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Yet another reason to oppose mandatory minimum sentences

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the Criminal Justice System

Hands in Handcuffs

As one of its 94 calls to action,[1] the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools called on “the governments of Canada, the provinces, and territories to undertake reforms to the criminal justice system to better address the needs of offenders with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder),” including ensuring proper diagnosis of FASD so that its effects can be considered in sentencing.[2]  This condition – caused by permanent brain damage resulting from alcohol exposure in the womb – often causes behaviour that makes it disproportionately likely that a person living with FASD will come into contact with the law.[3] While some of these effects are easy to spot, others are much less readily diagnosable, and can include issues with learning, attention, problem solving or behaviour, including:

  • Impaired mental functioning
  • Poor executive functioning
  • Memory problems
  • Impaired judgement
  • Inability to control impulse behaviour
  • Impaired ability to understand the consequences of one’s actions
  • Impaired ability to intentionally modify behaviour control[4]

As a recent BC government report observes, “Persons affected by FASD may not understand social situations, and their behaviours may be misinterpreted as willfully problematic, rather than a symptom of an underlying brain-based condition.”[5] In their 2011 paper “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder as an Access to Justice Issue”,[6] the Canadian Bar Association acknowledged that individuals with FASD are often unnecessarily criminalized. A 2013 meta-analysis of existing research-based evidence of FASD in a variety of settings found that estimated prevalence rates in correctional facilities ranged from 9.8% to 23.3%.[7]

INDIVIDUALIZED ASSESSMENT

More Than We Can Afford: The Costs of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing

REPORT: More Than We Can Afford: The Costs of Mandatory Minimum Sentencing by Raji Mangat

Section 718.1 of the Criminal Code states that “a sentence must be proportionate to the gravity of the offence and the degree of responsibility of the offender.” Section 718.2 adds that “a sentence should be increased or reduced to account for any relevant aggravating or mitigating circumstances relating to the offence or the offender.” The BCCLA has always been a staunch supporter of these principles throughout our work, particularly in our ongoing opposition to mandatory minimum sentencing. We also support the Gladue principles, which direct sentencing judges to consider the unique systemic or background factors relevant when sentencing an Aboriginal person (see, for example, our submissions in the Ladue case). We believe that it is crucial for sentencing judges to engage in an individualized assessment of all relevant factors and circumstances of the person standing before them when deciding what a just sentence will look like in any given case. But FASD is routinely under-diagnosed, and thus under-considered by judges in sentencing decisions. And in the rare cases when a judge is aware that an individual lives with FASD, mandatory minimums may get in the way of effectively taking it into account.

The Canadian Bar Association paper cited above draws attention to the fact that currently, courts do not have legislative authority to order assessments for adults they believe may have a cognitive deficit unless they are considered “unfit to stand trial” or “not criminally responsible by reason of a mental disorder.” The part of the Criminal Code dealing with individuals who have ‘mental disorders,’  the CBA notes, is generally not applicable to, or appropriate for, individuals with FASD: while mental illnesses are conditions that may change with treatment or over time, FASD involves permanent brain damage, which the CBA suggests requires a different type of consideration. The CBA calls for “the creation of legislative authority to allow courts to obtain an accurate assessment of an individual’s neurocognitive abilities.” In our view, court-ordered medical assessments in general should be used sparingly, as they impose significantly on the right to free and informed consent to medical care. However, we agree with the principle that it is necessary to find more effective ways for an accused person’s FASD status to be considered by the courts. This means there must be both widespread awareness of the importance of FASD diagnosis and resources available for the necessary neurocognitive assessments.

ALTERNATE MEASURES AND DIVERSION PROGRAMS

While acknowledging that the “realities of the disability of FASD must be balanced with the need for public safety”, they also call for the development of alternate measures and diversion programs that address the issues that bring individuals with FASD into contact with the law, and that “hold individuals accountable consistent with their degree of responsibility.” They also call for increased education for criminal justice professionals working in all parts of the system – police, probation officers, judges, prosecution and defense counsel – about FASD and its implications for service provision. They recommend prosecution policy directives be changed to require the consideration of FASD. And they also emphasize the need for early diagnosis, so that a person’s experience of living with FASD is taken into account throughout their involvement with the justice system, including limiting unnecessary bail or probation conditions to accommodate limited cognitive abilities.[8]

In March of 2014, Conservative MP Ryan Leef introduced a private member’s bill in the House of Commons to amend the Criminal Code, adding a definition of FASD and establishing a procedure for assessing people within the criminal justice system for the condition. It would have required the court to consider FASD as a mitigating factor in sentencing. The bill was defeated in November 2014.[9]

MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCING MUST BE ELIMINATED

The CBA suggests an “exemption valve” for individuals living with FASD be added to the Criminal Code for sentences requiring a mandatory minimum sentence. Similarly, the TRC recommendations call for the enactment of statutory exemptions from mandatory minimum sentences for those affected by FASD, along with more resources for diagnosis, support and education.[10] We believe that rather than carving out exceptions for those with FASD, mandatory minimum sentencing must be eliminated altogether. We believe that judges must be in a position to craft sentences that are proportionate given the circumstances of a particular offence and offender, whatever those circumstances may be, without the limitations imposed by mandatory minimum sentencing. Along with additional resources for diagnosis and education, this would go a long way toward ensuring that those with FASD have access to justice.

 

[1] http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

[2] The BCCLA’s submission to the Commission can be accessed here: https://bccla.org/2013/09/the-journey-of-reconciliation-issuing-our-statement-of-reconciliation-at-canadas-trc/

[3] http://www.cba.org/Our-Work/Resolutions-1/Resolutions/2010/Fetal-Alcohol-Spectrum-Disorder-in-the-Criminal-Ju

[4] https://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-583/

[5] https://www.mcf.gov.bc.ca/fasd/pdf/FASD_TenYearPlan_WEB.pdf

[6] http://www.cba.org/Sections/Criminal-Justice/Submissions-and-Legislative-Updates?page=7

[7] http://fasd.alberta.ca/documents/Systematic_Prevalence_Report_FASD.pdf

[8] http://www.cba.org/Sections/Criminal-Justice/Submissions-and-Legislative-Updates?page=7

[9] https://openparliament.ca/bills/41-2/C-583/

[10] http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Findings/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf

The BCCLA is hiring an Operations Manager!

 

The BC Civil Liberties Association seeks an Operations Manager to support us in achieving our human rights and civil liberties mandate through the design, implementation and management of office systems that will ensure efficiency and productivity.

The BC Civil Liberties Association is one of Canada’s leading social and democratic justice NGOs. With a mandate that includes work on police accountability, government transparency, voting rights, prisoners’ rights, national security issues and women’s rights, we are one of the most vibrant and visible advocacy groups in the country. The BCCLA is a small team with a big reach, and we want you to be a part of our work.

About this position

Working with the Executive Director and other staff, the Operations Manager’s primary responsibility is ensuring organizational effectiveness and promoting excellence by providing leadership in relation to our operations and infrastructure, financial management and budgeting in a not-for-profit context. You will be responsible for managing daily finances, overseeing facilities management, leading IT and other projects including the project to re-locate the BCCLA in a shared-space working environment with other non-profits, and overseeing the administrative functions of the BCCLA.

Primary job responsibilities include:

Financial coordination

  • Manage all aspects of BCCLA’s day-to-day finances including accounts receivable and payable, bank accounts.
  • Overseeing bookkeeping and assisting in the development and management of organizational budget.
  • Identifying and implementing operational and cost efficiencies to ensure a sustainable future for BCCLA’s goals, plans and priorities

Operations management

  • Driving and enabling internal capacity to ensure that our operations are adequately resourced and properly equipped with the required tools, information technology, training and infrastructure to achieve our goals
  • Identifying opportunities to improve the use of our resources to meet our objectives
  • Oversee operations of facility and equipment maintenance, ensuring a safe and continuously functional environment
  • Coordinate human resources administration including employee insurance and benefits plans

Project management

  • Managing office move, co-location and shared services project with other non-profits. This includes dealing with realtors, financial institutions, architects and designers, non-profit partners, and other community partners

Why we want you

You have a knack for identifying problems, and building and executing a plan to solve them. You are an expert at keeping things running efficiently. You are a leader with demonstrated good judgment and strong ethics.  You have a strong alignment with the BCCLA’s values and are committed to BCCLA’s human rights and civil liberties mission. You will develop a deep understanding of our mandate and core activities. You possess the following attributes:

General

  • Strong work ethic with a great attitude
  • High attention to detail
  • Must be extremely well organized, able to prioritize tasks and meet deadlines, and work
  • independently and as part of a team
  • High level of professionalism and confidentiality
  • Well-developed relationship-building and inter-personal skills
  • Diplomacy, integrity and commitment
  • Post-secondary diploma or degree or equivalent combination of education and experience
  • Well-developed relationship building and inter-personal skills.
  • Diplomacy, integrity and commitment
  • Excellent written and oral communication
  • Knowledge of administrative and office procedures
  • Ability to work well with others, in a collegial and diverse environment
  • Ability to work under pressure to meet deadlines
  • Comfortable working in an often unpredictable but always exciting work environment

Technological

  • High level of familiarity and effectiveness with database use (Access), data management and computer applications
  • Strong computer skills (Office suite, Internet & web publishing), ability to master new programs quickly
  • Ability to evaluate technology resources and plan to meet organizational technology needs

Leadership

  • Excellent problem-solving and divergent thinking skills
  • Exceptional interpersonal and communications skills (written/oral)
  • Experience in project management – ability to use communication, planning, technology and administrative skills to run major projects
  • Solid ability to provide leadership in relation to the functions of the job
  • Knowledge in developing, implementing and evaluating organizational design plans an asset

Administrative / Financial

  • Knowledge and skills of core HR functions an asset
  • Financial management skills including ability to understand financial reports, budgets, forecasts and financial plans
  • Experience developing and managing complex budgets an asset
  • Ability to manage facilities and operations in an organization
  • Ability to understand regulatory requirements for a non-profit society and charity

Compensation

Salary range is between $50,000-$55,000 depending on experience. Benefits include health, dental, and life insurance plans, as well as four weeks’ annual vacation and generous sick leave policy. Our progressive workplace environment includes the possibility for flexible work arrangements.

Application and Selection Process

The BCCLA offers a welcoming and respectful work environment. The BCCLA is an equal opportunity employer that is committed to building an inclusive and diverse workplace, and encourages applications from all qualified applicants. We encourage applicants from traditionally underrepresented or marginalized groups including Indigenous people, people of colour and queer people to self-identify in their covering letter or in the body of their email when they send us their application.

To apply, please submit your cover letter (including a summary of your qualifications, why you would like to work with the BCCLA, and what your contributions to our team would be), resume, and contact information for three references by clicking here.

We will accept applications and interview candidates on a rolling basis until the position is filled.

Please include your earliest start date in your cover letter. Our preference is as soon as possible in February or March 2016. We thank all applicants for their interest, but we will respond only to candidates who are being considered for an interview.

Interviews will be conducted by BCCLA staff at our office in Vancouver. The BCCLA will make appropriate accommodations if needed for candidates that we interview.

 

 

Profile of a BCCLA supporter – Paul St. Pierre

Man & ChesapeakePaul St. Pierre dedicated his life to character, lies, and storytelling; and to privacy, relentless resistance to rules and rulers, and to freedom. Acclaimed writer, reporter, member of parliament, diplomat, Vancouver Sun editor, BC cowboy legend, world’s last living non-economist, wild goose chaser and duck plucker, freeman of Williams Lake, BC police commissioner, scofflaw, inventor of the country gate husband and wife team competition in the Anahim Lake Rodeo, Paul supported the BC Civil Liberties Association right up to his death in 2014, and even after, through a legacy gift.

Why? Let Paul tell you…

“I was born when Canada was free. Most of the things a man wanted to do – build a house, drive a car, keep dogs – he just went ahead and did. A Canadian could do any damned thing unless there was a specific law passed to prevent him. Young people don’t have that taste, but how can you miss what you never knew? Now not an acre of Canada can be walked without putting a foot into three or four cowflaps of law.

Once I was Old Enough to Know Better (which became a book) I realized bureaucrats do not conspire to establish dictatorships; they don’t think that big. Bureaucrats are not bad, cruel, or wicked people; they are people caught up in the ritual dances at the rulers’ courts. Most of their days are spent making big jobs out of little ones.

With every bit of information you pass along to a government or private bureaucracy5 Election poster 1968 under promise of confidentiality, you make yourself hostage to them. Worse, private and personal misinformation about you is abroad. No matter what a bureaucrat might say, he or she can’t or won’t respect your privacy, and can easily wreck your life by error. Know your enemy and fear his inefficiency even more than his malevolence.

A monstrous idea has gained wide acceptance – that you and I were not born to be free and have no natural rights; that our only rights are those that somebody wrote on a piece of paper. We sleepwalked into prison. We Canadians have adopted practically every principle of the Nazi regime which I joined the Air Force to fight against so long ago. Our Canada is now very close to a condition in which everything that is not compulsory is forbidden. We have become prisoners of the state.

Know your enemy, government. Although their goals are almost always benign, they have built an apparatus of state control that could easily be seized and operated for the opposite purpose. Beware Big Brother, he is very near and very strong.

Born free, I died a criminal. Everyone is a criminal now. More laws make more criminals. The avalanche of new laws came into being the way all tyrannical laws are made anywhere, at any time, in any country. Such laws are passed “for the good of the people”. In all history, no other reason to enchain mankind has ever been offered. The usual response of a Canadian today is: “If I have done nothing wrong, I have nothing to fear.” This utterly fatuous statement is exactly what your rulers hope to hear from you, both the generally benign rulers of today and the criminally psychopathic rulers of tomorrow. Never forget this: Any government may lie, cheat, murder and steal for “the public good”. Think. In the head.

Is there hope? Yes.

12 Lillooet Lake 2000 Be brave. You are more powerful than you realize. No matter how many regiments of law and regulations the rulers raise, they seldom defeat the guerrilla citizen.   When internal passports become law, do as terrorist and gangsters do – obtain more than one workable identity. Join the underground economy. Fight for the internet. It may be our last, best hope. Oppose, evade or sabotage every state attempt to control it.

Support the Civil Liberties Association. Future generations will see it as a lonely champion of liberty during long, dark years. When it supports a cause you find obnoxious, trivial or dangerous, increase your donation.

Despite Big Brother’s awesome and growing power, ordinary men and women retain hopes, dreams and high ethics. Out of that fathomless, still pool of the soul, freedom will emerge again, some day.”

Curious? What next? Books, Cariboo Country DVDs, and political rants at paulstpierre.com. Hope for democracy at www.BCCLA.org. Go there. Volunteer. Donate. Get off your stump. Rise up!

This profile dried into jerky from Paul’s books, plays, columns, and op ed pieces by his son. Tough. For chewing. In the head.

 

 

Art for a Cause

 

In 2014, the BC Civil Liberties Association honoured one outspoken voice with a Liberty award for Excellence in the Arts for her refusal to sit idly by while her work as censored and her rights were trampled. Franke James is a Canadian artist, author and activist who has drawn inspiration from the Canadian government’s attempts to silence her.

Franke is donating her art at cost to support the work of the BC Civil Liberties Association.  To purchase Franke’s art and books online please visit the links below. Proceeds will go to support the important work of the BCCLA in defending freedom and liberty in Canada.

1. Limited edition posters! Franke has donated an exclusive run of autographed posters from her new Free Expression series for the price of $25 CAD each.MyDangerousArtPoster_1500px

  • “Blacklist Everybody” Art Poster (12″x18″) – Autographed. To purchase online, click here.
  • “Classify Art” Art Poster (12″x18″) – Autographed. To purchase online, click here.
  • “My Dangerous Art” Show Poster (12″x18″) – Autographed. To purchase online, click here.

Blacklist Everybody12. Online auction! Two autographed bus shelter sized pieces will be auctioned online. Winners choose from one of six designs from Franke’s new series Six Easy Ways to Crush Free Expression. Bidding starts at $400. Take home a one of a kind piece!

  • No. 1 Bus Shelter Sized Art Poster (47″ x 68″) – Autographed. To purchase online, click here.
  • No. 2 Bus Shelter Sized Art Poster (47″ x 68″) – Autographed. To purchase online, click here.

BannedOnTheHill_CoverJuly2014_1503. Books! In Banned on a Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship, Franke James tells the story, complete with her stunning visuals, of how she fought back against government censorship. Normally priced at $52 USD on Amazon.com, we are offering the book for $50 CAD–a significant discount after the exchange rate. 20% of the proceeds will go to support the work of the BCCLA.

  • Banned on a Hill: A True Story about Dirty Oil and Government Censorship by Franke James. To purchase online click here.

If you have any questions, please drop us an email here.

BCCLA statement on hate speech prosecution in Quesnel

The BC Civil Liberties Association is concerned about the situation of Arthur Topham, a BC resident who is being prosecuted under section 319(2) of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes speech that promotes hatred against any identifiable group.

Mr. Topham is being prosecuted for a variety of material that he published on his website, including:

  • re-publishing “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”
  • re-publishing “The Biological Jew”
  • re-publishing “The Jewish Religion: Its Influence Today”
  • publishing a blog post entitled “Karen Selick: Just Another Hate-mongering Germanophobe Jew”

While the BCCLA does not agree with, and repudiates, the content of the views at issue expressed on Mr. Topham’s website, expressing, or re-publishing, these views should not make him a criminal. We have consistently argued that such criminalization offends against the fundamental freedoms of Canadians.

The BCCLA has a long-standing interest in issues of both freedom of expression and anti-discrimination. Long before British Columbia established human rights legislation, the BCCLA was advocating for laws to prohibit discrimination.

While we vigorously support the strengthening of laws prohibiting discriminatory conduct, we believe that laws against discriminatory speech, when the speech does not cause direct and immediate harm to others (for example, speech intended to elicit an immediate and violent reaction, or “fighting words”), impose a troubling limit on free expression rights. We support the creation of a vibrant democratic forum in which we can debate the merits of ideas, even ideas that we ourselves may find deeply offensive. We believe Canadians must decide whether a particular speech act is innocuous or repugnant, meritorious or dangerous. Human rights commissions (where they exist) and governments can and should play a vital role in educating the public about discrimination, promoting non-discrimination and the furthering of human rights; it is not, however, the appropriate role of the state to criminalize or regulate speech. Free speech is, in fact, instrumental to the ability of Canadians to fight for equality and combat discrimination.

Speech acts such as those engaged in by Mr. Topham may be upsetting or even repellant. But our constitutional protections of free expression were not designed for the benefit of safe, inoffensive, socially acceptable speech. These ideas are part of the democratic forum whether we like it or not. Public expression of hate tests our commitment to those values we cherish: equality, tolerance and diversity. Discriminatory and hate speech directly challenge all citizens—not just those who are targets of hateful expression—to reaffirm those values that form the foundation of our society as loudly as we can. The BCCLA opposes discrimination in all its forms, but we do not support the criminalization of discriminatory speech.

A democracy is based on the premise that individual citizens have the capacity to govern themselves, to understand and evaluate different perspectives with which they are confronted, to deliberate about their merits, adopt good ones and discard bad ones. We believe that in the case of speech, the government should leave us to it.

 

Election Shenanigans

On Saturday, I volunteered as an Elections-Imageobserver at one of the advance election polls. I watched hundreds of people wait in line to cast their ballot, and it was pretty great to see so many people getting out to vote. However, a few concerning things came up, and I’ve since learned that concerning things came up at polls across the country. From hours long waits to improper questioning by elections officials, things were rocky in quite a few polling stations across Canada–even the BCCLA’s own Executive Director faced difficulties!

It’s important that we all know our rights when it comes to voting, and what we can do if something goes wrong.

The so-called Fair Elections Act passed by the Conservatives last year changed many of the rules about what you need in order to vote. Here are a few things to remember:]

You DO NOT need photo ID to vote.

Some voters were told that they did – this is INCORRECT. If you present two pieces of ID, one of which contains your address, you are good to go. Neither one needs to include your picture. If you’re told you need photo ID on Election Day, ask to speak to the poll supervisor to clear up the confusion.

If you DO have a driver’s license or other government issued ID with your name, address, and photo on it, THAT’S ALL YOU NEED TO VOTE.

At my polling station, I observed the Returning Officer ask someone for a second piece of ID after they had presented their driver’s license. This is wrong, and when I pointed out the error to her, she stopped doing it. But I know it’s happened to others too, and I’m worried that some voters will not come with a second piece of ID on Election Day and will be denied the right to vote. I registered my concern with Elections Canada (here’s a link where you can make a complaint if something goes wrong for you or you see something go wrong for someone else), and asked for additional information to be sent to the people who will be working the polls on Election Day. After significant cuts to its budget two years ago, Elections Canada has been struggling to fulfill its mandate and maintain the integrity of the vote. Returning Officers desperately need the right information and support to do their jobs properly and in accordance with the law. My observations and other reports suggest they’re not getting it.

There are all sorts of documents you can use as identification on voting day.

These include a library card, student ID card, a bill or bank statement, a label on a prescription container, a government cheque or cheque stub, and many other options. And it doesn’t even have to be the paper copy; an e-statement or invoice works too. For the full list of acceptable documentation, click here. Just make sure at least one piece has your address on it.

If you don’t have anything with your current address on it, don’t despair!

Although the so-called Fair Elections Act eliminated vouching for identification purposes (which we think is terrible), it maintained (after much criticism and advocacy) a version of vouching for address. It’s called an Attestation of Residence. If you don’t have anything with your current address on it, someone can “vouch” for where you live as long as they:

        • Live in the same polling division as you
        • Have proof of their own identity and residence
        • Haven’t vouched for anyone else or been vouched for themselves.

While this is not an easy list to meet, a roommate, family member, or neighbour may be able to help – don’t be afraid to ask!

Additionally, Elections Canada has produced a Letter of Confirmation of Residence which can be used by voters who are 1) members of a First Nation band but don’t have a street address on their ID, such as those who live on reserve or 2) those who receive services from a shelter or soup kitchen, or live in a student residence or long-term care facility. Here’s the link to the letter: http://www.elections.ca/id/EC50053_e.pdf – get it signed by the administrator of the facility where you live and bring it, plus a second piece of ID with your name on it to the polls, and you’re set!

Your Voter Identification Card (VIC) has no legal status, but you might want to bring it anyway.

This summer, the BCCLA intervened in a case brought by the Council of Canadians and Canadian Federation of Students challenging the Fair Elections Act. We were hoping to get an injunction to allow people to rely on their VIC as one of their pieces of ID, but were unsuccessful. So your VIC won’t count as ID on Election Day, but from what I observed at the polls this weekend, it made it a bit faster and easier for people to identify which line-up to join. So bring it if you’ve got it.

Your sex, gender expression and the sex indicator on your ID and voter registration documents do not affect your right to vote.

Check out this great resource from EGALE for more information for trans voters.

Check your ballot!

Dirty ballots – meaning they already had marks on them when they were given to the voter – were observed in a number of ridings over the weekend. I saw one voter return his ballot because it had a faint line through one of the circles where the voter is supposed to make their mark. I don’t know if this would have been enough to spoil the ballot, but it might have. Check your ballot, and if there’s any kind of weirdness to it, return it and ask for a new one.

You do not have to pre-register in order to vote.

While you will save yourself time if you’re already registered, you CAN register to vote at the polling station on Election Day. Just bring the identification you’ll need (described above) and ask to register. No big deal.

The right to vote is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Knowing our rights is the best first step towards defending them.  

Death with dignity update: delay is not an option

Posted on

The families of Kay Carter and Gloria Taylor on Parliament Hill, before their press conference.

It’s been eight months since our historic victory before the Supreme Court of Canada affirming the right for the seriously and incurably ill to seek physician assistance in dying. At that time, the Supreme Court gave Parliament and the provincial legislatures 12 months to to decide whether legislative changes are needed before the Court’s ruling takes effect.

Today, with only four months left until the February 6, 2016 deadline, little progress has been made.

In July, after five months of heel dragging, the federal government announced a three member expert panel, two of whom were government witnesses fervently opposed to physician assisted dying during the Carter trial. To make matters worse, the public consultation is a deeply flawed instrument,  more likely to spread fear than to elicit useful information from the public.

The federal consultation and the public record

Still, in spite of the process, we are encouraging our members and supporters to make their voices heard in the federal consultation. If nothing else, we must ensure the public record reflects the overwhelming societal support for access to choice at the end of life.

The federal government`s online consultation will be open until November 1, 2015. You can participate online in two ways. First, by completing the “Issue Book”- a survey with sections addressing hypothetical situations regarding who should be eligible for physician assisted dying, and what safeguards should exist in the system. Second, by making a formal submission; both individuals and organizations are able to make formal submissions.

For more information on taking part in either the federal survey or making a submission, check out this letter writing tool kit.

We are committed to ensuring that the voices of the majority of Canadians who support this right are heard. If you make a submission to the federal consultation, please take a moment to email a copy to charlotte@bccla.org. We will retain copies in order to make sure that these submissions become part of the public conversation.

The provincial alternative- open until October 9

In better news, the provincial and territorial governments are stepping in to prepare Canada`s health care systems for the looming February 6, 2016 deadline. As an identified stakeholder, the BC Civil Liberties Association was asked to make a submission to this body.

Our full submission is available here.

Additionally, the province of Ontario is inviting Ontarians to take part in their online public consultation, which will remain open until October 9, 2015. The survey takes approximately 15 minutes to complete. We encourage all our members and supporters to answer honestly, and to feel welcome to participate even though some of the questions address complex areas in which you may not feel that you have all the information needed. This survey is focused on the voices of patients and families, as such your voice is exactly what is needed.

As an organization we`d like to draw your attention to our answers to a few of these questions for your consideration:


Question #30: Who do you think should have the final say about whether someone has a grievous and irremediable medical condition that creates enduring suffering that is intolerable and therefore can participate in physician assisted dying? Select one only.

Physician-assisted dying should be a private matter between physician and patient or family, as is the case for all other end-of-life treatment decisions. As with other decisions, the decision should with the patient on the advice of their physician according to the norms of informed consent law. If a physician disagrees that the patient qualifies there must be a timely right to appeal to an independent body aimed solely at determining whether the patient qualifies for the treatment.


Question #31: If you could choose, which conditions do you think would make a person eligible for physician assisted dying if they expressed consent for this option? Select all that apply.

  • Diagnosis of a terminal illness and given 6 months or less to live (e.g. stage 4 cancer)
  • Diagnosis of a degenerative incurable medical condition that eventually (more than 6 months) will result in death (e.g. multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), Alzheimer’s)
  • Diagnosis of a chronic condition or serious disability (e.g. chronic pain, quadriplegic following car accident)
  • Person suffering from unbearable psychological suffering (e.g. bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, etc.)
  • None of the above

According to the Supreme Court’s decision in Carter v. Canada, a person with any of the above conditions would be eligible for physician assisted dying.


Question #35: 1a) This question asks you to rate how much you agree or disagree with a series of statements regarding assisted dying.

The statements are as follows:

  1. a) A patient should have to undergo a psychological assessment if he or she requests physician-assisted dying.

Mandatory psychological assessments are not required in any jurisdictions that currently allow physician assisted dying. Canadian doctors deal with patients’ life-and-death decisions daily (“I want to stop chemotherapy,” “I would like a DNR order,” and “I want to be removed from life support,” for example). Physicians routinely consider whether psychological assessments are required to establish consent in these cases. Such assessments will continue when PAD is legal, but should not be mandatory in every case.


Question #35: 1.b) There should be a waiting or cooling off period between when a patient requests physician assisted dying and when it is performed.

The process of asking for assistance to die will take time.  We do not believe a further unnecessary wait should be imposed on eligible people who are suffering severely and have given informed consent in seeking physician assistance in dying.  The province of Quebec has taken this approach, and we agree that it should be followed across the country.


Question #35a: If you strongly or somewhat agree to a cooling off period in the above question, you will also be asked the following: In your opinion, approximately how long should the waiting period be?

It might be helpful to note that in other jurisdictions where physician assisted dying is allowed, waiting periods vary from none (for Quebec, the Netherlands and terminally ill patients in Belgium) to 15 days (in Oregon and Washington) to one month (for non-terminally ill patients in Belgium).


Our friends at Dying with Dignity Canada have outlined additional questions for consideration here.

Federal election- where the candidates stand

While the online public consultation remains open, other parts of the federal consultation (including in person consultation with key stakeholder groups like the BCCLA) have been put on hold during the election. While all parties are bound by the Supreme Court’s ruling to respect the constitutional right of seriously and incurably ill competent adults to seek physician assistance in dying,  the details of the scope of eligibility, the safeguards and barriers, and a number of other important details  remain to be sorted out.

How the federal government chooses to deal with these questions after Canada’s 42nd election will have important consequences for what this right looks like in reality.

Here are a few resources to inform you on the positions of all the major parties regarding physician assisted dying:

Additionally, the most recent french language debate provided some additional insight into the parties positions. Below are quotes from the three parties represented in the debate:

Conservative Party of Canada: “Certainly, we must modify the Criminal Code in accordance with the Supreme Court decision and we will do so.” —Stephen Harper

New Democratic Party of Canada: “I can guarantee you one thing: the NDP will have a free vote; never would I muzzle anyone on it. That’s why it must be a consultation that is real, large and sincere.” — Tom Mulcair

Liberal Party of Canada: “The Liberal party supports this because we understand that it’s important to protect the most vulnerable, but also respect the rights and liberties of all.” — Justin Trudeau

Delay is not an option

As political parties continue to jockey at the federal level, we were reminded again this week why delaying the implementation of the Supreme Court’s ruling is simply not an option.

On September 23rd, Donna DeLorme, a Calgary woman who struggled for nearly two decades with multiple sclerosis and advocated passionately for the right to doctor-assisted suicide, was forced to take her own life. Like too many Canadians before her, the criminal prohibition on seeking assistance in dying kept Donna alone in her last moments. On her blog she wrote, “I would like my parents and a few friends here that evening if it’s not illegal — for people to be in the vicinity and know what’s about to happen, and let me,” she wrote. “I think my mom wants to be here either way, but I will not let her jeopardize her freedom.

Donna celebrated the Supreme Court victory, but she could not wait the 12 months until the ruling came into effect. Today we share the words that Donna first shared with the world so that her request may be heard as far and wide as possible.

We are close to voting for our next Prime Minister, and nothing regarding PAD [physician assisted dying] is being discussed. I understand it’s a difficult topic for some, and they want to do it right. BUT IT STILL HAS TO BE DONE.

The Supreme Court set the deadline, and I hope and pray that it’s kept. On February 7, 2016 people like me can have access to our right to physician assistance to die. But without legislation and guidelines, no one will help us. Please help me and those like me end our suffering by being as vocal as you can, demanding better from our politicians. Please don’t make it harder for us.

With each passing day Canadians who desperately want this change in the law are running out of time. We encourage all our supporters to raise their voices in the consultation, and with their candidates across the country, to ensure that on February 7, 2016, seriously and incurably ill competent adults will have choice, compassion, and autonomy at the end of their lives. Delay is simply not an option.

Abbotsford trial comes to a close

This week, final arguments came to a close in BC/Yukon Association of Drug War Survivors (DWS) v Abbotsford (City). This was a landmark six-week trial in which a group of Abbotsford’s homeless residents challenged the constitutionality of City bylaws that prevented them from sleeping or erecting shelters in public spaces. The homeless residents are represented by lawyers with Pivot Legal Society, and the BC Civil Liberties Association was an intervener in the case.

As the BCCLA’s summer law students, we assisted by attending court to transcribe witness testimony and summarize the evidence for use in final submissions. Sitting in the court was eye-opening to say the least. We heard testimony from numerous witnesses, including homeless Abbotsford residents, experts in addiction, local service providers and city officials. It was clear from our time in court that homelessness is a complex issue, with many causes and no immediate solution. Certainly litigation, on its own, is an inadequate tool to solve the problem. What this case illustrates, however, is the role that the court can play in protecting people’s fundamental rights even when more action is needed to address a deeply complex social issue.  

One witness, Harvey Clause, described in detail the difficulty that he had finding reliable shelter in Abbotsford. After taking care of his mother through illness, Harvey turned to drugs to cope with her death. In Abbotsford, he was kicked out of one two recovery houses: first when he got a job at the house and stopped taking welfare, and second, when the house he was in shut down. At another residence, he was beat up with hockey sticks over a rental dispute. As a result of being beaten, he missed an appointment with the welfare office and was cut off. Harvey survived by biking and camping around the city with his cat, Buddy. Harvey earned money by collecting cans, and used meth in order to have the energy to bike longer and collect enough so that both he and Buddy could eat. If he could only go so far, only Buddy would eat. He couldn’t take Buddy to the Salvation Army because they wouldn’t allow pets. So, Harvey and Buddy camped.

Harvey’s experience was not unique. The homeless in Abbotsford were constantly being moved around the city. Beginning in October 2013, a group of homeless people set up tents in Jubilee Park in Abbotsford, an area where service providers regularly provide meals, health care and other services to people. During the trial, the court heard testimony about how a sense of community developed among the homeless staying in the park, as they would watch over each other and their belongings. That December, only five days before Christmas, the City of Abbotsford obtained an injunction order requiring the homeless residents to vacate the park. City officials then tore down the structures that had been erected and prevented people from re-entering the park.

The evidence at trial revealed the tactics used by the City. City officials dumped chicken manure and fish fertilizer on camps, cut and slashed tents, pepper sprayed tents and belongings, cleared bushes to make camps more visible, blocked entryways to camps with tree trunks, and applied City bylaws even in areas where they did not apply (such as private land). Forcing people to move not only created adverse health and safety risks for those individuals, but made it more difficult for the few existing service providers to reach them, as people moved to more isolated and remote locations.

A group of homeless residents brought a lawsuit arguing that the City’s bylaws and actions breached their Charter rights, violating their life, liberty and security of person, their equality rights, and their rights to freedom of association and assembly.

The issues in this case go beyond those at stake in the BC Court of Appeal’s earlier decision in Adams v Victoria (City). In that case, a city bylaw preventing people from erecting overnight shelter was found to violate the homeless population’s right to life, liberty and security of the person. Here, DWS is not only concerned with the lack of available shelter beds and a prohibition on erecting shelter, but with the systemic efforts of the City of Abbotsford to repeatedly evict and permanently displace members of its homeless community, in the midst of municipal inaction to provide solutions on a longer-term basis.

The BCCLA intervened in the case, arguing that the government holds land in trust for the public, and has corresponding obligations to ensure the public can use that space. Homeless individuals have no private space of their own, so denying their use of public space essentially denies them the use of any space at all. This exclusion from public space disproportionately impacts the homeless, who have no other place to go.

The plaintiffs in this case are not asking for the court to order that housing be provided to them. This is not the role of the court. What the court can do is tell the City that if they fail to provide the necessities of life, they cannot interfere with individuals’ efforts to obtain those necessities for themselves. The real question is whether the City’s current bylaws and bylaw enforcement practices are a constitutional response to people who have no choice but to engage in life-sustaining activities in public spaces. If people do not have the right to exist in public spaces, what rights are left for those in our society who are the most vulnerable?

Pride & Privacy

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For the 35th anniversary of Vancouver Pride, the BCCLA reflected on the role privacy has played in protecting LGBTQ+ people and winning LGBTQ+ rights.  Before our love was celebrated as widely as it is today in Vancouver, LGBTQ+ people invoked privacy rights to keep the state out of our bedrooms.

Today, online privacy remains an important issue for LGBTQ+ people. For people coming out on their own terms and their own time, the privacy of their online communications is pivotal. For out and proud members of our community who travel or work in less welcoming places, where an LGBTQ+ identity can still result in physical harm, privacy of online communications history can be a matter of life or death.

Don’t Spy on Me!

That’s why the BCCLA invited festival goers at the Sunset Beach Pride Festival to join our photo petition, letting the government know that online privacy matters to them. More than 110 photos were taken of Pride participants, sending their message to Canada and the world’s governments: Don’t Spy on Me!

In Photos: “Don’t Spy on me!”

Revelations of spying

For a week in June, almost every day brought shocking new revelations about the scale of spying programs operated by the Obama administration in the United States as well as by governments around the world -including the Canadian government. [Read more here] 

In the same weekend we celebrated Pride here in Vancouver, the Globe and Mail reported that Canada’s security agencies are following a policy that would allow for the exchange of information with foreign countries even when it may put someone at risk of torture. While Minister John Baird is declaring Canada’s support for LGBTQ+ people around the world, our government seems to have forgotten that privacy is an LGBTQ+ right of the utmost importance.

More on our work to stop online surveillance

 More on our 40+ Years of LGBTQ+ Advocacy

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Speaking up for clean drinking water shouldn’t make us enemies of the state

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When I heard my government might be spying on me, I asked why speaking up for a safe environment makes me suspect. (Read my reaction at the time in the Huffington Post.)

Sierra Club BC is a charity that operates entirely within the bounds of the law.  Speaking up for clean drinking water shouldn’t make us enemies of the state.

Photo credit: Caitlyn Vernon

Photo credit: Caitlyn Vernon

Why is the federal government spying on concerned citizens who are participating in public democratic processes such as the Enbridge Northern Gateway Joint Review Panel hearings? We have the right to engage in our democracy without fear of being monitored by our police and spy agencies.

This illegal spying is an attack on democracy, and on our rights as Canadians.

This spying is just the latest move by a federal government trying to push dangerous tar sands pipelines on an unwilling province. The government has changed laws, broken its own laws, and muzzled scientists. It has targeted environmental charities like Sierra Club BC, with verbal attacks and extensive CRA audits.

And now it seems our federal government wants to suppress and intimidate all dissent.

The allegations of spying are having a chilling effect. People are more reluctant to speak up about issues facing their community, for fear of being monitored or put on some list.

Sierra Club BC staff and volunteers feel violated, concerned that we are being monitored, and anxious about what the consequences will be for future job prospects. The chill effect makes it harder for us to engage members of the public on important environmental issues – some people are more reluctant to sign a petition or get involved. And the heightened sense of scrutiny – even though we operate entirely within the law and within the bounds of charitable activity – has meant that organizational resources have been diverted away from environmental work and into administrative tasks instead.

Sierra Club BC board members have expressed shock and distress that they would be considered enemies of the state for their role in civil society as they volunteer their time to raise awareness of the climate science.

What we are seeing is the criminalization of dissent. It is a frightening slippery slope that ends in a police state, and no part of this is okay. I am giving testimony today in the secret CSIS hearings because we will not be silenced; we will not be bullied. And we will defend our rights.

The Canada I know and love is a place where we all have the right to express our concerns and opinions, and get involved in public debate about important issues that affect us all.

The Canada I love is a place where protest and dissent are key to our democracy, and make us better as a nation.

The Canada I see today is unrecognizable to the country I thought I lived in.

The time we are spending defending our right to protest, and the government resources being put towards illegal spying, could be better spent working together to build a fair and sustainable low carbon economy that benefits all Canadians.

If our government really wants to protect our national security it should get serious about climate change, rather than targeting ordinary Canadians who love this beautiful land we call home and want to make it a better place.

Caitlyn Vernon is the Campaigns Director of Sierra Club BC.