Donnie Snook will have a Parole Board of Canada hearing in July, but journalists won’t be allowed to attend and report on the hearing.
Snook’s sentence doesn’t expire until November 2030, but the former Saint John city councillor — who sexually abused boys in both New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador — became eligible for day parole in December 2018 and full parole in June 2019, according to the board.
CBC News applied to observe any hearings scheduled for Snook and was notified of the July hearing by letter.
But the board sent a second letter last week that says observers aren’t allowed to attend the hearings, which are being held remotely by videoconference or teleconference.
“In an effort to protect the health and safety of the public, Parole Board of Canada (PBC) Board members, staff, and inmates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the PBC has cancelled all observer attendance at its hearings until further notice,” says the letter, signed by regional communications officer Heather Byron.
No one from the parole board was made available for an interview about why observers aren’t allowed to attend hearings.
Victims can participate by phone
The board has made “technological and procedural enhancements” so victims can participate in hearings by phone. They can listen to the hearing and present statements for the board, Parole Board of Canada spokesperson Lisa Saether wrote in an emailed statement to CBC News.
But those accommodations are limited to victims, their support persons and offender assistants.
“PBC conditional release hearings include the exchange of personal and other information that is of a sensitive and confidential nature,” Saether wrote.
“Although observers may be permitted to attend PBC hearings, the information shared during a hearing is not considered to be in the public domain, and the PBC therefore has a duty to ensure this information is protected under the Privacy Act.”
She said the technology used to hold hearings remotely must be “secure and meet Government of Canada requirements.”
The idea that the information isn’t public is “outrageous,” according to Iain MacKinnon, the president of the Canadian Media Lawyers Association.
He said it’s almost unheard of to have a publication ban on any part of the hearing, as far as he knows.
“The fact that they take the view that this is not public, what happens at a hearing, is really problematic,” said MacKinnon, who is based in Toronto.
Secrecy erodes public confidence, media lawyer says
Refusing to provide even basic details, such as the date of a hearing, undermines the open court principle that the Supreme Court has repeatedly said is crucial to a functioning democracy, MacKinnon said.
“My concern is that it erodes the public confidence and the overall transparency of the system,” he said.
Earlier this spring, MacKinnon wrote to the board to question why journalists aren’t allowed to observe hearings, after several reporters were denied permission to attend a high-profile hearing in Ontario. He said the parole board wrote back to say it was temporary.
But several months have gone by without journalists being able to attend the hearings.
In her response to CBC News, Saether also described the ban on observers as “a temporary measure,” but her statement didn’t specify how long ir could last.
“The PBC is currently encountering a variety of technical issues in conducting its hearings remotely, which have led to, among other things, delays and interruptions in its hearings,” Saether said.
“The PBC has therefore determined that it does not have the capacity to facilitate the attendance of additional observers at its hearings at this time, which would further compound these issues.”
‘A lack of transparency’
In the meantime, journalists have to wait for a written decision to be issued in order to report on the hearing.
But without access to the hearing, the public will have little understanding of how the decision was made, MacKinnon said.
“There’ll be a lack of faith in the justice system generally on top of a lack of transparency,” he said.
“But it undermines the public’s confidence in the operation of the justice system.”
Snook admitted to abusing 17 young male victims over a 12-year period in Saint John, where he ran a popular lunch program for underprivileged children.
He also admitted to three child exploitation charges involving a boy under the age of 14 in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Snook has previously been granted permission to take several escorted temporary absences from prison. They included a trip to St. John’s in 2019 for his father’s funeral and outings in the Abbotsford, B.C. area, the region where Snook is believed to be serving his sentence, for “personal development” reasons.
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Even within the activities she says are acceptable to do before bed, there’s a spectrum. Schneeberg says you can imagine rating activities on a scale of one to 10, with one being super boring and 10 being super engaging. “You don’t want to be watching or reading a 10. That might be a thriller, for example, or a book your favourite author just published, or a brand-new, binge-able show,” she says. “Try to choose something that’s a five: not so boring that you don’t care, but just interesting enough that drowsiness can sneak up on you and you aren’t lying there worrying about whether you’ll be able to fall asleep. You want distraction — but only at a certain level.”
Trump allies take aim at his global media chief for firings – 570 News
WASHINGTON — Seven U.S. senators, including two strong allies of President Donald Trump, harshly criticized Trump’s new chief of U.S.-funded global media on Wednesday for firing the heads of several international broadcasters without consulting Congress. They expressed concern that the independent agency may become politicized.
Led by Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the group questioned the leadership of Michael Pack, Trump’s pick to head the Agency for Global Media, which runs the flagship U.S. broadcaster Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia, Middle East Broadcasting Networks and the Cuba-focused Radio/TV Marti.
Democrats have been outspoken in their concerns that Pack, a conservative filmmaker and associate of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, has been brought on board to turn VOA and the other outlets into a pro-Trump propaganda machine with little regard for the independence granted them by their founding charter. Wednesday’s letter was notable in that it was signed by the two powerful Trump allies who are particularly close to the president.
In a scathing letter to Pack, the senators complained he had given lawmakers no reason for the purge of qualified leaders at RFE/RL, RFA, MBN and the Open Technology Fund, a non-broadcast arm of the agency that works to provide secure internet access to people around the world. The director and deputy director of VOA resigned just days before the firings, which also included the dismissal of each of their governing boards.
“The termination of qualified expert staff and network heads for no specific reason as well as the removal of their boards raised questions about the preservation of these entities and their ability to implement their statutory missions now and in the future,” they wrote. “These actions, which came without any consultation with Congress, let alone notification, raise serious questions about the future of USAGM under your leadership.”
Pack was bitterly opposed by Democrats but was confirmed to his position last month on a party line 53-38 vote in the Senate. Rubio, Graham and the other two Republicans who signed the letter, Jerry Moran of Kansas and Susan Collins of Maine, all voted for his confirmation. Democrats Dick Durbin of Illinois, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who opposed Pack’s confirmation, also signed.
Pack has defended the moves as necessary to reform the agency, but Democrats and an increasing number of Republicans have taken issue with actions they fear could subvert its non-partisan mission. Conservatives have in particular assailed the firings of former Rubio staffer Jamie Fly as head of RFE/RL and former U.S. diplomat Alberto Fernandez as head of MBN.
A request for comment about the letter was not immediately acknowledged by Pack’s office. But, in a statement issued after the initial criticism of the firings, he said: “Every action I carried out was — and every action I will carry out will be — geared toward rebuilding the USAGM’s reputation, boosting morale, and improving content.”
Regardless of any needed reforms. the senators said it is critical for AGM’s outlets to hold true to their charter of independence and provide global audiences with unbiased and credible news and other programming. This, they said, is particularly important as the U.S. confronts increasing misinformation and disinformation campaigns from Russia, China and Iran.
“We urge you to respect the unique independence that enable USAGM’s outlets and grantees to help cultivate a free and open world,” the wrote. “Given the bipartisan and bicameral concern with recent events, we intend to do a thorough review of USAGM’s funding to ensure that United States international broadcasting is not politicized and that the agency is able to fully and effectively carry out its core mission.”
Matthew Lee, The Associated Press
Turkey: Erdogan vows social media controls over insults to family – Al Jazeera English
Turkey’s president has vowed to tighten government control over social media following alleged insults directed at his daughter and son-in-law when they announced the birth of their fourth child on Twitter.
Addressing his party’s provincial leaders via a conference call on Wednesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened new legislation by the year’s end to stringently regulate “immoral” social media.
“Do you understand why we are against social media such as YouTube, Twitter and Netflix? To eradicate such immorality,” Erdogan told members of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
He said his government is determined to introduce legislation that would force social media companies to establish a legal presence in Turkey.
The requirement would mean they could be held financially accountable and forced to respond to Turkish court decisions.
‘Abusing a newborn’
Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, who is married to Erdogan’s daughter Esra, on Tuesday announced the birth of their fourth child, Hamza Salih, on Twitter.
The announcement was followed by insulting messages questioning the paternity.
Erdogan said investigations were under way against those who “attacked” his family by “abusing a newborn”.
“We will keep chasing these cowards who attack a family and the values they believe represented by them through a baby,” Erdogan said.
The Turkish leader blamed global social media companies with headquarters in Western nations for “turning a blind eye” to violations in Turkey.
“We experienced similar attacks in the past. The lack of monitoring on these platforms have a role in the rise of this sort of immoral behaviour,” he said.
“These platforms do not suit this country. We want these platforms to be banned, taken under control.”
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said a number of social media users had been detained overnight for allegedly posting insulting tweets.
Many Turks rallied in support of the president’s family and condemned the insults, including opposition politicians.
History of bans
Ankara regularly clamps down on dissent, most recently on posts about its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is accused of targeting opposition politicians, journalists, academics and lawyers for expressing their opinions online.
Erdogan last week faced a flood of “dislikes” on YouTube while addressing youth before their exams. When the live chat was quickly closed to comments, “No Votes” started trending on Twitter.
Turkish authorities have previously imposed temporary blocks on Twitter and other social media during crises, for example, following an air attack in Syria’s Idlib that killed dozens of Turkish soldiers in February this year.
Although Erdogan’s comments came days after the reported insults on social media, his government has long been considering amendments that would enable it to keep social media giants such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube in check by forcing them to remove content or risk facing heavy fines and restricted access to their platforms.
Critics fear the move is aimed at further limiting the Turkish public’s ability to access independent news outlets in an environment dominated by pro-government media.
Turkey has blocked access to thousands of websites. In January, the government lifted a more than two-year ban on Wikipedia after Turkey’s top court ruled the block was unconstitutional.
Turkey had halted access to the online encyclopedia after it refused to remove content the government deemed to be offensive.
In December 2015, Turkey’s communications regulator issued an unprecedented fine on Twitter for allowing the publication of content deemed to justify terror.
Erdogan’s aversion to social media platforms dates back to huge anti-government protests in 2013, which were often mobilised by Twitter and Facebook posts.
Al Jazeera and news agencies
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