1. “Systemic Failure” in Al-Rawi case
Elaine Craig, a law prof at Dalhousie, has written a paper titled “Judging Sexual Assault Trials: Systemic Failure in the Case of Regina v Bassam Al-Rawi.” The abstract:
The recent decision to acquit a Halifax taxi driver of sexual assault in a case involving a very intoxicated woman, who was found by police in the accused’s vehicle unconscious and naked from the breasts down, rightly sparked public criticism and consternation. A review of the trial record in Al-Rawi, including the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, the closing submissions of the Crown and defence counsel, and the trial judge’s oral decision suggests a failure of our legal system to respond appropriately to allegations of sexual assault — a failure for which, the author argues, both the trial judge and legal counsel may bear some responsibility.
Craig listened to the recording of the trial and makes several observations. One that struck me:
Arguably, both the Crown and defence counsel in this case also contributed to the problematic outcome in Al-Rawi. For example, defence counsel introduced evidence that the complainant had flirted and danced inappropriately earlier in the evening on the night of the incident. The theory of the defence appears to have been that the complainant, when she consumes alcohol, becomes the “type of person” who flirts and dances inappropriately with men in bars, and can reasonably be inferred to have entered a taxi, stripped her urine soiled clothes off, thrown them at the unknown driver, perhaps kissed or licked his face, and then propped up her legs in the straddle position minutes or seconds before passing out. The Crown did not object when defence counsel introduced this evidence, which arguably should have been excluded under Canada’s rape shield regime; nor did he, in his closing, urge the trial judge to ensure that it not be relied upon to draw stereotypical inferences about women, alcohol, and sex.
The paper is forthcoming in the Canadian Bar Review.
2. Town Clock
Parks Canada issued a tender for renovations to the Town Clock last week.
3. Prison phone calls
The CBC has sicced its “CBC Investigates” team onto the high cost of prison phone calls, which is all well and good. But ya know, El Jones has been flogging that issue for the past two years on the Examiner, a lone voice either ignored or ridiculed, and she should’ve been credited for raising the issue.
I don’t understand the CBC’s refusal to acknowledge other media outlets or reporters. It’s petty and mean-spirited.
4. Gaetz Brook Connector
The Department of Natural Resources has approved construction of a seven kilometre trail from East Chezzetcook to Musquodoboit Harbour along the abandoned rail corridor, reports Richard Bell for the Eastern Shore Cooperator. Informally called the Gaetz Brook Connector, the trail will follow the abandoned Musquodoboit Railway line; it will be managed by the Shore Active Transportation Association.
The Gaetz Brook Connector is an important part of the trail system that runs from Shearwater airbase in Dartmouth all the way to the Musquodoboit Trail and the associated trails into the White Mountain Wilderness. After the Gaetz Brook Connector is built, the only missing segment is the proposed Acadia Marsh Greenway just to the west.
Some of the trail system, including the Shearwater and Blueberry Run segments, is open to ATVs, but the Gaetz Brook Connector will not be. This peeves councillor David Hendsbee, who expressed his displeasure on his Facebook page:
Personally I would have preferred to have seen a multi-use shared trail here because it has been the ATV and snowmobile users that have kept this corridor open and useable since the tracks were lifted. I think a collaborative /cooperative approach should have been perused. Happy trails for some, not all.
I’d like to see the trail system extended to the Dartmouth waterfront trail, and the possibility presents itself now that the refinery is being demolished.
5. Polar bear prison
There’s a polar bear prison in Churchill, Manitoba, reports Hilary Beaumont for Vice:
Its prison for polar bears is a former military aircraft hangar that was converted into a jail with 28 cells, and first opened in 1981. The bears are held for at least 30 days and fed only snow and water to stop them from returning to town in search of food. When they are let go, a helicopter flies them out to the sea ice. They call it an ice release.
While the jail might seem cruel, it is actually a conservation effort that could provide a model for other northern towns across the Arctic that are increasingly dealing with polar bears roaming into their communities. Although their numbers are in decline — one study found polar bears in the Hudson Bay has decreased from 1,185 in 1987 to 806 in 2011 — the number of sightings have shot up.
It’s the same problem across the chilly Arctic waters: Thanks to a rapidly warming climate, the sea ice that the bears rely on to hunt seals is forming later each year, and breaking up earlier in the spring, meaning polar bears are spending more time on land, bringing them into more frequent contact with humans. Further exacerbating the problem is the rise in Arctic tourism and bears seeking human garbage as a food source. The bears are being caught between the loss of their habitat and humans with guns.
6. William Sandeson
The trial of William Sandeson, who stands accused of killing fellow Dal student Taylor Samson, begins today. The courtroom is reserved for the next four weeks. There’s a publication ban on evidence that was presented at the preliminary hearing in February, so I can’t say more, but I think this will be an interesting trial to watch.
“It’s been a busy season for icebergs so far, with 616 already having moved into the North Atlantic shipping lanes compared to 687 by the late-September season’s end last year,” reports Kieran Leavitt for the Canadian Press.
A particularly large iceberg (photo above), at its highest point rising 150 feet above the water, has parked itself off Ferryland, Newfoundland.
1. Of civil disobedience, injunctions, and the public’s right to know
In an interesting essay originally published in the French-language newspaper Le Gaboteur and republished in English in The Independent, Jacinthe Tremblay lays out the interplay between court injunctions and civil disobedience:
It was in Québec that the largest civil disobedience movement in recent Canadian history took place — the student uprising of 2012, a widespread protest movement which came to be known as the printemps érable, or Maple Spring. Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, one of the movement’s three main spokespeople, wrote about it all in his book Tenir Têtre, for which he received the Governor General’s Award in the francophone Essay category in 2015.
During the many months of protests, many injunctions were issued to force students and teachers to move their picket lines away from the doors of colleges, universities and other institutions of learning.
Nadeau-Dubois recalls in his book that “Court orders were very rarely respected by the students,” and that “respecting these orders meant giving up their struggle.”
The same reasoning applies to the Land Protectors [at the Muskrat Falls site]: Respecting last October’s injunction meant the reservoir would be flooded before any of the poison prevention measures recommended by the Harvard researchers could be implemented.
“In such a drawn out and polarising conflict, how could the judges believe, even for an instant, that these injunctions would be effective? Many of the students on strike likened the heavy reliance on injunctions to a political hijacking of the courts,” Nadeau-Dubois writes in Tenir Têtre.
Later in the book, Nadeau-Dubois gives the example of Judge Jules Deschênes of the Superior Court of Québec, who refused to sentence a group of Société des transports de Montréal bus drivers for contempt of court in the 1970s. In his decision, Judge Deschênes wrote (quoted by Nadeau-Dubois): “Until a political authority finds an appropriate solution to these social conflicts, I am of the opinion that the superior Court must not make use of its power to crush a group of citizens with fines and imprisonment. (…) It must not collaborate in deeds that are doomed to fail, deeds that will not help in resolving a conflict which for some time now has been the political authority’s responsibility.”
What happened in Labrador in October of 2016 was a social crisis, which culminated in acts of civil disobedience. How do we know? Largely because of Justin Brake’s journalism.
Many journalist organizations are demanding that the charges against Brake be immediately dropped, arguing the charges are an unprecedented violation of the freedom of the press. But a judge recently ruled that Brake held no special status before the law. Herein lies the basis of a long and expensive legal battle.
What has been clear throughout this whole conflict is the ferocity and perhaps the ease with which Nalcor erects barriers that deprive citizens of their right to know what is happening in Nalcor offices and on the Muskrat Falls site. If people are able to know, it is in no small part thanks to the work of journalists. It is for this reason that journalists are given “special status” in various circumstances.
Journalists are citizens’ eyes and ears — when they do their work properly.
During the occupation of the site, the public’s right to information was ensured by The Independent’s eyes, ears, voice, mobile phone and Facebook account.
Justin Brake was the only one on the scene. Many more were needed, just as many more will be needed to thoroughly investigate this public infrastructure project’s multiple slips and slides.
2. Cranky letter of the day
When I started the “cranky letter of the day” feature, probably half the letters came from the Chronicle Herald, but I stopped linking to that paper when the newsroom strike started. Since then, most of the cranky letters have come from Transcon papers.
With the Herald’s purchase of the Transcon papers, I can’t decide how to proceed. The far-flung provincial papers provide interesting news and perspectives that don’t often hit the radar of urbanites, and I’ve been happy to link to articles and promote their reporters’ work.
There are good reporters doing good work at those papers, and those reporters aren’t on strike. And while the CBC attempts to cover rural areas, it can’t approach the understanding and depth provided by the print reporters. But shouldn’t a Herald boycott extend to other Herald properties?
It’s a quandary. I’ll keep thinking about it.
In the meanwhile, I’m going to hold off on linking to both news stories and cranky letters in the Transcon papers until I decide what to do.
Halifax & West Community Council (Tuesday, 6pm, City Hall) — here’s the agenda.
Public Information Meeting – Case 20757 (Tuesday, 7pm, Millwood High School, Middle Sackville) — T.A. Scott Architecture has a proposal for a two-storey commercial building for a pharmacy/medical clinic at 235 Beaver Bank Road.
Audit & Finance (10am, City Hall) — a light agenda.
Halifax Explosion 100th Anniversary Advisory Committee (3pm, NSCC IT Campus, Room B239) — the committee is looking for “living Halifax Explosion survivors,” who would be, ya know, at least 100 years old. If they have any memory of the event, they’d have to be probably 103 years old or so. That’d be a hell of a first memory.
The legislative website has been kaput since Friday, so who knows what’s going on?
Thesis Defence, Computer Science (Tuesday, 11am, Room 3107, Mona Campbell Building) —PhD candidate Raheleh Makki Niri will defend her thesis, “Interactive Text Analytics for User-Generated Content.”
Localization and Security in Wireless Networks (Tuesday, 11:30am, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Qiang Ye, from the University of PEI, will speak.
Board of Governors (Tuesday, 3pm, University Hall, MacDonald Building) — here’s the agenda.
Visualizing Social Recommendation (Tuesday, 3:30pm, Room 430, Goldberg Computer Science Building) — Julita Vassileva, from the University of Saskatchewan, will speak on “Visualization and User Control of Recommender Systems.”
Thesis defence, Computer Science (11am, I’m guessing it’s in the Mona Campbell building, but the event website doesn’t list a location) — PhD candidate Magdalena Jankowska will defend her thesis, “Author Style Analysis tn Text Documents Based on Character and Word N-Grams.”
Me and You and Everyone We Know (8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery) — a screening of Miranda July’s 2005 film.
In the harbour
Lots of running around today.