Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Speculation: Harper's Pugilistic Stance On Russia/Ukraine

Harper's stance on Ukraine does not make a lot of sense in terms of the general back and forth of diplomacy and foreign affairs.

Canada is in no position to dictate to Russia on matters military - a country of 143,000,000 can raise a much more substantial military than one of 35,000,000.  The tit-for-tat of expelling diplomats is unproductive to say the least.

Granted, Harper has been playing the "little boy in short pants" when it comes to foreign affairs for quite some time, so his childish approach to Russia is not terribly surprising.

In many ways, Putin's aggressive approach to foreign affairs is complementary to Harper's desire to hold on to power at any cost.  Harper thinks that when he plays the "military leader" that his polling numbers improve, and lately they have been in the toilet (deservedly so).

However, I don't think it is merely a matter of polling numbers in Harper's mind.  He will not call an election unless he is pretty much confident that he will win.

We have three basic scenarios for the next election in front of us:

1.  The next election will be in October of 2015 based on the 2006 "Fixed Election Dates" Law (You know, the one Harper ignored in 2008).

The polling numbers at the moment suggest to me very strongly that this will not happen.  Elections Canada will, as required by the law in Bill C-16, establish polling stations and suchlike for the third Monday in October.  That doesn't mean that the Governor General will have dropped the writ sometime in September.  The dissolution of parliament for a general election still remains an act of the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister.  Harper is not going to give that advice if he thinks he is going to lose.

2.  Failing actual compliance with his 2006 law, the Constitution allows for a Parliament to last no longer than five years, which would place the next election at the end of 2016.

  • 4. (1) No House of Commons and no legislative assembly shall continue for longer than five years from the date fixed for the return of the writs at a general election of its members. (81)
    The dissolution of parliament happens more or less automatically at this point.  Traditionally, governments have called the next election sometime near the end of the fourth year of their mandate but the option exists quite legally to stretch that into 2016.

    3.  Section 4 of the Charter contains a very interesting clause that we should pay attention to, though. Section 4(2) provides for an extension of the existing parliament in times of war.
Marginal note:
Continuation in special circumstances 
(2) In time of real or apprehended war, invasion or insurrection, a House of Commons may be continued by Parliament and a legislative assembly may be continued by the legislature beyond five years if such continuation is not opposed by the votes of more than one-third of the members of the House of Commons or the legislative assembly, as the case may be. (82)
If this doesn't have you feeling a little uneasy, consider the the apparent desire of Putin to rekindle the old Cold War flames, and Harper's willingness to play to that same tune.  While other world leaders are carefully playing their cards where Russia is concerned, we find Harper doubling down and being quite aggressively pugilistic.

If Harper and Putin can provoke open conflict between Russia and NATO both parties have much to gain politically.  Putin gets to keep playing his uber-macho "returning Russia to its former glory" routine, and open conflict would give Harper the excuse he would need to defer an election past 2016 even if his polling numbers remain where they have been for most of the last year.

It's a chilling thought that a Canadian Prime Minister could be considering this kind of approach.  But that said, given the obvious attempts in Bill C-23 to rejig our elections apparatus to give the ruling party an advantage, it is one that Canadians should be aware of.

An Open Letter From Academics on Bill C-23

Highlights:  (much of which have been discussed in more depth on this blog)

Investigating electoral fraud. Bill C-23 fails to provide the Commissioner of Elections power to compel witness testimony in investigating systematic electoral fraud such as the 2011 “robocalls” scandal. Witnesses with knowledge of fraudulent activity can – and regularly do – refuse to provide information to investigators. The bill’s proposed voter contact registry will not greatly enhance the capacity to prosecute fraud, and its increased penalties for fraud do nothing if investigators cannot prove crimes. 
Polling supervision. Under Bill C-23, winning parties will appoint election poll supervisors – a further intrusion of partisanship in the electoral process, and one that creates an advantage for the incumbent party. The government has not addressed objections to this measure, and there is no sound rationale for it. 
Voter turnout. With the sole exception of school programs, such as Student Vote, the Senate amendments retain the gag on Elections Canada’s efforts to encourage voter turnout. Senator Linda Frum has asserted that Elections Canada is in a “conflict of interest” when it promotes turnout, claiming that heightened participation comes at the expense of electoral integrity. This position is unjustified in both fact and logic. Public outreach that encourages all citizens to vote – not just those who support one party or another – is central to the mandate of electoral commissions worldwide, such as those in Australia, India, and New Zealand. 
The Charter guarantee of the right to vote. By eliminating vouching and refusing voter information cards as proof of address, the bill undermines the right to vote protected by Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a constitutional entitlement so fundamental that it cannot be limited by the Charter’s “notwithstanding” clause. Where governments require voter identification, international best practices require that governments issue free ID to all eligible voters. This bill does the opposite: it takes away existing forms of cost-free ID. The Senate’s proposed requirement of “letters of attestation” from First Nations, homeless shelters and elder-care facilities would offload government responsibility onto under-resourced communities without resolving the underlying constitutional issues. There is no doubt that the bill’s voter ID restrictions will be challenged in court for violating the constitutionally protected right to vote. By insisting on these measures, the government invites costly legal battles for no clear public end. 
Elections Canada. As former auditor-general Sheila Fraser has persuasively argued, Bill C-23 undermines Elections Canada, an internationally renowned non-partisan agency. The damage done by the government’s gratuitous public attacks against Ms. Fraser and the Chief Electoral Officer goes even deeper. By casting doubt on the non-partisanship of independent officers of Parliament, the government unsettles the delicate balance of powers that secures our democratic system of government. 
The Senate committee has failed to respond adequately to the many legitimate criticisms of the other features of Bill C-23. These include campaign finance rules, the Treasury Board’s veto power over Elections Canada’s appointment of specialized staff, and the failure to require political parties to provide receipts for electoral expenses (even though they are reimbursed more than $30-million at taxpayer expense).
Bill C-23 is the most horrid piece of legislation that I have ever seen a government put forward.  Other governments in the past have pushed through legislation which has been seen as an attack on one region of the country or another.  Never have I seen a government attack the fundamental basis of democracy in Canada.

Democratic rights of citizens 
3. Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

The right to vote is central to Canada's democracy.  The government exists at the collective will of the people, as expressed through voting.  Never before has the government attacked the right of Canadians to vote so blatantly, nor in a manner so clearly designed around achieving some kind of partisan advantage.

This is Canada, not Baathist Iraq under Sadam Hussein.  We deserve better than this from our government.  Instead we get deafening silence from the PMO, and blustering stupidity from the minister responsible for this piece of legislation, Pierre Poilievre.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

If You Love Canada ... Read This

I don't usually use this space to promote posts at other blogs, but at iPolitics Michael Harris has an excellent column that summarizes what Harper is doing to Canada.

Read.  Take it to heart, pass it along.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

No Charges Doesn't Mean Wright Is Clean

On Friday, we learned that the RCMP will not be laying charges against Nigel Wright for writing a cheque to Mike Duffy in the amount of some $90,000 and change. 

The CPC, and the PMO, seem to think that this is some kind of exoneration.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The RCMP only lays charges when they have evidence of criminal activity that is sufficiently solid to have a "reasonable expectation of conviction".  If for any reason, the evidence is insufficient to meet that bar, charges are not laid.

In no respect does this mean that what Nigel Wright did was right, nor does it mean that his actions as the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff are either morally or or ethically acceptable.  They may even include a violation of one or more laws in this country, but the RCMP has not turned up enough evidence to be able to have a reasonable chance of conviction.  

Frankly, I have never been convinced that Mr. Wright's actions were criminal per se.  Questionable in their motives, to be certain, but not necessarily illegal.  

However, to say that Mr. Wright's actions were justified simply because charges weren't laid is to ignore the subtle distinction between unethical behaviour and criminal activity.  We have enough of the e-mails that Mr. Wright sent to know that he had made the payment in an effort to make a political problem "go away", and there was little if any love for Mr. Duffy involved.

Ethically, Mr. Wright's actions speak to a man whose idea of solving problems like Mr. Duffy is to throw money at it and hope that it goes away for good.  While not exactly illegal, certainly dubious.  Mr. Wright action in writing a cheque to Mr. Duffy constitutes a political act - one intended to remain in secret so that a political problem could be washed away.  

Obviously, if the $90,000 had come out of the PMO budget, it would of course be a gross misuse of government funds.  Similarly, we know that the Conservative Fund had also refused to underwrite Mr. Duffy's expenses.  In both cases, the bodies involved recognized that using funds available to support Mr. Duffy would have significant consequences if they ever got made public.  

So, Mr. Wright agrees to write Mr. Duffy a cheque for $90,000 from his own bank account, on the proviso that it is kept secret.  At the very least, Mr. Wright's actions fail to meet the test of openness.  We all grew up learning that if we couldn't tell our mothers about what we were doing, we probably shouldn't be doing it.  In Mr. Wright's case, he didn't feel that he could tell the public about it.  

In short, he knew perfectly well that he was covering up something which the public as a whole would view as inappropriate.  From a simple perspective, Mr. Wright's actions would fall into the category that most people would consider unethical.  

Looking at it from a somewhat more business-oriented perspective, the need for a degree of secrecy in a deal such as this seems suspect as well.  Confidentiality is perfectly reasonable in a myriad of business propositions.  However, confidentiality when it is a tool used to cover up even more questionable dealings (such as Mr. Duffy's reasons for abusing expenses, or even his eligibility to sit as a Senator), is generally seen as a violation of reasonable business ethical practices.  Under the terms of the Sarbanes-Oxley act, such deeds in the United States actually carry significant legal penalties with them if they should be discovered.

If Mr. Wright's acts are not criminal per se, they are certainly unethical.  If the ethical bar in Ottawa is now the "It's not a crime, therefore it's okay" (AKA "The Rob Ford Defence"), then it is truly a low bar to meet.  Canadians should rightly demand better of our politicians and their staffs than this.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Steyn Is Back ... and He Still Doesn't Get It

Mark Steyn has returned to the pages of the National Post, and he is continuing his crusade to never be held accountable for his "free speech".  (No surprise there, Steyn and Levant have been mutual cheerleaders for ages)

Mr. Steyn seems to be confused about the difference between free speech, free speech without consequences.  As always, his argument boils down to being able to say whatever the heck you want, and nobody should be able to hold you accountable for it.

He raises several instances where he claims that "free speech" is being unreasonably abrogated:

In California, Mozilla's chief executive is forced to resign because he once made a political donation in support of the pre-revisionist definition of marriage. 

At Westminster, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee declares that the BBC should seek 'special clearance' before it interviews climate sceptics, such as fringe wacko extremists like former Chancellor Nigel Lawson.
Let's give these two examples a little closer scrutiny, shall we?

Brendan Eichs resigned as CEO of Mozilla as a result of it becoming public knowledge that he had financially supported the pro-Proposition 8 campaign in California.  Nobody has said that he has no right to do that.  He's perfectly free to do so.  Similarly, the users and developers behind Mozilla have an equal right to say that they don't like the idea of being led by a man who is objectively hostile to many of their peers and colleagues.  

Open source developers are notoriously liberal creatures.  They don't like the idea of bigotry and oppression being fomented by their leaders.  So, what happened when Mr. Eichs stepped in as CEO?  A few enterprising individuals went and did a bit of digging into Mr. Eichs' public record and found that he had acted in a manner they didn't approve of.  This was publicized, and the community around Mozilla began to protest rather vocally.  

Was Mr. Eichs' right to free speech (or action) being "suppressed"?  Not really.  Nobody is telling him to "shut up", and in fact I'm quite sure that Mr. Eichs could make quite a living for himself on the lecture circuit with Mr. Steyn, I'm sure.  What has happened is the community within which Mr. Eichs resides chose to censure him for what they perceived to be an inappropriate action.  (I won't pontificate on the proportionality of the consequences for Mr. Eichs, I don't have enough information about the particulars to make much of an assessment of it)

Regarding Mr. Lawson, although I have found one or two mentions of this report from the UK House of Commons Committee, it isn't exactly widely reported precisely what was said, so I'm even more cautious about the veracity of Steyn's claims.  Of a total of 3 news results on the subject, 2 were opinion pieces - including Mr. Steyn's column), and the third was behind a paywall, so it's a little difficult to assess the details and the veracity of Mr. Steyn's interpretation of things.

Mr. Lawson's position regarding climate change is well documented, and he has been pretty clear about it for some time.  Fine.  There is nothing saying that the BBC or any other news source has to give him an audience from which to spout his beliefs.  You see, the interesting thing about this is that Mr. Lawson is free to believe whatever he wishes.  But, just as in situations where creationism crosses paths with science, he is not entitled to his own 'facts' as he chooses to make them.    Therefore, a science show on BBC talking about climate change does need to be careful when bringing in someone like Mr. Lawson as an "expert".  If the show is about the known facts, then Mr. Lawson probably is not the right person to bring in.  

Mr. Steyn seems to think that this represents a narrowing of the public discourse.  Of course, like the average creationist who argues that "the debate" should be taught in schools, he is conveniently ignoring the fact that the facts have long since narrowed things down to the point that the debate is not one of "if", but rather of "when, and how much".  When so-called "skeptics" continue to repeat the tired line that there is "ambiguity in the science" or a "lack of clarity", they eventually render themselves irrelevant to the actual discussion.  
But free speech is essential to a free society because, when you deny people 'an opportunity to act like normal political parties' there's nothing left for them to do but punch your lights out
Of course, libertarians like Mr. Steyn argue this all the time.  They seem to have forgotten the lessons that we all learned (or should have learned) during the Nazi era in Germany.  There are in fact exercises of "free speech" that need to be censured and held in abeyance, for if they are not, they can and do become the tools of oppression and violence for those who are the targets of them.

Those few who are foolish enough to "sincerely" hold those beliefs that the Nazis used to demonize Jews in 1930s Germany (or whatever other bigotry you wish to look at, such as that in Rwanda in the early 1990s) don't have a legitimate voice, for their exercise of "free speech" has consequences for others besides themselves.

The problem that Mr. Steyn's position ignores is the inherent privilege that Mr. Steyn has as a reasonably wealthy, white American.  He is not a member of a minority population subject to systemic and deliberate suppression, he is not a member of a visible minority and subject to the consequences of America's racial segregation era.  He is, in fact, quite comfortable.  As a result, he fails to recognize that in order for there to be free speech, there must also be boundaries to it.  Some of those boundaries are going to be legal, some are going to be social - matters of courtesy shall we say.

If you cannot express your ideas reasonably without violating those conventions, then perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the positions that you are holding.  Are they unreasonable?  Has the society you live in moved past the assumptions that those positions are rooted in?  An excellent example of this would be the gay marriage debate in Canada:  If you raised this subject with most Canadians today, they would shrug and walk away on the basis that it has been the law of the land for close to a decade, and the world hasn't fallen apart as a result of it - holding to the argument that gay marriage should be illegal in Canada is largely seen as an archaic belief.  Society has moved beyond that issue.

Similarly, we have a fairly clear sense of what constitutes hate speech, and why hate speech is subject to censure.  I doubt that anybody would have a big problem with hauling off a white supremacist who started publicly broadcasting Nazi-era propaganda lies about Jewish people and charging them with hate crimes.  Mr. Steyn may decry what he sees as unreasonable "political correctness", and he is welcome to do so.  What is not open for debate is whether or not there should be consequences for those who not only violate the rights of others with their insistence on unbridled free speech.  There are and there will always be.

Is that an unreasonable limitation on "free speech"?  To a libertarian like Mr. Steyn, yes.  To the people who are the targets of hate speech, the question is a little different.  As I have argued many times in the past, rights and freedoms are not absolutes, rather they are a cat's cradle, where individual rights exist in constant tension with each other and the rights of others as well.  Mr. Steyn's right to free speech has limits, as does my own.  To believe otherwise is to blind oneself to the fact that we live in a social world.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

TFW: The Dark Side Of Corporate Feudalism

The Temporary Foreign Worker program has become a symbol of the worst predations of corporate thinking.  As more revelations come out, the depths that corporate groupthink can sink to are revealed.
Foreign workers recruited from Belize are accusing McDonald’s Canada of treating them like "slaves," by effectively forcing them to share an expensive apartment – then deducting almost half their take-home pay as rent. 
“When we arrived at the airport, they said, ‘We already have an apartment for you,’ so at that point we already know we don’t have a choice of where to live,” said Jaime Montero, who came to Edmonton with four others in September to work at McDonald’s. 
"We had to live there. We were told this is what we are doing," said another worker who didn't want to be named because he still works for McDonald's.
At first glance, providing an apartment that can be rented by the workers almost seems beneficent.
Five workers paying $280 bi-weekly works out to $3,030 per month. That suggests McDonald’s charged them $600 more for rent than what it paid. 
So, the corporation tried to make money off the temporary workers by charging them more in rent than the apartment actually costs the company.  Dishonourable at the least, downright crooked by my standards.  Oh, and it gets better:
“They actually said even if we leave the apartment and go rent another apartment, that McDonald’s would still deduct the rent from our salary,” said the other worker.
So, it's not even an option for the workers to move somewhere else.  The deductions for rent are happening in the payroll?  Holy cow.  This reeks of corporate feudalism at its worst.

This is exploitation, plain and simple.

Time for the TFW program to be shut down, and a detailed investigation of the practices of every company involved.  Worker exploitation is wrong.  Dead wrong.  The sociopaths who are exploiting workers should be charged and held accountable for their misdeeds.

... and the TFW program should be shut down posthaste.  

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On The Murders In Calgary Yesterday

Yesterday five university students were brutally murdered at a house party near the University of Calgary.

The headlines have been lurid, the details of the story as it unfolded on the radio yesterday were positively traumatizing.  My heart goes out to the families of the victims, but also to the family of the accused.

I have no doubt that in the coming months we will hear some very vocal calls for a harsh punishment for the person who committed these crimes.

But, I want people to take a step back and think about this for a moment.  The accused is facing 5 First Degree Murder charges.  If he is convicted of even one of those, he will be sentenced to at least 25 years in prison.  Automatically.  The law is quite clear on this - it is a life sentence, with a minimum of 25 years before he is eligible for parole.

Consider for a moment the circumstances.  An end-of-semester party, to which the accused was invited.  He went there after he finished his shift at a local grocery store.  Then, shortly after he arrives, he picks up a weapon (a kitchen knife, perhaps), and starts killing people.  There is no known grudge involved between the accused and any of the victims; the accused has no prior history of violent crime.  Nothing about this that has made it into the public forum has the appearance being a deliberate, planned crime.

It is my hope that when the accused undergoes psychiatric assessment, that he is found to have experienced a psychotic episode.  The timing is right, with early adulthood being a primary time for schizophrenia onset.  A psychotic episode would explain the otherwise inexplicable tragedy that unfolded in the early morning hours of April 15.

At least if it does turn out to be a psychotic episode, we can understand what happened as a tragic result of a detachment from reality - whether temporary or long term.  There is at least an opportunity to deal with the causes more directly.  A "not criminally responsible" finding would see the accused placed in a secure psychiatric facility indefinitely - but under active treatment.

The other option is that the accused is some kind of horrible human being who is frankly beyond my comprehension.  I sincerely hope that is not the case for the sake of all involved.

[Update 17:08]
CBC is reporting two key pieces of information this afternoon on the matter of de Groode's mental health:
De Grood had an initial meeting Tuesday before a justice of the peace by telephone from his hospital bed, where he has been kept over concerns about the state of his mental health, sources told CBC News.
I have my suspicions as to what this could indicate.  Generally speaking nobody is kept in a psychiatric unit unless the present a danger to themselves or others as a result of their mental condition.
Matthew de Grood is now being held in a secure psychiatric facility after being accused of stabbing five young adults to death at a Calgary house party.
No surprise here, although the psychiatric assessment appears to have been moved up the priority list.    This makes me suspect that he may well have been exhibiting symptoms of a psychotic break after his arrest.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stealing Our Democracy: Linda Frum, Talking Points and the Dumbf

*Dumbf = dumbfuckery - a condition that appears to be unique to the creation of Harper Government talking points regarding Bill C-23.

On Huffington Post this morning, I read Michael Bolen's commentary on Bill C-23 which led me to Linda Frum's more verbose op-ed defending her TWITter position from earlier this week.

Ms. Frum is a shadow of her brother when it comes to writing political polemics, and the Op-Ed which the Globe and Mail had the poor judgement to publish demonstrates that in spades.

According to Ms. Frum, there's a conflict of interest in the mandated missions of Elections Canada.
Here’s the institutional conflict of interest to which I pointed: 
Elections Canada is a bureaucracy with two missions: to ensure the integrity of the voting process and also to promote voter turnout. Those two missions are contradictory. You want the biggest vote total? Accept every ballot. You want to eliminate voter fraud? Eliminating improper ballots may reduce vote totals. 
In attempting to achieve a balance between these two different missions, the evidence suggests that Elections Canada has favoured its turnout goals over preserving the integrity of the process.
Seriously?  Ms. Frum's "evidence" for this claim?
Elections expert Harry Neufeld – no supporter of the Harper government’s proposed reforms – nevertheless reported that “some 11.8 per cent of all registration activity on Election Day in May, 2011, showed serious errors, according to the national audit undertaken for this review. That … equals 114,693 voters potentially having the validity of their votes put in question.” How serious are those irregularities? We don’t know, because Elections Canada does not investigate. 
Oh ... right.  So, along come the Conservatives with a piece of legislation that responds to this issue by making it harder for so many more Canadians to vote.  Okay, the Neufeld report identifies a significant percent of election day voter registrations had errors in them.  Rather than order an in-depth investigation of the errors and addressing the causes, the Conservatives have written a law which is clearly designed to benefit their electoral goals over addressing the actual problem. 

If these "serious errors" are the result of clerical errors (incorrect transcriptions of addresses into the voter registry, misspelling names etc.), that doesn't speak to any kind of widespread voter fraud, but rather a series of issues with procedures and training.  
Consider the most problematic of all forms of voting: where the voter has no identification. In those cases, current law allows an acquaintance, friend or relative of the voter to “vouch for” that person’s right to vote. The voter in question may be a legitimate voter who genuinely lacks ID. The voter may be a visiting relative who isn’t entitled to vote in that district – or even to vote in Canada at all. Or the voter may be valid – but have already used their ID to vote once that day and is now lining up without ID to do it a second time.
This is classic Harper Government tactics - assert that something is happening, and then claim that it is an enormous problem.  Vouching has been part of our voting system for decades.  To the best of my knowledge, there is not a shred of evidence that there is any significant amount of voter fraud taking place using this mechanism, much less on a scale which has a chance of materially affecting the outcome of an election.

One of the key issues in Bill C-23 is that it is attempting to address "voter fraud", when there is precious little evidence of Voter fraud in Canada.  On the other hand, we have very clear evidence of electoral campaign fraud starting in 2006 (In-and-Out Scandal), and 2011 (Robocalls) perpetrated by the campaign machinery of the Conservatives Party.  These misdeeds are not addressed at all by C-23, and arguably clauses in C-23 are designed to further enable political parties to engage in this kind of electoral cheating.

Notable is that nobody in the CPC seems to be standing up and saying that C-23 is wrong.  Nary a peep from backbench MPs, or the party apparatus at the riding level.  Remember this next election - the Harper Government has not chosen to represent the interests of Canadians, but rather to entrench its own cynical political interests in law.

Wingnut Education In Alberta

I have a problem with these "Lifestyle Covenants" that Christian Schools seem to be in love with.

It is not that these schools are publicly funded, although I do consider it a gross abuse of public resources for them to be used in this manner which so clearly flies in the face of both the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and provincial Human Rights Codes.

My primary objection to these covenants is that they reach far beyond the walls of the school itself.  It creates an environment where both students and staff are subject to constant surveillance.  If they are seen by a classmate, staff or faculty member engaging in something "unseemly", they become subject to arbitrary sanctions in their education and professional lives.

While traditionally, students are held to a certain degree of propriety outside of the school in general (e.g.  students who are caught vandalizing the neighbourhood in which the school exists may find themselves suspended or even expelled from a school), it's far from the kind of restrictions that these covenants impose:
All teachers will uphold the sanctity of marriage, defined as that between a man and a woman, and abstain from homosexual relations and sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage. 
All teachers are expected to regularly participate in the corporate worship, fellowship and ministry of their church.
Think about these.  Both are very open ended, and place what I would consider to be unbounded constraints on the staff.  The definitions used are extremely vague, and are subject to arbitrary interpretation - something which should render them invalid to start with.

For students, they impose similarly arbitrary constraints and objectives which require interpretation:
To develop the "mind of Christ" toward godliness and sin, and to teach the student how to live an overcoming life through the exercising of self-restraint and consideration of others. 
To encourage the development of self discipline and responsibility in the student based on respect for and submission to God and God ordained authority. 
To help the student develop for himself/herself a Christian world view by integrating life and studies with the Bible.
One can well imagine that this creates an environment where the student lives in perpetual fear of being "caught" doing something "wrong", and being harshly judged for it by the school, their parents and their peers.

I take great exception to these schools exercising this kind of religious control over their students and teachers outside of the school walls.  This is ultimately teaching students nothing constructive except fear and control.

Should these schools have the right to create and enforce these covenants?  If they are a privately held school, funded by tuition fees paid by the parents, then I can (to some extent) look upon these covenants as private agreements between the parties.  I may believe that they set up an environment which is fundamentally abusive to the students and unreasonably invasive in the lives of staff at the school, but the participants in the agreement are free to enter into such agreements.

However, when public money is involved as it is in the two cases recently revealed, then it is my opinion that these schools should be held accountable to the human rights legislation in Alberta and Canada.  Failure to ensure that the schools abide by the same rules that other publicly funded organizations are held to creates double standards that are profoundly troubling.

Stealing Our Democracy: The Senate Takes A Swing

Okay, now the Senate is talking about wanting to see some amendments to the Harper Government's bill to undermine Canada's democracy.
The interim report recommends: 
— Removing a provision which would allow political parties to exempt from their election expenses any money spent to raise donations from anyone who has donated at least $20 over the previous five years. Experts have called this an unenforceable loophole that would allow rich, established parties with big donors' lists to spend untold millions more during campaigns. 
— Requiring automated call service providers to retain records of campaign robocalls for three years, rather than the one year retention proposed in the bill. 
— Clarifying that Elections Canada's reduced role in promoting democracy and voter participation will not affect the independent agency's involvement in Student Vote or other educational programs aimed at elementary and high school students. 
— Specifying that both the chief electoral officer, who administers election laws, and the commissioner of elections, who enforces the law and investigates breaches, be able to inform the public of any problems they uncover in the electoral system. 
— Specifically authorizing continued communications between the chief electoral officer and the commissioner, whom the bill proposes to hive off Elections Canada and move under the auspices of the director of public prosecutions. 
— Encouraging Elections Canada to post photos of candidates on ballots, to help voters who can't read. 
— Encouraging Elections Canada to provide information about braille ballots to blind voters and to conduct a pilot project using specialized voting kiosks for the blind.
The first change on the list actually addresses one of the problematic aspects of the bill, but it is one that I consider comparatively minor.  It's a loophole that allows parties to spend stupid amounts of money contacting "previous donors" - those are people who are to a large extent already engaged in the political system.

However, it does not address the key problems with C-23 that have been identified on this blog and by others.  They have not addressed at all the issues with removing vouching, voter id requirements, the appointment of polling station officials, investigation of fraud in the electoral system and so on.

Harper's Senators are apparently acting as the trained seals that Harper likes.  They are proposing a bunch of amendments to address the "shortcomings" of the bill which do nothing to address the key problems which turn Canada's electoral system into a partisan farce on the scale of elections in Ghadaffi's Libya.  These aren't meaningful amendments, this is chaff thrown up to distract Canadians from the vileness of C-23.