Asper Centre students mark Student Law Clinic Global Day of Action

via @UTLaw https://www.law.utoronto.ca/news/asper-centre-students-mark-student-law-clinics-global-day-action

Climate Justice Working Group

Back row (left to right): Mackenzie Cumberland; Clara Pencer; Leah Kelley; and Florian Nagy. Front row (left to right): Madeleine Carswell; Keely Kinley; and Yara Willox. Members not pictured: Madeleine Andrew-Gee; Adam LaRiviere; Leora Chapman; Haleigh Ryan; and Courtney Cowan.

November 18, 2019 marks a Global Day of Action against air pollution by more than 30 student law clinics from around the world.

The Climate Justice student working group at the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law is calling on the provincial and federal governments to take meaningful action to curb emissions in Ontario.

“The recent federal election and the wave of climate strikes by young people have brought a renewed focus on climate-related issues,” says second-year law student Keely Kinley. “The idea that our Constitution could be used to safeguard and strengthen environmental rights is gaining momentum.”

The David Asper Centre is devoted to realizing constitutional rights through advocacy, research, and education, and plays a vital role in articulating Canada’s constitutional vision to the world. U of T law students can become involved in the Asper Centre’s work by volunteering with one of their student working groups. The student-led initiatives bring together 10-15 students to undertake research and advocacy in conjunction with academics, civil society groups, or members of the bar on Charter rights advocacy or current constitutional law issues.

“As a student law clinic with a commitment to social justice, the Asper Centre is committed to raising awareness of the issue of climate change in our teaching, research and activism, and to finding ways to support law students to contribute to the struggle for climate justice through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says Cheryl Milne, the centre’s executive director.

Approximately forty percent of Canada’s petrochemical industry is condensed into a 15-square-mile area in Sarnia, Ontario known as Chemical Valley. The student working group highlighted Chemical Valley as an example of a place where years of government inaction and an inadequate emissions regulation has resulted in a health and environmental crisis.

Just south of the city are the traditional lands of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community. Members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation have been asking the government to review emissions standards for years, to no avail. A whistleblower has lodged three complaints over the past decade alleging inadequate engagement with the Aamjiwnaang community.

The Climate Justice working group also cites a 2017 report of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario that observed that “Indigenous people and communities are disproportionately affected by environmental problems.”

“There are strong arguments to be made that both the provincial and federal governments have duties under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect the Aamjiwnaang community and other residents of Chemical Valley from the harms of pollution,” says Kinley.

Section 7 and Section 15 of the Charter could both be invoked in order to protect individuals from insufficient government action in the sphere of environmental rights.

“There are any number of examples we could have chosen from. Unfortunately, Chemical Valley is just one example of where the different levels of government have failed in their obligations towards local communities,” says Yara Willox, a second-year law student. “We were happy to learn about the Ontario government’s decision to begin a two-year health study in Sarnia this fall, but it’s not enough.”

Kinley adds that a group of young Canadians recently initiated a lawsuit against the federal government for infringing their Charter rights by not taking sufficient steps to combat climate change.

“There is international precedent for this sort of litigation, and we’ll be paying close attention to the outcome.”

With files from the Climate Justice working group

Read the Climate Justice working group’s op-ed

Asper Centre students call on the Ontario and federal governments to act on air pollution

via UofT Faculty of Law News: https://www.law.utoronto.ca//news/students-call-ontario-and-federal-governments-act-air-pollution

Monday, November 18, 2019

 

Today, November 18th, is the Student Law Clinic Global Day of Action for Climate Justice. We are a student working group at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and, on this day, we call on our provincial and federal governments to take meaningful action to curb emissions in Ontario. The harmful consequences of air pollution are widespread and government inaction only exacerbates them. In Sarnia’s “Chemical Valley”, for example, where petrochemical facilities are responsible for around 10% of Ontario’s total emissions, the government’s inadequate regulations and foot-dragging have contributed to a health and environmental crisis.

The health data speaks for itself. Sarnia’s cancer rates are significantly higher than the rest of Canada’s. In the Aamjiwnaang First Nation community, whose traditional lands are just south of the city, the birth ratio of baby girls to boys is nearly 2:1. A wide range of respiratory problems and conditions that impair lung function have been linked to the pollutants emitted by Chemical Valley’s oil refineries and chemical plants. The list goes on. These findings are deeply troubling and should have spurred government action long ago. While we are encouraged that the provincial government will begin a two-year health study in Sarnia this fall, this is, in itself, insufficient.

Last month, a whistleblower painted a damning picture of the government’s response to air pollution in Chemical Valley. The whistleblower lodged three complaints between 2009 and 2019 alleging inadequate engagement with the Aamjiwnaang community. The Ontario government’s reluctance to take effective action on this issue is, unfortunately, not without precedent. In 2018, Ecojustice brought an application for review of the province’s air quality standards pursuant to Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights on behalf of two affected individuals. The government did not change its course.

Fortunately, there is another way to hold our governments accountable. The idea of using the Constitution to defend environmental rights is gaining momentum. Both the provincial and federal governments have clear duties under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect the Aamjiwnaang community and other residents of Chemical Valley from the pollution that affects their land and their persons.

Section 7 of the Charter recognizes every individual’s right to life, liberty and security of the per-son. It encompasses the right to be free from physical or psychological harm resulting from gov-ernment actions or omissions, and could arguably be invoked to protect individuals from future harm. The negative health outcomes in Chemical Valley, if they are conclusively linked to deficient regulations, could form the basis of a section 7 claim.

Section 15 of the Charter protects individuals from discrimination. A law or policy that inordinately affects individuals on the basis of race, ethnic origin, or other grounds may constitute discrimination under the Constitution. Following a recent visit to Canada, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Mr. Baskut Tuncak, not-ed not only the inadequacy of the existing regulatory framework, but also its “deeply unsettling” impact on the Aamjiwnaang First Nation. A 2017 report of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario similarly observed that “Indigenous people and communities are disproportionately affected by environmental problems.” The recently reelected Liberal government ought to be especially concerned about these findings, given its campaign promise to fully implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognizes Indigenous peoples’ “right to the conservation and protection of the environment.”

Governments have a legal duty to correct the harmful and discriminatory regulatory schemes and environmental policies that are endangering communities across Canada. From Chemical Valley to Alberta’s tar sands, the dire consequences of government inaction are becoming increasingly clear. Last month’s federal election revealed voters’ renewed focus on climate-related issues. Climate strikes galvanized students across the country and drew attention to the social inequalities that flow from bad environmental policy. A group of young Canadians recently initiated a lawsuit against the federal government for infringing their Charter rights by not taking sufficient steps to combat climate change. These developments show that Canadians want better air quality, sustainability, and environmental rights. Provincial and federal governments should take note and take action before it’s too late.

Climate Justice working group members:

1Ls (first-year law students):
Clara Pencer
Adam LaRiviere
Mackenzie Cumberland
Madeleine Andrew-Gee
Leah Kelley
Leora Chapman
Courtney Cowan
Florian Nagy
Madeleine Carswell
Haleigh Ryan

Group leaders:
Yara Willox (2L)
Keely Kinley (2L)

“Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Safe Third has got to go! Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Safe Third has got to go!”

by Karen Chen, Shelby Rooney and Anju Xing

Dozens gathered in front of the Federal Court in Toronto this Monday, Nov. 4 to chant along in support of a legal challenge against the United States’ designation as a “safe country” under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). A challenge years in the making, Asper Centre students in the Immigration and Refugee Law working group worked to support the applicants’ legal team by providing research and advocating in the media for the Agreement to be set aside.

The STCA is an agreement between the United States and Canada that requires refugee claimants request refugee protection in the first safe country they arrive in. The power to designate safe third countries resides in section 102 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA). Factors to be considered when determining a country’s designation include its compliance with the United Nations Refugee Convention and the United Nations Convention Against Torture, as well as its human rights record.

The Canadian government is required to “ensure the continuing review” of the above factors for each “safe” country. This monitoring framework enables Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to identify changes in policies and practices that would considerably weaken the level of human rights and refugee protection that the country designated as safe provides.

In December 2004, Canada declared the United States a “safe third country”. It is the only country to receive such a designation under the Agreement. Practically, the agreement precludes asylum seekers from seeking refugee protection in Canada if they have come from or previously landed in the United States.

Given political and policy shifts in the United States since the election of President Donald Trump and even before 2016, many refugee advocates argue it is no longer a safe third country. For example, the United States currently limits asylum for women fleeing from domestic violence to only very exceptional cases.  It also prosecutes asylum-seekers who enter the country from points other than official ports of entry, contrary to international law.[1] Moreover, evidence shows that many people – including children – are being arbitrarily detained in immigration detention centres, in poor conditions and with little or no access to legal counsel.[2] This deprives asylum seekers from the ability to have a fair hearing.  Thus, the Agreement should no longer preclude asylum seekers who come from the United States from applying for refugee protection in Canada.

In 2007, a previous challenge to the STCA by three organizations– the Canadian Council for Refugees, Amnesty International, and the Canadian Council of Churches –was upheld at the Federal Court. However, this decision was overturned at the Federal Court of Appeal in 2008 on the grounds that in designating the US a “safe third country”, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act only required the Canadian government to consider the factors listed in the Act; it did not require actual compliance with the UN Refugee Convention.

The current challenge to the STCA is being brought by three individual litigants and the three public interest organizations that brought the original challenge. They argue that the United States’ “safe third country” designation violates refugee rights under international law as well as section 15 and 7 rights guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. They also argue that the provision allowing the exemption ought to be struck down as ultra vires under administrative law.

Students from the Asper Centre’s Immigration and Refugee Law Working Group in 2018-2019 had the fantastic opportunity to hear from Erin Simpson, one of nine lawyers working on the legal challenge to the STCA. Simpson spoke to the students about the current situation in the United States, the status of the case, and what further information would be needed. This meeting prepared the students to research and prepare reports that were used for cross-examination in the case.

The work by students last year built on the research work of students in the 2017-2018 Asper Centre Immigration and Refugee Law Working Group which also helped Simpson with research in the development of certain arguments now being heard.

Throughout, students at the Faculty of Law’s Downtown Legal Services clinic in the Refugee and Immigration Division worked under the guidance of lawyer Prasanna Balasundaram to support the challenge by preparing memoranda on section 7 of the Charter, preparing for cross-examination, listening in on strategy meetings with the litigation team, keeping the files organized, and perhaps most importantly, supporting the individual litigant “ABC” and her family with issues arising in their day-to-day lives.

Challenges like this one depend on so many people coming together to fight for the rights-respecting, international law and Charter-compliant Canada we want. To have these arguments heard in Federal Court this week, it required the courage of the individual applicants whose lives were affected by the STCA, the hard work and dedication of the legal team and organizations advocating for the applicants, as well as the research and support of law students in the Asper Centre working groups and Downtown Legal Services clinic. As students, we were honoured to have contributed what we could and to have learned so much from being involved in this incredibly important work – work that many of us hope to continue to do and support for the rest of our careers.

[1] Canadian Council for Refugees, “Why we are challenging the USA as a “safe third country” in the Federal Court of Canada” (December 2017) at 1, online (pdf): Canadian Council for Refugees <ccrweb.ca/sites/ccrweb.ca/files/stca-contesting-overview.pdf>.

[2] Ibid

Karen Chen is a 3L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law. She was a leader of the Asper Centre Refugee & Immigration Law working group in 2018-2019, and also worked in the Downtown Legal Services clinic.

Shelby Rooney is a 2L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law. She was a member of the Asper Centre Refugee & Immigration Law working group in 2018-2019.

Anju Xing is a 2L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law. She was a member of the Asper Centre Refugee & Immigration Law working group in 2018-2019.

Asper/IHRP Summer 2020 Fellowship Information Session

For current JD students @UTLaw >> please attend this information session to learn more about the Asper Centre and the International Human Rights Program’s Summer Fellowship opportunities.

Date: Wednesday Oct 30, 2019

Venue: J140 Jackman Law Building

Time: 12:30pm

More details about the Asper Centre Fellowship program may be found here.

Report from our 2019 Summer Fellow at LEAF

by Paniz Khosroshahy

This summer I have been working at Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) as an Asper Centre Summer Fellow. LEAF works to advance women’s substantive equality rights through litigation, law reform, and public education, and I feel fortunate to have been able to assist the organization with its projects for the past two months.

My main responsibility is to work on LEAF’s project on image-based sexual violence, which can include surreptitious recordings, “deep fakes,” “revenge porn,” and other forms of non-consensual creation and distribution of intimate and sexualized images. This project follows LEAF’s intervention in R v Jarvis, a case heard at the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) earlier this year that concerned a high school teacher secretly recording his female students’ cleavage using a camera in his pen. Thankfully, after some unfortunate precedents in Ontario and other provinces, the SCC clarified that the voyeurism provisions of the Criminal Code prohibited Mr. Jarvis’s conduct, and that women did not leave their expectations of privacy at the door when they left their homes.

The aim of this project is to consolidate Canadian and international responses to image-based sexual violence and identify best practices for its regulation. This resource would then be used for LEAF’s future interventions as well as inform its policy proposals and recommendations to governments.

I am very excited to be working on this project as it concerns a new and developing area of law. In that sense, LEAF is not trying to retroactively fix rape myths and stereotypes embedded in the law but actually set the agenda by ensuring that the legislatures, courts, and administrative bodies shape laws in line with women’s equality. While nowadays it is less acceptable to disparage survivors for having “asked for it,” such attitudes are still common when it comes to internet-based hate and abuse. For example, the judge in one of the cases that I researched is of the view that, to avoid receiving death and rape threats on Twitter, women should just stay off social media. However, just as drinking alcohol is not a permission for sexual advances, sending intimate images to one’s partner is also not a permission for those images to be posted on pornography websites. There is no clear line between our lives online and offline, and the courts need to adjust to that reality as soon as possible.

Aside from the image-based sexual violence project, I have also contributed to research in support of a potential intervention in R v Fraser. This case is on appeal to the SCC and concerns RCMP’s discriminatory pension policy towards part time employees, who are almost all women with childcare responsibilities. This is a very important case as it touches on how the pension system rewards full time, long-term, high-paying, permanent employment and effectively disregards and devalues part-time work, housework, and caring labour, which characterizes work overwhelmingly done by women. I hope to be involved with the case later into the school year.

I have also supported the LEAF staff in completing several other reports and submissions. I started my fellowship by contributing to LEAF’s chapter for a report created by the Centre for Policy Alternatives about Canada’s implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. The Beijing Platform concerns gender equality and was adopted by Canada and other countries at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. The signatories will convene in 2020 for the UN’s summit on Commission on the Status of Women in 2020 to evaluate their progress.

Another highlight of my summer thus far has been working on a project about alternative methods of sexual assault adjudication. I have written and contributed to chapters on campus sexual assault mechanisms, criminal injuries compensation programs, specialized domestic violence and sexual violence courts, and restorative and transformative justice approaches to sexual assault. I also assisted with drafting LEAF’s submission to the Law Society of Ontario on access to justice.

Last but not least, one of the most exciting aspects of my fellowship has been to connect with feminist legal scholars and practitioners from all over the country. It was reading the writing and work of these individuals that motivated me to go to law school in the first place, and it has been truly an honour to be able to meet and work with them during my time at LEAF. Overall, I have had an extremely fulfilling experience at LEAF, and I recommend this fellowship to students interested in using their legal knowledge and skills for social justice.

Paniz is a 2L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law, and was awarded an Asper Centre fellowship to work at LEAF this summer.