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< class="what-entry-title">Welcome to our new staff!>
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We’re pleased to welcome Aisha Weaver, Leila Toledo, and Sambriddhi Nepal to the BCCLA team! Please join us in extending them a warm welcome, and learn more about them below.


Aisha Weaver, Policy Director

Aisha Weaver joined the BC Civil Liberties Association as the Policy Director in April 2020. Aisha is responsible for directing and developing the policy work of the BCCLA. She is passionate about advocating for the civil liberties and human rights of all Canadians, and particularly marginalized and vulnerable people.

Aisha’s commitment to social justice is long standing. Aisha has researched, written, advised and advocated on a variety of human rights and civil liberties issues, including state accountability, corporate accountability, access to justice, discrimination, equality, prisoners’ rights, conflict resolution, socio-economic rights, land rights, property rights, women’s rights, and labour rights in various contexts around the world. Aisha has worked with communities on these issues in Canada, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, South Africa, and the US. 

Most recently, Aisha served as General Counsel of Strategic Initiatives at a leading health care center and non-profit in Canada. Aisha holds a JD from Columbia University School of Law, LLM from the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, and BSc in Economics & International Development from Tulane University. Aisha is called to the bar of Ontario, has applied to transfer to the bar of British Columbia, and is a member of the New York State bar.


Leila Toledo, Director of People and Operations

Leila Toledo joined the BCCLA in 2020 as the Director of People and Operations. She was born and raised in Mexico before becoming a settler in unceded Coast Salish territories. Leila has over seven years of experience in the not-for-profit Arts sector. Her background ranges from administrative support for small business to large event and project management. She has worked for the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, where she served the human resources and financial operations with a lens in accessibility, inclusion, and system development. She is an avid reader of fiction and gender theory and is passionate about her involvement in social change.

Leila holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy from the University of British Columbia.


Sambriddhi Nepal, Supporter Engagement and Development Manager

Sambriddhi is a fundraising and communications professional with almost a decade of experience in the non-profit sector. Prior to working at the BCCLA, she worked at WAVAW Rape Crisis Centre. Sambriddhi’s greatest professional joys come from creating content that inspire people to take action for something they believe in.

Sambriddhi is a settler on Coast Salish Territories. She was born in Nepal and lived in 6 different developing countries before immigrating to Canada in 2009. She is an avid reader, and hopes to add “Host of a Well-Attended Book Club” to her list of achievements in the future.

< class="what-entry-title">Our new Communications and Development Volunteers!>
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Join us in welcoming our Winter 2020 Communications and Development volunteers. Zoe and Joeveen will be supporting our work in outreach, fundraising, and events. We are very excited to have them on the BCCLA team!

Joeveen is a graduate from the University of British Columbia where she completed a B.A. in Political Science. Throughout her academic journey, she has participated in countless volunteer opportunities, including an internship in community engagement at Amnesty International. In her free time, Joeveen enjoys playing in a Rec multisport league with her family and friends, and exploring all the beauty British Columbia has to offer. She hopes her previous volunteer, work, and academic experiences, alongside her passion for human rights will assist her in making a meaningful contribution to BCCLA’s work and creating a lasting positive impact.


Zoe (she/hers) is a racialized queer settler living on the stolen lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and səl̓ílwətaʔɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) peoples. She is keenly interested in the relationship between narratives of law and histories of marginalized peoples. She deeply appreciates the work that the BCCLA does to defend and extend human rights and civil liberties. After completing her undergraduate at UBC studying History and Philosophy, Zoe is thrilled to join the team at the BCCLA as a volunteer.

 

< class="what-entry-title">“CBSA is Not a Fair or Accountable Agency”:Why We Need Canada Border Services Agency Oversight>
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Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) officers have vast powers of arrest, detention, search and seizure, and questioning of travellers. Enforcing Canadian customs and immigration laws, CBSA has even wider powers than police agencies. One of the most significant of these powers is the detention and arrest of non-citizens without requiring a warrant. There have been a number of deaths of migrants and refugees in immigration detention, where detainees face prolonged and cruel confinement, and countless public incidents of CBSA officer misconduct.

Every major police agency in Canada has some form of independent oversight. Yet, despite its immense powers, there is no independent civilian oversight body to review CBSA policies or investigate officer misconduct. For the past several years, BCCLA has been advocating and campaigning for CBSA oversight. This is a small but necessary step towards ensuring CBSA accountability and independent oversight, though much more needs to be done to tackle the systemic marginalization and exclusion of migrants and refugees created by Canadian immigration enforcement policies.

In February 2020, Parliament tabled Bill C-3: An Act to amend the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act and the Canada Border Services Agency Act. Bill C-3 proposes the establishment of an independent and civilian review and complaints function overseeing CBSA. The Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), which currently oversees the RCMP, would take on additional responsibilities of oversight over CBSA and be renamed the Public Complaints and Review Commission.

I spoke with Mexican refugee Karla Lottini about why CBSA oversight is necessary and with BCCLA Policy Staff Counsel Latoya Farrell about CBSA oversight proposed in Bill C-3.

Harsha: What has been your experience with CBSA and why is CBSA oversight needed?

Karla Lottini

Karla: CBSA is not a fair or accountable agency. I dealt with CBSA when I had a deportation order. I was a refugee fleeing political persecution from Mexico and seeking safety. Canada initially refused my refugee claim and I was facing deportation. Eventually, I won my humanitarian and compassionate claim thanks to grassroots groups and my lawyer. But while I was facing deportation, I had to deal with CBSA and it was a bad experience. They didn’t believe that I was fearing for my life. They treated me with complete suspicion and all I heard about was their plans to kick me out of the country. It was very stressful and intimidating for my family and I because CBSA officers are armed and have complete control over the fate of our lives. Their attitude is very “my country, I decide” kind of attitude. They were very aggressive and, as a non-Canadian, I didn’t feel I had any rights or I could complain anywhere. The power imbalance is huge.

A few years later, I was very involved in seeking justice for Lucía Vega Jiménez. Lucia was a 42-year old Mexican migrant who hung herself in the Immigration Holding Centre in Vancouver. She died in CBSA custody, but CBSA never revealed details about her death to the public until another detainee contacted us and then we had a huge campaign and forced CBSA to admit there was a death in custody. We also had to fight for an inquest into Lucia’s death, and the BC Coroner’s Inquest found there were many mistakes made by CBSA and their contractors. How many other Lucia’s are there that we don’t know about? How many other immigrants and refugees are being denied critical mental health services? How many other people are being unfairly deported without being informed of their legal rights or being detained under unjust conditions without any recourse or investigation?

Harsha: Yes, the BC Corners Inquest raised a number of issues surrounding Lucia Vega Jiménez’s death in CBSA custody. Some of the issues, as you outlined, were CBSA’s failure to provide adequate mental health supports for Lucia, failure to advise Lucia of a legal application she could make to stop her deportation, failure to advise the public of her death, and the explosive revelation that CBSA contractors had falsified their reports about supervision of the detention facility. Among other findings, the Inquest found “there is no independent, realistic method for immigrants to bring forward concerns or complaints.”

Karla: It is very hard to bring forward concerns or complaints. In my professional employment, I work with newcomer immigrant and refugee children. The fear and trauma they experience is every day. The humanitarian image we project about Canada is not a reality. So many people come here and are rejected, like I was until I fought and went public with my situation. Many of the children I work with know that CBSA has told their families that they cannot remain in the country. CBSA criminalizes people; people are handcuffed, jailed, treated with suspicion, and made to feel like they have no right to asylum.

CBSA is considered ‘not as bad’ as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the US but it really is similar. Homes and workplaces are raided, families are separated, and people are detained and deported. You can be detained just for being a flight risk or looking suspicious. The browner you are, the more likely you are to be stopped and profiled. You are even more susceptible if you are poor. I know a journalist from Ayotzinapa, Mexico who was detained by CBSA. He was given no real reason. He showed them all his work credentials but they still didn’t allow him entry. CBSA officers kept saying “you don’t have enough money” and “you don’t look like a journalist.” I have been here eleven years and I am still waiting to see the truly welcoming culture that Canada likes to talk about. People are welcoming, but powerful agencies like CBSA are not.


Harsha: Latoya, what are some of your perspectives on why people in Canada should care about CBSA accountability and oversight?

Latoya Farrell, BCCLA Staff Counsel (Policy)

Latoya: Once, while I was living in the UK with a student visa, I traveled to Amsterdam. My student visa came in the form of a student card and I did not notice when it fell in the hotel room in Amsterdam. When I landed back in the UK, I realized I did not have my student card. The immigration and customs officer told me, “I can’t let you back in.” I showed him my passport, but he insisted on seeing the card. Panic set into me. I was a student, I had no money on me, all my stuff was in the school, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was sweating in panic. They eventually verified my identity and let me in but those three minutes felt like three years.

My experience wasn’t in Canada, but we can think about similar experiences happening to travellers in Canada, and especially for refugees who are more vulnerable. It should concern all of us that refugees seeking a life raft of survival or a beacon of hope are impacted by a powerful border services agency, which has no oversight or complaint process.

Harsha: Can you explain key components of Bill C-3?

Latoya: The main purpose of the Bill is to propose the establishment of an oversight body over CBSA, which is the only major law enforcement agency in Canada with no independent oversight.

There are significant issues with Bill C-3 that fall short of robust and meaningful oversight. The Bill will roll oversight into the CRCC, which is already under-resourced and has a significant backlog when it comes to complaints about the RCMP. Another issue is that third party complaints may not be permitted under Bill C-3, even though third party complaints are essential given the marginalization and vulnerability of refugees and people without secure status. People without secure status may feel afraid to complain about CBSA officers, or may even be deported and not in a realistic position to file a complaint. Third party complaints also tend to point to wider systemic issues, beyond an individual officer’s misconduct, which is essential to advancing the public interest. The Bill also needs to be more robust with respect to policy-based complaints. Systemic policy-based complaints about CBSA, and not just complaints about individual officers, should be explicitly permitted in order for the oversight process to be meaningful. This includes a review of CBSA policies such as indefinite detention, warrantless search and seizure, treatment of detainees, and more.

It is imperative that the government establish a meaningful and robust independent oversight body so that the most vulnerable in our society have their rights, dignity, and humanity protected when interacting with an agency with as much power as the CBSA. The model proposed in Bill C-3 does not achieve this. Passing this bill in its current state would significantly undermine principles like justice, protection of the most vulnerable, and holding law enforcement bodies accountable for their actions.


< class="what-entry-title">A Thank You Message from Harsha Walia, BCCLA Executive Director>

Dear friends and supporters,

Thank you for the warm welcome I have received as I step into the role of the Executive Director of the BCCLA.

I have partnered with the BCCLA for many years. During that time, I observed the association work within coalitions and alongside community groups to achieve important victories such as the right to a physician assisted death, striking down indefinite solitary confinement laws, and challenging an unaccountable border enforcement agency. Now, in my first month in the BCCLA office, I have witnessed first-hand the team at BCCLA, including our extraordinary staff, dedicated volunteers, committed pro-bono counsel, and passionate board members, doing critical work to advance civil liberties and human rights every single day.

I am thrilled to join the organization at such an exciting time – with a vision to be effective and ethical through strategic litigation, law and policy reform, public legal education, and community relations. As you know, the organization now has its first strategic plan in place to guide our work on strengthening democratic rights, resisting rising authoritarianism, advocating for patient rights, demanding law enforcement accountability, and centering equity and inclusion in all our work. We also know that access to justice is fraught, and a systemic barrier, especially for Indigenous peoples and nations asserting their own legitimate legal orders.

I am humbled and honoured to be in service of the BCCLA’s collective mandate – one that affirms dignity, liberty, and justice for all – which you, as our supporters and friends, have helped us fight for and strive for. Thank you for your trust in me and our team as move this work and vision forward.

In solidarity and struggle,

Harsha Walia

Executive Director

 

< class="what-entry-title">Do corporations have the right to be free from cruelty?>

Today, the BCCLA is heading to the Supreme Court of Canada to argue in a significant appeal about corporations and the Charter. This appeal will determine whether corporations can benefit from the protection against cruel and unusual treatment or punishment set out in s. 12 of the Charter, or whether s. 12 only applies to human beings.

Section 12 of the Charter protects individuals from many types of inhuman punishment, including torture,[1] corporal punishment,[2] some mandatory minimum sentences,[3] and the mandatory imposition of the victim surcharge.[4] But only the most severe forms of punishment will violate s. 12. The punishment must be “abhorrent or intolerable to society”[5] and “so excessive as to outrage standards of decency”[6] in order to be unconstitutional.

Now, companies want to benefit from s. 12 protection. The company in this appeal argues that it has the right to rely on s. 12 and that it should not have to pay the fine it is facing for violating Quebec’s Building Act[7] because this fine is far too high, and therefore cruel and unusual.

We disagree. The BCCLA will argue that there is a consensus in international human rights law that protections against cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment only apply to human beings. Corporations can’t benefit from these rights because their purpose is to protect human dignity and prevent physical or psychological suffering. We will tell the Court that extending s. 12 Charter protection to corporations would put Canada out of step with this international consensus. In our view, allowing corporations to benefit from s. 12 is inconsistent with the purpose and meaning of the right to be free from cruelty.

I’m in Ottawa with our pro bono counsel, Gib van Ert, so stay tuned for updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

To learn more about this case, read our media release here.

Notes:

[1] Kazemi Estate v. Islamic Republic of Iran, 2014 SCC 62, para. 52.
[2] R. v. Smith, [1987] 1 S.C.R. 1045 at para. 57.
[3] Ex: R. v. Lloyd, 2016 SCC 13.  
[4] R. v. Boudreault, 2018 SCC 58.
[5] Boudreault at para. 45.
[6] Boudreault at para. 45.
[7] CQLR c B-1.1.

< class="what-entry-title">Urgent: Can you help us protect the right to die with dignity?>

The federal government announced this week that it will make changes to Canada’s law on medical assistance in dying (MAID). It has just launched a consultation process and we need your help to make our voices heard.

Today, Julia Lamb and lawyers for the BCCLA are meeting with government officials as part of a roundtable of experts and key stakeholders. We are calling on the federal government to uphold the rights of seriously and incurably ill Canadians.

We need you to join us in protecting the right to die with dignity.

You can participate in the government consultations by filling out the government’s online questionnaire. The deadline to submit the questionnaire is January 27, 2020.

The current law requires that a person be “near death” to be eligible for MAID. This unconstitutional barrier has prevented people with chronic, degenerative conditions such as MS, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease and spinal muscular atrophy, from accessing MAID.

The government has accepted that the near-death requirement must be removed, but it is considering whether to add new, potentially unconstitutional, hurdles to accessing MAID.

Take action and fill out the questionnaire now. If we all speak up, we can win this fight.

If you would like to see how the BCCLA filled out the questionnaire, read our submission here.


Here are some key points to consider as you fill out this questionnaire:

1. The existing MAID law has layers of safeguards that place strict limits on who can access MAID

Canada is one of a growing number of jurisdictions around the world that permits death with dignity. The current MAID law places strict limits on who can access MAID. It provides layers of safeguards to ensure that a person is competent and protected against any coercion. These current safeguards will provide strong protection, even after eligibility is broadened to individuals who are not near death.

For example, the MAID law requires that, to be eligible for MAID, a person must have a grievous and irremediable medical condition that causes enduring, intolerable suffering. The law regulates who can provide MAID, how it can be provided, and sets out a mandatory waiting period and the timing of when consent must be given.

Canada’s experience shows that the MAID law is safely and responsibly implemented by medical practitioners.

2. The additional “safeguards” that the government is contemplating are unnecessary and potentially unconstitutional barriers to MAID

Like the near-death requirement, the additional safeguards proposed in the questionnaire were not set out in Carter, the Supreme Court of Canada decision that established the constitutional right to MAID. These additional safeguards are potentially unconstitutional restrictions on the right to MAID, protected by s. 7 of the Charter. Further, given that these additional barriers would only be imposed on individuals who suffer from particular kinds of disabilities, they may also raise issues with respect to the Charter right to equality.

Some of the proposed hurdles, such as requiring consultation with medical specialists and imposing a mandatory psychological or psychiatric assessment, would significantly limit access to MAID, particularly for patients in rural communities.

The BCCLA is particularly concerned about the following two proposed hurdles: 

  1. MAID should be available only when the practitioner and the patient both agree that reasonable treatments and options to relieve the person’s suffering have been tried without significantly improving the person’s situation.
    • This proposed barrier flies in the face of Carter. Carter dictates that MAID must be available when the individual’s suffering is intolerable for that individual. It also specifies an individual should never be required to undertake treatments that are unacceptable to them in order to qualify for MAiD. This barrier is also inconsistent with s. 241.2(1)(e) of the Criminal Code.
  2.  An obligation for the physician and nurse practitioner to offer to discuss their patient’s situation with their family members or loved ones with the patient’s consent
    • This barrier disregards the fact that the right to die with dignity is the patient’s right and choice.  
3. Advanced requests are a necessity

The government is also seeking input on the availability of advance request for MAID. Failure to allow advance requests for MAID will violate Charter rights. To make no provision for advance requests will cause some individuals to become trapped in intolerable suffering if they lose capacity. It will lead to premature deaths by suicide by some individuals, including those with Alzheimer’s, who fear they will lose capacity once their suffering becomes intolerable.


If you would like to see how the BCCLA would fill out the questionnaire, read our example submission here.

< class="what-entry-title">We’re hiring a Director of People and Operations!>

The BCCLA is seeking a Director of People and Operations (maternity leave coverage) to ensure that the BCCLA carries out its mandate and operates effectively. We’re looking for an experienced manager with skills in human resources and finance who’s ready to help lead our small but mighty team.

The Director of People & Operations’ primary responsibility is ensuring organizational effectiveness and promoting excellence by providing and supporting leadership in relation to our organizational culture and development, management and human resources, financial management and budgeting, operations and infrastructure, and governance processes in alignment with the BCCLA’s Strategic Plan.

With a mandate that includes work on police accountability, government transparency, democratic rights including freedom of expression, prisoners’ rights, patients’ rights, privacy rights, and national security issues, we are one of the most vibrant and visible advocacy groups in Canada.

The BCCLA is a small team with a big reach, and we want you to be a part of our work.

The BCCLA is committed to ensuring equity, diversity, and inclusion are significant considerations in our decision‑making, in our internal work, and in our work in the world. This is critical for BCCLA to act on our values and to achieve our fundamental mandate to uphold and advance civil liberties and human rights.

We encourage applications from members of communities that are marginalized or that experience structural discrimination, including those identifying as Indigenous, people of colour, members of non‑dominant ethnic, religious, linguistic, and/or cultural groups, women, (im)migrants/newcomers, people with (dis)abilities, working class people, persons of minority sexual orientations and gender identities, and we encourage applicants to self‑identify in their application. The BCCLA is committed to excellence, and recognizes that increasing the diversity of our staff, and especially our leadership, supports this objective.

The deadline to apply is Sunday January 19, 2020.

< class="what-entry-title">Open Letter from the BCCLA on the Injunction Granted to Coastal GasLink>

The BCCLA is highly concerned about the developing situation in Wet’suwet’en territories.

On December 31st the B.C. Supreme Court granted an injunction and enforcement order to Coastal GasLink for their natural gas pipeline project on Wet’suwet’en territory in Northern British Columbia. Under Anuk ‘nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law), Wet’suwet’en clans opposed all pipeline proposals and have not provided free, prior, and informed consent to Coastal Gaslink to do work on their lands.

In an open letter to the RCMP, Government of Canada, the province of British Columbia, and Coastal Gaslink, the BC Civil Liberties Association urges Coastal Gaslink and the RCMP not to enforce the injunction order at this time, to allow for a peaceful resolution between the Wet’suwet’en, Coastal GasLink, and the provincial and federal governments.  The BCCLA stresses that lethal force is an absolutely unacceptable and abhorrent response to the current peaceful exercise of Anuk ‘nu’at’en.

Read the letter in full here.

< class="what-entry-title">BCCLA Welcomes New Executive Director>
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Harsha Walia

As you know, for the last several months, the BCCLA has been searching for a new Executive Director. After an extensive process I am very happy to announce BCCLA’s next Executive Director: Harsha Walia.

Harsha has always been known to the BCCLA as a generous ally who approaches community organizing with skill and humility. She has collaborated with us on numerous important campaigns over the years, including a recent collaboration against discriminatory police stops in the Downtown Eastside, the Justice for Lucía Vega Jiménez campaign, the Transportation Not Deportation campaign to end Metro Vancouver Transit Police’s collaboration with CBSA, and public calls to shut down CBSA’s unethical “Border Security” reality TV show.​

Harsha’s background as a community organizer and popular educator, and her work with Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and migrant communities, brings a unique set of skills and relationships to the BCCLA that will support the goals in our 5-year strategic plan. A prolific writer, she is the author of Undoing Border Imperialism, and co-author of Never Home: Legislating Discrimination in Canadian Immigration and Red Women Rising: Indigenous Women Survivors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Harsha is legally trained, a passionate orator, and a strong advocate.

This has been a time of transition for the BCCLA and I am so grateful for the ongoing work and energy of our members, supporters, Board and Staff. We are so excited for the BCCLA’s future with Harsha at the helm. She officially comes onboard later this month so please join me in extending a warm and hearty welcome to Harsha!

Sincerely,

Caily DiPuma

President
BC Civil Liberties Association

< class="what-entry-title">Thank you to our Fall 2019 Communications and Development Volunteers!>

 

Please join us in thanking our Fall 2019 Communications and Development volunteers! The BCCLA team is very grateful for their support over the past few months. Thanks Annie and Lola!

Annie Bhuiyan 

Annie is a graduate of Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Department of English. During her time at SFU, Annie worked as a student activist to organize campaigns like Tuition Freeze Now and Save Our Spaces. She was also involved with clubs like Left Alternative (LA) and campus unions like Teaching Support Staff Union (TSSU). In 2019, she worked as a communications team member for TSSU’s “Research is Work” campaign, which unionized 1,500 research assistants at SFU. 

Her passion for civil liberties and social justice inspired Annie to volunteer as a communications and development volunteer at BCCLA. Outside of her daily responsibilities, she can be found chanting at rallies, on the web collecting vintage jewelry, and reading on the beach.


Lola Fakinlede

Lola Fakinlede has an MA in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario and BA in Economics and Mathematics from the University of British Columbia. She is passionate about human rights advocacy and sustainability. Her work with nonprofit organizations includes the United Nations, the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, and Covenant House. She has partnered with Sustainable fashion brands such as Jose Hendo (UK), Green Embassy (Australia); reported on financial and social issues for Channels Television (Nigeria & UK); worked on economic and policy education initiatives with the Fraser Institute (Canada); and served as an adjunct faculty at the Pan Atlantic University (Nigeria). She freelances as a creative content creator, and is bilingual in English and French.

Lola is a minimalist committed to buying less and being cruelty free.