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Justice minister confident feds will meet tight deadline to change assisted dying regime


OTTAWA —
The federal government is confident Parliament will have enough time to fully consider a series of proposed changes to Canada’s medically assisted dying regime, despite having just over two months to debate, study, and possibly amend the legislation.

On Monday Justice Minister David Lametti reintroduced the federal government’s proposed changes to the medically assisted dying legislation, in the face of a pressing court deadline to see the bill—on what remains a controversial, complex, and deeply personal topic— pass through the House of Commons and Senate.

After the last version died on the order paper when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau prorogued Parliament this summer, Lametti said the revived bill will pick up on conversations already underway as the text has not changed.

“We’re going to build on our consultations… we felt at that time and we still feel it is the case now that that this bill is the product very much of a consensus that Canadians are ready for, and therefore that should be reflected across both sides of the aisle,” Lametti said. “We’re pretty confident. We’ll do everything we can, in terms of trying to build consensus with our parliamentary partners in both houses, to make sure that the bill gets heard, and discussed ,and debated properly. But we are confident that this can move expeditiously.”

Bill C-7—coincidentally also the name of the same bill during the last session—seeks to allow those eligible to pursue a medically assisted death whether or not their death is reasonably foreseeable, and makes other proposed amendments to the regime to comply with a Quebec Superior Court ruling.

Last fall, that court ruled that sections of the federal and Quebec laws on medically-assisted dying were invalid, finding that they were unconstitutional because they were too restrictive.

The court specifically took issue with the Criminal Code requirement that a natural death be “reasonably foreseeable” in order for a person to be eligible for assisted death. This gave the federal and provincial governments six months to review the ruling and revise their laws, with the court’s ruling set to come into effect on March 11, 2020, unless an extension was granted.

The Liberals were granted that as well as a second extension, citing the delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including to the regular parliamentary schedule.

Now, the federal government has until Dec. 18 to pass the bill.

Medically assisted dying under certain parameters has been legal in Canada since June 2016, and according to federal officials since then there have been over 13,000 reported medically-assisted deaths in Canada.

The federal law as it stands states that Canadians 18 years of age or older who are considered mentally competent can access an assisted death, under a series of eligibility criteria. It also puts in place protections for medical professionals who would play a role in administering the assisted death. Not included in the law—but called for by some at the time— was the ability for patients to give advance directives, or for mature minors to have the ability to seek an assisted death.

CHANGES PROPOSED

The new federal legislation aims to make it easier for patients who are near death and have requested an assisted death, but are worried about losing their ability to consent as their illness progresses, to still qualify by removing the requirement for them to consent immediately before the procedure.

Given the intent to repeal the reasonable foreseeability of natural death criteria, the legislation would now specifically state that in order to be eligible, mental illness is not considered a “serious and incurable illness, disease or disability.”

The 15-page bill also proposes to ease certain safeguards while creating other protections for Canadians whose natural death is not imminent, and expands the monitoring system for medical practitioners and pharmacists to reflect updates to assessment requirements.

To provide for assisted deaths in cases where a natural death is not considered to be reasonably foreseeable, the federal government is proposing to require two independent practitioners to confirm that all eligibility criteria are met, and one of the two must have expertise in the condition that is causing the patient’s suffering.

In these situations the person has to be informed of, and offered consultations on all counselling, mental health, and disability supports, as well as the community services and palliative care available to them. As well, the two practitioners have to agree that the person requesting an assisted death has “appropriately considered” the options they have for alleviating their suffering.

In addition to responding to the ruling, the federal government is proposing to make some other slight adjustments to the law to address issues that “received considerable attention during our consultations with Canadian practitioners, experts, and stakeholders,” as Lametti put it.

The legislative process to pass this bill in the last Parliament was at times tense and emotional, with the government taking the approach of a joint House and Senate committee to study the bill given the time crunch legislators were also under at the time.

Since the Liberals passed the initial regime, they have faced questions about changing the law. Even before it passed, the legislation generated considerable parliamentary debate, with a handful of Liberal MPs voting against it, saying that as it was drafted it would be unconstitutional. Among them was now-minister Lametti.

On Monday he said this bill should be seen as a “first step” based on the social consensus about changes needed to the now four-year-old regime, but that he hoped a further conversation could be had in the months ahead, reviewing more deeply the law as it stands.

The Quebec government has already announced it would comply with the court decision, dropping the sections the court took issue with, but would be not making any additional amendments to the provincial law.



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Alberta justice minister warns Edmonton and Calgary not to comply with calls to ‘defund the police’


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“As minister of municipal affairs, (Madu) was very keen on scrubbing down our budgets,” Iveson said. “Now, as minister of justice, to suggest that we should not be looking at our largest cost centre — which is policing — seems a bit ironic to me.”

Iveson’s office did not respond to emailed follow-up questions about Madu’s specific comments by press time.

Alberta Justice Minister Kaycee-Madu: “An adequately funded police service is essential to ensure that all citizens are able to live safe and secure lives in our communities.” Photo by David Bloom/Postmedia/File

On Thursday, Calgary city council met with the police commission and Calgary police management about the state of policing in the city; the day before, the Calgary Police Service released a document detailing its commitment to anti-racism and equality.

The force argued there needed to be new policing models and would favour reallocating some funding — amounts are not specified — to other community agencies.

“We are in agreement with the community that better models of systems integration involving health, social services, justice, and policing could produce better outcomes and reduce demand on police,” the report reads.

In Edmonton, council voted in June to remove $11 million from the 2021 police budget of around $389 million and approved 20 proposals to reform policing in the city.

In his letter, Madu argues “an adequately funded police service is essential to ensure that all citizens are able to live safe and secure lives in our communities.”

“This is particularly true of racialized members of our communities, including Indigenous Albertans, who are often overrepresented as victims of crime,” he writes.



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Ontario non-profit tackling racism in justice system through education, enhanced reporting


A newly launched not-for-profit organization is embarking on a mission of tackling anti-Black and systemic racism in the justice system by working to directly support those impacted during the sentencing process and to better educate the legal community.

Faisal Mirza, a criminal trial and appeals lawyer, is one of three directors who recently launched The Sentencing and Parole Project.

The initiative, which has been in the works for months, has three focus areas: Addressing the over-representation and mistreatment of racialized residents in correctional facilities; proving education as it relates to anti-Black and systemic racism to all those involved in the justice system; and providing courts with enhanced pre-sentence reports.

READ MORE: Minorities over-represented in Canadian prisons, report finds

“You have systemic discrimination into society intersecting with systemic discrimination in the justice system, so they don’t live in silos,” Mirza told Global News in an interview.

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“In society, you will have a disproportionate number of racialized people living in the lower socio-economic conditions they will experience … which numerous studies have now documented.”

Indigenous, Black inmates disproportionately in Canadian correctional facilities

According to the Office of the Correctional Investigator’s (OCI) 2018-2019 annual report, Indigenous and Black inmates were over-represented in Canada’s corrections system.

While the 2016 Census found that approximately 4.9 per cent of Canada’s population is Indigenous, the OCI report said 28 per cent of those in custody were Indigenous — an 11 per cent overall increase compared to 10 years earlier.

Census data estimated Black residents make up almost 3.5 per cent of Canada’s overall population, but the OCI report found eight per cent of those in custody are Black — an overall one per cent increase compared to 10 years earlier and a two per cent decrease compared to three years earlier.


READ MORE:
Canada’s prison watchdog disturbed by ‘Indigenization’ of correctional system

Issues have been raised about mistreatment in correctional facilities. The report noted “though still low,” discrimination complaints appeared to be trending upward. The OCI said reports of discrimination from Black inmates represented 37 per cent of all complaints between 2008 and 2018.

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The OCI report also noted there has been a disproportionate increase of inmates who identify as being Muslim, noting there has been a 74 per cent increase over 10 years — now representing 7.73 per cent of the overall population. The report said the reason for this increase was unclear.

Meanwhile, the OCI found there was a “relative and proportional decline” in the total number of white inmates. As of 2018-2019, 52 per cent of those in custody are white — down overall by 14 per cent. 2016 Census data estimated almost 73 per cent of Canada’s population is white.

Pre-sentence reports and the call for enhanced information

Mirza said when it comes to the justice system and addressing systemic racism, an area that needs immediate attention is the pre-sentence report process.

Pre-sentence reports are often requested of probation officers by judges in cases where someone has been found guilty of a serious criminal offence. The specific policies and use of pre-sentence reports vary by province and territory. Judges are not bound by pre-sentence reports and can potentially use the reports as one of multiple factors in sentencing.

“The problem with the conventional pre-sentence report is that it is insufficient and inadequate, and over the past several decades we’ve relied on those conventional pre-sentence reports to provide essential information about offenders and the reality is that they fail to do so,” he said, noting while some submitted reports are decent others have just basic biographical details with limited background information.

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READ MORE:
Ontario judge chastises Quebec over ‘useless’ and ‘inflammatory’ sentencing report

“What we’ve tried to do is address that gap in information because we think it’s critical for judges to have that information in order to fairly sentence people — in order to get to the right determination.”

In Ontario’s pre-sentence report process, information gathered by a probation and parole officer includes factors relating to personal and family details, education and employment history, substance use and addictions, character and behaviour, a response to community supervision, an overall assessment and recommendations for the court. The officer can potentially gather information from interviews with the person charged, family members and police sources.

At the Sentencing and Parole Project, an enhanced pre-screening report prepared for the court is written by a clinician or an expert with medical training. They too can potentially conduct interviews with the person charged as well as with family and friends.

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The enhanced report more broadly considers the person’s social history — how they identify, background on their family, their social environment, their social relationships, education, lived experiences with anti-Black racism, work history, jail conditions, substance use and addictions, their character and behaviour, and an overall assessment and summary. The enhanced report may also include more detailed interview notes and contacts.

“It’s very difficult for an individual over the span of a single interview that lasts a few hours to tell them about what it was like to grow up in an impoverished neighborhood, what it was like to have significant police presence and negative experiences with the police, what it was like to be streamed in the education system and be subject to unfairness,” Mirza said, noting systemic disadvantages have affected the ability to get employment for many.

“So it’s very hard for a probation officer to get that information from an individual because they don’t have the resources, they don’t have the time, they don’t have the training, and they don’t seem to be able to develop the trust relationship in order to pull that information out.

“If you can’t identify what the person has gone through, got them up to that point, then you can’t really figure out what programs that they should be put into and then that’s where you get the problems and the jails.”

Mirza said the enhanced pre-sentence report process is newer in Ontario, noting it took quite a bit of time to get the first test case report done. He said The Sentencing and Parole Project can now potentially file an enhanced report between 60 and 90 days, a time period consistent with conventional reporting.

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‘Level the playing field’

While Mirza said the enhanced pre-sentence report process is newer in Ontario, he cited “pioneering” work in Nova Scotia by social worker Robert Wright.

He said courts in Nova Scotia aren’t waiting for defence lawyers to get legal aid funding and that enhanced pre-sentence reports are routinely ordered by judges.

Mirza said some lawyers have brought that approach to Ontario, adding over-representation of racialized residents in the justice system is a major concern.

READ MORE: UN council to discuss report calling on Canada to address anti-Black racism

“[The reports] provide the type of information that’s required for fairness, for decisions to be based on accurate information, so they’re evidence-based decisions. [It’s} no different than if somebody had a mental health issue — you would want the judge to know the particulars of that mental health issue so that they could use that information to determine what the right disposition is and what the right programs are for the individual,” he said.

“When they receive a report, it’s not an ‘aha’ moment. It’s an, ‘I understand. I get it. I’ve been exposed to this,’ right? And I can connect the dots so that when the individualized information is presented, they move away from the one-size-fits-all approach.”

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READ MORE:
Increasing calls for Ontario government to declare anti-Black racism public health crisis

Mirza said providing access to enhanced reports helps “level the playing field” for those who are marginalized and don’t have money to get privately funded pre-sentence reports prepared by social workers and doctors.

“They provide that information and the courts will look at that and say, ‘you know, this is a good person who did something wrong.’ And then the filter through which those people are examined is entirely different,” he said.

“This is a very important piece of the puzzle and we think that there needs to be a recognition that these better pre-sentence reports are required for everyone, and in particular for people who are over-represented, to understand their experiences with racial inequality and poverty.”

Educating the legal community, calls for other measures

When it comes to tackling systemic discrimination, Mirza said the provincial and federal governments have a lot of work to do and need to make investments.

He said education and government action needs to start at the earliest levels of education, citing recent reports of allegations of racism at the Peel District School Board.


READ MORE:
Is the Liberal government’s promise to repeal mandatory minimum sentences dead?

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As for other justice system reforms, he called for mandatory anti-Black racism training for all those in the justice system, improved use of force and de-escalation training, and scrapping mandatory minimum sentences.

“Anti-Black racism is at the forefront right now because of the social movement that’s going on and it presents an opportunity for us to do some inflection and look at what are the deficiencies in our justice system.”

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#Iran – Khamenei and Rouhani must face justice for crimes against humanity says Iranian Resistance


On 31 December, Resistance units posted banners carrying pictures and messages of Maryam Rajavi, the president-elect of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, and Massoud Rajavi, the leader of the Iranian Resistance, in different parts of Tehran, including Qoddousi, Qasr, Khajeh Nassir Tousi and Sabalan streets, as well as in Qods City.

The banners read, “Overthrow of the anti-human enemy is certain,” “Khamenei and Rouhani must face justice for crime against humanity,” “Destruction of theocracy’s rule of oppression and injustice is close” and “Resistance units open the path and serve as guides for the rebellious, defiant generation.”

In another development, this morning, defiant youth torched the paramilitary Bassij bases in Tehran, Karaj and Iranshahr, as well as a regime seminary in Tehran. In Mahshahr, Khamenei’s picture was set ablaze.

Yesterday, defiant youth also targeted the IRGC’s Khatam ol-Anbiya Construction Headquarters in Tehran. Today, the mullahs’ regime confirmed the attack, while trying to down play the assault to minimize its impact on the morale of its forces and agents. Quoting an “informed source,” the state-run Asr-e Khabar wrote: “Early morning yesterday, an unidentified man riding on a motorcycle threw a hand-grenade at the building… Given the available videos, his identity is under investigation.”

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Political will was not enough for justice reform in #Moldova


The lack of political will to carry out rule of law reforms is frequently the reason why reforms are not fully implemented. The case of Moldova proves that in societies where strong vested interests still persist, political savviness is equally as important as political will.

Old and new political power brokers in Moldova struck a fragile pact in June to oust Vladimir Plahotniuc. Plahotniuc had built a network of corruption and patronage with the help of the Democratic Party, which he treated as a personal vehicle and which allowed him and a small economic elite circle to enrich themselves off of government institutions and state-owned enterprises, to the detriment of Moldovan citizens and the health of their political process.

Maia Sandu, co-leader of the pro-reform ACUM electoral bloc, then formed a technocratic government with a remit to implement Moldova’s lagging reform agenda. Though made up of ministers with the integrity and political will to implement difficult transformational reforms, its biggest weakness was its coalition partner – the pro-Russian Socialists’ Party and its informal leader, Igor Dodon, the president of Moldova.

Now the Socialists – threatened by how key reforms to the justice system would impact their interests – have joined forces with Plahotniuc’s former allies, the Democratic Party, to oust ACUM, exploiting the party’s lack of political savviness.

Reform interrupted

It was always clear the coalition would be short-lived. President Dodon and the co-ruling Socialists joined to buy themselves time, with the hope that they could restrict the most far-reaching reforms and tie the hands of ACUM ministers. In less than five months, however, the Sandu government initiated key reforms in the judicial system, aimed at dismantling Plahotniuc’s networks of patronage but also impacting the Socialists, who to a large degree also profited from the previous status quo.

The red line came over a last-minute change in the selection process of the prosecutor general proposed by Sandu on 6 November, which the Socialists claimed was unconstitutional and gave them the justification to put forward a motion of no confidence in the Sandu government. This was conveniently supported by the Democratic Party, who appeared threatened by an independent prosecutor’s office and saw an opportunity to return to power.

Thus, the political will to reform proved insufficient in the absence of a clear strategy on how to address the concerns of the old regime that they would be prosecuted and their vested interests threatened. Here, ACUM’s lack of political experience let them down. With their hands tied from the beginning in a fragile coalition with the Socialists, ACUM were unable to prevent sabotage from within state institutions and their own coalition, and could not find consensus to proceed with more radical methods to tackle corruption.

Less than two days after the Sandu government was out, a new government was sworn in on 14 November. Prime Minister Ion Chicu was an adviser to President Dodon before taking office and former minister of finance under the Plahotniuc-backed government of Pavel Filip, as part of a cabinet of ministers consisting largely of other presidential advisers and former high-level bureaucrats and ministers from the Plahotniuc era.

The new government

A top priority for the Chicu government is to convince the international community that it is independent from President Dodon, and that its ‘technocrats’ will keep the course of reforms of the Sandu government. This is critical to preserving the financial assistance of Western partners, which the Moldovan government heavily relies on, particularly with a presidential election campaign next year, when they will likely want to create fiscal space for various giveaways to voters.

But within its first week in office, Chicu appears incapable of walking this line. Reverting to the initially proposed pre-selection process of prosecutor general signals that the post could be filled by a loyal appointee of President Dodon. Moreover, Chicu’s first visit abroad was to Russia, allegedly a major financial contributor of the Socialists’ Party. With the Socialists now holding the presidency, government, Chisinau mayoralty, and the parliament speaker’s seat, the danger of an increased Russian influence on key political decisions is very real.

A government steered by President Dodon risks bringing Moldova back to where it was before June, with a political elite mimicking reforms while misusing power for private gains. The biggest danger is that instead of continuing the reform process to bring Moldova back on its European integration path, the new government may focus on strengthening the old patronage system, this time with President Dodon at the top of the pyramid.

Lessons

This new minority government, supported by the Democrats, is a more natural one for President Dodon and therefore has more chances to survive, at least until presidential elections in autumn of 2020. Both the Socialists and the Democrats will likely seek to use this time to rebuild their own methods of capturing state resources. But with the Socialists relying on the Democrats’ votes in parliament, this is a recipe for further political instability.

Similar to Moldova, several other states across the post-Soviet space such as Ukraine and Armenia have had new political forces come to power with the political will and mandate to carry out difficult reforms to strengthen rule of law and fight systemic corruption in their countries. What they all have in common is the lack of political experience of how to create change, while old elites, used to thinking on their feet to defend their vested interests, retain their connections and economic and political influence.

Moldova is a good example of why political will needs to be backed up by clear strategy on how to deal with threatened vested interests in order for new political forces to be able to maintain themselves in power and reforms to be sustainable. When the chance comes again for fresh leaders to come to power, it is importantthey are politically prepared to use it swiftly and wisely.





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