Amici Curiae: Bill 78 Protests, Election Result Invalidations, and Updates on Etan Patz

Bill 78 – No Surprise It’s Having the Opposite Effect

Responding to what some have coined anti protest legislation, protestors outside of Quebec have joined in on the Montreal student protest. On May 22, 2012, demonstrators in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, New York, and even Paris united in red to show their support for the protestors. The protests began three months ago, in response to tuition increases in Quebec. Ironically, Quebec students face some of the lowest tuition fees in the country.

Last Friday, the Quebec government passed Bill-78 in an effort to curb the protests plaguing the province. The law not only asks for at least eight hours written notice to the police before beginning demonstrations, but the fines that can be levied against those who do not comply with the new legislation are hefty. Students may be forced to pay $35,000. The law expires in July 2013.

In response to the legislation, Quebec’s student group, CLASSE (The Coalition large de l’association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiant), invited protestors to defy the bill, which they did in stride. Parti Quebecois leader, Pauline Marois explained that “The premier has lost control of the situation”. Despite the Quebec government passing the law in an effort to stop the protests, they have persisted with greater fervour. With the legislation being employed as a mechanism to prohibit protest, it is no wonder that they have continued anyway. The fee increase was only $325 per year, and yet the protests have gone on for a hundred days – clearly these protesters are people of principle. By implementing a law that takes away those students’ right to protest, it is not surprising that the legislation has had the opposite effect.

Canada’s Voting Woes Continue As Judge Nullifies Election Result

Even as the ongoing robo-call scandal has now led to a legal challenge against the validity of the last Canadian federal election, an Ontario Superior Court (“ONSC”) judge has invalidated the 2011 victory of a candidate in the Etobicoke Centre constituency of Toronto. Wrzesnewskyj v Attorney General (Canada), 2012 ONSC 2873 [Wrzesnewskyj ] was filed by the Liberal candidate and former Member of Parliament, Borys Wrzesnewskyj, who alleged that that a number of “voting irregularities” in the registration and identification of voters were found in the 2011 election records. Further, instances where improper voting procedures were followed, such as allowing voters to cast their ballots in stations other than the ones they initially registered at, were also cited.

In ruling for the plaintiff and ordering a new poll through by-elections, Justice Lederer was quick to point out that the issue was a complicated one that involved balancing the fairness interests of Mr. Wrzesnewskyj against those of public confidence in the democratic process. At the same time, the judge also noted that his assessment of the need for a new election was not a comment on wrongdoings on the part of the candidates themselves, and should not be deemed so. Adopting a thoroughly scrutinizing approach, Justice Lederer began with the presumption of regularity in the electoral process, the onus to disprove which was placed squarely on the appellant. Further, because the application was brought under s 524(1) of the Canada Elections ActSC 2000, c 9 [CEA], the court also placed some importance on assessing the meaning of “irregularities,” within the ambit of the legislation. After spending some time discussing whether the term should be read generally to include everything from the most serious concerns (e.g. fraud), to minor clerical errors, Justice Lederer ultimately deemed a broader interpretation was appropriate, but noted that such concerns did not affect the ruling in this case. Rather, the outcome of Wrzesnewskyj turned on whether the irregularities were within the definition of section 524, and if these were serious enough to affect the result of the election.

Ultimately, the ONSC ruled in favour of a new by-election, setting aside 52 votes on account of failure of registration, and 27 for failure of vouching. In doing so, Justice Lederer reiterated that the judgment had to weigh the effect a re-election would have on public confidence, versus the fundamental requirements of ensuring that the election process was legitimately carried out. In his own words, Justice Lederer stated that

“what [the] case represents is an opportunity to learn and for the process to evolve in order to guard against the particular problems,”

positing that Canada’s election issues must be taken in the right spirit – of fairness, and in the public interest. The statement is certainly resounding, and one that warring federal political parties should take note of, in the current robo-call controversy.

The Age of Innocence, Gone?

Earlier this week, New York City police arrested a man in connection with the death of Etan Patz. Etan, then a six-year old school boy, disappeared on his way to home. Despite the thirty years that have gone by, his disappearance has remained in our collective consciousness. There are other cases of children who were victims of foul play, such as Tori Stafford, but the case of Etan Patz was arguably the first to catapult these crimes into media spotlight; it started the missing children’s movement. It awakened us, according to the President of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children.

Patz was on his way to catch the school bus when he disappeared on May 25, 1979. An extensive search took place later that night and on subsequent days, but the little boy was never found. Police looked “floor-by-floor, wall-by-wall, rooftop-by-rooftop, backyard-by-backyard.” They did this for two months, the longest New York police officers had searched for a missing child for decades. Even though the police had named a main suspect, they did not have enough evidence to charge him with any criminal offences relating to Paz’s disappearance. According to news sources, the man charged with Patz’s disappearance made a confession to police. His name is Pedro Hernandez and he was a stock clerk who once lived in the same neighbourhood as the Patzs.

The New York Times warns us to not get ahead of us ourselves, as the police have not yet revealed any details of Hernandez’s involvement in the crime. But it nonetheless gives us some closure on the first case of missing children that brought the issue to the forefront of society. It corresponded with a

“proliferation of media outlets with growing interest in compelling visual images – such as a heart-rending photo of a smiling child or a video of parents pleading for their child’s safe return.”

Four years after Patz never came back home, President Reagan declared May 25 “National Missing Children’s Day”. Congress subsequently passed a bill that would open the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has a 24-hour toll-free line for those who have tips about where these children may be located.

Investigators in the Patz case used a novel technique to try and locate him. They put his name on thousands of milk cartons, which would become a trend in the next few years. Barbara Friedman, an associate professor at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina, explains:

“The use of milk cartons as another form of media to locate missing children was a way to bring the issue into the family space — the breakfast table — heightening awareness as well as anxieties.”

Billboards and fliers containing Patz’s image were also distributed. These initiatives are the predecessors of what we now know as the AMBER alert system, which broadcasts news about missing children on TV, radio, the Internet, mobile phones, etc.

The cases of children being abducted by strangers are still very few. But with the case of Etan Patz, the issue of missing children has forever been seared into the fabric of our lives.

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