threat to the nation is therefore not that Muslims are outside the reach of state power. Rather, it is about ideas that are allegedly incompatible with the dominant ideology of Canada. The threat is the possibility of thinking a certain way, one seen as resulting from particular Islamic teachings.

Left Response 

Yet the critical question for leftists is not whether or not the Qur’an in fact advocates violence, or what particular forms of religious practice (for example, arranged marriages or sanctifying martyrdom) will result in threats to Canadian security. Such questions should be entirely irrelevant to our response to Islamophobia. Instead, a critical left should make a two-fold response.

First, we must refuse to allow the dominant powers in society to define violence. Violence is not and will never be the sole prerogative of Islamist groups, whether theocratic states like Iran, political parties like Hamas or loose international networks like Al-Qaeda (each of which, it must be pointed out, have different relationships to violence themselves).

In turn, we must constantly draw attention to the forms of structural violence that give rise to the many conflicts that now fill our world. What historical injustices have led to our current political moment? What is it that allows outrage at the Taliban exploding roadside bombs in Afghanistan but celebrates Canada’s role in the NATO bombardment of Libya as laudatory humanitarianism? How can the prolonged refusal by the Canadian government to bring Omar Khadr, captured at the age of fifteen, home from Guantánamo Bay be considered anything other than an egregious violation of human rights, comparable to actions so often used to stigmatize repressive states of the Muslim world?

This response often meets accusations of simplification: all violence is surely not the same. Certainly it is not enough to respond to the claim, “(Some) Muslims are violent” by arguing, “Others are violent too!” What is important here is not to simplistically equate all forms of violence, but to reject the assumption that “Islamic fundamentalism” is a uniquely violent threat that characterizes our contemporary world.

Although many progressives readily acknowledge other forms of religious fundamentalism to compare alongside Islam, we must also insist on naming the violences committed by those who claim secularism, liberalism, and democracy as their ideologies. And as a settler-colonial state born out of the genocide and land-theft of its indigenous population, a process that continues to this day, it is precisely this foundational violence that makes the Canadian state itself possible.

At the same time, we must pay attention to the specificities of groups broadly characterized as violent. It is because Hamas is not Iran and Al-Qaeda is not the Toronto 18 that categories such as “Islamic fundamentalism” or “Islamist violence” are meaningless explanatory frameworks.

The second part of a critical left response to statements like Harper’s must be a constant awareness of what the state implements in the name of our protection. Inciting popular fear about the threat of radical Islam does more than simply portray Muslims in a certain way, or blur distinctions between diverse movements framed as Islamist. It also elicits a specific response.

As we have seen, the state’s response has meant a dramatic increase in the surveillance and policing of Muslim communities across the US and Canada. A recent Mother Jones report found that since 9/11 the FBI has spent billions of dollars creating a vast network of paid informants tasked with infiltrating the Muslim community in the US. Similarly, in Canada local mosques have for years been recordingincreased attempts at CSIS recruitment, with undercover informants sent to record sermons or tempt mosque-goers with cash in exchange for insider information.

Harper’s declaration that he intends to bring back parliamentary measures that give police greater powers to arrest and detain in cases of alleged terrorist threats should cause us all great concern. Above all, we must build alliances in ways that reflect a principled opposition to the discriminatory treatment of a few in the name of our collective security.


In many ways, the examination of Islamophobia is a study in contradictions: Muslims are at once subject to acute scrutiny and to willful erasure from public discourse. Perceived as inherently dangerous to a rigidly static conception of “Canadian values,” the Canadian government uses the active presence of Muslims (alongside other stigmatized communities) in the public sphere to justify ever-increasing state intrusion into the private recesses of all our lives.

Simultaneously, state and pop culture obsessions with “unveiling” Muslims for the barbarians that they supposedly are remain grounded in deeply gendered biases. The foil to the frightful Muslim male is the silent Muslim woman, she who awaits liberation at the hands of Canadian armies and legislation. In its very racism, the effect is anti-feminist, because it relentlessly disregards the work Muslim women undertake everyday to defy sexism.

Of course, as with all forms of systemic discrimination, Islamophobia operates to reinforce other forms of oppression. It is worth keeping in mind what the Congress of Progressive Filipino Canadians has recently argued: “Amidst heavy-handed and punitive actions such as the burqa ban, we must seriously begin to scrutinize a state multiculturalism that, on the one hand, acknowledges diversity on paper, yet on the other, is used to justify racist and anti-immigrant practices as perpetuated by government policy. In light of recent developments, we must understand the actions taken by the Conservative government as part of a tactic to divide the Canadian working class, deny citizenship, maintain temporariness and to spark anti-immigrant sentiments while pushing forward austerity measures as part of the neoliberal agenda.”

Thus, we should be committed to principled solidarities, where we work in conjunction with marginalized communities – even in the face of differences that may invite uncertainty. In the end, it is only through collective struggle that we can envision the possibility of a radically new tomorrow.

This article original appeared in the New Socialist Webzine.

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Review of Dennis Edney’s Lecture, “The Rule of Law in an Age of Terror” Fri, 23 Sep 2011 21:10:52 +0000 “Human rights have a dysfunctional relationship with justice. The language is certainly beautiful, but it’s all dressed up with nowhere to go,” charged Dennis Edney in a scathing lecture at the Faculty of Law at UBC on September 15.

Edney worked from 2004 to 2011 on Omar Khadr’s defence against charges stemming from the July 2002 firefight death of a US soldier. Khadr, who is Canadian, was 15 at the time. American forces interrogated him for three months in the US-operated Bagram Theatre Detention Facility in Afghanistan, before transferring him to Guantanamo Bay, where he remains. In 2005, Khadr’s chief interrogator from Bagram, US Sergeant Joshua Claus, was found guilty of offences relating to the routine torture and homicide of Bagram prisoners. Claus received a five-month prison sentence. He testified at Khadr’s military trial in 2010.

In April 2009, the Federal Court ruled that Canada was complicit in the US’s torture of Khadr and ordered Ottawa to seek his repatriation. The Federal Court of Appeal concurred, but the Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that though Canada was violating Khadr’s human rights, it was not obliged to seek his repatriation.

In October 2010, after insisting on his innocence for years, Khadr pled guilty in a military trial to terrorism-related offences, in exchange for a promise from Canada to repatriate him by October 2011 to serve the rest of his prison sentence in Canada. On September 20, the Conservatives tabled the controversial omnibus Bill C-10, which adds “additional criteria” to decisions about “whether or not to allow the transfer of a Canadian offender back to Canada to serve their sentence.”

Shortly after the trial, Edney declared that Khadr “would have confessed to anything, including the killing of John F. Kennedy, just to get out of this hellhole” and that if he had refused, Khadr would have been faced with “an unfair [military] trial based on evidence that would be inadmissible in a real court.” On Thursday, Edney said the detainees are entitled “to all kinds of international protections, but our governments are not asking for them. And by not asking, we become complicit.” There are nearly 800 prisoners in Guantanamo, but only 4 have been charged and given a trial. Detainees cannot see the evidence used against them.

In his lecture, Edney denounced the Canadian government for perpetuating a culture of fear in the camp’s defence. Edney stated that “since there has always historically been terrorism, and since there will always be terrorist threats, this war on terror – if allowed to be one – is unlike any other, because it is never-ending.” Thus, last decade has been marred by “habeas corpus being abandoned, secret courts being created to hear secret evidence, guilt inferred by association, torture and rendition nakedly justified.”

“I went into Guantanamo Bay as a lawyer and I came out as a broken father,” said Edney. “I never thought that in my lifetime I would go to such an evil place and see such evil being done.” Of the infamous cages, Edney said that “people go into those cages thinking they’re having a holiday in there.” He drew attention to Camps 5, 6, and 7. The first two are “designed for enhanced interrogation tactics: torture.” He said about Camp 7 that “We are not allowed to talk about it. We have prisoners in there who came from Europe, about a year and a half ago, and they’re going to be there forever, because there’s no one there to help.”

Edney discussed the 9/11 witch hunt, in which “the US government detained hundreds, if not thousands, of people of colour on the suspicion of terrorist activity, some of them up to a year, all without charges.” He continued that “almost none of those individuals were found to have been in any way connected with terrorism. Yet many continue to be held without being formally charged with any crime or immigration violation.” In this way Guantanamo “provides powerful evidence of how America and the West are making war on terror synonymous with the war on Islam. No white Anglo-Saxon goes to Guantanamo Bay. Any American picked up for terrorism offences gets due process in a federal court system in New York.”

One audience member suggested that the camp must serve some purpose, because otherwise US President Barrack Obama would have followed through on his promise to shut it down. Edney responded that the camp primarily functions as “an important propaganda tool.” He argued the Obama administration has in fact “systematised” the culture of torture normalised under George W. Bush, for instance by disallowing victims of extraordinary rendition from suing Washington for torture suffered overseas.

Edney was also critical of “lazy” media and academics who have persisted in “slotting events into a sort of juicy clash of civilisations story,” as exemplified by mainstream media coverage of Anders Behring Breivik’s terrorist attack in Oslo. He killed 69 people in July, avowedly to protect Europe from Muslims. Edney said, “as soon as the bomb went off, media organisations began reporting on jihadist organisations.” This, he said, “fit perfectly the story we have all been telling each other since 9/11 that who else, who else could be so hateful, so crazy, so disrespectful of life but Muslims.” He pointed out that though Breivik is a white Norwegian Christian, “we don’t hold Christians or conservatives or liberals responsible for Brievek’s despicable acts.”

He said that “since September 11 2001, race, ethnicity, and religion have become proxies for suspected terrorist activity, which in turn has become a pretext for the application of Canadian immigration laws in an unequal manner towards Arabs, South Asians, Muslims and so on.” In an apparent nod to Bill C-4, the anti-refugee bill that the Conservatives tabled on Tuesday despite widespread condemnation, he noted that “we just have to listen to media descriptions coming out of Ottawa when we talk about refugees today. We call them queue jumpers and potential terrorists.”

Edney also expressed anger at the public’s willingness to be lulled into complicity. He described the transfer of the prisoners to Guantanamo “in rows in aircraft, hooded and shackled for transportation across the Atlantic” as similar to eighteenth century slave ships. He maintained that for “the watching world, no knowledge of international humanitarian conventions is needed to understand that what was being witnessed was simply unlawful.” He blamed public apathy for “allowing anti-Muslim sentiment to become part of our mainstream conversations.” He said, “I say to you we cannot tackle manifestations of intolerance, unless we learn and understand how the constant use of fear pervades our everyday life, and how that fear is being used to influence how you and I think and how you and I act. It’s that same manipulation of fear that has allowed military escapades into countries beyond those who bombed the twin towers. It is that same message that has been exploited by participating countries to reduce civil liberties and infringe upon human rights by allowing such places as Guantanamo Bay to exist.”

The need for action had been a prevailing theme throughout the lecture. Edney returned to it at his lecture’s close: “Not only does it [Guantanamo] continue to exist, they continue building it. Guantanamo is going to be there for a long, long time, unless you do something. Unless you really do something about it.” He concluded that “the only crime equal to wilful inhumanity is the crime of indifference, the crime of silence, the crime of forgetting.”

In that vein, we cannot afford to forget that Guantanamo Bay’s precedents in the West include Canada’s own internment camps, built in BC expressly to detain Japanese-Canadians during WWII. Similarly, Bill C-4’s predecessors include the Chinese head-tax policy.

Intervenors for Insite Sat, 19 Feb 2011 07:40:16 +0000 IHRA joins International Coalition Intervening to save Vancouver Safe-Injection Site:

An international coalition of harm reduction experts — comprised of the International Harm Reduction Association (IHRA), the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, and CACTUS Montréal — has today been granted intervener status to appear before the Supreme Court of Canada to support Insite, Vancouver’s supervised injection site, against the Canadian government’s attempts to shutter it. […]
Adding insult to injury, a 2009 provincially funded report acknowledging the benefits of safe-injection sites and calling for their implementation was recently revealed to have been suppressed for a full year by Quebec’s Minister of Health. Despite this climate of resistance, CACTUS has announced its intention to open a supervised injection site in Montréal later this year.

SCC on Funding Orders Fri, 18 Feb 2011 20:55:03 +0000 Funding orders must be exceptional, says the Supreme Court:

‘For the first time the Supreme Court has ruled that superior courts are empowered to order governments to fund public interest litigation before statutory courts and tribunals. […]

Brodsky suggested that “if governments don’t want the courts to attempt to deal with the problems that have been created by cuts to access-to-justice programs, then governments need to address the gaps themselves.”

She told The Lawyers Weekly “the possibility of obtaining an interim cost award can never replace the Court Challenges Program, or civil legal aid programs, that have been decimated in places like B.C. The limitations of the case-by-case cost-seeking approach are underscored by the decision in Caron in that the court confirmed that interim cost awards must be ‘highly exceptional.’ However, in reality, the circumstances in which the absence of public funding works a serious injustice are not highly exceptional. Such circumstances have become very ordinary in Canada.”’

Access Copyright: Outrageous and Unnecessary Wed, 09 Feb 2011 00:35:14 +0000 As a UWO student (and at many other Canadian universities,) you automatically pay an annual fee to an organization called Access Copyright. An item is included in your student activity fee, and it used to be $3.38 per student per year, plus an amount based on the number of photocopies made at library photocopy machines. However, when the licence agreement expired last year, Access Copyright did not seek to renegotiate with UWO. Instead, it applied to the Copyright Board for a massive restructuring of the agreement. If the Board approves the request, Access Copyright would receive $45 per student per year. With 30,000 full-time students, this amounts to $1.35 million annually. But that’s not all. Access Copyright would also have the right to surveillance: Section 14 (4) of the proposed licence agreement states that:

The Educational Institution shall give Access Copyright, on reasonable notice, right of access through-out the Educational Institution’s premises in order to organize and carry out an audit, including full access to the Secure Network and all Course Collections.

This would include access to university email accounts.

There are a number of problems with the Access Copyright regime. First of all, every university student is presumed to be infringing copyright and this seems very unlikely given the Fair Dealing rights in the Canadian Copyright Act that expressly permit the copying of non-substantial portions of a work for the purpose of private study. As well, the university is presumed to be responsible for the presumed copyright infringement by students. This is contrary to the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in CCH Canadian Limited v. Law Society of Upper Canada, [2004] 1 S.C.R. 339.CCD, which held that a library is NOT responsible for copyright infringement merely by providing access to photocopiers.

What is more troubling, though, is that by paying Access Copyright, our fair dealing rights become meaningless.

We are paying even though there is probably not much substantial copying taking place, and if this becomes the norm, fair dealing rights could be removed from the Copyright Act for the simple reason that no one behaves as if there is such a thing. Access Copyright denies flatly that they want to charge for non-substantial copying, but this does not square with the section 3 of the proposed licence agreement:

3. Subject to compliance with each of the conditions in Sections 4 and 5, this tariff entitles an Authorized Person for Authorized Purposes only, to
(a) make a Copy of up to ten per cent (10%) of a Repertoire Work;
(b) make a Copy of up to twenty per cent (20%) of a Repertoire Work only as part of a Course Collection; or
(c) make a Copy of a Repertoire Work that is

(i) an entire newspaper or periodical article or page,
(ii) a single short story, play, poem, essay or article,
(iii) an entire entry from an encyclopaedia, annotated bibliography, dictionary or similar reference work,
(iv) an entire reproduction of an artistic work (including a drawing, painting, print, photograph and    reproduction of a work of sculpture, an architectural work of art and a work of artistic craftsmanship), and
(v) one chapter, provided it is no more than twenty per cent (20%) of a book.

How else can this provision be interpreted? The university would be paying for permission to make non-substantial copies which are permitted without payment under the Copyright Act. We would be paying for our Fair Dealing rights.

Another problem is the bully-factor. This organization is not negotiating in good faith with the University, but threatening law suits instead and negotiating via an application to the Copyright Board – a rather passive-aggressive manoeuvre. By paying this organization, we are enabling it with massive financial resources and providing an enormous financial incentive to ‘discover’ new ways to ‘extort’ funds from university students … and the justifications can be based upon the results of spying on our email accounts.

The Access Copyright regimes treats scholarly works as if they were pop-songs broadcasted on the radio for a big fat profit when in fact University libraries are expensive, profitless resources for private study. The vast majority of scholarly works in these libraries are written by university professors and graduate students who aren’t looking for royalties. The main policy reason behind Fair Dealing rights is to prevent copyright law from inhibiting the intellectual development and sharing of knowledge within our society. The entire Access Copyright regime is an effort to push back against this reasoning. It is a kind of intellectual enclosure movement.

The University of Western is committed to this regime going forward. It proactively collected $15 per student last September on the assumption that the Copyright Board would ordain a fee of something less than $45 per student but substantially more than the $3.38 under the expired agreement. By doing so, UWO demonstrated its willingness to accept the surveillance, and the presumption of copyright infringement and the presumption of legal responsibility for the infringement.

The university has a choice. The licence agreement is optional and UWO can walk away from it. It would make much more sense to charge students a modest fee which would go to the libraries to implement procedures and negotiate licence agreements with publishers to ensure that students have the resources they need without exposing the University to the risk of law suits. If CCH has any force, Access Copyright is on very shaky legal ground. Quite simply, we don’t need Access Copyright.

NOTE: Access Copyright is trying to force all universities to sign on. Get informed & get involved. Join the FaceBook group ‘Fair Copyright Western

For more information:

What legal scholars are saying:

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The Inhumanity of Refugee Detention Camps in the West Sat, 22 Jan 2011 08:42:54 +0000 What makes this ruling is significant is that a high court is here recognising that the detention camps in which refugees are held in the West can themselves be inhumane to the point of that sending people to them would be illegal. This is of particular relevance for analyses of Australia’s detention camps, which arguably some of the worst worldwide; the abuses are such that they’re driving more and more of the refugees to suicide and hunger strikes (some by sewing their mouths shut).

Human rights court slams EU asylum policy as inhumane

In a landmark ruling the European Court for Human Rights has criticized the EU’s asylum policy. It said forcing refugees to apply for asylum in the country of their entry into the EU was inhumane.

The European Court for Human Rights on Friday ruled illegal the deportation of an asylum seeker from Belgium to Greece.

The Afghan national first entered the European Union in Greece but then traveled to Belgium to apply for asylum there. Under current EU regulations, asylum applications must be processed in the country of entry into the 27-nation bloc.

Yet the judges at Europe’s top human rights court said that the appalling conditions in Greek refugee camps were inhumane and humiliating – and most importantly that Belgium was aware of those conditions but still sent the Afghan back.

The court ruling could mean that the European Union will have to rethink its entire asylum policy.

“This is a historic moment for the protection of Human Rights,” Marei Pelzer of rights group ProAsyl told Deutsche Welle.

“The ruling will have fundamental consequences in so far as the EU can not simply pretend that the situation with regards to asylum seekers is the same in all EU member states. And it’s crucial that refugees should not be forced to stay in Greece just because Greece happens to be the country where most of them arrive.”

Almost 90 percent of all illegal border crossings into the EU take place via Greece. The country has repeatedly come under fire for appalling living conditions in its refugee camps.

Human rights groups have long been calling for a more coherent EU policy that would make all member countries responsible for asylum cases in the same way.

Appalling conditions in Greece

The circumstances and procedures that refugees are exposed to in Greece are the worst in Europe, according to a recent report on asylum seekers by rights group Amnesty International.

The European Commission has also already proposed a reform to the current regulation in an effort to take some of the pressure off countries such as Greece, Italy and Malta, which see the main influx of refugees from outside the EU.

Germany has so far rejected the Commission’s proposals for reform yet rights groups hope that the Strasbourg ruling will have Berlin rethink its position. But Reinhard Grindel, member of parliament for Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democrats insists the solution to the problem in Greece has to be fixed by Athens rather than by watering down EU regulations.

“All EU member states guarantee the international human rights standards,” he told Deutsche Welle. “We do have one problem case, and that’s Greece. However, what this means is not that we have to change EU rules but rather that Athens has to get its house in order.”

“For Germany a change to the current EU regulations would be a catastrophe,” he warned. “It would mean a flood of asylum seekers coming to Germany. And that’s something that everyone who now calls for changes of EU rules has to realize.”

And yet, to a certain extent, Germany has already changed its position. Berlin earlier this week announced that for one year it would stop sending back any refugees to Greece, because of what Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere described as “appalling conditions” for refugees there.

Britain, Iceland, Norway and Sweden have also stopped sending refugees back to Greece.