Libertywatch November 2015

Round up of civil liberty news from November 2015.

Children’s Rights

New Zealand adoption laws 'breach human rights'

An adoption action group says the country's 60-year-old law breaches human rights and needs overhauling.

Under the current law, when a child is adopted a new birth certificate is drafted without any mention of the biological parents.

However, Unicef advocacy manager Deborah Morris-Travers has said, "It's important for them to maintain contact with their birth family, but also, as they get older, to have more information about their cultural identity.
"It's about the child's right to know who they are – New Zealand continues to have adoption law which breaches human rights."

Ms Morris-Travers said Child, Youth and Family was generally good at telling parents that adopt to be open with children, but said there still needed to be a law change to enforce that.

Dr Anne Else of the group Adoption Action, who has written about the history of adoption, also said the law breached the Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act.

"The act is based on the premise that neither the adopted person, nor the birth family, would ever see each other again," Dr Else said.
"It is entirely orientated around adult interests. The birth mother can sign a consent when the child is 10 days old, which is one of the shortest periods in the world."

She said another problem was there was no requirement for a child to give consent to be adopted, even at the age of 17.

In 2000, the Law Commission published a report suggesting about 100 changes to the law, but to date, none have been imposed.

In 2007, a Ministry of Justice paper to Cabinet stated there were legal and social reasons why adoption laws needed to be changed because it perpetuated discriminatory practice and created a system open to abuse.

Three years later, a Human Rights Commission report highlighted the need to review adoption legislation as too many children were experiencing poverty and poor health, which resulted in poor outcomes in early childhood, which reached into later childhood and adulthood.

Law Society family law chair Allan Cooke said the law lacked regard for children's cultural background and their heritage, which he said was important for Maori and Pasifika groups.

"The other issue for us is there's no way for the voice of the children to be heard in the adoption when it goes through the Family Court," he said. 16/11/15


Criminal Justice

New Zealand deports almost 500 'Kiwi' criminals 

A family ripped apart after a relative was deported from New Zealand says Australia is not the only country treating people inhumanely.

South African-born accountant Gavin Jardine was deported in September after serving more than three years in prison for stealing $380,000 from his employer.  A New Zealand resident since May 2008, Jardine appealed his deportation on the grounds his wife and children, who were oblivious to his offending, were settled in the country.

The Immigration and Protection Tribunal dismissed his appeal, stating that the Jardine family’s circumstances were “not exceptional” and they could keep in touch through the phone and internet.

Figures provided under the Official Information Act show that 447 people from 54 different countries were deported after committing a crime between 2010 and August 2015.

An Immigration NZ spokesman said although each case for deportation was considered on its merits, people who committed crimes were the highest priority.

Under the Immigration Act, a person became liable for deportation depending on when the person was granted residence, the date of the offending and the sentence received.

A person who had held residence for more than 10 years could not be deported.

Deporting almost 500 people also came at a cost to the public, with more than $7.5 million spent on removal costs including air tickets for the citizen and security needed to accompany them. 8/11/15


Disability Rights

Deaf Aotearoa welcomes increased television captioning 

Pressure group, Deaf Aotearoa are welcoming the announcement of increased captioning by Able, New Zealand’s independent provider of accessible television, as a move toward a more accessible and inclusive media industry.

From February 2016, Prime TV’s NZ On Air-funded shows and some international prime time content will be captioned.  Sky TV has helped make this possible by investing in the equipment necessary to broadcast captions.

"More captioned TV options allow people who use captions more choice for information and entertainment sources," says Deaf Aotearoa President Robert Hewison. 

"While we still have a long way to go before we reach the high levels of captioning that are standard overseas, this latest development shows we’re making real headway, shows the potential for improving accessibility even more." 18/11/15


Disabled people find public transport 'too hard' to use 

Disabled people are opting not to go grocery shopping, visit parks or meet friends at cafes because they find public transport too hard to use in our largest cities.
A first-of-its-kind survey by the CCS Disability Action Group has revealed that less than 20 per cent of disabled people in Wellington and Auckland find it easy accessing and using public transport.

Common complaints include buses not stopping for people with wheelchairs and guide dogs, buses being too painful to step on and off because they don't "kneel", poorly designed footpaths making stops inaccessible, and poorly constructed timetables making trips difficult to plan.

As a result, the study found disabled people were partaking in activities such as grocery shopping, visiting parks and meeting friends at cafes or restaurants far less often than able-bodied people were.

The CCS survey also found a common complaint was taxi drivers breaking the law by not collecting disabled people with guide dogs, or overcharging blind people because they can't see the meter.

Disabilities Issues Minister, Nicky Wagner, who was at the forum, agreed more could be done to make transport accessible to disabled people, and said the research would be a great help to Government agencies.

Kevin Eames, from the Ministry of Transport, said the percentage of "accessible" buses across the country had jumped from about 50 per cent in 2009 to almost 90 per cent in 2013, and was expected to improve even further. 30/11/15



Controversy over claims police "censored" a researcher

Police apologised to a leading academic researcher after he was banned from accessing police data critical to his work around gangs and deemed unfit to conduct research because of his "affiliations" with them. 

Strategy deputy chief executive Mark Evans, said police had reviewed the comments made by Dr Jarrod Gilbert in relation to the research application made by Independent Research Solutions in 2014 and have since apologised. 
Mr Evans said while other members of Dr Gilbert's team were cleared by police vetting, police accepted that a mistake was made that did not fully take into account the nature of Dr Gilbert's research proposal, and the reason that his links to gangs were likely to show up. 

"I have now written to Dr Gilbert explaining the police position and confirming that there are no issues with him having access to the requested data for this project following further consideration of all the circumstances," he said. 

Dr Gilbert had earlier said "sinister" police research contracts threatened academic freedom.  Basic crime data was withheld from the researchers unless they signed a "research contract" which stipulated a draft report be provided to police.

If the results were deemed to be "negative" then police will seek to "improve its outcomes".  By not agreeing, the team was threatened with being "blacklisted" from any further police resources.

After requesting an explanation for the ban from police, he received only heavily redacted documents.

Mr Evans explained that all academics seeking police data sign a research agreement, which set out police expectations including that research was accurate, balanced and constructive.  

The applications went through a "robust process" to ensure they had "benefits for police", were of good standard, met privacy obligations and the police time required to process them was "feasible", Evans said. 

Police could prevent further access to police resources if a researcher breached the agreement, he said. 

The Green Party called on Police Minister Michael Woodhouse to scrap the contracts, calling them censorship. 

"This is an absolute outrage, it is as though police have never heard of the Official Information Act," Green Party police spokesperson David Clendon said. 

Labour MP, Jacinda Ardern, said, "Whether public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in its disclosure is surely not the issue here.  What is at stake is the ability of researchers to carry out their work. Jarrod Gilbert's work is producing research with practical applications for our justice system."

In going public with the issue Gilbert hoped to raise awareness of the threat police were posing to academic freedom.

"Academic freedom is something we universally support," he said.

"People may have very little concern for me and for my work but they'll be deeply concerned by the implications of this.

"They'll be deeply concerned police are trying to control academic research and veto research findings, which is what their research contracts say they can do."

The row over police exerting controls over research also led to tertiary education minister Steven Joyce endorsing academic freedom and encouraging government agencies to be "as open with their data as is reasonably possible." 25/11/15, New Zealand Herald 26/11/15, & Otago Daily Times 30/11/15


Human Rights Commission congratulates NZ Police over race bias

The Human Rights Commission has congratulated the leadership of New Zealand Police in acknowledging and working to address unconscious race bias.

“The fact our Police are publicly acknowledging and working to address unconscious bias is significant and something we can all be proud of,” said Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy.

“This work is not new, simple and by no means over. The late Dr Apirana Mahuika helped launch ‘Turning the Tide’, a groundbreaking prevention and education strategy from Police and iwi responding to the disproportionate incarceration of Maori New Zealanders.

"While only 5 per cent of Maori New Zealanders come into contact with the justice system: Maori make up more than 50 per cent of our prison population and 15 per cent of our total population."

Dame Susan said ‘Turning the Tide’ was praised by the United Nations in this year’s review of New Zealand’s performance under the UN Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment.  
“The United Nations agreed with the Commission’s view that ‘Turning the Tide’ could be applied to other areas of New Zealand’s justice system,” said Dame Susan. 29/11/15



60 Minutes' disclosure 'highly offensive'

A father, who complained about a privacy breach when a television programme identified his son, has had his complaint upheld by the Broadcasting Standards Authority (BSA).

Prime Television's current affairs programme 60 Minutes broadcast Mother's Difficulties after the accidental death of a woman's 18-month-old younger son.
Her older son was identified and his full name, accompanied by photos and footage, were shown in the episode.  The boy was also linked with details of his mother's drug addiction and prostitution.

The BSA ruled this information was private, its disclosure was highly offensive and it wasn't necessary to identify the boy.  It also found the programme failed to act in the best interests of the child, even if the mother had given consent.

"Children should be seen as individuals in their own right and not as attachments to their parents. We do not consider in this case that the broadcasts were in keeping with the best interests of [the child].  A cautious and sensitive approach could have been taken, and in our view, ought to have been taken," the BSA concluded.

The BSA recognised the value and public interest in the story but said that was outweighed by the need to protect the son, adding that freedom of expression needed to be weighed against other rights, especially if children were involved.

"In our society and in our law, when there are clashes between rights and when included amongst the rights in clash are the rights of children, the rights of children almost always prevail.

"Children are especially vulnerable. They cannot protect themselves and societies have the most powerful of obligations and reasons to look after their children who are their future," the BSA concluded.

New Zealand Herald 17/11/15



All New Zealanders have a right to an opinion

Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says all New Zealanders have the right to an opinion no matter where they were born.

“Kiwis born overseas have a right to a say over the country they call home, where they work, vote, pay taxes and contribute: overseas born Kiwis are not second class citizens who have fewer rights than other New Zealanders,” said Dame Susan.

This statement followed a row in parliament after an MP disagreed with another MP and told her to go back to her birth country if she didn’t like it here. 7/11/2015

Bulldog for sale – but only to white people

TradeMe has removed an auction for a bulldog because the owner said he would only consider selling to a white person.

Richard Tunnicliffe had listed the 2-year-old bulldog, which he said would only be sold to an "approved home," adding that the dog will only be sold to “a white person as that's what she's used to."

The advert was removed after the Herald on Sunday contacted TradeMe for comment.

"Listings on TradeMe are subject to the Human Rights Act and you cannot discriminate against someone on a number of grounds including sex, race or age when listings goods or services," a TradeMe spokesperson said.

New Zealand Herald 8/11/15



Religious instruction in New Zealand schools called unfair

A Hindu statesman, Rajan Zed, has said that, instead of focusing on just one religion, all major religions, including Hinduism, should be taught in New Zealand primary schools. The existing religious instruction focused on and favoring one religion was unfair and discriminatory to Hindu children, children of other religions and no-faith. 

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, argued that opening up New Zealand children to major world religions and non-believers’ viewpoint would make them well-nurtured, well-balanced, and enlightened citizens of tomorrow. It also made a good business sense to know the beliefs of “others” in a global community. Moreover, students should have knowledge of the entire society to become full participants in the society. 18/11/15


Security Intelligence Service

Security Intelligence Service 'broke the law'

New Zealand's domestic spying agency twice failed to tell the intelligence watchdog that it was undertaking visual surveillance, the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security says.

Green Party co-leader James Shaw said the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) had broken the law both times and its powers needed to be curbed.

Under controversial counter-terrorism law changes passed in 2014, the agency was given powers to undertake visual surveillance of private activity within private property if it suspected terrorist activities.

It was required to provide a copy of any visual surveillance warrant to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) Cheryl Gwyn as soon as possible.

The IGIS released her annual report this afternoon. It showed that since the law was passed in December, the SIS had twice applied for visual surveillance warrants.

The report said on both occasions the SIS did not initially provide a copy of the warrants to Ms Gwyn's office. They were only identified later when the IGIS carried out its regular review of all of the SIS' warrants.

In response to the "incident", the annual report said, the SIS had changed its protocols to ensure the IGIS was provided with a warrant the day it was issued.

Mr Shaw said the Greens had opposed the extension of SIS powers when they were being passed into law because its spies had a history of breaking the law. "And that is what has happened yet again," he said.

Mr Shaw said the SIS needed proper oversight by a democratically elected Parliamentary select committee.
The law changes also allowed the SIS to undertake surveillance without a warrant in special, urgent cases, for up to 24 hours. This power had not yet been used by the agency, the annual report showed.

Minister for the SIS Chris Finlayson said the SIS was "a human organisation" and there were "always going to be mistakes". The SIS was improving its compliance overall but "they still have a way to go".

New Zealand Herald 4/11/15