Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Corporate Crime and Punishment

Should corporations have immunity for human rights abuses? On February 28, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in a case that will decide whether corporations will be exempted from a crucial law that allows foreign victims of serious human rights abuses to sue them in US courts for civil damages. Any decision that lets corporations off the hook would be a major blow to justice and contrary to the global move toward more corporate accountability.

The case currently before the Supreme Court, Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum, concerns allegations by 12 Nigerian plaintiffs that Royal Dutch Petroleum, also known as Shell, collaborated closely with Nigeria's then-military government as it carried out a campaign of intimidation and violence against the Ogoni people, a local community opposed to oil development on their land. The plaintiffs accuse the company of aiding and abetting abuses by the Nigerian government, including arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, and the hanging of Dr. Barinem Kiobel, an Ogoni leader who was executed in 1995 alongside the author and activist Ken Saro Wiwa. Saro Wiwa's family filed a separate lawsuit against Shell, which they settled in 2009 for $15.5 million.

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School Shooting in Ohio Leads to Call for More Guns in Schools

“This morning a gunman opened fire inside Chardon High School’s cafeteria, killing one student and wounding four others.”
USA Today February 27, 2012

As is the standard practice these days it’s a chance for the “guns everywhere” crowd to race to media sites and instantly shoot down the dreaded strawman: Gun Control.

They will attack any suggestions for things to be done differently — with the exception of providing more guns in the schools. Other comments will claim the problem was removing God from the public schools, praying for the families and admonishing people who suggest changing anything to have the decency to wait, “until the bodies are cold.” Sometimes they attack “anti-gunners” telling them that it’s an “inappropriate time to exploit a tragedy.”

This preemptive rush to deny people a chance to talk about making changes is an acknowledgement that this event is their most vulnerable time. They know that when emotions run high is exactly the time when change can take place. They also know that the media won’t do anything beyond their standard, “views differ on the shape of the world and the truth lies somewhere in the middle” stories.

The Guns Everywhere folks are still smarting from the time Ronald Reagan and James Brady were shot and some changes were actually made. But they have learned their lesson. No gun show loophole laws in Arizona were closed after the Gabby Gifford shooting.

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New York: Investigate Police Surveillance of Muslims

Massive Operation Based on Religious Profiling, Not Criminal Activity

New York authorities should fully investigate New York City police for violating religious freedom in their surveillance of Muslim “communities of interest,” Human Rights Watch said today. The New York State Attorney General’s office announced on February 24, 2012, that it would not investigate the police surveillance of Muslim neighborhoods because of unexplained “legal and investigative obstacles.”

A 60-page New York City Police Department report obtained by The Associated Press details a 2007 surveillance operation of Muslims in Long Island and in Newark, New Jersey. Plainclothes officers from the Demographics Unit infiltrated and photographed dozens of areas identified as “locations of concern,” including mosques, Muslim student organizations, and businesses owned or frequented by Muslims. Using this information, the police department built databases showing where Muslims live, pray, buy groceries, and use internet cafes. The report acknowledged that intelligence-gathering efforts went beyond the department’s jurisdiction, and cited no evidence of terrorism or other criminal activity prompting the operation.

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Groundbreaking Decree in Mississippi Bans Solitary Confinement of Kids Convicted as Adults

On March 22, 2012, a federal court in Jackson, Mississippi, will enter a groundbreaking consent decree, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, banning the horrendous practice of subjecting kids convicted as adults to solitary confinement. What's more, the decree will require the state to move such kids out of the brutally violent privately run prison where they are currently housed and transfer them to a stand-alone facility operated in accordance with juvenile justice standards rather than the far harsher adult correctional standards currently applied to them.

Currently, youth as young as 13 who have been tried and convicted as adults in Mississippi are sent to the Walnut Grove Youth Correctional Facility (WGYCF), which is operated by GEO Group, Inc., the nation's second largest for-profit prison corporation. The pending consent decree is the result of a class action lawsuit filed in November 2010 by the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center that challenged the brutal and hyper-violent conditions at WGYCF. The lawsuit describes GEO staff peddling drugs to the teenagers in their custody, subjecting them to brutal beatings and sexual exploitation and failing to protect them from violence at the hands of older, predatory prisoners — one teenager suffered permanent brain damage as a result of an attack in which GEO staffers were complicit.

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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Graphic: Where are Toronto’s murders happening?

When Justin and Jerome Waterman were found on Feb. 20, shot in the head in a North York parking garage, the 2012 Toronto homicide total climbed to eight. But focusing solely on the year-to-date caseload ignores what came before.

A look at the locations of the homicides since 2006 reveals a lot about our city.

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Pennsylvania police officer filmed firing taser at teenage girl

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McMurtry, Greenspan & Doob: Harper’s incoherent crime policy

With all the talk about the Harper government’s omnibus crime bill, it would be easy to miss the real significance of the Prime Minister’s crime policy. The debate has focused largely on important but narrow issues such as whether people should be sentenced to a minimum of six or nine months in prison for growing six marijuana plants or whether we should stigmatize young people found guilty of minor assaults by publishing their names, and whether our laws should prohibit certain non-prison punishments for crimes such as break-and-enter.

The sum of the Harper crime policy is simultaneously less and more than the sum of its parts. The more fundamental issue that a crime policy should address is basic: How do we, as Canadians, want to respond to those who have committed crimes?

A starting point might be to consider a few simple truths about crime that need to be considered in a sensible overall crime policy.

  • Many young Canadians commit relatively minor offences — drug possession, breaking-and-entering, shoplifting — that could see them imprisoned.
  • As people get older, they become dramatically less likely to commit offences.
  • In many cases, if someone avoids reoffending for five to 15 years, their odds of committing a crime again become the same as the segment of the population that has never offended.

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Tory crime bill will overburden court system: retired judges

A group of justice critics, including two retired judges, spoke out Thursday against the federal government’s omnibus crime bill, saying they worry it could result in a “litany of negative consequences” for the justice system.

The judges, retired chief Yukon judge Barry Stuart and former Ontario Superior Court judge James Chadwick, said they had yet to see evidence that bill C-10 would reduce crime or the already heavy load on the justice system.

Chadwick said he worries the mandatory minimum sentences required in the Safe Streets and Communities Act could lead to fewer pleas and more trials that last longer.

The longer those trials last, the more likely it may be that the case gets thrown out because of a delay in justice, he said.

“One size does not fit all in the sentencing structure,” Chadwick told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

‘I Confess!’ Why Do People Admit to Things They Haven’t Done?

SEVERAL months after Antonio Ramirez was shot seven times in Oakland, Calif., the police picked up a frightened 16-year-old named Felix, isolated him in an interrogation room late at night without a lawyer, rejected his pleas to see his mother, and harangued him until he began to tell them what he thought they wanted to hear.

They wanted a diagram of the crime scene, he later told his court-appointed lawyer, Richard Foxall, but whatever he drew was so inaccurate that the police never produced it. When he described escaping in one direction after the killing, they corrected him, because they knew from witnesses that the shooter had gone the opposite way. When he didn’t mention an alley nearby, they told him about it, and he incorporated it into his statement. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” said one officer, as Felix recalled to his lawyer.

So, they demanded, where was the gun? Felix denied having a gun. “That’s when they really got out of control and started yelling at him,” Mr. Foxall said. “He started to feel personally threatened.” Slyly, he made up something demonstrably untrue: that he had left the gun with his grandfather. “I thought this was brilliant,” his lawyer said, because it discredited the tale he was concocting. “He doesn’t have a grandfather. Both grandfathers are dead.”

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From the NY Times op-ed pages. Tom

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Tell the Senate: Don't rubber stamp the Crime Bill

Update & New Action: Thursday Dec 8, 2011

On Monday, Prime Minister Harper’s Conservative MPs voted for the cruel Crime Bill. That night, the NDP, Liberal, Bloc and Green MPs stood together against the bill, and many of them were wearing “Safer, not meaner” buttons in solidarity with our campaign.

Now, the struggle for Canadian justice moves to the Senate. The Senate’s job is to provide a “sober second thought.” Senators are appointed for life, and free to make their own choices. They can review the evidence, change the bill, and force another vote.

Every day, opposition grows as Canadians learn more about the Crime Bill, but Prime Minister Harper is putting enormous pressure on Senators to rubber-stamp the bill quickly so it can pass before Christmas. There is only one thing that can balance the scales: a massive public outcry from Canadians like you, right now.

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One of our PhD students suggested this post. Tom

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Our Depraved Future of Debt Slavery (Part I)

It is almost surprising that the concept of slavery is very foreign to those living in the developed world, especially the U.S., since it was extensively practiced as recently as 70 years ago. What’s more disturbing about this ignorance is the fact that the system of post-Civil War slavery in the U.S. was not so different than the systems of slavery many Americans and Europeans will be experiencing in upcoming years. Indeed, I’m sure many people will probably take offense to such a comparison even being made, as they feel it demeans the atrocious acts committed in the past.

I would argue, however, that we demean history by failing to understand it and learn from it. Many people refer to debt slavery when referencing current policies of the West, especially in Greece right now where the concept has become very real, but they perhaps still under-estimate how bad it can get. These systems of slavery are primarily borne out of deeply-rooted economic structures which foster high levels of dependency, greed and malice by those with unchecked levels of political power. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, these powerful groups consisted of wealthy Southern agricultural and industrial elites.

In his book “Slavery By Another Name” [documentary here], Douglas A. Blackmon documents how very few of the 4 million slaves that existed at the end of the Civil War were actually allowed to realize their freedom until decades later. As the white middle class of the South grew from 1870-1950 (with the exception of some years encompassing the Great Depression), due in no small part to the success of Southern industry, the blacks were kept in their chains through various mechanisms, such as convict leasing and debt peonage, over and above the outright discrimination and violence that they also suffered.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Runaway Juror

Can I use science to get out of jury duty?

I recently received a jury-duty letter, a notice that inspired me to learn everything I could about the science of jury selection. I could say this was because I'm naturally inquisitive, but the truth is I'm a bad citizen who wanted to get out of jury duty. I was hunting for tell-tale signs of bad jurors so I'd know exactly how to act during jury selection to ensure no one would want me meting out justice anytime soon.

I expected to find a wealth of information. After all, since the famous 1972 "Harrisburg Seven" trial, in which sociologists helped defense attorneys pick a jury that would go on to acquit their clients of plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger, more and more legal teams have used social-science expertise during voir dire. Today the American Society of Trial Consultants boasts roughly 400 members, and "it's gotten to the point where if you don't hire one as a big attorney, you could be sued for incompetence," says Franklin Strier, law professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills and author of Reconstructing Justice: An Agenda for Trial Reform.

Thanks to the well-publicized roles of jury-selection experts in headline-grabbing cases such as the O.J. Simpson trial, the first Rodney King trial, and the $2.9 million "hot coffee" lawsuit against McDonald's, scientific jury stacking has also attracted public interest, not to mention trepidation. For many people, there's something disconcerting about an expert being able to calculate how they're going to decide a case based on their gender, background, and other characteristics.

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Of mini-skirts and morals: social control in Nigeria

The push to police the way that women dress continues across Africa on the pretext that it causes sexual harassment and violence against women. What really underlies this censorship of women’s expression? asks Bibi Bakare-Yusuf

Women’s dressing has become the site for pernicious policing and debates about social and moral decay in Africa, with calls for intervention within Nigeria’s higher education institutions, by religious organisations, and the media. Over the past decade, some universities have banned the wearing of trousers and any 'revealing' clothes by young women because they are seen as a distraction to male students and lecturers. The argument is that revealing attire has made sexual violation and harassment a marked feature of university life in Nigeria, and therefore imposing a strict dress code on female students is the only way to stop it.

In 2007 the General Overseer (GO) Adeboye of The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), the largest Pentecostal church in the country, banned the wearing of trousers for his female church members. The GO’s proscription coincided with the arrest by Lagos State Police of women wearing trousers and ‘skimpy’ clothes, which they claimed was aimed at discouraging vice in the city. Most of the women were arrested on allegations of ‘indecent dressing’ or ‘wandering’, a term from a colonial law that was repealed more than a decade ago.

The pinnacle of attempts to regulate the way Nigerians dress came in 2008, when Nigerian Senator Eme Ufot Ekaette, the female Chair of the Senate Committee on Women and Youth Affairs, presented a Bill titled “A Bill for an Act to prohibit and punish public nudity, sexual intimidation and other related offences in Nigeria” - referred to in popular debates as “The Indecent Dressing Bill”. The Bill’s aim was to reduce the apparent sexual violation and immorality occasioned by women’s clothing. In the Bill, public nudity is defined as a “state of indecent dressing which expose in the public or in the open the breast, belly, waist and lap of a female above the age of 14 years, as well as any part of the body from two inches below the shoulders downwards to the knee”. The subsequent sections of the Bill then define punishments, which include a prison sentence of three months for public nudity, and three years for sexual intimidation. In prescribing enforcement the Bill identifies “the role of religious bodies in moral rejuvenation”, proposing active efforts by government bodies to support this.

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They need Rick Santorum to sort this out. Tom

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Obama Budget: Grow Prisons and Keep Gitmo

As broke states try to shed nonviolent inmates, the federal detention machine looks to expand.

President Obama's budget request for fiscal year 2013 includes cuts to everything from Medicare and Medicaid to Defense and even Homeland Security. But federal prisons are among its "biggest winners," according to an analysis by the Federal Times. The Bureau of Prisons (BOP) is seeking a 4.2 percent increase, one of the largest of any federal agency, which would bring its total budget to more than $6.9 billion.

So what kind of criminals are we spending all this money to incarcerate? If you're thinking terrorists and kidnappers, think again. According to the Sentencing Project, only 1 in 10 federal prisoners is locked up for a violent offense of any kind. More than half are drug offenders—hardly surprising, since federal prosecutions for drug offenses more than doubled between 1984 and 2005. The 1980s also produced mandatory minimum sentences, which meant we were not only sending more people to prison, we were keeping them there far longer—a perfect formula for an exploding prison population.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Supreme Court: Miranda Rights Don't Need To Be Read During Some Jailhouse Interrogations

Supreme Court Miranda Rights

The Supreme Court said Tuesday investigators don't have to read Miranda rights to inmates during jailhouse interrogations about crimes unrelated to their current incarceration.

The high court, on a 6-3 vote, overturned a federal appeals court decision throwing out prison inmate Randall Lee Fields' conviction, saying Fields was not in "custody" as defined by Miranda and therefore did not have to have his rights read to him.

"Imprisonment alone is not enough to create a custodial situation within the meaning of Miranda," Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court's majority opinion.

Three justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, dissented and said the court's decision would limit the rights of prisoners.

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Sunday, February 19, 2012

Refugee reforms include fingerprints, no appeals for some

NDP says bill to roll back earlier concessions rejects good legislation

This post comes at the suggestion of one of our readers who comments: " I was wondering if you could do a blog spot post related to Bill C-31 the new immigration and refugee legislation. There's alot of parallels to how the Conservatives are packaging the changes to the refugee system as they did with bill c-10. I've attached a pdf released by CARL, and frankly the changes are frightening and so un-Canadian. I know its a crime oriented post but maybe something along the lines of border control? I'm not sure, but there are provisions in Bill C-4 with harsher sentences and longer periods of detention, which will face Charter challenges. In any case I just think what the Conservatives are tabling is egregious and was hoping you could help spread the word." Here is the pdf.

And here is the story.

New, tougher reforms to refugee legislation that hasn't yet come into force are already drawing fire from critics who say they give Canada's immigration minister too much power and risk the lives of claimants.

Bill C-31, introduced Thursday by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, toughens the measures taken in the Balanced Refugee Reform Act, a compromise bill passed under a Conservative minority government. That earlier bill has yet to be implemented. It was due to be up and running by June 29.

Kenney says he wants the new bill passed by that date and implemented sometime next fall.

The bill will implement long-planned biometric identification — including fingerprints and photos — for people who apply for visas to visit Canada, and allow the minister to select which countries are "safe," known as a designated country of origin.

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Crimbrary always appreciates story suggestions from our readers. Tom

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Friday, February 17, 2012

Virginia’s Proposed Ultrasound Law Is an Abomination

Under the new legislation, women who want an abortion will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. Where’s the outrage?

This week, the Virginia state Legislature passed a bill that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion. Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to have a transvaginal procedure, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. Since a proposed amendment to the bill—a provision that would have had the patient consent to this bodily intrusion or allowed the physician to opt not to do the vaginal ultrasound—failed on 64-34 vote, the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law.

What’s more, a provision of the law that has received almost no media attention would ensure that a certification by the doctor that the patient either did or didn’t “avail herself of the opportunity” to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat will go into the woman’s medical record. Whether she wants it there or not. I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.

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Crazy. Tom

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Bill C-10 - Mini Film. [Prison population will go up]

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The Price of Prisons

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Is a Top US Cop Helping "Reform" Bahrain's Police?

Tear gas used during the Bahrain protests in Feb. 2011. A veteran US law enforcement official recently began advising the Bahraini police, who on Tuesday engaged in another harsh crackdown as protesters took to the streets. John Timoney, fomerly Miami's police chief, agreed in December to join Bahrain's effort to reform its police; a brutal government response to protests there last year included fatalities. The tiny Gulf Kingdom also recruited a former top police official from Britain to help with the process. Timoney has since claimed that Bahrain is changing its police tactics for the better. Tuesday's events cast doubt on that, with protesters once again facing tear gas, stun guns, and armored vehicles aimed at stifling the demonstrations.

The police attempted to prevent protesters from even entering Manama's Pearl Roundabout, the site of mass protests and brutal police response last year. One protester described the use of tear gas to Reuters: "They fired straight at us, they weren't even shooting in the air." Andrew Hammond, a reporter at Reuters and one of the only journalists who covered yesterday's protests, wrote on Twitter that police "chased everyone down road, firing straight at ppl fleeing." Some protesters reportedly threw Molotov cocktails and rocks at police, who arrested at least 25 protesters in Manama. More than 100 protesters were injured. In Shia villages, Bahraini police reportedly even entered homes in hopes of finding protesters. Opposition activist Mohamed al-Maskati described the scene to Bloomberg: "They are storming houses suspected of harboring demonstrators, using tear gas, closing roads and arresting people."

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The Occupy Chicago Arrests: Rahm Emanuel's 'Dry Run' for G8 and Nato?

Never mind free speech, Chicago's mayor wanted to show protesters who was boss ahead of May's summits, says attorney

The most interesting revelation from Wednesday's mass court hearing at the Daley Center in Chicago on the Occupy arrests – probably the single largest joined criminal case in the Chicago's history – was the suggestion that Rahm Emanuel may have personally ordered the arrests of the peaceful Occupy Chicago protesters back in Grant Park in October 2011. At least one of the affidavits submitted by Thomas Durkin, a lead attorney for the defendants, suggested that. As Durkin argued:

"This was Mayor Rahm Emanuel being Mr Tough Guy to show the world that they can come for G8 and Nato. It's as simple as that. There was no need to make mass arrests on this night. There was no need to show Mr Tough Guy. It was a show of force. It was stupid."

The evidence is starting to point that way. Shortly before 11pm, on Saturday 15 October, a police supervisor with rank told the Occupy protesters that they were going to be allowed to stay in Grant Park and protest, so long as they kept the volume down. It was actually an ironic moment when the "human microphone" started urging protesters, in its uniquely reiterative way, to be quiet so that guests in the neighboring hotels could sleep. It had a surreal element to it – but that fit nicely with the performative aspects of the Occupy movement.

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They've got to stop having these G8, G20, NATO meetings. Period. Or at least stop having them in cities. Couldn't they just video conference on Skype....for free? Tom

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How Violence Protects the State

'Violence is the modus operandi of the State. To build a free society, we will have to use different means.'

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, he spoke passionately in a sermon at Riverside Church in New York about the war in Vietnam. In this gripping speech about the hypocrisy of bringing democracy through napalm and the audacity of fostering a brotherhood through war and killing, he made a daring confession: “I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today —my own government.”

The most significant social movement in the US in the coming months will be the Occupy movement, as it returns in some numbers to the street. As the Occupy movement grows more polarized between strategies in light of its upcoming spring activities, it might do well to reflect on the logic of Dr. King’s brave statement. Contrary to what Peter Gelderloos and others have claimed, it is violence and the stasis of a dysfunctional system of oppression that protects the state, not nonviolence. How does violence protect the state? Do a few general internet searches on the Occupy movement in images to see how that movement is visually narrated (not to mention how it feels to see the portrayed reduction of a promising national movement into a series of police confrontations).

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is NYPD Running Wild? Patterns of Brutality Raise Questions About Mayor's Control of Police

Behind the NYPD's beating of Jateik Reed and the killing of Ramarley Graham is a long history of police harassment.

A series of incidents last year, in some cases where police broke the law, has sullied the reputation of the NYPD. From the department’s handling of Occupy protesters and journalists, to officers’ participation in illegal gun sales and a ticket-fixing scandal, to rape charges and reports that allege the targeting of Muslims, the NYPD’s pattern of abuse, law-breaking, and poor judgment is raising questions about whether some of New York’s finest are operating as rogue units. A disturbing series of events, including beatings and the shooting death of an unarmed teenager in the Bronx, are causing some to wonder whether Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg are condoning the behavior or are unable to impose discipline on the department.

Along with the patterns of violence, new reports show that stop-and-frisk rates went through the roof in 2011, making it a record-breaking year for the controversial practice. Stop-and-frisks may only legally be used when police have reasonable suspicion someone has a gun, but they are widely abused, and have been targeted as the source of aggressive, race-based policing and what many consider to be illegal marijuana arrests.

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Tennessee Police Training Seminar Taught By Notorious Anti-Muslim Activist

A number of police officers in Tennessee attended a training seminar in Murfreesboro this week that was taught by a known Islamophobe who claims that Muslims should not get First Amendment rights.

In a free training session on Monday, John Guandolo, a former FBI agent and the vice president of the Virginia-based Strategic Engagement Group (SEG), spoke to law enforcement officers in Rutherford County, Tennessee, at the World Outreach Church.

The seminar was part of a three-day training course about Islam and the threat of terrorism, and was attended by roughly 100 law enforcement officers in the area, according to Middle Tennessee Public Radio. The Sheriff’s Department in Rutherford County confirmed that 25 of its officers had attended the training course.

WSMV-TV attempted to film the event, and their camera was pushed away by Guandolo. But, according to reporter Nancy Amons, “Guandolo talked about Hamas and its plan to destroy Western civilization from within, and spoke of Islamic centers as potential military compounds.”

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Facing a backlash, Ottawa moves to retool cybercrime bill

The Harper government has blinked in the face of a backlash over legislation that would give authorities new powers to police the Web, saying it’s now prepared to accept a broad range of changes to a bill criticized as a major intrusion into Canadians’ privacy.

The government’s new conciliatory tone comes only two days after Public Safety Minister Vic Toews beat back criticism of the legislation by declaring that critics either stood with the Conservatives “or with the child pornographers.”

The climb-down came the same day that some Conservative MPs, in a rare display of candour, went public with their concerns over Bill C-30, which the Harper government has named the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act.

“I think it’s too intrusive as it currently stands and does need to be looked at,” said New Brunswick Tory MP John Williamson, one of several MPs to talk to reporters. “There’s a lot of concern, I think, across the country as well.”

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Do you trust them to make this right? Tom

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Push To Privatize US Prisons Lurks in Corporate Investment Scheme

Firm will purchase facilities from states in exchange for guaranteed 90% occupancy rate

The privatization of US prisons is in the news today after a close vote in the Florida state senate on Tuesday defeated an attempt to privatize a huge swath of correctional facilities in the southern state. Also, a report in the Huffington Post on Tuesday highlighted how Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation's largest operator of private prisons, has a plan in place to purchase public prisons from 48 states.

Huffington Post's Chris Kirkham reports:

As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property. Prisons, to be exact.

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for "challenging corrections budgets." In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

The CCA letter cites a new program called the "Corrections Investment Initiative" that has earmarked $250 million for purchasing state facilities. The requirements, according to the letter, include (emphasis added):

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Amnesty International Urges Stricter Limits on Police Taser Use as U.S. Death Toll Reaches 500

February 15 - Two days after the death of a Georgia man who was shocked with a police Taser -- raising the known death toll from tasers to 500 in the United States -- Amnesty International today repeated its call for tighter limits on police use of the weapons.

According to data collected by Amnesty International, at least 500 people in the United States have died since 2001 after being shocked with Tasers either during their arrest or while in jail. Amnesty International recorded the largest number of deaths following the use of Tasers in California (92), followed by Florida (65), and Texas (37). The Oklahoma City Police Department led all law enforcement agencies in deaths (7) following by Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, Harris County Sheriff’s (Tx), Phoenix, Az and San Jose, Ca., all with six deaths.

On Monday, Johnnie Kamahi Warren was the latest to die after a police officer in Dothan, Al. deployed a Taser on him at least twice. The 43-year-old, who was unarmed and allegedly intoxicated, reportedly stopped breathing shortly after being shocked and was pronounced dead in a hospital less than two hours later.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Santorum+OCCUPY Hecklers=Tasered by Cops

Ricky didn't like the Occupy Tacoma protesters at his speech in Tacoma yesterday. He called them radicals, called the protesters intolerant, and said Obama supported the 99% over the 1% (though some of the occupy movement members might object to that characterization of the President and Democrats in general). In general, he essentially called the Occupy Tacoma members heckling him scum of the earth.

The former Pennsylvania senator was cheered by the largest public outdoor rally in Western Washington that a Republican White House hopeful has seen in years. But Santorum fought to make himself heard over chants from protesters.

The candidate tried to link together President Obama and the demonstrators, declaring: "They're fundamentally trying to remake our country into a country that our Founders wouldn't recognize."

The Santorum rally, at the Washington State History Museum, was the state's the most raucous political event since conservative talk radio activists provided a loud bump in the 1994 Hillary Clinton health care caravan. [...]

The 9th Circuit decided anyone who disagrees with these folk," said Santorum, apparently referring to marriage equality supporters among the hecklers, "is irrational and bigoted . . . What they represent is true intolerance, (that) the only possible reason to disagree is that they are a hater or bigoted."

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Is one of these guys really going to be the GOP candidate for President. Wow. Tom

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In challenge to Ottawa, judge refuses to impose mandatory sentence

An inmate bides his time at a Toronto jail on Feb. 24, 2011. - An inmate bides his time at a Toronto jail on Feb. 24, 2011. | Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Legislation that would give police and spies easier access to information about Internet users threatens to turn Canada into a surveillance society, the Official Opposition says.

“We are against this bill and we will fight this bill all the way,” NDP MP Charlie Angus told reporters in Ottawa. “Canadians are not criminals.”

The bill tabled Tuesday in the House of Commons would allow authorities access to Internet subscriber information – including name, address, telephone number and email address – without first getting a court's go-ahead.

The proposed measures pit the desire of intelligence and law-enforcement officials to have ready access to information about people online against the individual's right to privacy.

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'With us or with the child pornographers' doesn't cut it, Mr. Toews

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. - Public Safety Minister Vic Toews. | Michelle Siu for The Globe and Mail

What you think of the Conservatives’ new bill to expand police surveillance of the web may depend on what you think of the long-gun registry and the long-form census.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews will argue that the new legislation, to be introduced Tuesday afternoon, will grant the government access to nothing more than the Internet equivalent of a telephone book, which police need to help track criminals and terrorists.

Mr. Toews takes a dim view of anyone who would question the need for that access. In the Commons, Monday, he said people “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers.”

Privacy commissioners in Ottawa and the provinces will not like being called such vile names. They have warned that the Conservatives are violating privacy rights by demanding the authority to collect IP addresses, email addresses, mobile phone numbers and other identifying information on anyone who interests them without a warrant.

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Just listening to right-wing talk radio in Kitchener (570 News) and every caller is against the government on this issue. Tom

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Occupy Protesters Sue NYC over Pepper Spray Incident

Chelsea Elliott (right) and Kaylee Dedrick (2nd from left on knees) scream in pain after they and two others were sprayed with pepper spray by NYPD Dep. Inspector Anthony Bologna on 12th St. near Union Square. (Jefferson Siegel for New York Daily News)

Two protesters who were pepper sprayed by Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna of the NYPD last fall during a peaceful march against Wall Street crimes and corporate greed, have sued the city for damages.

The lawsuit states, "Anthony Bologna maced the plaintiffs as they were exercising their constitutionally protected rights, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly."

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Private Prison Corporation Offers Cash In Exchange For State Prisons

Private Prisons
A June 2005 file photo of the Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut, Ohio, which the state sold to Corrections Corporation of America last year.

As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property. Prisons, to be exact.

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation's largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for "challenging corrections budgets." In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

The move reflects a significant shift in strategy for the private prison industry, which until now has expanded by building prisons of its own or managing state-controlled prisons. It also represents an unprecedented bid for more control of state prison systems.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Hose streets? Our streets! Belgian firefighters soak police in protest

Hundreds of Belgian firefighters hose down the prime minister's office as part of a protest against retirement plans

Belgian firefighters Belgian police get wet as they guard the entrance to the cabinet office from protesting firefighters. Photograph: KeystoneUSA-ZUMA/Rex Features

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Finally a level playing field for the protesters. Tom

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50 Years of Innovation - Vera Institute

The Vera Institute of Justice has been partnering with leaders in government and civil society for 50 years. This report provides an overview of its work, along with highlights of some of the current projects extending Vera's remarkable record of accomplishments.

The 10 Most Seductive Drugs -- And Their Fascinating History

A brief journey through time, from ancient Sumeria to modern New Jersey, uncovers the mysterious origins of the world's most beloved substances.

1) Alcohol: Ancient Sumeria

Fans of alcohol are in good company; this is a drug that's been in use since the dawn of human time—if carbon dating of jugs found in Jiahu, China to around 8,000 BC is to be believed. But it wasn’t until we settled into agricultural societies that the wine really got flowing. Written records from ancient Sumeria document the uses and quantity of the beer—called "kash"—that was brewed. They even indicate that Sumerians had regulated drinking places similar to modern-day bars. The booze, for its part, was considered worthy of offering to the gods, and even thought to have a civilizing effect: The Epic of Gilgameshmentions a wild man named Enkidu who was seduced to join civilization after he drank seven jugs of beer, “became expansive and sang with joy.” (A harlot was also, apparently, involved.)

2) Peyote: Mexico

Mescaline—the psychoactive ingredient in the peyote plant that's native to Mexico and the Southwest US—has probably been used in religious ceremonies since 3780–3660 BC, according to carbon dating of dried buttons found in a cave on the Rio Grande in Texas. Written records began once Catholic Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico and were alarmed by the practice of eating or drinking peyote during religious festivals. In an effort to discourage use, priests were in the habit of asking their new congregationalists to confess to having experienced the drug’s hallucinogenic effects, right after they asked “Have you eaten the flesh of man?” and “Do you suck the blood of others?”

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Republicans Retreat on Domestic Violence

Even in the ultrapolarized atmosphere of Capitol Hill, it should be possible to secure broad bipartisan agreement on reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, the 1994 law at the center of the nation’s efforts to combat domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The law’s renewal has strong backing from law enforcement and groups that work with victims, and earlier reauthorizations of the law, in 2000 and 2005, passed Congress with strong support from both sides of the aisle.

Yet not a single Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted in favor last week when the committee approved a well-crafted reauthorization bill introduced by its chairman, Senator Patrick Leahy, and Senator Michael Crapo, a Republican of Idaho, who is not on the committee.

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This is a New York Times editorial. Tom

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Let cops carry tasers, deputy chief urges

Front-line officers in Toronto should be allowed to carry tasers but provincial regulations prohibit them from doing so, said Deputy Chief Michael Federico in response to questions about how police respond to mentally ill people in crisis.

On Thursday, the Toronto police held a rare demonstration of how they are trained to deal with such situations. The news conference at the police college came less than a week after a man carrying two pairs of scissors and wearing a hospital gown was fatally shot on a street during an altercation with police. The event was organized before the death and police say they aren’t permitted to discuss that incident while it is being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit.

Tasers are an option all trained officers should have, Deputy Chief Federico said in an interview, but Ontario regulations set out that only supervisors and specialized units can carry them.

There’s a supervisor on the road during every shift, the Deputy Chief said. “Police officers are not completely without access to a [taser]. But again, situations may unfold too quickly for a supervisor to arrive.”

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The price of prisons: what incarceration costs taxpayers.

Staff from Vera’s Center on Sentencing and Corrections and Cost-Benefit Analysis Unit developed a methodology to calculate the taxpayer cost of prisons, including costs outside states’ corrections budgets. Among the 40 states that participated in a survey, the cost of prisons was $39 billion in fiscal year 2010, $5.4 billion more than what their corrections budgets reflected. States’ costs outside their corrections departments ranged from less than 1 percent of total prison costs in Arizona to as much as 34 percent in Connecticut. The full report provides the taxpayer cost of incarcerating a sentenced adult offender to state prison in 40 states, presents the methodology, and concludes with recommendations about steps policy makers can take to safely rein in these costs. Fact sheets provide details about each of the states that participated in Vera’s survey.

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The Citizens United catastrophe

We have seen the world created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, and it doesn’t work. Oh, yes, it works nicely for the wealthiest and most powerful people in the country, especially if they want to shroud their efforts to influence politics behind shell corporations. It just doesn’t happen to work if you think we are a democracy and not a plutocracy.

Two years ago, Citizens United tore down a century’s worth of law aimed at reducing the amount of corruption in our electoral system. It will go down as one of the most naive decisions ever rendered by the court.

The strongest case against judicial activism — against “legislating from the bench,” as former President George W. Bush liked to say — is that judges are not accountable for the new systems they put in place, whether by accident or design.

The Citizens United justices were not required to think through the practical consequences of sweeping aside decades of work by legislators, going back to the passage of the landmark Tillman Act in 1907, who sought to prevent untoward influence-peddling and indirect bribery.

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Nerve Gas To Be Used for Crowd Control in the UK?

Royal Society scientists tell of 'incapacitating chemical agents' investigation

A neuroscience research team has announced that the UK may be planning on implementing nerve gas and other chemical agents for domestic law enforcement. Scientists commissioned through Royal Society, the UK's national academy of sciences, says that the government commissioned them to research new developments in neuroscience that would 'be of use to the military'. The group of scientists has become aware that the government may be preparing to use incapacitating chemical agents for crowd control.

Leading neuroscientists believe that the UK Government may be about to sanction the development of nerve agents for British police that would be banned in warfare under an international treaty on chemical weapons.

A high-level group of experts has asked the Government to clarify its position on whether it intends to develop "incapacitating chemical agents" for a range of domestic uses that go beyond the limited use of chemical irritants such as CS gas for riot control.

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Governments and the police continue to gear up to wage war on the people. I wonder why. Tom

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Elsevier Publishing Boycott Gathers Steam Among Academics

The eminent mathematician Timothy Gowers vows to do no work for Elsevier.

Elsevier, the global publishing company, is responsible for The Lancet, Cell, and about 2,000 other important journals; the iconic reference work Gray’s Anatomy, along with 20,000 other books—and one fed-up, award-winning mathematician.

Timothy Gowers of the University of Cambridge, who won the Fields Medal for his research, has organized a boycott of Elsevier because, he says, its pricing and policies restrict access to work that should be much more easily available. He asked for a boycott in a blog post on January 21, and as of Monday evening, on the boycott’s Web site The Cost of Knowledge, nearly 1,900 scientists have signed up, pledging not to publish, referee, or do editorial work for any Elsevier journal.

The company has sinned in three areas, according to the boycotters: It charges too much for its journals; it bundles subscriptions to lesser journals together with valuable ones, forcing libraries to spend money to buy things they don’t want in order to get a few things they do want; and, most recently, it has supported a proposed federal law (called the Research Works Act) that would prevent agencies like the National Institutes of Health from making all articles written by its grant recipients freely available.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012

The New Canada: Fomenting Fear at Home and Abroad

Why base policy on facts and evidence when you can exploit fear instead? It doesn’t take a psychologist to know that fear is a much more powerful motivator than boring old rational argument. Political scientists have long studied the use of fear-based appeals as techniques that “entrepreneurial” politicians may use to mobilize support. The Harper government seems to understand this intuitively, based on the comments of senior ministers this week, both at home and abroad.

Imagine a split screen image. On the one side is Vic Toews, Canada’s Minister of Public Safety, testifying Wednesday before a Senate committee on the government’s omnibus crime bill.

During the 2011 election campaign, the Conservatives promised to make Canada a place in which “law abiding” folks “don’t have to worry when they go to bed at night; where they don’t have to look over their shoulders as they walk down the street.” However, the tough-on-crime agenda ran into an awkward fact: Canada’s crime rate had been falling for years. According to Statistics Canada, police-reported crime continued declining in 2010 (the last year for which statistics are available) and reached its lowest level since 1973.Link

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Tasering: "just made of awesome"

Via Jesse LaGreca, I see that the fine, upstanding mainstream CNN political pundit who once claimed that a Supreme Court justice was a "goat-fucking child molester" has once again shown his gravitas:
Erickson: "Here is a story to make you laugh for the day, an Occupy DC protester, believe it or not these people are still occupying places. McPherson square near the White House, an Occupy DC protester was shocked by stun gun yesterday afternoon at McPherson Square . . .

They arrested him. They took him to the hospital because of a medical condition. He was charged with disturbing the peace. Now I would play the video for you because it was caught on film, it's hilarious, I mean you should just watch this video, if you go to wtpo.com you can watch it, I won't play it on the radio because the number of F-bombs the guy just starts yelling as they're tazing him . . hahahah . . ahh, but watching that hippy protester get tazed just made my day, wtpo.com, you can watch it for yourself, it is just made of awesome."

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“The purpose for creating the UNCC SWAT Team is to protect the community and prevent the loss of life,” said Lieutenant Josh Huffman of Campus Police. “We must be prepared to respond to high risk situations such as those tragedies that occurred at Virginia Tech and Columbine.” . . .

Right. As Radley Balko points out:

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Ottawa must consider cost of prison expansion -- in addition to pension reform

If everything is on the table – including the Old Age Security benefit of roughly $540 a month – why do the billions of dollars being added to the federal corrections budget feel untouchable?

As the Senate begins hearings on the government’s omnibus crime bill, and the almost certain prospect of huge, long-term budgetary increases in the jails moves a step closer, it seems an odd juxtaposition: trying to ensure the long-term health of the retirement security system, and spending like crazy, in the short, medium and long terms, on prison cells.

The government is right to be forward-looking – but why does it not question the long-term sustainability of the corrections system? If Canada can talk about the long-term challenges facing health care and seniors benefits, what about the long-term costs of jail expansion?

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Spanking your kid: Does it help or hurt?

Spanking is a thorny issue. Has what seems like a Dickensian practice been slain by liberal parenting practices? Or is it Canadians’ dirty secret?

Whatever the case, the issue is on the table again, courtesy of outspoken London Mayor Boris Johnson.

Mr. Johnson has sparked a debate in Britain by suggesting that worrying about fine distinctions – a smack on the hand. A spank on the bottom. When is it okay, when is it bad parenting, and when it is outright assault? – limits parents’ right to discipline their kids.

“People do feel anxious about imposing discipline on their children, whether the law will support them...,” he told the BBC. The comments were in support of other politicians’ statements that last summer’s London riots were, in part, caused by lax parenting.

Here in Canada, the issue of spanking children remains a relatively private and elusive issue.

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Brian Stewart: America's 'prison nation,' must we follow suit?

For over a quarter century the U.S. political system has dodged and weaved its way around one of the great scandals of our times — the mass incarceration of millions of its citizens.

But in all the theatrics and thunder of recent political debate barely a peep has been heard about the astonishing 2,284,000 Americans currently behind bars or why an unprecedented six million are under "correctional supervision," meaning in prison or on parole or probation.

Indeed, some argue that the number snared in the U.S. criminal justice system even surpasses those condemned to Stalin's gulag prison empire at its height.

No nation on Earth locks up more people than the U.S., which incarcerates at a rate seven times that of other developed nations. The U.S. has less than five per cent of the world's population, but it has 23 per cent of those behind bars around the globe.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Crime victims should have more rights at parole hearings, ombudsman says

The federal ombudsman for crime victims says they should have a right to attend parole hearings and get more information about the offenders who preyed on them.

Sue O’Sullivan also says the federal government should double the $100 surcharge levelled against criminals to finance restitution for victims.

She says that surcharge is routinely waived in the courts, but should be made mandatory.

Ms. O’Sullivan’s first report since her appointment in August 2010 notes crime victims now may attend parole hearings, but are limited to reading a pre-approved statement.

She says they should have an automatic right to attend and should be given the option of video-conferencing or access to transcripts or recordings if they cannot attend in person.

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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

RCMP boss asserts his independence

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson is backtracking on his call for MPs and senators to go through the Department of Public Safety to hold a meeting with him, saying he will safeguard his independence from the rest of government “like a terrier.”

Commissioner Paulson told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday he intends to give notice to his political bosses only about meetings that might be of interest to them, such as with diplomats or politicians. He added that he has no obligation to debrief the government after he meets with RCMP outsiders.

Regarding an e-mail in which he recently called on Liberal Senator Colin Kenny to “route” his request through Public Safety, Commissioner Paulson suggested that it was a polite brush-off.

“I’d just as soon not meet with Senator Kenny, to be honest with you,” Commissioner Paulson said of the former president of the Senate committee on national security.

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Police ‘whitewashing’ crime stats, study says

The majority of Canadian police forces are “whitewashing” crime statistics by refusing to provide information about the race of people they come into contact with, says a new report by two Ontario criminologists.

Only a minority of police agencies — 20 per cent — have policies restricting them from releasing the data, but nearly 60 per cent suppress it anyway, the report says.

The findings are to be published Wednesday in the Canadian Journal of Law and Society.

Withholding the information makes police less accountable and makes it more difficult for researchers to study how race may influence policing, said Paul Millar, a Nippissing University criminal justice professor, who conducted the study with Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a doctoral candidate at the University of Toronto Centre for Criminology.

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Akwasi, co-author of this report is a Centre doctoral candidate. Here is a link to a CBC radio interview with Akwasi:

And Akwasi will be on Global News tonight at 6:30. Tom

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