Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Linda Keening of Elections Canada

I won't repeat what other commentators have said, at great length and with justice and principle on their side, about Harper's latest Panzer assault on democracy. But Scott Tribe has injected a new phrase into our political vocabulary, thanks to an anonymous commenter at CalgaryGrit*, and I like it. Linda Keen was unjustly fired for doing her job; John Kerry, victim of the Republican-backed "swiftboaters," was grossly slandered, and lost an election in no small part because of it. The malign anti-democratic political machinations of the conservatives of both countries prevailed. "Linda Keening": that's a keeper, all right. I expect we'll have quite a bit of use for it in the future.

Stephen Harper hates democracy. Let me repeat: Stephen Harper
hates democracy. He doesn't like arms-length regulatory bodies, an essential of democratic governance. He doesn't like a free press. He doesn't like artistic freedom. He shows all the signs of a totalitarian personality, and he has an army of trained seals behind him.

One of the principles I learned in the labour movement, from a wonderful poem by Maurice Ogden, is "I did no more than you let me do." It's a less Godwin-exposed version of Pastor Niemoller's famous comment: "First they came...". Stéphane Dion and his own band of cowardly trained seals has been acquiescing in every vile move that Harper has made over the past few months--anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-education, you name it. They've been letting him do just about anything that he pleases. There seems to be no line in the sand that this gang of gutless Liberal wonders is willing to draw. And Harper, getting his free ride, is busy implementing his so-called "hidden" agenda, without let or hindrance. He'll make Dion a Senator or an ambassador some day--mark my words.

Meanwhile we sit here, our noses pressed to the glass, watching, waiting, unable to do a damned thing to bring Dion back from the dead, and hoping against hope that our lying eyes are deceiving us. There is no Official Opposition, just a complaisant bunch of Harper yes-persons. They may as well be Conservative backbenchers for all the influence they have, or are willing to exert. And democracy is being chopped away by the day.

Yesterday it was the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Today Elections Canada is the target.
Tomorrow--who knows? When so-called "arms-length" agencies don't bend to our Maximum Leader's will, they and their officials can expect heavy retaliation: firings, and ceaseless vilification by attack poodles like Gary Lunn and Pierre Poilievre.

With the Harper vote against Elections Canada, yet another spike has been driven into the coffin of democratic governance in Canada, and the opposition has yet to materialize. How much longer will the Hangman have his way with us?

UPDATE: (May 1) "Tomorrow--who knows?" I asked. Impolitical answered my question.
*It seems, in fact, that credit for the phrase (at least in part) should go to CalgaryGrit himself.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Canada 419


Dear Sir,

Good day and compliments and blessings of God. This letter will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but I implore you to take the time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will go off a long way to determine the future and continued existence of five Canadians.

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Miss Kathy Shaidle, would-be paramour of the commander-in-chief of the speech warriors of the Dominion of Canada, General Mark Steyn, who fled the country some time ago.

My ordeal started immediately after I said some things about our current leader, Commander Richard Warman, and his subsequent takeover of our government. The present government is determined to portray all the good work of General Steyn in a bad light and have gone as far as confiscating assets of our friends. As I am writing this letter to you, my brother Marc Lemire is undergoing questioning with the government. All these measures taken by past/present government is just to gain international recognition.

I and four other Canadians have been held incommunicado since the flight of General Steyn, hence I seek your indulgence to assist us in securing these funds. We are not allowed to see or discuss with anybody. Few occasions I have tried traveling abroad though alternative means all failed.

It is in view of this I have mandated Dr. E. Levant, one of our number, who has been assisting us to run around on so many issues to act on our behalf concerning the substance of this letter. He has the full power of attorney to execute this transaction with you.

My beloved Mark Steyn had Eighty Million USD ($80,000,000.00) specially preserved and well packed in trunk boxes to defend us against charges by Commander Warman. It is packed in such a way to forestall just anybody having access to it. It is this sum that I seek your assistance to get out of Canada as soon as possible before the present government finds out about it and confiscates most of it through high taxes just like they have done to all our assets.

We are now ready to transfer the fund overseas and that is where you come in. We require your assistance to expedite this transfer. The total sum will be shared as follows: 70% for the Five, 25% for you and 5% for local and international expenses incident to the transfer.

I implore you in Jesus name to please give consideration to my predicament and help a poor Canadian in need.

May God show you mercy as you do so?

Your faithfully,

Miss Kathy Shaidle

N/B: Please contact Dr. E. Levant on this e-mail address for further briefing and modalities.

Of tinfoil and shaving cream

The assault on the Canadian Human Rights Commission has taken a downright bizarre turn recently.
Nelly Hechme, the innocent citizen whose wi-fi was allegedly borrowed by CHRC staff to log in to the neo-Nazi Stormfront site, has revealed that her Internet access was through a secured network. To get into it, hacking would be required. That brought the speech-warriors' paranoia to the full bubble and boil in jig time.

I ventured over to So-Con or Bust, John Pacheco's site, where, according to Ezra Levant, some masterful detective work had been done. This I wanted to see for myself. Pacheco claims that the "jadewarr" login during which Hechme's account was used took place within 64 minutes of a CHRC employee, Dean Steacy, logging in to Stormfront to download a post for Richard Warman. Warman himself was standing by, with CHRC lawyer Giacomo Vigna and goodness knows how many other people. The allegation is that this was precisely when the illegal hacking occurred.

Not being a techie, to put it mildly, I'm interested in two salient issues: first, how would CHRC staff have managed the feat of hacking into Hechme's wi-fi, and secondly, why would they do it?

I made the mistake of putting these questions to Pacheco. His level of intellectual honesty quickly revealed itself: he deleted my posts, but kept his responses to all but the last of them. This is fairly typical behaviour, I'm afraid, for conspiracy theorists: they don't like to have their delusions threatened. But for what it's worth, here are the detailed questions I raised, with his replies.

1) The distance as the crow flies from Nelly Hechme's residence to the Canadian Human Rights Commission offices is app. 370 metres--nearly a quarter of a mile. The intervening space is not occupied merely by an open field, as Marc Lemire claims in a complaint to the RCMP, but by a phalanx of office buildings.

Query: is it possible to access wi-fi at that range and with those obstacles in the way?

Yes, responded Pacheco: his brother-in-law, an electrical engineer, told him that long range wi-fi is easily available. You just need a cheap computer card and an antenna. When I asked him to clarify with his brother-in-law how the signal can penetrate a wall of office towers, all my posts disappeared, as if by magic.

2) I asked why the CHRC would go to the trouble and risk of hacking a private citizen's account when all a staffer had to do was log on to Stormfront and use CloakMe or other similar on-line services to hide the point of origin. In fact, as I had to remind Pacheco, CHRC officer Hanna Rizk testified at the March 25 Tribunal hearing that Warman had actually taught her how to use CloakMe. (That particular anonymizing service no longer seems to be available, but there are many others.)

Pacheco danced like Nureyev on this one. He claimed that
the CHRC probably wanted to avoid having the CloakMe logs subpoenaed. But that is much easier said than done: CloakMe originated in the US, and is quite probably immune to a subpoena from Canada. Compared to that uphill task, in fact, getting hold of the Bell Canada logs, as Mark Lemire did, was a cakewalk. Why didn't the CHRC worry about that far more likely possibility?

In any case, this is how the speech-warrior story runs now: a Canadian federal agency would rather risk criminal prosecution for theft of communications than simply log on to a hate site and use a cloaking service to cover its investigative tracks. This agency allegedly accessed wi-fi at long range, through several office building walls, not merely stealing unsecured wi-fi, which can be obtained throughout downtown Ottawa where its offices are, but going that extra (quarter-) mile and hacking a secured site some distance away. In front of a bunch of witnesses. On an office computer, with a long-range wi-fi antenna there for everyone to see. And all this simply to download a copy of a posting from Stormfront.

At this point, folks, we're deep into Truther territory. If I want to go see my next-door neighbour, why would I walk right around the block to get there? This, by analogy, is the claim about the CHRC. To do a relatively trouble-free task, they allegedly gave themselves more trouble and risk than you can shake a stick at.

There are times that I feel like wielding Occam's Razor like a broadsword, as I said over at Levant's place. The claim that the CHRC hacked into Hechme's site depends upon an accelerating number of suspect assumptions. A bucket of shaving cream seems urgently required at this point. And something else some of these conspirazoids need to know: contrary to popular superstition, tinfoil actually attracts and focuses the rays.

I would invite tech-savvy readers to comment particularly on the wi-fi issue. Is such access theoretically possible? Speculation as to the motives of the Commission for allegedly taking such a long and winding road are also welcome: given the lack of any real evidence, just let your imaginations roam. Maybe Commission employees, like Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn, just like to live dangerously.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Freedom of speech at UWO [Updated]

Ezra...are you listening? Hello?

The University Students' Council of the University of Western Ontario has shut down a pro-Palestinian student group, without a clear explanation, and confiscated its assets.

This isn't the first time that the good burghers of UWO have tried this sort of thing on. The university has a bit of a history of anti-Arab racism, in fact: it has lost three cases in front of the Ontario Human Rights Commission since 1987, and the UWO Students' Council lost one earlier, in 1985 [see UPDATE, below--DD]. But it seems that this is a beast that will not die.Will the OHRC have to put a stake through its heart?

Could this decision, even though it was ostensibly made by the Clubs Policy Committee of the Students' Council, be tied to the sympathies of its current president, Dr. Paul Davenport, who recently accepted an award from the Jewish National Fund--an organization that the Israeli Supreme Court itself has found to be racist?

Let's stand up for free speech on Canadian campuses. Somebody's got to do it: the speech warriors appear to be too busy at the moment.

Please send politely-worded e-notes to the University Students' Council President Tom Stevenson:
, and/or the USC Vice-President of Student Events officer Sabrina Sdao:

(H/t. *Sigh*)

UPDATE: (April 26) One of the four successful human rights complaints was against the University Students' Council as far back as 1982 for refusing to ratify the student club Canadians for Peace in the Middle East (later Citizens Concerned for the Middle East). The Ontario Human Rights Commission had to be prodded into action, but eventually mediated the situation. The USC apologized, and the club was ratified--in 1985! An account may be found here: scroll down to p.87.

As recently as 2006 the UWO Students' Council de-ratified yet another pro-Palestinian student club, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR). The USC had been harassing the club since 2004, and, as readers will see here, due process is not the way this students' council goes about things. Speech suppression rules at UWO, in fact, unless it's joking about raping a student activist.

UPDATE: (April 28) The University Students Council has officially responded. Herewith their unredacted email sent to me this morning. There are commenters here who might be in a position to reply: in fact, one offered a two-part rebuttal earlier. In any case, the floor's open.

Thank you for your concern regarding the UWO Public Interest Research Group.

Associated with the privileges of being a USC club, club presidents and executives are expected to fulfill their responsibilities to their membership and ultimately, the USC in accordance with the Clubs Policy. This expectation is expressed annually to club presidents at the mandatory Club Executive Training Session. The UWO PIRG was found to be in violation of two aspects of the Clubs Policy, which ultimately led to the decision to de-ratify the club.

Financially, USC policies require all clubs to deposit monies taken in by its members and community members at-large. They are required to deposit money in their USC bank accounts to ensure accountability to their members. As overseers of the system, it is of prime importance to the USC to ensure clubs are accountable to their members, who are the students we represent. On three separate occasions, between September and March, the UWO PIRG did not deposit event admission fee monies into their USC bank account after the approved events were held. To this day, this money cannot be officially accounted for, and despite the notice of potential de-ratification and notice of de-ratification, this student money has yet to be deposited into its USC bank account.

Further, the UWO PIRG was found in violation of the Event & Risk Management guidelines as stated in the Clubs Policy. Several events in an anti-War/Peace Week were endorsed by the UWO PIRG on an online website and on paper flyers. However, no event proposals were submitted to the USC regarding their association with the program, with the exception of one approved event - Marching Orders: A Speaker's Panel. The USC requires event proposals to be submitted in order to ensure the programming occurring is safe and to be able to assist with any event execution necessary. As such, no risk associated with any of the programming could have been proactively mitigated on behalf of the USC, despite the fact that UWO PIRG's club name was used in the promotion of the event, and could have been implicated with responsibility of hosting the event.

As expressed above, the issues surrounding the de-ratification of the UWO PIRG are solely associated with policy infractions and are not associated with the nature of the club itself.

Be assured that the UWO PIRG had significant time to formulate a response to the Clubs Policy Committee (CPC), and that their response was taken into consideration when the final decision was made to de-ratify the club. The UWO PIRG may appeal the CPC's decision, should it chose to exercise that right.

Despite the de-ratification of the UWO PIRG, please note that this group can still operate as a group of students on campus, but they simply are not privy to the privileges of being a USC club.

Thanks again for your concern and please let us know if you have any additional comments or questions.


Tom Stevenson
USC President

Sabrina Sdao
Vice President Student Events

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ezra Levant's "facts"

Ezra Levant has now joined Mark Steyn in stating as a fact that employees of the Canadian Human Rights Commission have
committed criminal acts. (At least he was more cautious than his colleague, who named CHRC investigator Dean Steacy as the alleged criminal.)

It seems that both gentlemen like to live dangerously. Unsubstantiated accusations of this nature are clearly defamatory. Truth is a defence in a libel action, however, so I will be interested in the evidence that they bring forward to back up these publicly-stated charges. Otherwise, I suspect that serious paper will fly in their general direction when the dust of the current actions has had a chance to settle. And, if I might be permitted a little Schadenfreude with my popcorn, I look forward to that day with some anticipation.

(H/t Mordechai)

The Lucy Exoneration

The title sounds like a Robert Ludlum novel, and the plot of this tale is just as tangled and complex. But Buckets has kept on beavering away, and he's finally put that "Lucy Warman" nonsense into its well-deserved grave. A round of applause for this tireless worker for truth and justice, please.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

TTC strike: you go, ATU!

Casting a quick, acerbic glance at ProgBlog this afternoon, I thought I'd blundered into the Blogging Tories site by mistake. Poster after poster is dumping all over the union: words like "douchebag" are being applied; it's those dumb workers at fault, it seems, never the management of TTC. Yes, there are a few decent voices crying in the wilderness, but they are being drowned out. On a progressive blogroll! I hate to think what they're saying over at BT at the moment.

Maybe a clue: the TTC Chair is none other than veteran NDP hack stalwart Adam Giambrone. Ouch! Painful choice, eh? And May Day a mere five days away!

To be honest, I'm having a bit of a time tracking down the outstanding issues that got two-thirds of the union membership to reject the tentative deal. But why should I bother to pick up the phone and call my ATU buddies? Few others seem interested in the issues--they just want to do a bit of good old-fashioned union bashing. So, on this sunny Saturday afternoon, I'm content to do a little good old-fashioned union defending. When someone actually wants to discuss the strike issues, let me know.

ATU leader Bob Kinnear is under fire for saying that he hadn't given the usual 48 hours notice for the strike because "
We will not expose our members to the dangers of assaults from angry and irrational members of the public." But the rest of his statement is invariably left out:

The reports from our members of increases in threats and abuse from passengers last weekend, after we gave our original 48-hours' notice, has left us no choice but to withdraw our services immediately. We have a legal responsibility to protect the safety of our members and so does the TTC.

This isn't idle talk. Even when a strike isn't in the works, an increasing number of front-line transit workers are being beaten, spat on, threatened and verbally abused by members of that public we mustn't offend. Their rate of post-traumatic stress is above that of Ontario police officers. Just think about that.

In the meantime, if this is all the anti-ATU folks can come up with, I'm in no mood to do further research. You go, ATU! Solidarity forever.

And it's one, two, three...

...what are we fighting for?

Meet Sayed Pervez Kambaksh. He's a young Afghan student journalist on death row in Mazar-i-Sharif for downloading and distributing a report from the Internet that was critical of the treatment of women in some Islamic societies. His trial lasted four minutes. Blasphemy, says the regime that our troops are dying to defend. Even before the judicial process was exhausted, the Afghan Senate endorsed the death penalty for the young man (since retracted).

And this isn't an anomaly. A draft law now before the Afghan Parliament will restore many of the old Tali-bans--no long hair for men, no makeup for women, no pigeon-flying, no men and women talking together in public, no loudspeakers, no "anti-Islamic" programming (in anticipation, two popular soap operas from India have already been banned by the government). Prime Minister Hamid Karzai appointed a religious fundamentalist to head Afghanistan's Supreme Court, and another one as Minister of Information and Culture--the one who just banned the soap operas, a charming fellow who thinks that journalists are more dangerous than the Taliban.

Say hello to the new boss, same as the old boss. Only this time, Canadian soldiers are part of the palace guard. Too bad their duties aren't merely ceremonial.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Policing public space

A Concordia University student in Montreal learned the hard way that sitting down in a public park can cost you, bigtime. $628, to be exact.

Brendan Jones was sitting, along with others, on some low granite ledges in Émilie Gamelin Park, taking in some sunshine. He was also interested in something else--police treatment of people drinking alcohol in the park. He whipped out his camera and started to take pictures.

A police officer approached him and indicated that she would like to have his camera. Jones refused. She was soon joined by two other officers. A ticket was issued for "using urban equipment for uses other than those intended."

Police bad faith here is glaringly obvious. Jones was told repeatedly, according to a police spokesperson, that people who wished to sit were obliged to use park benches. Despite the fact that many other people that day were sitting on the granite surfaces in the park, Jones was the only one charged with anything.

An urban space architect, Gavin Affleck, later noted that the whole point of these granite surfaces is for people to sit on them.

"A successful public space develops conviviality, use, social interaction, and obviously sitting around is basic," he said. "Trying to eliminate that from a public space is completely opposite to its whole intention."

So, then, whose "intent" will prevail? That of cops who love surveillance unless they're the subjects of it, or that of the designers of public parks, who want them to be places of relaxed social interaction? If Jones sets up a defence fund, I'll post particulars.

More generally, however, this incident raises a number of interesting questions. What precisely is public space? How do we defend it, and what form should that defence take?

I am a member of the
Ottawa Witness Group, which, after a series of police assaults on demonstrators in Ottawa shortly after 9/11, came into being the following summer to monitor police behaviour at major political demonstrations in the Ottawa area.
Our view is that the notion of public space embraces freedom of assembly and expression: public space is an agora, in other words, not merely physical space.

We take this idea of a peopled "public space" as a given. But two different authors add rigour to the concept, while displacing easy assumptions about it, and they force us to think about what it is that we are defending.

Canadian philosopher Mark Kingwell, in a provocative essay in the Literary Review of Canada this month ("The Prison of 'Public Space'"), begins his reflections with a quotation from the "Toronto Public Space Committee," which opposes surveillance cameras in public areas:

The proposed police cameras will be surveying public spaces throughout the city. We feel that it is reasonable to assume that law-abiding citizens should be free to walk the streets and enjoy the public spaces without being monitored by the police. The very act of continuous monitoring reduces the freedoms we all value within our public spaces. It puts into jeopardy our rights to privacy, and anonymity, on the streets of our city.

Kingwell is troubled by this. Philosphers rather too easily see public space as including "the right to gather and discuss, to interact with and debate one's fellow citizens." Public space is not merely what you find between private spaces. It goes well beyond: "Public space enables a political conversation that favours the unforced force of the better argument, the basis of just social order."

But, as he explains at length, this idealized notion of public space is contradicted by its very underpinnings: so-called "public spaces" are merely the sites of myriad extensions of private space. A shopping arcade, for example, is an "unpublic public space," a place where

private individuals enter into the so-called public space as floating bubbles of private space, suspicious of intrusion by strangers and jealous of their interests. On this model, "public" space is not public at all; it is merely an open marketplace of potential transactions, monetary or otherwise, between isolated individuals.

So long as that space is occupied by people engaged in individualistic pursuits, he argues, it isn't truly "public" at all. If he is right, then I fell into the trap myself, by using the word "agora" (marketplace) earlier. Kingwell calls for a "more radical reorientation," away from the property model of a space "available for everyone's selfish use." Our present conception of public space, he suggests, is of "leftover space," which forms the margins of private holdings and commercial enterprises. And omnipresent surveillance simply goes to remind us that these interstitial spaces are not ours, but the state's:

Contemporary western societies remain an uneasy hybrid of associational and authoritarian social forms: democracy is a confusion of claims for individual liberty made among state-controlled structures of order and security that may, at any moment, revert to violence.

"There can be no useful recourse to public space," he says, "unless and until we reverse the polarity of our conception of publicness itself." Indeed, he concludes, all space is public space:

We cannot enter the public because we have never left the public; it pervades everything, and our identities are never fixed or prefigured because they are themselves achievements of the public dimension in human life.

Where I part company with Kingwell is on the notion of surveillance. And I do so uneasily. Certainly the idea of police surveillance of "public space" has Orwellian overtones. Surveillance ("the gaze") is an essential aspect of Michel Foucault's notion of discipline. It is an exercise of institutional power--in clinics, prisons and mental hospitals, for example. We begin to "watch ourselves," in both senses of the phrase. We fall into line.

But one thing the Ottawa Witness Group noted early on is that this cuts both ways. The police didn't like being under surveillance themselves. Indeed, a senior officer at a meeting I attended claimed that our mere presence, taking notes on the scene and recording events with our cameras, "interfered" with the conduct of officers' duties. We can also remember the many amateur videos, from the Rodney King beating to the recent killing of Robert Dziekanski, in which police accounts have been instantly falsified or put seriously into question by quick-thinking citizens.

It is precisely this point that David Brin (The Transparent Society) is advancing when he argues against the very notion of privacy, from quite a different standpoint than Kingwell, but not necessarily a contradictory one. Here is an interesting interview with him on a talk show, on the very question of video surveillance. We worry about Big Brother, he says, but the most chilling thing about the dystopia of 1984, in which the state is always peering at us, is that we can't look back. He argues that trying to stop surveillance is akin to King Canute trying to stop the tides (yet another misstatement of Canute's real mission, but let it pass), so that citizens with cameras in our increasingly transparent society can enforce accountability. And here's Glenn Reynolds, making the same argument.

So even though one of my fellow Witnesses pursued individual complaints against police for videotaping demonstrators, I am less offended by this--so long as we can videotape them right back. Cops who sadistically use Tasers are popping up on YouTube all the time. Here at home surveillance cameras in a Tim Hortons caught two cops whaling away on a harmless drunk. If surveillance in a public park is a disciplinary gaze, so too is the increasingly common surveillance of police--a democratic response to police abuse of power, and probably more effective than citizen complaint mechanisms.

Back, then, to Émilie Gamelin Park, where all of these issues came together in an odd conjuncture. Here is a "public space," that isn't really public at all. It is heavily policed. Members of the public aren't even allowed to sit anywhere other than in designated spots (benches) set aside for the purpose. The park is actually a confined space of regimentation and control. The police, who were there to enforce the rules in this "public" place where Brendan Jones sat down, tried to obtain his camera, and then issued a punitively high-priced ticket for daring to sit in the wrong spot (but really for daring to put them under surveillance).

Brendan Jones is being punished for trying to make police accountable in our not-yet-transparent society. And the officers' retaliation exposes, in a single act of indisputable malice, the flimsy, indeed illusory, nature of "public space."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Free speech for MPs!

The pages of the Ottawa Citizen are plastered today with attacks on the notion of parliamentary privilege, with special reference to the recent censure of RCMP Deputy Commissioner Barbara George. The House of Commons unanimously found her in contempt of Parliament on April 10 for misleading the House public accounts committee in February 2007. In doing so, they upheld the committee's naming of George for contempt of Parliament at the time.

During an investigation of the scandal-plagued RCMP's mishandling of their employee pension plan, George had allegedly been involved in the removal of a gung-ho investigator, Staff-Sgt. Mike Frizzell, from the case. She twice claimed before the House committee that she had not, despite evidence to the contrary.

RCMP behaviour around this issue met the low-quality standard that we have come, unfortunately, to expect of this out-of-control national police force. But that's not the issue that I want to address. Rather, it's the quaint notion that Parliamentarians should not be able to express themselves in their own chamber--that they should be denied their right to freedom of speech.

Kathryn May, the writer of the article, trundles out "experts" who thunder against the naming of George for contempt. A visiting professor at the University of Ottawa attacked the public accounts committee for doing so this past February. She called the Committee a "schoolyard bully" and claimed that it was "over the top" in making its ruling.

May goes on to refer to "archaic privileges...threatening the rights of Canadians." Former MP Serge Joyal is cited: he refers to a case of discrimination brought against the Speaker of the House at the time, where the Speaker claimed parliamentary privilege. But the Supreme Court ruled that the Speaker was not shielded, and that the human rights case against him could proceed. In other words, the system worked. Nevertheless, Joyal insists that parliamentary privilege, once a shield against the Crown, has been "transformed into a sword."

Conservative MP John Williams sees the matter a little differently. "How much more due process did she want?" he asked:

We wrote to her about our concerns; we gave her a couple of weeks to prepare and the floor to speak as long as she needed to explain and she reaffirmed that she gave a truthful statement....This wasn't done in a cavalier way. We handled this soberly, deliberately and thoughtfully to ensure her rights were protected and she was given every opportunity to explain herself. You can't abuse committees and not expect them to react.

And I think he puts the matter very well. What "rights" are being infringed, what "sword" is being wielded, when a parliamentary committee, and then the House in session, express an opinion? Because that is the sum total of what they did. They were displeased with what they not unreasonably considered to be obfuscations and prevarications before the committee by the RCMP Deputy Commissioner, and they said so. That's what being held in contempt is. That's what a motion of censure is. Both are expressions of opinion.

George was not fined, deprived of her liberty or stripped of her rights. She was told off.
Twice. Since when should our elected officials be denied the right to do just that?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Brenda Martin and Mexican justice

OK, all, let's take a deep breath.

Once upon a time, I used to winter in a tiny paradise called Bequia, an island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Once in a while, to avoid the long walks and the dollar buses, I'd take a water taxi--a motor-boat whose operator would take you down the coast to your vacation abode.

One of these boats was called the "Jolly Joseph." The operator, Jerome Joseph (I believe I knew him slightly) , was murdered: he was found floating in the harbour with a .22 bullet through the heart. His accused murderers were a pair of dissolute, rich Americans, James and Penella Fletcher. They had been in possession of just such a gun, but it conveniently disappeared.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines has a justice system modeled on the British system--the judges and lawyers even wear wigs. It's a democratic country. But this didn't stop hysterical American commentators from using the old "whites in the grip of savage Blacks" meme. The then-Prime Minister, James "Son" Mitchell, toured the US to try to explain that the Fletchers would get a fair trial.

The US media commentariat, in the person of Ted Koppel, swung into action. Mitchell was ambushed on CNN. President Clinton (the man who left Leonard Peltier to rot in jail) "sought assurances" from the Prime Minister that the Fletchers would indeed get that fair trial.

As it happens, I know "Son" Mitchell. He has a degree in agronomy from UBC. He's a reserved, dignified, highly civilized human being, even if I found his politics a little conservative for my taste. He was nice enough, one sunny day, to take my ex and me over to Mustique on his 32-foot sailboat for a day trip, before he won the election with his National Democratic Party (NDP)--he was a great fan of David Lewis, as it turned out, and the acronym was no accident.

In any case, the jury found the pair not guilty. There was too little evidence, with the missing gun and all. I wish I could believe that this was a fair, impartial verdict, but the pressure from the US was so immense that I cannot fully trust it. The magistrate, I was told, was really rough on Joseph's brother on the stand, calling him "stupid." There was something that didn't feel right. Nevertheless, the couple walked, and that's that.

Let us turn now to Mexico. I felt, I admit it, what many people felt--this was a Canadian woman who, through no fault of her own, ended up in the toils of a corrupt justice system that runs on bribes and favours. Obviously it took far too long to bring her to trial. And there are many questions one can reasonably ask. How did the judge reach his "guilty" verdict when all the evidence was circumstantial? And yet--didn't she get quite the whack of severance pay for an 10-month stint at work? $25,000? As a cook? A federal public employee in Canada pulling in $52K a year would walk away with that amount only after 25 years.

So I then must ask myself: is my visceral reaction against today's finding of guilt, the five-year sentence and the fine based on my intimate knowledge of the Mexican judicial system? Nope. It doesn't seem to be up there with St.Vincent's, for sure. But when we make these snap judgements about the outcome of trials
of Our People in foreign lands, are we not reacting with just a mite of prejudice...even racism?

I put the question to readers; but in any case I am not satisfied with my own initial reaction to the guilty verdict. I need to know more, and maybe feel a little less.

Our brave speech warriors...

...but whose speech, and what speech are they fighting for?

freedom to indulge in neo-Nazi Holocaust denial, electoral lawbreaking, and homophobic propaganda.

Out: freedom of artistic expression, freedom to criticize social conservatives, and political freedom.

Anyone see a pattern here?

Earth to humans...come in, humans...

Every day is Earth Day for Mother Earth. But she has good days and bad days, and more bad days than good at the moment.

This sort of reactive nonsense should give people a clue about what's going wrong. Note particularly this nugget:

The process of our destruction is termed sustainable development, a destructive scheme that is in direct opposition to Christianity, which holds that man is to have dominion over nature, which is given to us for our use.

There it is, in a nutshell, no pun intended: the invidious religious underpinnings of the anti-Earth movement, the false, destructive notion that we are somehow outside nature. The religious anti-Earth folks think that we can do whatever we like to the environment, because it appears to say so in a book of dubious provenance that was cobbled together when the entire planetary population was 200 million, give or take.

The non-religious anti-Earth people, for all their political conspiracy talk, are trapped in the same meme. It's all about dominion--exploiting, taming, plundering, consuming. These are the folks who think it's clever to turn on bright lights during Earth Hour; the people who glory in producing waste and pollution, the people who have about as much foresight as a newt. And if that pollution becomes a problem, if the smells are getting unpleasant in your gated backyards, if your garden gnomes are starting to glow in the dark, you can always pitch the bad stuff over the fence where the poorer neighbours live: it can be buried on an Indian reserve, or made Mexico or Africa or China's problem. But what happens when they start bursting at the seams?

It's time, I think, to rehabilitate in the popular mind James Lovelock's notion of Gaia, which is anything but mystical and New Agey, contrary to what otherwise intelligent people like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould rather too quickly claimed. The dynamic processes of the earth, including the biosphere, are profoundly interconnected. You can't mess with one without affecting a lot of others. Gaia--not a sentient organism, but a complex natural system--is
in a dynamic equilibrium, and it is homeorhetic, meaning that it is self-stabilizing.

This is good, old-fashioned, non-teleological science, and with this insight, corroborated in any number of ways (the salinity of the oceans, the composition of the atmosphere and the surface temperature of the earth are remarkably constant over time, for example) Lovelock was, for example, able to predict the dimethylsulfide cycle, now a scientific commonplace.

But in his most recent book, The Revenge of Gaia, Lovelock points out that the earth's homeorhesis is not immune to sudden changes brought about by alterations in the environment that produce cascading effects, such as massive deforestation, greenhouse gas production and other human activities. Already the planet is rapidly becoming uninhabitable. Life itself, due to the negative feedback loops that structure the Gaia system, will likely persist, he says, but humans will be "culled." I cannot accept his current deep pessimism: at least, I don't want to. I hope that it is not in fact too late to do anything, as he now claims. We progressives are optimistic by nature, and sometimes wildly so, even if we are staring death in the face.

But judging from the know-nothing commentary of reactionaries, kooks and fundies, and, more important, from paranoid political leaders who think that Kyoto is a socialist plot, we may indeed lack the critical mass required to turn things around.

We have strayed far back into the past, it seems. Dinosaurs are once again ruling the earth, and this time they're busily manufacturing their own asteroid. Will rational argument and good science be enough to stop them?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Ezra Levant gulls the credulous

Ezra's latest post-- immediately taken up by his ragged horde of admirers and water- carriers-- betrays an amazing capacity for mental legerdemain. In it, he pretty well accuses Richard Warman of lying to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal in 2006 by stating he didn't know who "Jadewarr" was.

Actually, that's not quite what Warman said:

MR. FROMM: Can you explain what that
is, “Welcome, Jadewarr?

MR. WARMAN: It appears to be a name that was logged in under.

MR. FROMM: By whom?

MR. WARMAN: I’m sorry, I don’t know.

But this is what Levant had to say at his place on April 9:

I didn't pay a lot of attention to the etymology behind "jadewarr" -- the nom de plume that Canadian Human Rights Commission investigators Dean Steacy, Richard Warman and other Stormfront members used when they posted their online bigotry.

Obviously that provides a missing context. And just as obviously, Levant is gaming his supporters yet again.

There's more. Levant states that Warman was present when a "generic version" of an original "Jadewarr" post to the neo-Nazi Stormfront site was printed off, by CHRC employee Dean Steacy. Recall that this is not the original document, shown to him in front of the Tribunal in 2006. So a second leap is made by Levant: that Warman not only was present during the production of the second, "generic," document, but knew who produced the first one.

So which is it, Ezra? Was Dean Steacy the one and only user of the "Jadewarr" pseudonym? Or was it used by a whole lot of people, as you claimed a mere twelve days ago--in which case his "I don't know" was most likely the plain truth?

UPDATE: (April 21) Some of his commenters are onto this.

(Photo: Alison at Creekside)

Solidarity? Whatever

The "journalists" who agreed to a secret tryst with Conservative Party officials are a disgrace to their profession, and have opened the way to even more manipulation and tightly-controlled channeling of information by the Harper regime. They have made a Faustian bargain for a story, a bargain made infamous by the "embedding" (which inevitably turned out to mean "in-bedding") of reporters in American and allied armed forces.

The meeting was real cloak-and-dagger stuff: a party spokesperson lying about the event, a swift change of hotels when the news leaked out, Conservatives escaping through the back door when that news leaked out too, and (of course) the subsequent cancellation of all subsequent briefings.

If I were an excluded member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, I would be up in arms about now. I'm not arguing for a union lock-step here, but for a principled refusal to play this Con-game. Can't the journalists who agreed to go to this meeting see the grave dangers to their own profession in allowing themselves to be used in this fashion? Obviously not.

It's time for their professional peers to weigh in, and in no uncertain terms. Or maybe we'll all be treated to an exhumation of this.

Another domino falls

The tiny country of Paraguay is in new hands today. A successful alliance of unions, poor farmers and Indians brought Fernando Luco, the "bishop of the poor," to power. He has pledged to carry out agrarian reform, a phrase that will duly resonate in certain quarters. Also high on Luco's agenda is the corruption-tainted and grossly inequitable Itaipu hydroelectric deal with Brazil. The business folks are already offering solicitous advice.* But for now, he's not listening: "This is the Paraguay I dream about, with many colors, many faces, the Paraguay of everyone," he said to his cheering supporters.

Once home to career Nazi war criminals--Martin Bormann and Josef Mengele--Paraguay's government has always enjoyed the strong backing of the United States. It was a backwater dictatorship for four decades after a 1954 coup, under the iron heel of General Alfredo Stroessner. His successor, General Andres Rodriguez, who launched a successful palace coup in 1989, set up "free" elections: the US was beginning to insist upon such optical illusions as world opinion was changing. Needless to say, his party and that of the deposed Stroessner, El Partido Colorado, remained firmly in power.

The history of Paraguay makes depressing reading. In The Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano gives us a taste of it--his description of the so-called War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870), in which Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay attacked the only country in Latin America with the effrontery to have established a self-sufficient economy. It was, in fact, a well-off country, with no national debt, universal literacy and a huge trade surplus. Begging, hunger and theft were unknown. With the help of Great Britain, the country was ravaged, its people slaughtered--five-sixths of the population were killed--and one third of its territory was annexed, leaving it landlocked. The country had the breath squeezed out of it, and it has been an economic and social basket-case ever since: now the second-poorest nation in Latin America.

This election was subject to the usual attempts at rigging: so many dead and impossibly aged voters were on the rolls that a joke soon made the rounds--the only reason Methuselah didn't take part was because he lacked Paraguayan citizenship. Nevertheless, as we have recently seen in Zimbabwe, there is only so much rigging that is humanly possible, short of handing each elector a Yes ballot. Paraguay is at a turning-point: let us hope that the turn is to the left, with Evo Morales and Hugo Chávez, and not to the neoliberalism and unkept promises of Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

*For those interested in the entity known as Transparency International, cited in this article as an authoritative source re Venezuela's alleged "corruption," Greg Palast has some well chosen words here.)

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday funnies: flat taxes and bitter laughs

Let's begin with the humour, by all means. First we have the Vancouver
transit cop memo. Then, a personal message from God to Kate McMillan: global warming is a fact, but for you and the other knuckle-draggers, have a nice Spring.

Now, to a truly unfunny joke: helobious (thank you,
CanWest) Citizen columnist Randall Denley thinks a flat tax is the answer to yearly income tax-preparation woes. And it's fairer, he says--the current system (in all of its labyrinthine complexity) "discourage[s] people from working harder and earning more because those extra dollars are taxed at progressively higher rates. Why do we want to discourage hard work?"

Denley is a meticulous researcher most of the time; if you want to disagree with him on his generally right-of-centre take on municipal affairs, you do so with your hat in your hand. But on this issue, he's plain wrong. He's proposing nothing less, in fact, than a massive transfer of the tax burden onto the backs of ordinary working Canadians.

It's simple math: if the government currently receives $X in tax revenue within the current progressive tax system, the rich will pay a proportion of that based upon an ascending marginal tax rate. If that $X is to be obtained from a flat tax arrangement, then the rich will pay less--and middle-income earners will pay more (Denley points out that the poor will be largely sheltered).

Denley notes, with appropriate disapproval, the current tax fudges, loopholes and dodges currently enjoyed by the rich. All that would go with a flat tax system, he says. Really? It's that easy? Then why not get rid of all that stuff right now? No more untaxable family trusts. No more tax-free offshore accounts. No more corporate boondoggling and complaisant Revenue Canada write-offs...

Well, one can dream, but Denley is dreaming in technicolour. Conservatives like the flat tax because it will reward the wealthy: in effect it will force average Canadians to subsidize them. If the poor can be protected from income tax burdens, as in Alberta, the rich can be protected too. They aren't about to give up their own commodious tax shelters if a flat tax is adopted.

As John Kenneth Galbraith once quipped,
"We can safely abandon the doctrine of the eighties, namely that the rich were not working because they had too little money, the poor because they had much." But some, it seems, are hanging on to that notion for dear life. Meanwhile, I gave all my 2007 stuff to an accountant, and I'm hoping he can work his usual miracles. After all, if I have a legal problem, I'll hire a lawyer. Some things cannot and should not be reduced to Denley's "single sheet of paper." That kind of simplification would benefit only one group: the one that's already doing quite well enough, thank you, under the current system.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Blogburst! Mass graves in Canada...

...Aboriginal children in residential schools tortured, flogged to death, deliberately electrocuted.

Twenty-eight mass graves.

In Canada.

I'm not making this up.

Now, where were we? Oh, yes: back to the

I don't believe in conspiracies. I don't believe that there is a corporate entity called the "MSM." But sometimes I really find myself wondering. This is the story of the century. And no one in the media is bothering to report it.*

Could it be that the murders of Aboriginal children just don't matter to mainstream journalists and editors? Is this yet another case of racism by omission--like this one? Would there be a thick curtain of media silence if the twenty-eight mass graves were filled with dead white kids?

If ever a blogburst were needed, now is the time. Indeed, it's already well under way. Let's do our part to counter the cover-up. Write to your local editors: demand an end to their complicit silence. (And be sure to join the Facebook group to post your link.)

UPDATE: (April 20) Apparently, wanting media scrutiny of these allegations makes me a racist. I shall simply never understand the conservative mind.

UPDATE: (April 22) Here's a video of the press conference in Toronto, ignored by the mainstream media. (H/t Unrepentant Old Hippie)

UPDATE: (May 6) Some of the usual suspects object to the notion that this matter be investigated. But the media silence, and the focus on Kevin Annett rather than on the detailed allegations, are just sidestepping the issue. An investigation, even a partial one, will either confirm or debunk the claims of mass graves. One wonders what the strident conservatives who oppose even looking into this would have made of the Duplessis orphans story.
*I am informed by commenters over at Stageleft that two short articles have in fact appeared, and there was a discussion on CBC's Radio One on April 16th. A quick search of Google News turns up all of four news reports in the major news media. There has been no follow-up; no call for a public enquiry; no further editorial comment of any kind, other than a self-serving piece by a Catholic official in the Vancouver Sun. Nothing to see here; move along.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Calling eHarmony...

There's been a computer glitch.

Allo Police

This one looks like it will be a regular feature from now on. Our police, in their various jursidictions and guises across the country, are the gift that simply keeps on giving.

The good: No Tasers this time, no deaths; the RCMP was on its best behaviour. After all, the media were present, and they can cover more visual angles than a cellphone. The horsemen were at Conservative Party headquarters to help Elections Canada document a scandal that promises to be a fine lead-up to an election--if Dion ever gets the nerve to force one. But time is of the essence. Remember that former RCMP Commissioner Zaccardelli leaked the news of an RCMP investigation of the Liberals at just the right moment. Don't wait and see how this thing turns out, Stéphane--be a good political actor and bring down the House.

The bad:
Transit cops in Vancouver are using Tasers when passengers don't pay their fares. The Solicitor-General of a province that has seen a slew of Taser-related killings in the past few years says it's not his problem--the passengers can always complain. To a board loaded with other cops.

The ugly:
Ottawa cops decided to take no chances with a ten-year-old kid who'd been making noise in his apartment. They entered with guns drawn, allegedly told the frightened child that if he'd had a knife in his hand they would have Tasered him (and that's no idle threat, I suspect), handcuffed him, causing minor injuries, threatened to take him away from his parents, and called him a "bitch." A police spokesperson says the family can always complain.

Just another week in the life of our paramilitaries, serving and protecting.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

OK, then...what about human rights?

The opponents of Human Rights Commissions are winning. I'll be accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy by stating the obvious, but it doesn't take a weatherman, etc., as we used to say. Newspaper editorials are getting testy; civil libertarians (well, Alan Borovoy, anyway) are fussing aloud; and well-connected, articulate conservatives are banging the war-drums ever louder.

Meanwhile, who is speaking up for Human Rights Commissions? A few left-wing bloggers--the usual suspects. Present and former Human Rights Commission officials. Where are the politicans? Mind you, one expects Stéphane Dion and his sorry crew to go on hiding under their desks in the House of Commons--selling out immigrants, standing by while the Conservatives turn back the clock twenty years on abortion rights, anything to forestall an election--but where's the NDP? Where are the progressive columnists--are there any left, no pun intended?

What are the issues here? Liberal Keith Martin wants to abolish Section 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the clause that presently discourages whipping up hatred against minorities and women, but that's just the beginning, and everybody knows it. Ezra Levant and his crowd want to abolish Human Rights Commissions altogether. Don't take my word for it--Levant's not shy about stating his agenda out loud: "I believe the human rights commissions should be abolished, not legitimized," he says, and I take him completely at his word.

Free speech, as I've said before, isn't the issue, and it never has been, but it makes a heck of a good smokescreen. The right of neo-Nazis to speak, as we've seen, has been vigorously defended. But in breathtaking acts of doublethink, our antiquated and dangerous libel laws are used by the same folks to squelch opposition.
(When the tables are turned, though, suddenly it's "libel chill" and that mean Mr.Warman.) Bill C-10, which will permit state censorship in the arts, has their strong support as well.

But this isn't about hypocrisy. It's about a clever conservative strategy, and it's looking like a successful one. What can we do about it?

First off, we need to be clear: the current operations of human rights commissions, all fourteen of them (one per province and territory, and the CHRC) leave a thing or two to be desired in terms of both procedures and outcomes. There is such a thing as a frivolous, vexatious complaint; there are also complaints offered up in perfectly good faith that simply will not stand. Clearly there must be a comprehensive screening process at the outset, one based upon law and jurisprudence, that weeds them out before the entire ponderous and costly apparatus of a tribunal is brought to bear.

That was (although Levant's fatuous histrionics nearly erased this fact from public consciousness) precisely what was going on at the Alberta Human Rights Commission. It would have been the work of a few minutes, requiring no more than a letter at most, if he hadn't tried to turn it into the Trial of the Century, prolonging his own alleged agony on endless video recordings and loving every minute of it. But meanwhile, Mark Steyn's unpleasant words in Maclean's magazine, while screened out in Ontario (the OHRC is being harshly criticized, though, for daring to refer to that unpleasantness at all), are being put on trial before both the BC Human Rights Commission Tribunal* and the CHRC.

And now, to top it all off, the Ontario Human Rights Commission is no longer going to screen complaints. They'll all go to a Tribunal. Every last one of 'em. Good grief. The anti-human-rights folks are going to have a field day with this one. I wonder how many hundreds or even thousands of bogus complaints scribbled on cocktail napkins by those busy bees are going to be submitted to the OHRC before someone in charge finally gets the message?

The problem is this. Human Rights Tribunals are supposed to offer recourse to the average citizen suffering discrimination--people who can't afford lawyers, court costs and powerful opponents with deep pockets. Like any other quasi-judicial tribunal, access is relatively easy, and proceedings are informal. That's as it should be. But the only way a system like this can work, practically speaking, is to keep it from getting clogged. And to prevent clogging, a fair and effective screening process is a must.

(There is a wider issue, of course. Such state institutions are used to channel and control discontent; they deal with the symptoms and not the disease, namely, the unequal power relations from which discrimination springs. But let us put this in parentheses for the time being. For now, Human Rights Commissions are all that a victim of discrimination has.)

The second point is that respondents are currently required to foot their own bills, win, draw or lose. This is simply wrong. If a complaint is not upheld, reasonable costs should be awarded. The respondent has a right to be made whole, just as the complainant presently is when a complaint is upheld.

Rather than issuing defensive statements, officials, ex-officials and supporters of Human Rights Commissions should gracefully concede that the current system is in some need of adjustment. I don't want to debate whether or not hatred and discrimination should be tolerated in a free and democratic society. The answer to that one is obvious, at least to me. Instead, we should be discussing how the current system, at least in the short and medium terms, should be altered to conform to the popular sense of fairness and justice.

The debate, then, badly needs to be reframed. So far, we've let conservatives set the terms, and the damage is becoming more apparent by the day. We've been diverted by the disingenuous use of "free speech" issues, which is only the thin edge of the wedge. Human rights legislation and the bodies that enforce it are the real targets. We need, therefore, to cast a cold and impartial eye on the processes and procedures of the Commissions, face up to their shortcomings, and lobby for changes. And there's no time to lose.

*As reader Ian King points out, the BC Human Rights Commission per se no longer exists; the BC Human Rights Tribunal, however,appears to have essentially the same powers and structure as a commission, as well as tribunal functions.