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Access to Justice in Action at the Yukon Human Rights Commission

By Garima Karia

This summer, I have had the immense fortune of moving to Whitehorse, Yukon to work alongside the fantastic humans at the Yukon Human Rights Commission (“the Commission”). As I read my peers’ reflections on their own human rights internship experiences, many of which include musings and lessons surrounding remote work, I feel both incredibly lucky and guilty – lucky that I was able to spend nine out of twelve weeks in the Yukon, and guilty that I happened upon this rare privilege in the midst of a pandemic. All that I can say is that I’m deeply grateful, and that I hope to do right by the opportunity.

At the Commission, my main duties are three-fold: I take “duty” shifts, during which I am the point-person in the office for inquiries from members of the public; I draft legal memos on questions of law and procedure that come up in human rights complaint investigations; and I support the human rights investigators by transcribing interviews, editing investigation reports, and talking through various aspects of human rights and administrative law as they apply to investigations. I have also been lucky enough to witness our Director facilitate settlement discussions and shadow him in his role as the “gatekeeper” at the threshold stage of the human rights complaint process.

Thus far, my favourite part of the job has been taking human rights inquiries from the public. This arm of the Commission operates similarly to a legal clinic (like the Legal Information Clinic at McGill, where I have been a caseworker in the past). We listen to an inquirer’s story or question (sometimes multiple questions!), and then provide relevant information about the Yukon Human Rights Act and the Commission’s human rights complaint process. Two key elements of an inquiry are explaining, in simple terms, the prima facie test for discrimination and the duty to accommodate. Both are core elements of the Act that work to guard against human rights violations and discrimination. The “ground-harm-nexus” model underlying the prima facie test can sometimes be justifiably difficult for inquirers to grasp. Many will state that they are a member of a vulnerable group that is protected under the Act, and that they experienced a harm in one of the protected areas (e.g. employment or accessing goods and services), but the nexus – the idea that the harm was driven by and sufficiently connected to discrimination based on a protected characteristic (such as gender expression, race, religion, or family status) – is the hardest to grasp.

Inquiries are challenging because they can often be very personal and emotional for the individual seeking assistance from the Commission. During my time here, I have dealt with inquiries pertaining to wrongful dismissal for disability or family status reasons to visitation rights of inmates and discrimination perpetuated by medical professionals. I have also encountered numerous COVID-related inquiries about vaccine status “discrimination” and mask mandates. Even though I am unable to provide legal advice as a Commission employee, I can comfort those who sought assistance from the Commission and assure them that I would do my best to guide them through the process. Engaging with Yukoners in this way – hearing and responding to their inquiries – feels like the most “human” part of my job. Although I love legal research and diving deeply into a niche question of law, I sometimes find that theoretical exercises leave me feeling distant from the actual practice of law and access to justice. Inquiries, on the other hand, illustrate how legal information can empower people to autonomously make informed decisions and choices that are attuned to their particular situation(s) or lived experience(s), which is what I think access to justice is all about. It’s rewarding to equip someone who felt powerless in their situation with resources and information that empower them to seek recourse and feel supported in doing so.

I am also learning a lot from the exercise of explaining human rights law without legal jargon. I am able to see, first-hand, how easily digestible the law can be without the opacity I often come across in law school settings. Many inquirers who come to the Commission cannot afford direct legal action and have exhausted many other avenues for resolution. They are often frustrated and losing hope – many have told me that they aren’t ready to give up on their cases but are tired of losing time and facing dead ends. Something as simple as understanding a legal test and filling out a complaint form, thereby commencing a dispute resolution process, gives some degree of reprieve to many people.

Human rights commissions and tribunals across the country provide free access to discrimination-related dispute resolution. In doing so, individuals who have experienced discrimination can seek justice in a very tangible and inexpensive way, unlike through the courts. However, like other useful bodies in the legal sphere, many human rights commissions are understaffed and underfunded, which can lead to significant delays. I plan to learn more about access to justice efforts in the administrative legal space in order to (hopefully) raise more awareness about and increase support for this avenue for dispute resolution in Canada.

The Ups and Downs of Remote Working

Emma SitlandBy Emma Sitland

This summer, I am interning with the International Justice Division at Human Rights Watch. Most of the work I am doing is research focused on situations before the International Criminal Court and instances of mass atrocities outside the jurisdiction of the ICC. Though I am lucky to be doing intellectually stimulating work with and incredible team, after passing the half-way mark of my internship, I am well-versed in the frustrations of working remotely that many of us are feeling right now. Social interactions coworkers are sparse (and often awkward), my work/life divide has become non-existent and, between pets and roommates, it can be difficult to focus on the very serious nature of the work I am supposed to be doing. While there is nothing I would rather more than to be in NYC with my coworkers, experiencing an incredible city and meeting the highly impressive people that I have thus far only met via Teams, I also want to take a moment to appreciate the opportunities that have resulted from doing this internship remotely.

The work of the International Justice Division at Human Rights Watch takes place all over the globe – I have been conducting research and drafting memos on situations from Afghanistan to Myanmar, to the Philippines. Working remotely means that I am given the opportunity to sit on meetings and conferences all over the world that I otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance to.  For instance, I spent most of my first two weeks sitting in on meetings at the Hague, with key actors from international NGOs and the ICC discussing developments at the Court and civil society’s role with regards to themes from gender equality to victim’s rights – an incredible learning opportunity, and one that I would not have had had the transnational trip been replaced by Zoom.

Most recently, I have been working on a project on transitional justice in Liberia. After the Liberian civil wars, there were no formal mechanisms for accountability put into place. While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created by the Transitional Government to “promote national peace, security, unity and reconciliation” recommended the establishment of a War Crimes Court to prosecute offenders, this never came into fruition. The only justice victims have seen thus far is through universal jurisdiction cases, such as the case against Alieu Kosiah that rendered a guilty verdict in Switzerland. Despite the fact that it has been over 20 years since the conflict, members of the Liberian government want to further delay justice. The project that I am working on, in collaboration with members of the IJ team and partners across Europe and Liberia, is trying to prevent this. Now that workplaces across the world have moved online, I am given opportunities to participate in discussions that otherwise would have taken place half a world away.

Obviously, I would rather be spending my summer in Manhattan, going to work at the Empire State Building every day – but I am also trying to find things to be grateful for because, despite global circumstances being less than ideal, my internship thus far has been an incredible learning opportunity and period of growth.

Trouver sa place au travail, à 13 fuseaux horaires

Janelle Deniset Par Janelle Deniset

On utilise souvent l’expression « à l’autre bout du monde » comme exagération pour dire « c’est ben loin ça! » Cet été, je fais un stage à distance qui est littéralement à l’autre bout du monde. Treize fuseaux horaires, onze mille neuf cent vingt-cinq kilomètres, plus de dix-huit heures de vol; ceci représente la distance entre Winnipeg, Canada et Manille, Philippines.

Ayant vécu et travaillé à l’étranger à quelques reprises – à Prague, à Genève et à Nairobi – je sais qu’un des plus grands plaisirs est de s’immerger dans son environnement. Ceci est particulièrement important avec le travail des droits de la personne, puisqu’il est intimement lié au contexte dans lequel il opère. Vu la distance entre le bureau à Manille et mon appartement à Winnipeg, ceci fut un des plus grands défis de mon stage.

Dans les derniers mois, j’ai beaucoup réfléchi sur quels types de connaissances sont perdus lorsque nous travaillons à distance. Prenons comme exemple mon séjour au Kenya; j’ai travaillé avec une organisation kenyane, entourée de personnel d’Afrique de l’Est. À l’heure du dîner, je discutais avec eux de tout et de rien; de la popularité de WizKid à Nairobi au rôle de l’identité ethnique dans la politique kenyane. Pour plus de huit heures par jour, mon subconscient apprenait en arrière-plan sur des particularités sociales et culturelles, parfois intangibles, qui définissaient mon milieu. J’ai développé de véritables liens et amitiés avec mes collègues et, par conséquent, un sens de communauté avec eux.

Ce n’est que cet été que j’ai remarqué à quel point j’avais tenu ces connaissances pour acquises. Elles ont approfondi ma compréhension du contexte dans lequel je travaillais en éclairant les aspects sociaux et culturels plus subtils et en rendant mon travail plus réactif à mon environnement.

Il est plus difficile (mais pas impossible) de nouer des relations, de créer un sentiment de communauté et de bien comprendre les subtilités d’un milieu quand nous ne sommes jamais allés à cet endroit. Cela a été un défi important dans le cadre de mon stage aux Philippines qui se déroule en ligne et à distance. Sans faute de l’organisation pour laquelle je travaille, le format du télétravail n’est pas propice aux échanges informels et au partage de connaissances. La structure est plus rigide et ne se prête pas facilement aux interactions sociales et à la camaraderie. On oublie à quel point les cafés de dix minutes, les dîners d’équipe et les petites discussions avant ou après une réunion jouent un rôle à établir des relations et à favoriser des échanges d’information.

Mes collègues ont fait un très bon travail pour m’informer autant que possible et, au cours de l’été, j’ai acquis quelques connaissances sur les aspects plus subtils de mon environnement. Cependant, cela a pris plus de temps et un effort conscient de notre part. Autant que la distance crée une barrière, il est possible de la franchir, peu à peu, en fournissant un effort continu pour mieux comprendre notre contexte de travail et pour répondre aux besoins des communautés.

Equitable Access to a Quasi-Constitutionally Protected Facility

By Nicholas Pineau

My summer spent with the HIV Legal Network has radically deepened my understanding of harm reduction and human rights in Canada. While my first year of law school discussed the subject in various classes (such as in the context of physician-assisted suicide in the Carter case), I have enjoyed getting to learn more about supervised consumption sites (SCS) during my internship. SCS were quasi-constitutionally protected by the Supreme Court of Canada in their 2011 Insite decision. The Court held that such sites save lives, and the Minister of Health arbitrarily denying a Vancouver site the requisite exemption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act ran afoul of the right to life, liberty, and security of the person of individuals who access the site. While this decision deepened acceptance of harm reduction practices in Canada, there remains much work to be done to ensure equitable access to SCS.

One issue I have been working on during my internship is the practice of assisted injection, where individuals require assistance to properly inject substances at SCS. This practice is currently not allowed at SCS in Canada, creating a barrier to access for certain marginalized groups. Notably, it is often women (who often inject with intimate partners) and persons with disabilities who struggle to inject on their own. This limits access to a life-saving facility, and one is left to question whether such a restriction would run afoul of Section 7 of the Charter if a new decision à la Insite were to come out today.

One barrier erected by the Canadian government in its restriction on assisted injection is that it leaves the door open to numerous forms of liability for nurses in Canada if they were to assist SCS clients. A recent report I helped draft for the Network focused on some of these considerations—what are the potential criminal, civil, and professional body liabilities that could arise if a nurse were to assist with injection, and something were to go wrong?

This report allowed me to sharpen my legal research, reasoning, and writing skills. Because there is limited jurisprudence on the subject, I had to be creative in my utilization of available Canadian law. As an example, to answer the question of whether a nurse could be found guilty of manslaughter if a client were to die after being assisted with injection, I relied on the 2019 case R v Javanmardi, where an Ontario naturopathic doctor was not held liable for manslaughter for injecting an individual with a naturopathic substance. Justice Abella, writing the majority opinion, held that the act of injecting by a properly qualified professional was not dangerous enough in and of itself to warrant a finding of the requisite mens rea to convict someone of manslaughter. While the Javanmardi case is not a direct parallel to assisted injection at SCS, it offers an analogous reason to believe that the Court may see assisted injection as a life-saving harm reduction practice that increases equitable access to SCS, rather than a criminal act.

Another interesting consideration for the practice of assisted injection is how ‘safe supply’ impacts the potential liability nurses may face. As a result of the ‘dual pandemics’ of COVID-19 and opioid overdoses in Canada, the Canadian government authorized physician-prescribed opioids to limit the potential for overdose from the toxic street supply. The fact that such opioids are prescribed may limit the potential liability nurses may face for assisting with injection. The strength and non-toxicity of the substances are known before injecting, and if the alternative is that individuals inject on the street—where there is a risk of disease transmission from needle sharing or risk of arrest from police surveillance—then it becomes difficult to understand why assisted injection is restricted at SCS. A harm reduction perspective would contend that the possibility of assisted injection limits the potentially deleterious impact of leaving women and people with disabilities to inject on the street, with no one potentially available to intervene in the event of an overdose.

Overall, my summer at the HIV Legal Network has been illuminating, and I have loved seeing the issues we learn about in law school from a more nuanced and deeper perspective. While most of us would celebrate the Supreme Court of Canada’s acceptance of SCS in its 2011 decision, we never learn about what came after, and how such sites are not perfect solutions on their own. Political activism and advocacy remain necessary to ensure equitable access to government-sanctioned harm reduction services, and to fully realize the human rights of those living with or affected by HIV.

Peruvian Disability Rights and Civil Reform

Isabel BaltzanBy Isabel Baltzan

For my IHRIP experience, I’ve had the opportunity to join the Instituto de Democracia y Derechos Humanos at the PUCP in Lima — following along with a course on disability law and disability-related human rights issues in Peru, with work in an accompanying legal clinic. This is my first legal internship experience. I felt nervous and unprepared at first, and so, so far from any of my classmates over 6,000 km away.

I’ve been placed with a group of students, all in their last year of courses, and thrown into a course that expertly draws the historical and legal framework for rights granted (or not) to disabled people in the region. The course focuses on interesting and important ethical and moral debates that the law needs to answer for. I’ve quickly realized that though I’ve done a year of law school and a few years of living before that, I am in no way at the caliber of the people around me — not in legal knowledge (let alone in the Peruvian system), not in disability rights, nor in Spanish (never even mind legal jargon). So, I’ve spent a lot of time listening, filling in knowledge gaps on my own time, and mulling over the issues that are brought up.

I want to point out some thoughts I’ve had over the course of my internship, with it being my first dive into the world of human rights and disability. Granted, I never really know what’s going on — as an intern I expect to feel lost but doing it over email, WhatsApp and Zoom really adds to that feeling — so classes are always an interesting surprise, as are the cases we are presented. I’ve first learned that Peru has recently undergone an overhaul of its disability rights, and changes enacted in 2018 now allow people with disabilities to take advantage of their legal capacity — their ability to manifest a will, and move through the world much like everyone else does. This in turn has been accompanied by the phasing out of interdicción, a state in which a disabled person is deprived of their rights (under the guise of their best interest) and all legal decisions are handed off to a curator — with little to no oversight of how effective or respectful the process is. Nowadays, a system of apoyos (literally, ‘supports,’ but possibly better translated as advocates) and salvaguardias (safeguards) has replaced interdicción. The current system seeks to support disabled people in the exercise of their legal capacity, ideally while respecting and affirming their needs and wants. The new system also benefits from oversight granted by safeguards. A fantastic reform.

Now, of course, just because we say things are different doesn’t mean they actually are any different. Calling the same thing by another name is not progress unless actual change occurs. Progressive law (more progressive than lots of places — cough, California, cough, #FreeBritney), as amazing as it is when enacted, needs to be followed for anyone to reap its benefits. One issue that came up often was disabled people petitioning for rights at the court and the judge requiring them to get an apoyo to be granted what they might be asking — even though the disabled person seems completely able to exercise their legal capacity. Why? Perhaps the judges are used to working through curators with the disabled population. Perhaps, discrimination and stereotyping prevail. Possibly, a misunderstanding that something was supposed to change after 2018.

One case in particular comes to mind as an example of the darker side of reform. It had been moving through the courts for quite some time, and involved an older woman who had been under a curator — someone close to her — through interdicción, for many years. Unfortunately, the curator had passed and the woman was left in a sort of vacuum — the interdicción system had been overhauled, so she wouldn’t get another curator, and would need an apoyo if any legal issues came up, which eventually they did. Seems easy. Except, in order to begin the process of naming an apoyo for herself, she needed some documents from an office that wouldn’t give them to her because she needed legal representation through a curator (deceased and irreplaceable) or an apoyo (yes, a total real-life, awful catch-22). Funny enough, this situation is analogous to one described by Lon Fuller in his Eight Consequences of Failure — “(6) rules that require conduct beyond the powers of the affected party.” The solution was for the legal clinic to request a procedural curator for the woman just until she got an apoyo — but in the meantime, this woman has suffered serious violations to her rights to access to justice and to defense, leaving her effectively in a state of utter vulnerability. This can’t be the progress sought out by the reform, but it’s the reality of the situation.

The whole affair underscores for me how important it is to consider the impact of sweeping reforms that seek to improve a system — to consider who exactly is making a sacrifice for the benefit of all. It really highlights how important it is for the systems in place to move with reforms, instead of just letting reforms pass through them. This isn’t to say that my entire experience at the IDEHPUCP has been disheartening, though it’s unrealistic to assume it would all be joy and glory. The clinic does incredibly important work to educate students and the public on disability-related topics, and it is fulfilling beyond belief to be a small part of meaningful and impactful changes in people’s lives through the clinic. I’ll write more soon about the experiences of clinic work and some interesting debates we’ve had throughout the course.

Cheers,

Isabel

Navigating the Boundaries of Remote Work at Avocats Sans Frontières

Johanna ClineBy Johanna Cline

With only two weeks left at my placement at Avocats Sans Frontières Canada (ASFC), I am incredibly grateful to have worked with such a supportive and invested team, albeit remotely, over the past three months.

Like many fellow interns, I worked from the comfort of home this summer. Although working for a Quebec organization from Montreal did not entail different time zones, like those faced by some of my McGill colleagues this summer, the experience still required making up for a lack of in person interactions. Successful communication throughout the day meant being active on Slack and reaching out for a quick video call when questions arose. My colleagues established an open environment where I felt comfortable getting in touch with any queries. Outside of clarifications related to my mandates, my colleagues were generous enough to answer questions about their respective paths in the field of law, which provided me with valuable insight into life post-McGill.

The legal team also hosted weekly “café d’équipes” where new employees, such as myself, were invited to share not only our current projects at ASFC, but also our star signs and weekend plans. The casual atmosphere at these brief meetings set a comfortable tone and made up for the water-cooler chat I missed out on due to the pandemic.

During my internship, my supervisor Claire thoughtfully chose mandates centered around my interests, particularly in health law and discrimination. I have completed projects on jurisprudence related to sexual and reproductive health as well as intersectionality. I have also had the chance to research topics I might not have otherwise studied in law school, such as the legal concept of the querulous litigant.

Not only has my internship been an opportunity to fine-tune my legal research skills, it’s been an excellent chance to brush up on my French. Based in Quebec, ASFC operates primarily in French and Spanish. Reading, writing and conversing entirely in French has certainly boosted my confidence in my language capacities.

My internship at ASFC has provided me with everything I could have hoped for this summer: engaging work, friendly coworkers who doubled as mentors, and countless opportunities to branch out my pre-existing legal knowledge. While I am eager to spend my last couple weeks of summer vacation with family in New Brunswick, I will miss being engaged in the interesting projects and brilliant environment my colleagues have established at ASFC. I am very grateful to have been a part of the team if only for three months.

Battered Woman Syndrome and Plea Bargains: Gaps in Defending Vulnerable Women

Kassandra NeranjanCo-Authored by Noa Mendelsohn Aviv (Canadian Civil Liberties Association Equality Director) and Kassandra Neranjan; Originally Published: https://ccla.org/blog-ccla-2/

Helen Naslund, a 56 year old grandmother, was sentenced to 18 years in jail for manslaughter after killing her abusive husband while he was sleeping, and then hiding his body. This exceedingly long sentence is 16 years longer than the average sentence imposed for manslaughter by a woman of a male partner,  according to a 2002 report. Helen’s sentence was decided within a criminal justice system that imposes  mandatory sentences (and deters self-defence claims). And it seems to take minimal account of the trauma, threats, and very real dangers faced by women who live with intimate partner violence (also known as “battered women’s syndrome”).

These are the facts of Helen’s case, accepted by both her lawyer and the government lawyer who prosecuted her: Helen’s husband, Miles, had for over 27 years, been physically violent with her, and made comments to her that made her fear for her safety while he was heavily intoxicated and wielding firearms. Helen was depressed for years and made a number of suicide attempts, but did not feel she could leave the marriage due to the “history of abuse, concern for her children, depression, and learned helplessness.” On the weekend before she shot him, Miles became angry with Helen over a broken tractor, ordered her around while “handling his firearm,” and hurled wrenches at her. On the day she shot him, he threatened to make her “pay dearly,” and his threatening behaviour increased throughout that day. That night, Helen killed Miles while he slept. In the morning, she hid his body in a pond where it remained for six years while she misled police as to his whereabouts.

These too are facts: in Canada, on average every 6 days, a woman is killed by her intimate partner. Women with disabilities, Indigenous women, and queer women are subjected to increased rates of intimate partner violence.

Courts have for decades recognized battered women’s syndrome (BWS) as a subset of post-traumatic stress disorder. Some courts have explained women’s experience of the cycle of violence in terms of their fear, shame, terror and victimization that led them to pull the trigger. Courts have also recognized non-stereotypical, rational explanations as to why a woman might stay in an abusive relationship – to protect her children from abuse, limited social and financial support, and the lack of a guarantee that the violence would end if she left – and how her use of deadly force against her abuser, even outside the heat of a conflict, may have been reasonable to preserve her own life.

BWS has been used to support a claim of self-defense for women who have killed their abusers in “quiet” moments, such as when the abusive spouse was sleeping or not actively going after her. Yet to claim this defense in court, one has to go to trial and risk conviction. If convicted, currently, there is a mandatory penalty: life in jail without parole for 25 or 10 years for first or second degree murder, respectively.

Helen Naslund was charged with first degree murder. Faced with this terrifying risk, she pled guilty to manslaughter. Other women who have done the same then raised BWS as a factor that should lessen their sentence. However in Helen’s case, the plea bargain required her to also agree to the 18 year sentence. The prosecutor sought to justify this harsh penalty by delineating certain “aggravating factors” – factors that bear a painful resemblance to Helen’s own experience over 27 years of  abuse. First, he argued, “…this offence involved an intimate partner and position of trust. Second, it involved the use of a firearm. The reasonable foreseeability of harm with a firearm involved is obviously greater. Number three, this occurred in the victim’s own home, a place where he’s entitled to feel safe.” The irony – and injustice – of these arguments was apparently lost on the prosecution.

The prosecutor did also set out other “aggravating factors” with respect to how Helen had disposed of Miles’ body, and her efforts to deceive police about what she had done, however none of these justified the lengthy sentence imposed.

BWS is a legally recognized doctrine that should be available to women who, after years of abuse, are highly attuned to escalating violence and threats, and may in a critical moment act to preserve their own life, even if outside a heated exchange. Statistics about the number of women killed by their intimate partners crystallize the very real threat faced by women like Helen.

The prosecutor had the authority all along to lower the charges against Helen to manslaughter, or to strike a different, more humane bargain that recognized the dangers she had faced.

And the sentencing judge had the power, in extraordinary circumstances like these, to override the plea bargain’s terms and reduce the sentence. Instead, he offered her a word of sympathy stating: “Although I have empathy for … you, this requires a stern sentence…Deterrence is the main principle of sentencing that has to be looked at, deterrence and denunciation …”. Then he sentenced her to 18 years in prison.

Battered women’s syndrome allows us to question the goals of the criminal justice system when faced with the violence women are subjected to in society. Ultimately, courts and government should be spending more time on deterring this violence; on building a society in which women are deemed equal and can exist without threats to their security.

Helen’s case is one damning example of the dangers of mandatory minimum sentences.

Perhaps what needs to be denounced is not solely Helen’s act, but the systems of policing, social security, and gender norms that allowed her subjugation to violence for 27 years going unquestioned.

Perhaps what needs to be denounced is a justice system that could allow for a plea bargain that imprisons a survivor of abuse to 18 years.

Perhaps what needs to be denounced is a justice system that appears inadequate to represent the complex lived experiences of people before the law.

Listening and Learning at the Indigenous Law Centre

By Bryce Lansdell

This summer I have been working remotely as an intern at the Indigenous Law Centre (ILC), based out of the University of Saskatchewan. My principal roles have been to work as a teaching assistant for the ILC’s summer program and to help with curriculum development for a certificate in Indigenous and Aboriginal law, the latter of which will be the subject of another blog post. The ILC summer program is offered to Indigenous law students who will be entering their first year of studies at a Canadian law school in September and allows these students to develop relationships with other future Indigenous legal professionals, gather valuable experience in developing the skills and habits necessary for law school, and lower the number of mandatory courses they will need to take in their first year. Students take two accredited courses: a class in Property law and a class called Kwayeskastasowin—a Cree phrase which roughly translates to “setting things right”—which serves as an introduction to Indigenous laws, worldviews, and how these laws are being revitalized in a colonial context.

Given that I have only completed one year of my law degree and that my studies have only been online, I was initially nervous that my lack of experience would make it difficult to work as a teaching assistant. Instead, I found that being able to clearly remember my first assignments, exams, and what it was like to develop studying techniques in law allowed me to give detailed feedback to students. I also found that having done my entire first year online, in which we learned to network and develop friendships exclusively virtually, gave me a helpful perspective in seeking to create contexts where students could connect both with the teaching assistants and with each other.

While I have enjoyed regularly meeting with students to help them prepare for assignments, midterms, and exams, one of the most meaningful experiences for me this summer started in the last week in May. I was in a morning call on Zoom with a student who was visibly distressed, and when I asked what was going on, she shared that many students in the program were upset about the “news in Kamloops.” This was the first I had heard about what turned into multiple findings of missing and unmarked graves across Canada this summer. I was uncertain of what to say to the student when presented with the news that 215 unmarked graves had been found at a residential school. Not being overly good at reacting well to the unexpected on the spot, I tried to express how horrible the situation was without much success before we continued our discussion of course material. However, I left the meeting with my heart feeling quite heavy. Although I was aware of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action regarding missing and unmarked graves at residential schools, hearing this news directly from an Indigenous student made the pain and suffering from residential schools feel far more real to me than it had been previously.[1]

In the coming week for both courses, we were sure to check in with how students were doing and made space for students to share with the class how they were processing the news. Though what was shared is confidential, I found it heartbreaking to hear about how personal and close to home the harm of residential schools is for so many of the students, their families, and their communities. Later, in a meeting with ILC Director Marilyn Poitras, Marilyn shared frustration and dismay that Indigenous people’s testimonies about residential schools were only being reckoned with now that bodies have been identified, despite there having long been various accounts of unmarked graves and higher than reported death rates at residential schools in Indigenous communities, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 2015 report on Missing Children and Unmarked Burials,[2] and despite reports even in the early 20th Century by Dr. Peter Henderson Bryce about the appalling conditions and high death rate in residential schools which were ignored by the government.[3]

Although hearing of the grief and frustration of the students was heartbreaking, I also felt very honoured and privileged to be in the classroom with them. While I am only in the early stages of learning what role I can play in reconciliation, I believe one thing I can personally do is to spend more time listening to and learning from the stories and experiences of Indigenous people. In turn, I am very grateful for the opportunity that my internship with the ILC has afforded me to do so this summer.

The first day of the ILC summer program held virtually.

[1] See Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action (Winnipeg: TRC, 2015) at Calls to Action 71-76 <http://trc.ca/assets/pdf/Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf>.

[2] See Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Missing Children and Unmarked Burials in Canada’s Residential Schools: The Final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, vol 4 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2015) <http://www.trc.ca/assets/pdf/Volume_4_Missing_Children_English_Web.pdf>.

[3] See P.H. Bryce, The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice to the Indians of Canada (Ottawa: James Hope & Sons, 1922).

The Procedure Underpinning Human Rights at the Commission

Jeremy Wiener By Jeremy Wiener

This summer, I am working at the Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse (CDPDJ). Every Canadian province has a human rights commission or tribunal, and the CDPDJ is Quebec’s. The CDPDJ’s principal task is promoting the principles enshrined in Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms (which has quasi-constitutional status). To promote the Charter, the CDPDJ makes recommendations to the Quebec government regarding statutory law’s conformity  with the Charter, promotes scholarly research and publications on issues related to the Charter, carries out investigations of discrimination, and even represents complainants before the Tribunal des droits de la personne by drafting factums and pleading before judges.

My work has entailed researching questions of law to help the CDPDJ represent those who allege that they have been discriminated against. I do so, however, not only by researching anti-discrimination law. I have also analyzed procedural law, and the law relating to business association and civil evidence – law taught in McGill law courses that I have not taken yet! This has reminded me that protecting people’s constitutional rights requires much more legal knowledge than what only relates to constitutional law.

Like many of my friends and colleagues, I am working remotely this summer due to Covid-19. This has, naturally, and not surprisingly, proved challenging. But it has also presented unique opportunities. For example, if I was working at the Commission’s office, I would not be able to take a two-minute break from working to play with my dog as I do now!

All jokes aside, my colleagues at the Commission have gone to great lengths to make working remotely feel like we are working inter-connectedly, and I very much appreciate it! My internship thus far has proved incredibly insightful and formative, and I thank all those at McGill, IHRIP, and at the Commission who have made this opportunity possible.

Human Rights in Cyberspace: An online internship about human rights online

Niamh LeonardBy Niamh Leonard
This summer, I am working as a Legal Extern at the Citizen Lab. The Citizen Lab is an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy at the University of Toronto. The lab focuses on research, development, and high-level strategic policy and legal engagement at the intersection of information and communication technologies, human rights, and global security. I am working under the supervision of McGill Law graduate Siena Anstis, Senior Legal Advisor at the Lab (and an ultramarathoner!).

My primary focus is a research project on how regulation of surveillance technology exports can prevent human rights abuses. In particular, I am considering the role of corporate and state transparency practices. Surveillance technologies can have severe impacts on human rights: they can restrict freedom of expression, freedom of association or the right to privacy, but they can also enable unwarranted arrests and detentions, and in some cases torture or extrajudicial killings. Despite these human rights risks, they are often sold to governments with long track records of human rights violations, like Mexico.

I am researching the current legislative frameworks that exporting countries have in place to approve these exports, as well as the human rights obligations of exporting states under international and domestic law. My experience so far has been eye-opening: I have been delving into questions of international human rights law, trade law, national security and technology. I have also been expanding my vocabulary. For example, dual-use technologies are technologies that can have both military and civilian purposes. IMSI catchers (short for International Mobile Subscriber Identity catchers) are essentially fake cell phone towers that let operators intercept mobile phone data and location data. Zero-day exploits are types of cyberattacks that exploit a vulnerability in existing software before it is patched by the company’s developers. Although most of us have never heard about these technologies and approaches, they are becoming increasingly commonplace on the global stage and have direct repercussions on our rights.

A highlight of my internship thus far has been the opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team that advocates for a more just cyberspace through rigorous, thoughtful research. If you are looking for summer entertainment, I recommend Black Code or The Dissident, two documentaries that illustrate the importance of justice in cyberspace and feature Citizen Lab researchers.

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