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Court finds conditional sentence curbs are constitutional in Indigenous case

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OTTAWA — The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the constitutionality of provisions that prevent an offender from avoiding jail by serving their sentence in the community, finding no evidence they had a disproportionate effect on Indigenous people.

In a 5-4 decision Friday, the top court overturned an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that found the Criminal Code provisions violated the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The decision comes in the case of Cheyenne Sharma, a young Indigenous woman who pleaded guilty to importing two kilograms of cocaine in exchange for $20,000 from her boyfriend, a task she carried out to avoid eviction for herself and her daughter.

Sharma successfully challenged a Criminal Code provision that called for a two-year mandatory minimum sentence.

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However, a judge rejected her constitutional challenge of another provision that disallowed a conditional sentence for offences that can entail a stiff prison term.

Ultimately, she received a term of 18 months in custody, less than one month for pre-sentence detention, and time on bail.

Sharma contested the decision and the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that two Criminal Code sections relevant to her case violated the Charter, saying they discriminated against Indigenous people on the basis of race and were overbroad in relation to their purpose.

Under the Criminal Code sections in question, a conditional sentence could not be imposed when an accused person was convicted of an offence prosecuted by way of indictment with a maximum term of 14 years or life, or an offense prosecuted by indictment involving the import, export, trafficking or production of drugs, where the maximum penalty is 10 years in prison.

“The provisions deny Ms. Sharma a benefit in a manner that has the effect of reinforcing, perpetuating, and exacerbating her disadvantage as an Aboriginal person,” Justice Kathryn Feldman wrote for a majority of the Court of Appeal in 2020.

Sharma was 20 years old, with no criminal record, when she brought the cocaine into Canada.

The Court of Appeal noted the woman of Ojibwa ancestry, a member of the Saugeen First Nation, had a particularly difficult upbringing and has struggled with depression and anxiety.

As a child, Sharma and her family moved in with her grandmother after her father was arrested and deported to Trinidad.

Sharma was raped by two men while walking home at age 13. She was engaged in sex work by age 15. At 17, she became a single mother.

Her grandmother attended two residential schools as a child, prompting the sentencing judge to describe Sharma as “an intergenerational survivor of the government’s residential school effort to eradicate the cultural heritage of her people.”

The Court of Appeal found a conditional sentence of 24 months less a day should have been imposed.

Conditional sentences were introduced in the mid-1990s, allowing a judge to have the offender serve time in the community, including through a form of house arrest with strict conditions attached. The measures were aimed at encouraging principles of restorative justice and reducing reliance on time behind bars.

A conditional sentence could be imposed if the offence did not carry a minimum sentence, the sentence handed down was less than two years, and serving the sentence in the community did not pose a danger.

An additional provision instructed sentencing judges to consider alternatives to prison for all offenders, with particular attention to the circumstances of Indigenous people.

The Safe Streets and Communities Act, introduced by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, was passed by Parliament in 2012, eliminating the availability of a conditional sentence in various circumstances, including those in Sharma’s case.

In its decision Friday, a majority of the Supreme Court said Sharma did not show that the Criminal Code provisions in question created or contributed to a disproportionate effect on Indigenous offenders, relative to non-Indigenous ones, as she must do to demonstrate a violation of the Charter guarantee of equality under the law.

“The sentencing judge did not accept that the impugned provisions disproportionately impact Indigenous offenders, for good reason,” justices Russell Brown and Malcolm Rowe wrote on behalf of the majority.

“While the Court of Appeal overturned the sentencing judge’s conclusion, it failed to identify any evidence supporting Ms. Sharma’s argument that the impugned provisions created or contributed to a disproportionate impact on Indigenous offenders.”

The court also found the provisions are not arbitrary or overbroad, and therefore do not breach the Charter requirement that a law must respect the principles of fundamental justice if interfering with life, liberty or security of the person.

The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, which intervened in the case, said it was disheartened that the Supreme Court had reverted to a “technical and impoverished view” the Charter’s equality guarantee by placing “an undue burden on Indigenous defendants to prove what has already been recognized time and time again: the lasting legacy of colonialism in the criminal justice system has directly resulted in the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prisons.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2022.

 

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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Harjit Sajjan tweets about raising Qatar human rights at World Cup after criticism

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OTTAWA — International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan has tweeted about raising human rights concerns during his visit to Qatar for the World Cup after opposition criticism.

The NDP and the Bloc took Sajjan to task on Thursday because he had not made any public statement about Qatar’s documented mistreatment of migrant workers and the emirate’s anti-LGBTQ policies.

Both parties had called on the Liberals to diplomatically boycott the games instead of sending Sajjan.

When asked Thursday whether he raised these issues during the trip, Sajjan’s office responded that he was flying home and could not comment.

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Hours after The Canadian Press reported on the criticism of Sajjan’s visit, he tweeted that he met with local labour organizations and that he had “constructive dialogue” with Qatari officials on migrant and LGBTQ rights.

The tweets did not directly criticize the emirate’s policies.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022.

 

Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press

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Centre A Brings Back the Holiday Art Market and Will Transform Gallery Space Into a Tropical Cafe for the Second Iteration of the Silent Auction

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Vancouver, B.C., Canada (November 23, 2022) – Centre A: Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art is proud to announce Tropical Cafe: 2022 Centre A Holiday Art Market, the second iteration of Centre A’s annual end-of-year event.

 

With the participation of over 30 local artists, we will be transforming the gallery into a cafe-like space that will be furnished with artworks submitted to us by local and regional artists. The Tropical Cafe is not only a gathering place, but also a site for exchange, ignition, and clashes of ideas and ideals.

 

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Opening Reception:

 

Friday, November 26, 6 PM – 9 PM

 

Join us for this celebration! Many of the participating artists will be in attendance.

 

Location:

 

Unit 205, 268 Keefer Street, Vancouver, B.C., Canada, V6A 1X5

 

Gallery Hours:

 

Wednesday to Saturday, 12 PM – 6 PM

 

About the Event:

 

Tropical Cafe: 2022 Centre A Holiday Art Market: It’s that time of the year again! Centre A is bringing back its thematic Holiday Art Market after last year’s inaugural edition.

 

With a cold winter approaching after a warm fall, you won’t have to get on a plane to change your scenery! Come enjoy the sun and tropical vibes at Centre A and shop art for the holiday season!

 

This year’s theme is Tropical Cafe, and we will be transforming the gallery into a cafe-like space that will be furnished with over fifty artworks submitted to us by more than thirty talented local and regional artists. The Tropical Cafe is not only a gathering place, but also a site for exchange, ignition, and clashes of ideas and ideals.

About Centre A

Centre A is situated in Vancouver’s Chinatown, on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh peoples. We honour, respect, and give thanks to our hosts. Centre A gratefully acknowledges the support of all of our funders, donors, programming partners, and Centre A members.

Centre A is the only public art gallery in Canada dedicated to contemporary Asian and Asian-diasporic perspectives since 1999. Centre A is committed to providing a platform for engaging diverse communities through public access to the arts, creating mentorship opportunities for emerging artists/arts professionals, and stimulating critical dialogue through provocative exhibitions and innovative public programs that complicate understandings of migrant experiences and diasporic communities. In addition to our exhibition space, we house a reading room with one of the best collections of Asian art books in the country, including the Finlayson Collection of Rare Asian Art Books.

The gallery is wheelchair and walker accessible. If you have specific accessibility needs, please contact us at +1 (604) 683-8326 or info@centrea.org.

Subscribe to Centre A’s newsletter here.

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Media Contact

Dyana Kim

info@centrea.org

 

Centre A: Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art205-268 Keefer Street, Vancouver, BC V6A 1X5centrea.orgTel: +1 604-683-8326Fax: +1 604-683-8632Email: info@centrea.org
Subscribe to our newsletter: centrea.org/subscribe
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Ukrainian refugees embrace peace and quiet in Canada as war rages on

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OTTAWA — Inna Fomina is keeping a watchful eye on her one-year-old son Adrian as he plays in peaceful contentment on a carpet at an improvised space in western Ottawa.

Less than two months after mother and son arrived in Canada after the war in Ukraine forced them to flee, she’s been savouring the peace and quiet of her new home.

Fomina is visiting the café and drop-in centre, which was opened by the local Canadian Ukrainian community to help refugees like her.

“It’s another planet here,” she said with a smile.

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“Everything is so big: houses, cars.”

Her story is one of horror and displacement, but also one of hope and resilience.

The young mother has moved around frequently in recent months.

She’s originally from Kremenchuk in central Ukraine, on the banks of the Dnipro River. The city suffered heavy bombardment from Russian forces.

While she fled the bombs with her son, her husband remained behind and continues to work in the IT field. As a fighting-age man, he can’t leave.

Fomina never believed war was truly possible until the moment it began in  February, she told The Canadian Press.

“My father joked about it,” she said.

But one morning, at 6 a.m., she got the call from her mother-in-law: Kharkiv was under attack.

“I thought it would only last a few days,” she said. She was wrong.

Her parents’ village was partially destroyed. They fled. Fomina and her family briefly lived in an apartment with then two-month-old Adrian, but she ultimately decided to flee her bombed city and seek refuge in Canada.

“We were going to have to start from zero one day,” she said.

Her journey began with a trip to western Ukraine, then a 32-hour bus ride from Lviv to Lyon, in France.

The reason for that trip, she said, was to fulfill the complex criteria needed for admittance to Canada. That included submitting biometric data, which she said could not be accomplished from Ukraine or Poland.

It took her six months to get the proper paperwork before she was able to make the move to Canada at the beginning of October.

Fomina and her son are living in a small apartment and receiving help from the network of Ukrainian Canadians who opened the café. She’s hoping for a job in the computer science field.

One recent day, the café was presenting a documentary on the Ukrainian resistance, in association with the Ukrainian Embassy in Ottawa.

Sitting at the bar was Borys Syrskyj, a 69-year-old retired soldier. He wanted to enlist in Ukraine, but was refused because of his age. Now, he volunteers at the café.

Some six million Ukrainians have fled to neighbouring Poland, according to Anton Struwe, another volunteer. Some chose to stay there, while many others have left, or planned to.

The groups helping the refugees in Canada have their hands full: the newcomers need food, housing, furniture, jobs, schools and more.

At the café, a doctor who went to Ukraine in the spring to help the wounded stops by to offer his services to the newcomers who need a consultation. A worker takes down his name for future reference.

“Every pair of hands can help,” Syrskyj says.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 21, 2022.

 

Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press

 

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