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Privacy czar probing complaints about federal public service vaccination requirement

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OTTAWA — The federal privacy watchdog is investigating “a number of complaints” about the government’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for public servants.

Privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a statement Friday his office was looking into the concerns, but provided no details given they are now the subject of “ongoing investigations.”

The Liberal government announced earlier this month that core public servants must be vaccinated against the virus or face suspension without pay as early as Nov. 15.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced this week that provinces and the federal government have agreed on a new national vaccine passport for domestic and international travel.

Therrien said his office has had “constructive discussions” with federal officials over the last few months on the standardized proof-of-vaccination for travel initiative.

“That being said, in recent days, our office has received a number of complaints related to the government’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement for federal public servants. We will therefore be investigating the application of privacy principles in this context.”

He added that although the initiatives are distinct, the principles applicable to vaccine passports for travel and to the vaccination requirement for federal public servants are the same.

“It would therefore be inappropriate to offer conclusions until we have completed our investigations,” Therrien said.

“Given the complaints about the public service vaccination requirement are now the subject of ongoing investigations, no further details can be provided.”

Therrien said Friday that vaccine passports might offer significant public health benefits but they remain exceptional measures. “They should only be imposed after careful consideration of privacy and other human rights principles.”

In May, Therrien and his counterparts across the country said respect for laws and principles governing personal information must guide introduction of proof-of-vaccination certificates that could smooth the transition to post-pandemic life.

In the joint statement, federal, provincial and territorial privacy commissioners said that in order to be justified, vaccine passports must be necessary to achieve their intended public health purposes, and their effectiveness in meeting the goals should be evidence-based.

The commissioners also said privacy risks associated with the initiative must be proportionate to the purpose, the personal information collection limited, the data used only for the intended goal, and the program have an expiration date.

“The government has provided us with information relevant to each of these criteria,” Therrien said Friday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 22, 2021.

Jim Bronskill, The Canadian Press

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Crime

A look at some recent convictions that have led to consecutive murder sentences

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The Supreme Court of Canada struck down a Criminal Code provision Friday that meant multiple murderers might have to wait 50 years or more to apply for parole.

The unanimous high court decision came Friday in the case of Alexandre Bissonnette, allowing him to seek parole after serving 25 years behind bars for fatally shooting six people at a Quebec City mosque in 2017.

Here is a look at some other cases where the law has been applied.

December 2018

Dellen Millard of Toronto is sentenced to a third life sentence for murder in the death of his father, Wayne Millard.

He was previously convicted along with his friend, Mark Smich, in the murders of Laura Babcock and Tim Bosma. He must serve 75 years before he can apply for parole.

February 2018

Benjamin Hudon-Barbeau, who infamously escaped from a Quebec detention centre by helicopter, is sentenced to life with no chance of parole for 35 years for ordering two murders and two attempted murders at the hands of a hit man.

December 2017

Basil Borutski, convicted of killing three women during an hour-long rampage in the Ottawa Valley in 2015, is sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 70 years.

Borutski was found guilty of first-degree murder in the slayings of Anastasia Kuzyk and Nathalie Warmerdam, and of second-degree murder in the slaying of Carol Culleton.

Derek Saretzky of Blairmore, Alta., is sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 75 years.

A jury convicted him of three counts of first-degree murder in the 2015 deaths of Terry Blanchette, Blanchette’s two-year-old daughter, Hailey Dunbar-Blanchette, and Hanne Meketech.

February 2017

Douglas Garland is sentenced to life in prison without parole for 75 years for killing Alvin and Kathy Liknes and their five-year-old grandson, Nathan O’Brien.

Court heard Garland attacked the three victims in a Calgary home, then took them to his nearby farm, where he killed and dismembered them and burned their remains.

June 2016

John Ostamas, a homeless Winnipeg man who brutally beat three other transient men to death in separate attacks, is sent to prison for life with no chance of parole for 75 years.

Ostamas pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder for the 2015 killings that prompted police to warn the city’s homeless population to be careful.

October 2014

A judge in Moncton, N.B., sentences Justin Bourque to serve at least 75 years before he can request parole.

Bourque shot and killed three RCMP officers and wounded two others in June 2014.

He pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder.

September 2013

A judge in Edmonton sentences Travis Baumgartner, an armoured-car guard, to life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years for killing three colleagues during a bank machine robbery at the University of Alberta in 2012.

A fourth guard was badly hurt but survived.

Baumgartner pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree murder, two counts of second-degree murder and attempted murder.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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Crime

Quebec mosque disappointed with ruling allowing killer to seek parole after 25 years

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QUEBEC — Families of the victims of the Quebec City mosque shooter say they fear Friday’s Supreme Court ruling means the 17 children who lost a father could one day meet the killer in the streets of Quebec’s capital.

Canada’s high court ruled that the killer who went on a deadly shooting spree at a Quebec City mosque in 2017 can apply for parole after 25 years behind bars. The court declared unconstitutional a 2011 Criminal Code provision that allowed a judge, in the event of multiple murders, to impose a life sentence and parole ineligibility periods of 25 years to be served consecutively for each murder.

Mohamed Labidi, president of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec, where the killer shot dead six men on Jan. 29, 2017, said families of the victims expressed real concern the killer would be a free man within a relatively short period of time.

“Maybe parole (officials) will delay this release a bit (and) will take that into account, but that’s our real fear,” Labidi told a news conference.

The Islamic Cultural Centre of Quebec said in a statement Friday the high court decision did not give due consideration to “the atrocity and scourge of multiple murders” or to the hateful, Islamophobic, racist nature of the crime.

Members of the mosque said they were disappointed with the decision from the court, but they added it allows them to close the legal chapter and focus on the future.

“Philosophically, yes, we would like to turn the page and I, personally as an individual, want to turn the page,” mosque co-founder Boufeldja Benabdallah told reporters. “I have been hurt enough and I have cried enough.”

Benabdallah said the Supreme Court decision “breaks the balance” between a criminal’s chance at reintegrating society and his or her victims’ sense of justice.

“We take into account the rehabilitation of an individual … and to not give a punishment that is inadmissible, unusual or cruel,” Benabdallah said. “But at the same time, the families who have been affected must also feel that they have won their case, that the killer is being punished for his crimes.”

Alexandre Bissonnette pleaded guilty to six counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison. Five others were seriously injured in the January 2017 attack, including one man who was left paraplegic and confined to a wheelchair. The six men who were shot dead left behind 17 children.

A trial judge found the 2011 parole ineligibility provision unconstitutional but did not declare it invalid, ultimately ruling Bissonnette must wait 40 years before applying for parole.

Quebec’s Court of Appeal said the trial judge erred in making the ineligibility period 40 years and that the court must revert to the law as it stood before 2011, resulting in a total waiting period for Bissonnette of 25 years. The Crown appealed that decision.

The Supreme Court said the 2011 law violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and that in order to ensure respect for the inherent dignity of every individual, the Charter requires Parliament to leave a door open for rehabilitation, even in cases where this objective is of secondary importance.

One of Bissonnette’s lawyers, Charles-Olivier Gosselin, said his client was relieved by the ruling.

“It’s a second chance, a second life that Mr. Bissonnette can hope for to demonstrate to society that he can be an asset, that he can work on himself, move on and look forward,” Gosselin said at the courthouse in Quebec City.

Daniel Bélanger, the chief prosecutor for Quebec City, said he would not comment on the decision out of deference to the high court, but he spoke of the victims and their families.

“This day marks for them the end of a long judicial process, but we are aware that it is not the end of their grieving and healing process,” Bélanger said, reading from a prepared statement.

He said the Crown and police in Quebec City were diligent in their work all the way to the Supreme Court, demonstrating the capacity for the judicial system to conclude complex cases in the public’s interest.

Bélanger reminded reporters in Quebec City that Bissonnette received a life sentence and it will be up to the parole board to decide whether he is released, which now won’t come before 2042. The killer, he said, would be subject to strict conditions and surveillance by a parole officer for the rest of his life in the event he is freed from prison.

“Although this case has become a constitutional debate regarding the provisions of the Criminal Code, we need to remember, in closure, the six people murdered and the other victims of this attack on Jan. 29, 2017,” Bélanger said.

“Our thoughts are now with the victims and their families and the community affected by this crime that has marked the collective consciousness. We praise their courage, their resilience and their dignity in this moment.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 27, 2022.

— By Sidhartha Banerjee in Montreal, with files from Caroline Plante in Quebec City.

The Canadian Press

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