Category Archives: Uncategorized

Looking forward to returning…

Hello readers,

I have been away for too long.  Rest assured, though, that during the campaign, I did address issues of social and criminal justice where appropriate.  In fact, I was the only one to do so publicly.

The campaign ended months ago…then there was the wrap-up and figuring out what is the next best step.  Do I return to criminal law practice (which I left when my kids were born, in 2005?)  Do I return to teaching?  Do I start something else?  While exploring those options, I’ve tried to stay active in a couple of other areas.  I did write, but not on criminal justice issues.  One article was about municipal politics- development, specifically.  The other was about my experience of being mistaken as a Muslim candidate during the election.  Here are the links, in case you are interested: Being Mistaken for a Muslim Candidate and    Building the Toronto that We Want 

Now, as I work on a couple of other projects, I intend to return to my criminal justice advocacy through writing as well.  With a new study about how easy it is to get people to give false confessions (and to insist that a false memory is true), I plan to write about the aggressive technique police use to get confessions from suspects.

Looking forward to engaging with you again,

Dyanoosh

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Running for Office, Taking a Short Break

Dear readers,
I am running for Toronto City Council.  Through government, I want to advocate for respectful policing, responsible development, good governance and vibrant, inclusive communities.  I want to work for my community and the City of Toronto, where I live, to make this city even better.
So I am sad to inform you that I have to take a little break from this blog.  I am thrilled, however, at the prospect of public service.
In the meantime, I will provide you with the link to my Huffington Post articles- a few of them were not posted on my blog:
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/dyanoosh-youssefi/

To check out my campaign web-site, go to http://dyanooshyoussefi.ca/

Wish me good luck!

Dyanoosh

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Officer Who Shot Sammy Yatim Got Bail. Does This Mean Anything?

James Forcillo, the officer who shot Sammy Yatim, the teenager who was alone on a streetcar while holding a knife, was charged with murder.  He was taken into custody and released on bail on the same day.  Would other offenders be treated this way?  Read my August, 2013, Huffington Post article on this issue here: James Forcillo’s Bail Proves a Double Standard.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Will We Ever Learn the Whole Truth About Sammy Yatim?

To read my blog for the Huffington Post on, “Will We Ever Learn the Whole Truth About Sammy Yatim?” click here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

When Videos of Police Abuse of Power Are Not Enough, Citizens Must Act

It has sadly become a familiar chain of events:

Officers charge civilian with assaulting a police officer.

Video (either surveillance, or taped by a civilian) surfaces: it shows the officers beating up the same person whom they have charged. That person is helpless and under police control; he or she is neither resisting nor assaulting the police.

The civilian, accused of assaulting the police, is dragged through the court system for months. Because of the video footage, the charges against the civilian are often withdrawn by the Crown Attorney. Occasionally, some of these officers are charged or disciplined. But the videos, the public outcries, the disciplinary measures or the criminal charges against the officers do not seem to serve as a deterrent to police officers prone to abusing their powers.  

And the events are repeated.

In the last two weeks in Canada, two such videos have surfaced. One involved a Toronto man, the other an Innu man in Unamen Shipu, in eastern Quebec.  

Both of these videos come on the heels of the 10-year anniversary of the Said Jama Jama case, one of the first Canadian cases that I can recall where the police were surreptitiously recorded by a civilian holding a small camera. Jama Jama, a young Toronto man, was charged with assaulting a police officer and causing a disturbance. The officer said that Jama Jama had assaulted him, and that Jama’s own injuries were caused from his involvement in an earlier fight. Jama denied these allegations, and claimed that the officer had punched him in the face. The tourist who had video-taped the interactions provided the tape to the defence. And that video-tape clearly showed an officer punching Jama Jama in the face, while the young man was standing, arms down, not resisting and not fighting the police. Significantly, but not unusually, the police had denied punching the young man until the video surfaced.

The video led to the withdrawal of charges against Jama Jama. The lying officer was charged, and later convicted of assaulting him.  

Since the Jama Jama case, there have been numerous incidents were the police have been caught on video in their lies and in their abuse of civilians. Some of the more publicized cases include: the beating of Stacey Bond in a police station by the Ottawa police; the multitude of recorded assaults and abuses of power by the Toronto police during the G20 in 2010; the Taser-related death of Robert Dziekanski, a confused, helpless, frightened man in the Vancouver airport; the severe beating of an Edmonton man who was under police control; the unjustified pepper spraying of protestors by a Montreal police officer; and a Vancouver officer who kicked a high, helpless, half-dressed man several times.

These cases prove two realities: First, that the proliferation of cellphone cameras is increasingly catching those meant to serve and protect us in acts of violence and brutality against us. Second, catching the police red-handed has not stopped police abuse of power.

Videos, law suits, inquests, inquiries and public outcries — none of these seem to have shaken the intractable police conviction that some civilians deserve to be beaten by the police, and that the police can act with impunity.  

The blue code of silence remains impermeable. It seems that officers remain reluctant to report abuses of power by their colleagues, fearing retaliation or repercussions.

Police departments and chiefs appear to treat the videos as just another public relations challenge.

But the immeasurable negative impact of the police conduct persists: The public’s faith and trust in the police is undermined, the injured citizen suffers mental, emotional, and physical harm, and his or her family bear the long-term negative consequences. And the public foots much of the bill for the lengthy and costly judicial process, including the cost of the officer’s defence.   

So what should citizens and ethically conscious police officers do? Simply shrug and accept that with power, comes abuse of power? Should we resign ourselves to the bleak conclusion that a certain percentage of the police force will always act criminally, themselves, and that the rest will remain silent?

No.

Police culture CAN change. It is not intractable. But it will only change through the political power of engaged citizens.

We must be vigilant in ensuring that our voices, concerns and solutions are both heard and implemented — by police services boards, police chiefs, and politicians. We must demand that our political representatives take leadership and have the courage to address the problem of police abuse of power.

It is paramount that police education includes extensive training and focus on the de-escalation of conflict through peaceful, rather than violent means. Policing students must learn and internalize non-aggressive conflict resolution skills. Officers must be reminded over and over that their position of power, and their involvement in risky situations, does not grant them permission to abuse civilians, regardless of what such civilians are alleged to have committed. Police education and training and police leaders must repeatedly underscore the notion that the police are there to rationally and neutrally investigate and make arrests when legally justified, not to pass judgment or exact justice.  

Respect for all human beings must be a prerequisite to becoming an officer, just as much as physical fitness and the ability to make quick decisions are requirements.

In addition, police officers must be genuinely encouraged, supported and permitted to report other officers who abuse their power.     

Officers must have regular training and support in dealing with stress, so that the pressures of their jobs and their personal lives do not translate into aggression against those who question their authority.

The proliferation of these videos can lead to positive developments in the way we police. But that positive change will only come if citizens continue to demand that our police services and our politicians take ownership of the problem and show leadership in its resolution.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Harper Government: Making Our Streets and Communities Less Safe, Pounding the Vulnerable, and Snubbing the Supreme Court of Canada

How do you defy the highest court in the land?  

If you are the Conservative federal government, you replace a simple, straight-forward law with a gargantuan one that shouts, “In your face, Supreme Court!” In other words, you turn the court’s decision on its head.

That’s what Harper’s government did last Thursday when it introduced Bill C-65. The Bill is their response to the Supreme Court’s unanimous 2011 decision which declared that the Minister of Health must grant Insite, Vancouver’s supervised drug injection facility, an exemption under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, so that it can continue to provide health services.

Drug injection facilities are more than a place where drug addicts go to use drugs safely. The facilities promote public health by minimizing the harms associated with street-level, illicit drug use. They reduce incidences of drug overdose, the transmission of diseases through needle sharing, and the rate of serious infection. They increase public safety by reducing crime associated with drug use. The clinics, staffed by doctors, nurses, and therapists trained in dealing with addictions, also provide counselling, referral services, and immediate help to those who are ready to curb their addictions. In turn, all these benefits result in reduced societal costs associated with drug use.

But the Federal government did not like the Supreme Court’s telling it that it should continue to grant Insite the exemption it had since 2003.    

To get around the judgement, the government devised Bill C-65.

Under current legislation, the Minister may exempt any person from the application of the CDSA if, in the opinion of the Minister, the exemption is necessary for a medical or scientific purpose or is otherwise in the public interest. Plain and simple. The entire section uses up 70 words.  

But under Bill C-65, those 70 words are replaced with 2,627 words (not counting the preamble), most of which set up one colossal obstacle after another for any group that hopes to set up a safe injection site.

Under the Bill, applicants will be required to submit reports and letters from the provincial Minister of Health, Minister of Public Safety, the local municipality, the local police, and health professionals, as well as research, statistics, information on trends and other data, and also, significantly, reports on consultations held with a “broad range of community groups from the municipality,” including a summary of the opinions expressed, copies of all written submissions, and submissions on what applicants intend to do about those community concerns. All in all, there are 26 (or more, depending on how you count it) complex, costly, and onerous conditions that must be fulfilled before the Minister will even consider whether or not to grant an exemption.

One might argue, “What is wrong with having stringent requirements for setting up places where, after all, illicit drugs are going to be consumed?” Doesn’t that ensure that these clinics are safer?

On the face of it, the requirements do not appear unreasonable. But the Harper government is well aware of the societal benefits of these facilities. And so, it should advocate for their increased use, where justified. Instead, the government is erecting insurmountable obstacles in the way of anyone who may want to build a safe-injection site.

The truth is that Bill C-65 is not intended to ensure improved safety in the creation of safe-injection clinics. The real intention behind the Bill is to stop any such attempts dead in its tracks.

On the same day the government introduced the Bill, it also started a political public campaign to oppose the building of safe injection clinics anywhere.  

Jenny Byrne, the Conservative party’s main tactician, posted a fear-mongering, misleading message on the Conservative party’s web-site. The posting, entitled, “Keep heroin out of our backyards,” both misinforms and misleads the public, and capitalizes on fears based on insufficient information. It suggests to readers that such clinics are about to be set up in every neighbourhood in the country (which is simply untrue), and aims to collect the names of those opposed to such facilities, to allow for the most efficient and effective opposition, should there be a proposal for a safe-injection facility in any municipality. The message from the posting is clear: “We are totally against such clinics, and we’ve introduced the bill to make it harder for similar facilities to be set up elsewhere in the country.”

It’s a sad but unsurprising position and tactic by the Conservative government.

Instead of leading, the Conservative government puts up roadblocks.

Instead of increasing public safety and reducing harm, the Harper government perpetuates the conditions that lead to greater harm and risk to public safety.

Instead of implementing preventative measures that will reduce public spending in the long-run, the Conservative government adopts punitive, harmful policies that will cost us more.  

Instead of educating and informing the public about the truth behind addictions, harm reduction, and the benefits of such facilities, the Conservatives engage in a campaign of misinformation and fear-mongering built on simplistic one-liners.

They introduce a Bill that may make it nearly impossible to build another safe-injection site.   

The government surely knows that the law may not stand Charter scrutiny. But the Conservatives don’t care about that. They will push ahead with the Bill because it makes it sound like they care about (some) Canadians.  

But in doing so, the Harper government harms not only those with addictions, but all Canadians.  

In the process, and as an added bonus, the Conservative government also flips its finger at the highest court in the land.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Not Criminally Responsible:” Not Getting Away with Something

Richard Kachkar’s not criminally responsible verdict has divided observers and is fueling the debate on Bill C-54, the Bill to make NCR reviews more restrictive.

There are those who feel that the NCR decision was the right, though imperfect one.

And there are those who are angered by the verdict.  They feel that justice was not done; that the jury was duped; and worst of all, that Kachkar’s life is going to be spared while that of his victim was not.  To them, a finding of “not criminally responsible” is equal to a full acquittal, a get-out-of-jail free card, a verdict of no repercussions for Kachkar and his actions.

But an NCR finding is not tantamount to escaping justice.  And it is not a ticket to freedom.  It is the best, albeit imperfect, response that we have to people whose severe mental illness rendered them incapable of formulating the kind of intent that we believe is necessary before someone can be convicted of a criminal offence.

What does an NCR finding really mean? 

In legal terms, an NCR finding means that the person who committed an act suffered from a major mental illness at the time of commission of the act, and, as a result of the illness, she or he either did not have the mental capacity to appreciate the nature and quality of the act or did not know that the act was wrong.  

In layperson terms, such persons are often delusional or haunted in a manner that makes them out of touch with the reality of what they were doing or why they were doing it. 

And, despite the impression that a number of highly-publicised NCR cases may leave, NCR findings are rather rare. 

While many people who commit crimes often suffer from varying degrees of mental illness, most of those persons would not qualify for an NCR finding.  (Neither would they want to be found NCR, given the severe consequences of such a verdict.)

Before an NCR finding is made, one or more psychiatrists meet with and assess the accused person, and examine all the information available about him from before and after the offence.  The psychiatrists’ conclusions, along with any other psychiatric findings, are presented to the court.  The court then decides whether or not the person was NCR: whether or not the person suffered from a mental disorder, and that disorder made him or her unable to appreciate the nature and quality of his actions or render him incapable of knowing that the act was wrong. 

The consequence for the NCR person, while not as draconian as a jail term, is still severe, still restrictive, and still results in deprivation of her liberty. 

In theory, a person who has been found NCR is not supposed to spend any time in jail.  In reality, people who have been found NCR often do spend days, weeks, or sometimes even months in jail while awaiting a bed in one of our over-burdened mental health institutions.

After a first assessment, NCR persons often spend years in a psychiatric facility in order to get treatment.  They are locked up in these so-called hospitals, until such time as a Review Board deems them safe enough for some form of a leave. 

The Review Board is comprised of lawyers, judges, psychiatrists or psychologists, as well as a member of the general public.  When an NCR person appears before them for a review (which is currently done on an annual basis), the Review Board examines an array of information, focusing on the treatment the person has received, their progress, their current mental health and their prognosis.  The Board considers public safety when deciding whether or not to grant the person some kind of release, be it a permanent one or in the form of escorted day passes.

Review Boards do not make their decisions casually.  They know the stakes.  They also know that the person before them committed the acts that they did because they were sick.  Once that illness is under control, the person no longer poses a risk to society.

Keep those mentally ill people who have recovered from their disease institutionalized longer, as Bill C-54 would, and you endanger their recovery, overburden our already taxed mental health institutions, and keep others who need those beds in jails rather than in hospitals.

But as Bill C-54 and the reactions to the Kachkar verdict prove, many of us continue to look at the mentally ill with suspicion.  We wonder if their illness really played a role in their behaviour.  Even if we believe that it did, we are doubtful that such persons can ever really be safe.  And so, we believe that the NCR finding lets guilty people get away with a horrible crime.  These are understandable doubts and fears, but the available facts and data should alleviate these concerns.

In reality, a person who has been found NCR is serving an indeterminate sentence: he does not know when the sentence will come to an end.  He is not free to roam in public at any time; he is institutionalized and locked up.  And while he may not carry with him the stigma of a criminal conviction, he will always wear the stigma of having committed a heinous act, and of having suffered from a mental illness so severe that he lost touch with reality and committed a horrendous act.  His future will forever be shaped and negatively impacted by this horrible disease and event.

The tragedy of a lost life will not be avenged through the punishment of a person who did not fully and consciously intend to cause that loss.  Convicting and forever locking up Kachkar and others like him will not bring healing or justice to the victims.  It will only make all of us, who do have the full use of our rational faculties, responsible for convicting a person who was too ill to recognize the nature, severity, and consequence of his actions.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized