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Politics Briefing: B.C. judge rules indefinite solitary confinement unconstitutional

A lawyer for the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society of Canada says solitary confinement violates the charter right to life, liberty and security of the person.

D-Cst. D. Buckley/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Good morning,

It's a practice that has been condemned by human-rights advocates and the United Nations: inmates kept in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day, for months or years at a time. Now, a B.C. judge has ruled that prolonged or indefinite use of solitary — officially called administrative segregation — is unconstitutional.

The landmark court ruling, issued in a lawsuit filed by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association and the John Howard Society, orders the federal government to rewrite the law governing solitary confinement, significantly curtailing a policy used in prisons across the country. The judge ruled the law violates the constitution by subjecting all inmates to the possibility of indefinite solitary confinement with little oversight. The judge also said the law discriminates against Indigenous offenders and inmates with mental illness or disabilities.

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Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said the federal government was reviewing the court decision — along with a less sweeping ruling out of Ontario last year. However, he pointed to legislation tabled last year that would impose soft time limits and create a new review process as evidence the government is making changes.

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TODAY'S HEADLINES

The Bank of Canada hiked its benchmark interest rate for the third time in six months, as was expected. The policy rate now stands at 1.25 per cent. The central bank signalled that its next moves may depend on the fate of NAFTA, the trilateral trade deal currently being negotiated, but stated that "the economy is operating roughly at capacity." GDP is expected to grow at 2.2 per cent this year, down from 3 per cent in 2017, before reaching 1.6 per cent in 2019. The decision comes on the heels of new mortgage rules and is expected to hit home buyers hard.

Can sports help solve the nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula? It remains to be seen, but North and South Korea are using next month's Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang as a bridge to closer ties. The two Koreas will march together under one flag and field a joint women's ice hockey team. North Korea will also send a delegation of more than 400 people to the Games, which are being held in South Korea. It isn't the first time that sports has been used to seek a rapprochement between the two — they have marched under one flag nine separate times and most recently at the Olympics at Turin 2006.

The Chinese state-owned firm seeking federal approval to purchase one of Canada's biggest construction companies recently notified its shareholders of plans to establish a Communist Party of China unit within the company. China Communications Construction Co. (CCCC) is seeking to buy Canada's Aecon Group Inc. for $1.5-billion, but it requires the Trudeau government to sign off on the deal. CCCC notified shareholders last year of plans to give Beijing's ruling party a place in the firm, as Chinese President Xi Jinping seeks to increase the party's influence in China's state-owned companies.

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Are Canadians optimistic and hopeful or pessimistic and worried about the remainder of U.S. President Donald Trump's term? When the Angus Reid Institute surveyed individuals in February of last year the split was 32/68. They polled people again in December and more Canadians described themselves as pessimistic and worried (77 per cent) compared to optimistic and hopeful (23 per cent). Canadians also overwhelmingly have a negative impression of Mr. Trump, a sentiment that has deepened since February, 2017.  You can read the full report from Angus Reid on their website.

The Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise, a new watchdog position created by the federal government, will have the power to investigate allegations of human rights abuse by Canadian companies abroad. The Liberals are hailing the office as the first of its kind in the world.

Ottawa appears to be considering increases to carbon pricing beyond 2022, when the price is scheduled to hit $50 per tonne. The federal government insists it hasn't made any decisions about future increases, but a federal Finance Department document distributed by Alberta's United Conservative Party foreshadows "continued increases" in subsequent years.

The International Olympic Committee says it's willing to relax some of its requirements for venues and security if Calgary decides to bid for the 2026 Olympics. IOC is in Calgary this week ahead of a critical city council vote on the bid process.

Heritage Minister Melanie Joly discussed workplace safety and harassment with entertainment groups and says that she has "asked my department to make sure that our grants and contributions are linked to making sure that there's zero tolerance for harassment in workplaces in our arts and cultural sector."

Unifor, the largest private sector union in Canada, is splitting with the Canadian Labour Congress over workers' right to choose which union should represent them.

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The Liberals have announced $20-million in funding to help prevent gender-based violence. Groups with prospective projects can apply for funding and have until March 1 to put together a proposal for Status of Women Canada.

Drivers in B.C. pay some of the highest auto insurance rates in the country, but the NDP government has rejected a proposal to lower them by switching to a no-fault system. Attorney-General David Eby says such a change is off the table, though the province is considering other changes. Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which like B.C. have public auto insurance, both have no-fault systems.

B.C.'s premier has called a provincial by-election for Feb. 14 to fill the Kelowna-area seat left vacant by former premier Christy Clark. The riding is seen as a safe BC Liberal seat, which means the vote could give the NDP a narrower margin in the minority legislature.

Quebec is raising its minimum wage to $12 an hour by May 1, an increase of 75 cents. The bump affects more than 350,000 workers and is the largest increase in the province's history. Quebec Labour Minister Dominique Vien also said that the policy decision is part of a plan to make the minimum wage equivalent to half of the average hourly wage in the province.

The federal government is a long way from restarting or scrapping the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women, Mr. Trudeau says.

Catalonia has a new Speaker, and he's a separatist. Roger Torrent was elected yesterday and the decision could signal the return of Carles Puigdemont, the former leader of the Spanish region who was sacked by the country's central government last year.

Twitter may notify its users if they were exposed to Russian propaganda on the social media platform during the 2016 election. Facebook announced a similar initiative late last year.

And although the Navy doctor who conducted U.S. President Donald Trump's physical says he is in excellent overall health, outside experts say the checkup reveals serious concerns about his heart.

Steve Ambler and Jeremy Kronick (The Globe and Mail) on the Bank of Canada: "The preponderance of data argued for a rate increase on Wednesday. If the economy continues to speak loud and clear, more rate hikes are likely on the way. However, the bank's caution is warranted as a result of both domestic and foreign uncertainty. One thing not to fear is a temporary period of inflation above 2 per cent. That would be a nice 'problem' to have."

David Wolfe (The Globe and Mail) on the carbon economy: "The critical policy issue is not how soon the transition will occur, but which countries will be ready for the postcarbon era. The odds are it will happen sooner than most anticipate. The implications are staggering for industrial economies such as North America's, which is both heavily invested in the auto industry and dependent on carbon-based energy production. The coming transition poses a massive challenge on both the production and the consumption sides of the energy ledger."

Cathal Kelly (The Globe and Mail) on Olympics and the Korean Peninsula: "On a geopolitical and thermonuclear level, it is good news. The world gets to wind the Doomsday Clock back a minute or two. And it is absolutely correct that any country, no matter how morally bankrupt, be allowed to attend the Olympics. That's the whole point of the exercise – creating a human bridge, however narrow, between polities who despise each other. That they also give out medals is only the excuse to do it. But it would be wrong to applaud this as some sort of meaningful breakthrough or, worse, cause for fawning."

Campbell Clark (The Globe and Mail) on North and South: "The two shows are an ocean apart. There's a gulf between what was happening among U.S. allies and what is happening between North and South Korea. In Vancouver, the message was that there can be no truck with Pyongyang as long as it has nuclear weapons. In Asia, South Korea agreed to march on the same team, next month. In both cases, much of it was aimed at U.S. President Donald Trump – not just North Korea – and his talk of military intervention."

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