Lawyer, Professor, Social Justice Advocate, Founder, All IN
Dyanoosh Youssefi is a social justice advocate, a lawyer, a professor, and a politico. She is the founder of All IN, an advocacy organization committed to promoting inclusive communities (allinadvocacy.ca). She writes about criminal justice issues on her blog, and volunteers with human rights and justice-seeking organizations. Follow Dyanoosh Youssefi on Twitter @DyanooshY.
What our criminal justice system needs is not mere fixes that further entrench the status quo and the adversarial, punishment-oriented and individualistic process we have now, but true transformational change.
The current system has tremendous shortcomings -- it abandons victims, leaving them to heal alone, at times powerless, and without any meaningful answers. There is a better way to help victims heal and to hold offenders accountable for their acts while empowering them to improve their lives. That alternative is restorative justice.
Toronto's police board has gone from refusal, to resistance, to resignation, to recognition of the problem, to partial resolution (the PACER report) and now, to retraction, recalcitrance and regression. What happened to the commitment to a fair and equitable society, to bias-free policing? The TPSB is set to vote this Thursday on a policy that is offensive and insidious. This new policy not only eliminates the requirement to issue receipts, but it takes us back even further than we were a few months ago. Is this the direction of an oversight body and a civilian boss that was once committed to diversity and fair treatment?
Laura Liscio, a criminal defence lawyer, was arrested in Brampton Court on Thursday, February 12, allegedly for passing narcotics to her in-custody client. According to many accounts, police arrested her in full view of the public, while she was in her lawyers' attire, about to enter a courtroom and represent her client. She should not have been arrested this way.
There has never been a more critical and opportune time to take control of Toronto's development plans. Our city is in the middle of a development boom, yet we face a housing crisis. Despite this grim reality, there is still the opportunity to do better for our city. In fact, we are well-positioned to build a beautiful city that is vibrant, inclusive, and more mindful of the environment.
What makes this case especially disconcerting is where freedom of religion is being permitted to trump basic equality. The "where" is a potential law school: the very place where students learn and train to become champions of equality and promoters of justice. Those of us in the legal profession flatter ourselves that the law is one of the greatest tools in advancing justice and in fighting inequality. Before being admitted to the bar, we take an oath to uphold the rule of law and to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all peoples.
Who needs to pay $200.00 a ticket to see Les Misérables in theatres, when we can get free, premium seats in our own courtrooms? Unreasonable fines and the threat of jail for a person's inability to pay a court-imposed fee affronts the spirit of our sentencing principles, is immoral and unconstitutional.
If the government cared about accountability and helping victims of crime, it would promote programs that help victims heal, confront their offenders and their fears, and move on with their lives. If the government truly cared about accountability and the welfare of victims, it would invest in good restorative justice programs.
On Tuesday, officer James Forcillo surrendered to the Special Investigations Unit, was taken into custody, and by the afternoon, was already out on bail. While the decision to release Forcillo pending his trial is, indeed, a sensible one, the injustice of the release stems from the fact that other accused persons are rarely offered the same rational, compassionate treatment.
Eighteen-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot nine times, Tasered, and killed by Toronto police early Saturday morning. It is unlikely that many details will emerge any time soon. And if history is an indicator, many of the details may never be known, unless there is a public inquiry. But while members of the police are required, by law, to co-operate with the SIU investigation, there are a great many obstacles that are likely to hamper the SIU's work. Here are some.
The proliferation of cellphone cameras is increasingly catching those meant to serve and protect us in acts of violence and brutality against us. But 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. Police culture CAN change. It is not intractable. But it will only change through the political power of engaged citizens.
Harper's government introduced Bill C-65, 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.
The Ontario government should not be afraid to resist Harper's misguided crime agenda. Instead of selling out another generation for political expediency, Ontario should commit the crime that Harper fears the most: sociology.
Richard Kachkar's not criminally responsible verdict has divided observers. 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. But an NCR finding is not tantamount to escaping justice. And it is not a ticket to freedom.
Every week, it seems the Harper government introduces a new bill or initiative purportedly aimed at making our "streets and communities safe." Rather than make us safer, however, these crime and punishment laws are leading us toward disaster. A complete list of all the changes would fill up a hefty book. Instead, here is a quick overview of a few of the laws that have been enacted by the Conservatives.
Our current federal government's approach to dealing with crime and helping victims has been simple and simply wrong: keep people in jail longer, increase sentences, expand mandatory minimums and focus on punishment, not prevention or rehabilitation.
The Crown is appealing the sentences of the former Toronto police drug squad officers who were convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and received 45-day conditional sentences (house arrest)...
In the House of Commons, Minister of Public Safety Vic Toews said "Individuals with mental health issues do not belong in prisons but rather in professional health facilities." He made this sweeping and dramatic claim in the wake of the release of the Ashley Smith videos, which portrayed her horrendous and inhumane treatment while she was in custody.
Toews's comments might give an observer hope -- hope that soon we will stop putting people with mental health problems in jails. But in reality, the actions of the federal government lead to a different, bleaker conclusion.
Ontario's Attorney General is directing the province's Crown Attorneys to report instances where police officers have lied while under oath. It's the best news to come out of the criminal justice system in a long time. Sort of. The police will then decide whether to charge one of their own, whether to discipline him or her internally, or whether to do nothing at all.