Amici Curiae: Costa Concordia, the Indian Act, and the Shafia Trial

Costa Concordia: A Sea of Suits

The RMS Titanic struck an iceberg on her maiden voyage from England to New York City. The ship sank on April 15, 1912. History repeated itself nearly 100 years later when the Costa Concordia hit a rock off the Coast of Italy and sunk on January 13, 2012. As of January 30, 2012, 17 are dead, and 15 are still missing. Since the incident, charges and lawsuits have started to roll in: criminal against the captain, and financial against Carnival Corp., the ship owner and the world’s largest cruise operator.

Francesco Schettino, the ship’s captain, has been charged with multiple counts of manslaughter and abandoning ship before the evacuation of more than 4,200 passengers and crew was complete.

There is prospect for an extended legal battle, with lawyers from around the world launching class action and individual suits against Carnival Corp. Codacons, Italy’s best known consumer group, a German lawyer, and two American law firms are filing a class action suit in Miami, Florida with the intention of seeking $165,000 per passenger.

This figure contrasts Costa’s “hush money” offer. Costa is offering all passengers aboard the Concordia €11,000 (roughly $14,000) in compensation in return for an agreement to drop any legal action. The settlement also offered the standard reimbursement for the full cost of the cruise, related travel expenses and additional funds for medical expenses after the accident, lost baggage, and psychological trauma incurred. While some passengers are taking the money, eager to put this trauma behind them, others are offended by the meagre sum, having suffered a traumatic experience and losing priceless items when the ship sunk.

This offer brings up the tension between the advantages of settling and the gamble of taking on litigation. While the sum of damages the suit is anticipated to award is more than ten times that of Costa’s offer, victims would receive the money immediately. The trial may be as far as ten years away, with the possibility of appeal, and then further delays in receiving the damages award. Mr. Ramadori, a lawyer for Codacon warned, “Today’s proposal from Costa simply exploits the lengthy Italian justice system to scare people away from the class action” – though this may just be an attempt to pressure passengers to join the suit.

While the Titanic spurred a major motion picture and several Oscars, this disaster will likely bring many more lawsuits and a spectacle for the world.

A Different Kind of Roadblock: The Indian Act Today

There was great excitement in Aboriginal communities last Tuesday, January 24, when hopes of repealing the highly contentious Indian Act, RSC 1985, c I-5, came to the forefront at the Crown-First Nations Gathering in Ottawa. Those feelings were quickly replaced with disappointment when Prime Minister Harper called for creative changes to the Indian Act, rather than taking steps to abolish it. Ironically, this year will mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, when Aboriginals joined forces with the Crown.

The Indian Act was enacted in 1876 alongside the Constitution, granting jurisdiction of related matters to the federal government under section 91(24). The Act largely covers issues of status, the administration of land and various rights, and the fiduciary duty the Crown has toward Aboriginals. Since its adoption, amendments have been made to better reflect the needs and concerns of the community, particularly with Bill C-31 in 1985, which made significant changes to how the Act grants Indian status.

Recent problems like the Attawipiskat housing crisis have reinvigorated discussions on the Act, with many First Nations groups pointing to the need for change in their relationship with the Crown. National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations Shawn Atleo has commented that the Act is a “painful obstacle to re-establishing any meaningful partnership.” For now, that obstacle seems like it’s here to stay.

Cultural Pluralism? Not in Our House

A “heinous crime against humanity” is what the Canadian embassy of Afghanistan called the deaths of four women Monday morning. Mohammad Shafia, his wife Tooba Mohammad Yahya, and their son Hamed were each convicted of four counts of first degree murder at a Kingston, Ontario courthouse. Zainab, Sahar, and Geeti Shafia, as well as Rona Amir Mohammed were found dead last June, drowned in a Nissan in the Kingston Mills locks.

The prosecution successfully argued that the car had been pushed into the lock by one of the family members driving behind. The damage on both vehicles, as well as Google searches by Hamed on “how to kill,” and “bodies of water,” were used as corroborating evidence. Wiretaps revealed the father’s disdain towards the girls, with remarks about how their deaths preserved the family honour, and how he hoped the devil would defecate on each of their graves.

The defence argued that the parents were together in a hotel room. Mohammed admitted to a private investigator that he had, in fact, hit the car and heard a splash, but did not tell anyone at the time, and not for several months after either.

Many have identified the deaths as honour killings, a cultural justification for murder and disownership found in some areas of the Middle East and South and Central Asia. Such crimes are mostly perpetrated against women for bringing shame to the family, tribe, or wider community, by dressing provocatively, or engaging in sanctioned sexual behaviour. At stake in these situations is the preservation of a family’s position and moral standing in the respective society. Bloodshed is, often, what the family believes to be the only thing that will purify the pollution caused.

The family has already appealed the decision, but they haven’t yet gotten around to fixing an error of a mistaken date of birth on one of the gravestones. Who knows if they ever will.

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