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NEWS: Law Union takes Occupy case to UN special rapporteurs

CBC reports this hour, “A group of Ontario lawyers has filed a complaint at the United Nations over the move by various Canadian cities to evict Occupy protesters. In its submission to the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Law Union of Ontario says the evictions are an affront to the rights to freedom of association and freedom of peaceful assembly.”

The Law Union said in a statement this evening, “The actions of government officials and police in seeking to remove Occupy Movement protests from Canadian municipalities indicate a widespread disregard for fundamental freedoms. …In these municipalities, government officials seek to elevate the need to enforce municipal bylaws related to park use and maintenance above fundamental civil and political rights…. Municipal bylaw enforcement does not constitute legitimate justification for violations of the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, peaceful assembly and association in international human rights law.”

The article notes, “Occupy protesters also have legal rights stemming from the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but those are less directly enforceable in Canadian courts. The law union filed its complaint with two independent experts called ‘special rapporteurs’ who are appointed by the UN’s Human Rights Council and work with the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The rapporteurs have the power to investigate and to report back to the UN General Assembly.”

Arguably related to this, the Council of Canadians helped to provide a portable toilet for Occupy Regina. In a media release issued in early-November, Regina chapter activist Jim Elliott said, “The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to affirm ‘the right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation as a human right that is essential for the full enjoyment of life and all human rights’.” But instead of respecting those rights, the City of Regina directly contacted the company and had the toilet removed, leaving the occupation with just a makeshift toilet in a tent.

CBC adds, “Legal experts say the Occupy protesters have some constitutional protections under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees freedom of expression, assembly and association. Municipal bylaws that prohibit erecting tents and camping overnight, while not expressly intended to curtail protests, effectively ban Occupy demonstrations and therefore trigger constitutional scrutiny, said University of Toronto law professor David Schneiderman.”

And as we have previously noted, constitutional law experts have suggested in media reports that the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, within reasonable limits, may overrule a bylaw such as no camping in a public park. Significant leeway by cities is advised by University of Alberta law professor Peter Carver, given the ’significant possibility’ that a court could rule against cities, especially if the tents and gear of the protesters is confiscated.

Just hours ago though, the Globe and Mail reported, “BC Supreme Court Justice Anne MacKenzie gave (Occupy Vancouver) protesters until 2 p.m. Monday to clear all tents and structures from the site. She also granted an enforcement order authorizing police to arrest those who do not comply. The enforcement order was expanded to include members of other municipal police forces and the RCMP, should Vancouver police encounter difficulty. …Madame Justice MacKenzie said the city had established a clear breach of its land use regulation bylaw, and there were no exceptional circumstances that would dictate against issuing the injunction. A more detailed trial on the constitutional merits of the city bylaw should be held later, the judge said.”

Tomorrow afternoon, Council of Canadians activists will be joining an Occupy Toronto rally and march in advance of a court ruling on Monday on their right to stay in St. James Park. The rally begins at 2 pm in the park, between King St. East and Adelaide St. East, and between Church St. and Jarvis St.