Monday, February 28, 2005

What is Canadian Citizenship Worth?

A man convicted in France of facilitating terrorist activity is returning to Canada. The Conservative opposition has popped up demanding that this man be stripped of his citizenship and deported immediately to Algeria.

Okay, the man has been convicted - and served jail time - for some pretty nasty things. On the other hand, has he committed any crimes in Canada? Is there any real evidence of criminal behaviour outside of his conviction in France?

Why do I ask these questions? Partly because the Conservative reaction seems to me to be rather 'knee jerk'. Worse, it calls into question several issues around Canadian citizenship.

First, it implies that if you aren't a born-in-Canada Canadian, that your citizenship is conditional. To say that this worries me a great deal is an understatement. Canada is a country that has never made retention of citizenship conditional. Once someone is 'naturalized', they are presumed to be completely equivalent to someone born in the country. Do we want to change that?

Second, what would such a change say to the world? Do we want to say to people - 'you can be a Canadian citizen, but don't break any laws'? (anywhere...)

Also, such a change could be questionable under the equal-before-the-law provisions of the Constitution. Suddenly we move into a space where citizenship can be revoked for _some_ people. This doesn't sound right.

Certainly, if Mr. Kamel has committed crimes, or commits crimes while under Canadian jurisdiction (notably, France is not a region where Canadian jurisprudence extends to), he should be apprehended and punished according to our laws.

If there is just cause to suspect that he continues to have affiliation with criminal organizations while residing in Canada, I believe we have legal constructs in place for prosecuting the man. Do we have the right to strip him of his citizenship? Not unless his application contains fraudulent claims.

As a born-in-Canada Canadian, I don't like the idea of conditional citizenship. If the Conservatives will strip someone's citizenship because they are convicted of crimes in a foreign land, when does a similar attack begin on those of us born here? What are the criteria then? If I go to some foreign country and I am convicted of - for example - bank robbery, or conspiracy to rob a bank, would that be grounds to strip me of my rights as a Canadian citizen?

More complex still is the question of recognizing the jurisprudence of other countries. Would we acknowledge the judgements made by courts in countries that practice law in ways that are contrary to the spirit of Canadian law? What bounds would we place on such recognition?

The simplistic, single case logic of the Conservatives is deeply misguided, and the issues they raise are in fact far more complex than perhaps they realize. (Which is hardly surprising, so far the party's public face has yet to demonstrate even a pidgin understanding of our legal frameworks )

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Emerging Divisions

My, my, my ... the chessboard of the Middle East is beginning to take on some interesting facets.

Last week, a suicide bomber has disrupted the 15 day old truce between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Of course, Israel has blamed both the Palestinian Authority _and_ Syria. Although Syria has committed to "pulling out of Lebanon", this most recent incident plays onto the staging of a joint invasion of Syria by both Israel and the United States. Among other things, the United States and Israel have an unusually cozy relationship. From the perspective of G. W. Bush, Syria makes a perfect "adversary" in his so-called "War on Terror" (possibly better named "War on Human and Civil Rights" {but that's another tirade}). Syria has been quite blatant in its support - tacit and explicit for organizations like Hammas and Hezbolla ever since they occupied Lebanon.

Politically, Syria's an easy target for BushCo. - most of the world doesn't know much about Syria, and frankly if you told the masses that they "support terrorism" {whatever that means}, they'd take it at face value. In fact, Syria isn't even a significant resource supply line as far as the US is concerned, which removes the accusation of "oil war" levelled against BushCo regarding Iraq.

Second, invading Syria has a relatively easy exit for the US forces. Hand over the keys to the Israelis. Israel may not have the forces available to engage in a long term occupation of Syria - I'm not sure about that - but they could have enough with a US "garrison" force to help out while an appropriately sympathetic government is installed.

The second division of interest is an emerging "East Bloc" allied with Russia and China. Iran has just signed a supply agreement with Russia for its nuclear facilities. Wrap this up with agreements involving China for Natural Gas, Iran has created strong economic ties with two emerging powers. Russia has never been "small" - even after the collapse of the USSR, it's a huge economic weight in Asia, and capable of assembling significant military might. China, well, with an economy growing at close to 10% GDP/year, is "on fire" and is busy securing its access to various materials needed to fuel their booming economy. By forming significant economic alliance with China and Russia, the Iranians have created what could easily be the most effective counter-weight to the prospect of American invasion. The United States may believe that they can roll over top of nations that are relatively isolated on the world stage, but surely even BushCo's hawks can't be so naive as to believe that they can win war against both China and Russia in Iran. (Of course, since few of the hawks in Washington have ever actually seen action personally, they may yet be deluded into believing that the "superior technology" of the US will win out.)

There is some recognition of these issues emerging in Washington, who seems to be (for now) approaching Iran through diplomacy and overture. I suspect this is an important aspect of the US strategy in the Middle East. The coming weeks and months will uncover the direction of the US in the region - I expect the current "truce" in Israel will slowly crumble, giving the Israelis the "right" to engage in military action to "stop" terrorists. The US will miraculously discover that the "insurgency" in Iraq is being supplied/funded/recruited from Syria, forming the reason for the US to launch a full assault on Syria from Iraqi soil. (This will happen before the current Iraqi government has a chance to agree on the form of a constitution - while the US has the 'rights' of an occupying army to disregard inter-governmental 'politeness'.

Friday, February 25, 2005


Okay, this is getting ridiculous. The religious reich is seeing a queer in every closet these days!

The so-called "Traditional Values Coalition" has this lovely article slamming Shrek 2 for the unimaginable sin of having a cross-dressing character. I suppose, by their logic, that M*A*S*H was equally dangerous - after all, Klinger was walking around in dresses all the time, and we occasionally saw Maj. Burns (aka "Ferret Face") with his toenails painted. Omigod - the world's going to end!

Let's not forget the recent allegations made that Spongebob Squarepants is a 'gay plant' of some kind. Get real! It's a children's cartoon for goodness' sake! Granted, I've never seen a Spongebob cartoon - apparently the complaint is that he holds hands with another male character from time to time. I gather that men aren't supposed to touch other human beings? They're not supposed to hold hands with their children??? What the heck kind of nonsense is that?

The mass hysteria in the Christian Reich is astonishing - and somewhat disturbing with decidedly McArthy-esque overtones to it. (Better dead than red, and a commie under every bed)

The Christian Reich is going so overboard in their anti-gay crusade lately that any kind of physical contact between males is going to be seen as taboo unless its a fist being swung. Ever watched a football huddle, or a rugby scrum - omigod, the scandal - they touched each other on the butt!. Men are not rocks, they are human and need human contact just like everybody else. Our society is prudish enough as it is - why is it that women can be very "touchy-feely" with each other an nobody objects, but as soon as two men do the same thing, it's a scandal?

- These clowns need to take a reality pill or two.

(BTW - the column that got this tirade started is here - I actually happen to agree with it - my irritation with narrow-minded dolts apparently got the better of me...)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Why do I advocate for equality in society?

I was driving home tonight from a couple of errands, and I found myself listening to an interview on CBC that really struck home for me. It was with lady, Velma Demerson, who had been arrested and imprisoned in 1939 for the awful crime of having a boyfriend that was of a different "race", and more horrifying still, for being pregnant.

The story is horrifying enough in itself, her words around the treatment she was subjected to while in a "reformatory" {a polite euphemism for a prison that could only have pleased Ebenezer Scrooge} was heartbreaking. She and her fellow prisoners were used as lab animals for some doctor's experiments.

The interview was very thought provoking. We live in an era that has seen both the flourishing of individual rights, and a rising tide of religious political activism. Legally, discrimination is not tolerated - for the most part - and certainly seldom officially sanctioned any more. Yet, there remain groups in society that are needlessly marginalized. Sometimes these groups are visible and obvious, other times, they are invisible minorities.

Simply put, we all owe ourselves and society a duty to question "common wisdom" when it is put before us. Common wisdom used to say that women shouldn't vote; common wisdom was used to justify racial segregation in South Africa; to ban books that might be "harmful"; you name it.

The same-gender marriage discussion has been a real eye-opener. It's a topic loaded with all sorts of taboos and misconceptions. The very topic itself causes people to recoil into the safe ignorance of their puritan ancestry; all kinds of misinformation is bandied about in a desperate attempt to prop up ideas that have been substantially disproven in the last 40 odd years. Some see it as a further erosion of their preciously held religious beliefs, and one more sign that society is going to hell in a handbasket.

The reality is that the topic itself cannot be intelligently discussed without some honest evaluation of your own assumptions. People, generally, don't seem to like to have their assumptions challenged. Committees even less so - hence the vehemence of the reactions from the various churches.

I have seen a few writers talk about same-gender marriage as a 'tool', as if there is some great conspiracy afoot among the GLBT community to usurp society. How a group who forms approximately 1% of the couples in Canada are going to "usurp" society by getting married is beyond me - so I must assume that this is a rationalization of the visceral and irrational fear of a different experience of the world.

As long as there are those who trumpet their beliefs from behind a cloak of false respectability, it will be necessary for the rest of us to challenge the assumptions and beliefs that make up their cloaks. As long as society continues to justify marginalizing its members it will be necessary to challenge the assumptions on which that is based.

Watching the political chess board in the US government, it isn't hard to see that BushCo. are busily trying to put in place the legal framework that would allow the US Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade - clearing the way for conservative legislators in a number of states to reinstate legislation that would once again restrict a woman's control over her own body. Why? On largely religious grounds that also are used to justify treating other people as lesser beings - usually on the misguided principle of the "greater good". Society is always the poorer when it excludes people from participation, and a poverty of diversity only serves the needs of the most mean spirited of people.

Occasionally, politicians surprise me

I had honestly expected Paul Martin to sign on to the American "Missile Defense" plan. Today, his government announced that (for now) Canada would stand aside from the Missile Defense system.

Why would I have expected Martin to sign on - first, he had in the past expressed interest in working with the Americans on this program. (Certainly prior to last fall's election that resulted in a minority government, he had made noises that suggested a willingness to cooperate with the Americans.

It makes a certain amount of logical sense actually. It's a fairly easy "gimme" to hand the Bush administration, without really committing Canada to anything that is terribly significant. (Let's face it, at most, missile defense is a collection of really cool academic engineering exercises - but realistically, Canada won't be overly involved in creating the system anyhow)

Symbolically, it would have given Martin a degree of credibility in Bush's testosterone driven world . (Let's face it, GWB figures persuasion is best done with a six-shooter in hand...) Of course, the delicate position of the Liberal minority government makes it very difficult for Martin to be seen as "toadying" to Bush.

Oddly, I find myself half applauding the decision. As best as I can tell, the technologies required to make an effective missile defense system are a long ways off (at best). The reality is that few countries really have real ICBM capability (and certainly no "terrorist" organization has an appropriate launch facility at its disposal) Of course, the other side of the diplomatic coin is that we do have to recognize that our neighbor to the south is still an important partner for trade and diplomatic purposes.

So far, what few tests have been done appear to be largely a farce - when the targetting system can't even find it's goal when the goal is broadcasting its position, I find it somewhat laughable to think that the current model of using missiles to 'shoot down' other missiles would actually work in the next decade or so.

The justifications for missile defense have focused almost exclusively on the notion that there are all sorts of countries just itching to lob missiles with biological/chemical or nuclear warheads. All I can say is more or less what I had been saying all along where Iraq was concerned - show me the evidence of a real threat in development. ( I don't expect you to show me an existing threat, but rather the intention to become a threat )

I think the realistic outcome of this missile defense will simply be warhead combinations that include "aerosol" delivery of toxins mixed with the usual assortment of high explosive devices. (Eg. Deliver some nasty nerve agent in the high atmosphere) Then when the missile is "shot down" by Bush's lovely little defense system, something nasty gets delivered from the high atmosphere. (of course, where the toxin would land is story to be considered later - based on the winds etc.)

Right now, the Americans are busy whining that they "don't understand" our reluctance. Unlike the Americans, Canada doesn't need to measure itself in terms of imagined threats. Of course, a wahr president has to have a threat to rage against, or he soon looks like an ineffectual fool. With Saddam out of the way, Bush is busily trying to manufacture the next threat to the American Way...

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Pure Concentrated Evil?

According to the Pope, same-gender marriage is "evil".

Homosexual marriages are part of "a new ideology of evil" that is insidiously threatening society, Pope John Paul says in his newly published book.

Wow - that's a pretty strong condemnation. Personally, I can't figure out what's "evil" about two people in love making a commitment to each other. Of course, this is coming from the same Church that has in the past asserted that women were essentially Succubi sent to tempt men.

The CBC article says even more:

"It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man," he writes.

"We have to question the legal regulations that have been decided in the parliaments of present-day democracies. The most direct association which comes to mind is the abortion laws."

"Parliaments which create and promulgate such laws must be aware that they are transgressing their powers and remain in open conflict with the law of God and the law of nature."

My, and I thought Stephen Harper managed to associate things that unrelated together.

First, abortion law and same-gender marriage? What the heck is that about?

I can't speak to the "law of God" - I don't profess to be God's representative on Earth - I'll leave that dubious honor to the Pope himself. As for the "law of nature", that I can speak to. If one thing is clear today, we will never "fully" understand the "law of nature". The world is infinitely complex in its manifestation, and infinitely variable. Therefore, it follows that if people can, and do, vary substantially from one another, then it seems quite reasonable to assert that sexual variation is perfectly valid to expect. Therefore, sexuality is not inherently evil. (I will assert that sex involving minors is unquestionably damaging - but pedophelia is not the topic of conversation here).

The APA is pretty clear about sexual identity - it happens to all of us, and we're all unique in our experiences. So, the "law of nature" is hardly being upended by same-gender couples, much less by same-gender couples entering into the legal contract of marriage.

Garething's commentary on the subject was rather interesting - he raised the point that Canada, and especially Alberta seems rather inclined to ape the behaviour of the United States - usually the least desirable of those behaviours. He raised the very valid worry that some sub-genius legislator may try to legislate morality for us once again.

I have no doubt that his worries are quite valid - I'm sure that Stephen Harper, Stockwell Day or Jason Kenney would be all too happy to boot-lick the Christian Reich in many dimensions. However, the legal framework of this country is such that any legislation of that nature is virtually guaranteed to be very short lived. Either it will be declared unconstitutional under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or will have to be reinforced by the invocation of the "notwithstanding clause".

In the first case, the law vanishes into obscurity rather quickly. In the second case, the 5 year time fuse on the notwithstanding clause guarantees that the country will be dragged into the debate raw every five years. Few politicians have the stomach to revisit debates as polarizing as same-gender marriage or minority rights of any sort on a regular basis - it's a good way to turn an ordinary career into a spectacular disaster. If the declaration of the 'notwithstanding' clause is not renewed, then the law falls pretty much immediately on the first challenge.

The notwithstanding clause serves no other purpose than to temporarily defer the debate a few years. No more, no less.

The other thing that Garething's comments raised was the question of whether the anti-same-gender-marriage campaign in Canada is being bankrolled by American organizations. The answer to that is an unequivocal 'yes'. It was all over the news a couple of weeks ago.

As far as I can tell, the fearmongers that oppose same-gender marriages so vocally are mostly scared that someone might tempt them, or their children, to "become" gay. Nice thing to worry about - and just what are some of these holier-than-thou types going to do when their adult son or daughter comes home and says "Mom, Dad, I'm ..., and I'd like you to meet my partner".

Monday, February 21, 2005

I've been wondering about this for a while...

For quite some time, I've been wondering just where Bush & Co. were going to turn their gaze next in the Middle East.

I've found myself alternating between Iran and Syria for quite some time.

Symbolically and strategically, Iran is a far more important target than Syria. It forms a bridge between Iraq and Afghanistan - which would give the US effective control over a sizable portion of the historic 'Silk Highway'. Also, the United States continues to nurse a grudge for the very public bruising it took in 1979 at the hands of Iranian student militants.

Conversely, Syria has always struck me as a more likely target for a couple of reasons. First, if the US were to "democratize" Syria, they do their long time allies in Israel an enormous favour. Syrian influence in Lebanon has provided a fertile ground under which the various Palestinian resistance groups have been able to flourish.

From Israel's perspective, Syria is important for another reason - fresh water. The Euphrates river flows through Syria. A pro-Washington government in Syria would also be (by definition) pro-Israel (at least publicly), and would therefore be quite amenable to selling water from the Euphrates watershed into Israel - thus securing Israel's fresh water supply (which is otherwise rather limited, and largely sourced in Arab countries that are nominally indifferent or outright hostile to Israel.

At his presentation to the EU, Bush is busy rattling his sabres towards Syria - rather loudly. Where Washington is concerned, Syria is a much "easier" target than Iran. Since the end of the Iran/Iraq war, Iran has kept pretty much to itself, and few in the area (except Israel) would call Iran a threat. Second, unlike Syria, Iran has been relatively prosperous economically, meaning that they have had monies to invest in defense infrastructure. The complex geography further complicates the strategic analysis. Syria, on the other hand, is nowhere near as nasty to control. The fact that Syria maintains an occupation force in Lebanon makes it easier to justify invasion - after all they are standing in the way of allowing the Lebanese people the right of "self-determination".

Unlike Iran, the United States can directly involve Israel's well-funded and equipped military in conquest over Syria. This means that the US can get "out" of Syria fairly easily (although handing the keys to Israel may not sit so well with the citizens of that land...), theoretically freeing up its troops for other conquests.

My guess is that Washington is setting up a long-term play. They probably think they can get in and out of Syria by the time 2008 rolls around. If they pull this off, they will then turn around and go after Iran nearer to the end of Bush's current term. No matter how this plays on the public stage in the US, the Republican party wins. A war in Iran will be extremely difficult to prosecute effectively, thus committing the subsequent administration(s) to pursuing it. (not unlike the debacle that was Vietnam) If a Democrat succeeds Bush, they will be stuck, because pulling out of Iran abruptly would be played as "weakness" at home; and if a Republican succeeds Bush, well, the status quo of "War Presidents" will continue - in either case, the Republicans win politically.

Friday, February 18, 2005


About six or eight months ago, I was looking around for a new investment vehicle for my RRSPs. I wasn't too worried about being able to "touch" the money - after all, I don't plan on retiring for a few years (decades?) yet, so I wanted a vehicle that I could look at as a long term buy-and-hold play - steady returns and a reasonably solid base being key things I'm looking for.

One of the people I talked to proposed that I put my money into Portus funds. They were a newer product, and at that moment in time were showing significant gains. The salesman didn't seem to quite understand what the 'game' Portus was playing on the markets really meant - fair enough, he's been in the financial services sector for the last 40 some years - or longer. He's semi-retired now, and probably doesn't know every trick in the book, as there always seems to be one or two new ones coming along. He said he wanted to get a rep in from Portus to explain things in more detail.

It turns out that Portus was basically creating a 'sort-of'-a-mutual fund' based on what are called "Hedge Funds". I say "sort of" because the resulting fund isn't bound by the same kind of transparency and accountability rules for unitholders as a classical mutual fund. More troubling than that to me was the notion of how Hedge Funds operate - they basically seem to play a "market timing game" by aggressively selling short stocks on their downswing, and (they hope) selling other stocks on their peaks. (Great theory, but anyone who has a clue about game theory will recognize the problems with playing double-ended probabilities off each other like that...) The second point about Hedge Funds is the fact that a Hedge Fund manager basically has 'carte-blanche' with your money - if he decides the best returns to be had involve him spending a day at the roulette wheel of a casino, that's up to him.

Traditionally, Hedge Funds have had approximately a $1,000,000 minimum entry buy. Basically, if you don't have a million bucks to lose, go home. (trust me, I don't have anywhere near _that_ kind of money myself!)

The other thing that bothered me about Portus was the apparently obscure legal and financial structures the company was employing. Something, and I couldn't tell you what, just felt horribly wrong about it. Most funds will tell you that they are going to use such and such a strategy - whether it's buying foreign stocks, or following one of the market indexes. These guys skirted around those questions with answers that felt incredibly evasive to me.

The Portus representative tried to convince me that my funds were "guaranteed" by Portus. Now, if Portus had a spare billion or so sitting in the bank, I might almost believe it. Instead, what they were doing is putting a percentage into securities with RBC Dominion that had actual guarantees against them. (So, we are not talking an "insured risk" guarantee here, basically these guys were playing a game - self-insure and then hope like hell nothing happens.)

Fast forward all of 6 months, and we start seeing articles like this in the Globe and Mail. Just for giggles, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) has suspended Portus' funds and assets as a result of their investigation of this bunch.

Really, does this point to a "problem" in the market place? No. It's just a stark reminder of the rule - Caveat Emptor. Follow your instincts, and back them up with facts. If the investment doesn't wind up looking good, find another path. (Interestingly, I did that, and the money involved has done quite nicely this year - in spite of a mild drop in the early fall)

Thursday, February 17, 2005

And a bit at home...

This week, the Liberal government in Ottawa put forward it's legislation on same-gender marriage in the House of Commons. Of course, this puts into motion the formal debate over this matter, and to be sure the Conservatives have put forward an amendment that would completely subvert the bill. While I had my suspicions before, this little gem just further convinces me that literacy - in the Conservative definition - does not include comprehension of the words they have read.

The surprise development today was the Hutterites weighing into the debate with a letter to Paul Martin that worries that Canada will suffer the same fate as the biblical Sodom and Gommorrah. (Which led me to this site - which is one of the more unique presentations of the Bible) On CBC, there was a series of interviews in one of the Hutterite colonies, with the expected horror/revulsion etc. referred to. Of course, when you have a social group that isolates itself from the knowledge and learning of the greater world around it, some ideas remain sadly stuck in the past. One of the people interviewed said something to the effect that "these people are sick, they need counselling".

If I thought it would do any good, I'd recommend anyone expressing such an opinion to go read this. It might just remove a few sadly held illusions that some people seem to hold.

The other common argument - and it's at least not based on scripture - is that marriage between a man and a woman must be given preferential legal treatment because both a man and a woman are required to procreate. Something of a logical truism, but it makes me wonder - what about the following cases:

- Single parent families
- Adoptive parents
- Infertility
- Same-gender couples raising children from past relationships
- Artificial fertility techniques (Artificial insemination, surrogate parents)

Do these situations all not form non-traditional families (but families nontheless)? Would the conservative elements in our country start demanding that couples prove their fertility within a certain period of time after marriage? Would they deny divorce for all but the most egregious of conditions?

If the single mom (or dad) down the street from me doesn't cause the world to end, how is a same-gender couple going to end the world? Nobody is asking for religions to like the notion - just as nobody has asked the churches to condone homosexuality. There is pressure on the churches to do so - not because of decriminalization in the late 1960s, but instead because people are starting to realize that the world hasn't stopped or ended because of that.

To argue that a referendum should be held on the issue of Same-Gender marriage is to submit a very visible minority to the tyranny of a majority that ill-understands them as a whole. To legislate based on the obvious outcome of such a referendum would be no more than a government's abdication of its duties to treat all citizens equally. Sometimes, the legislative process obligates our politicians to create legislation that is unpleasant. (I'm sure that no politician likes to write the legislation that introduces universal taxation...but it's still necessary)

First a bit on the Middle East...

A few days ago, I began speculating broadly about the possible future role that Iran may be attempting to forge for itself in the Middle East. What should emerge in the news just yesterday, but this little gem which hints at a first couple of moves in that very direction.

To be sure, for Iran and Syria to ally with each other right now is quite natural, with the United States posturing in a very aggressive manner against both countries. I'm pretty sure that the US military can't manage two new fronts of conflict _and_ keep both Iraq and Afghanistan under control (Oh yes - did I forget to mention the North Korea situation that is bubbling just off the map?)

Even being optimistic, the United States would be hard pressed to expand its military - and equip it - to engage in new conflict on two fronts. (especially in the Middle East - surely the situation in Iraq has taught the current bunch of war-mongers down there a bit of reality???)

I suspect that if Iran can keep the US "at bay" for a while, it could play very well into Iranian ambitions to become the "elder state" in the Arab world.

It will be very interesting to see how it plays out. I suspect that as the Bush administration begins to focus on implementing their "home agenda", that the Arab states will quietly begin to organize their activities while Bush isn't really watching. The sabres in Washington will be rattled when it's convenient - likely when some unusually noxious piece of legislation is being made law.

Meanwhile, if the Arabs are organizing their political alliances, the results could become very interesting. The unknown in this whole mix (to me at least) is Israel. Would Sharon invade Lebanon under the pretext that Israel's security would be compromised by another civil war in that country? It's hard to say, but withdrawal from the Gaza strip would free up Israeli military capability, and if Sharon _thought_ that Syria was the next American target, he might just sieze opportunity. (Of course, if he did, that would not only commit the US and Israel to a long, and bloody conflict, it might well galvanize Arab sentiment against both countries as they would be seen as acting in concert with each other.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

What Role Religion ? - II

A comment posted yesterday opens enough assorted questions and issues that I thought I would give it 'front page' billing rather than writing what was clearly going to be a lengthy reply comment.

One of the interesting features the phrase 'freedom of religion' is the notion of equivalence. As soon as the phrase is interpreted in the courts as the freedom to practice any religion you wish, it places them all at the same level of moral equivalence. Regardless of how bizarre the practices of that religion may seem to an outside observer. (For example, some faiths do still practice blood sacrifice of animals - it's relatively rare in Canada, certainly not practiced "in public" per se, but it is still practiced at certain times)

With regards to the solemnization of marriage, the writer claimed:

I will also point out that the church does NOT have the innate legal authority to perform marriage; no more than anyone off the street has the power to perform as a justice of the peace. It is a license granted by the province.
However, a brief dig through the legislation in Alberta turns up that the rules do differ somewhat between Clergy and Marriage Commissioners. According to the Government's website, a Church merely needs to register itself with the government as an agency performing marriages, and provide the government with a list of names that will be performing the marriages. This is quite different from the 'apply-and-interview' model that is used for civil marriage commissioners. The civil commissioner is provided their commission on the whim of a bureaucrat somewhere in the nameless Vital Statistics office.

Among other things, this model makes the horribly misguided assumption that because someone is an ordained minister in a registered church, that somehow they are immediately qualified to perform marriage ceremonies. Perhaps in the days when communities were small, and people were known by the minister individually, the minister's "blessing" might serve as a rational acceptance that the couple would succeed together. Today, mobility being what it is, and congregation sizes being in the hundreds or more in many urban areas, there is little or no chance for a minister to "know" more than a small fraction of their congregation. This renders an old "check-and-balance" irrelevant.

By removing the power to solemnize marriages from the Churches, we remove an impediment for them. There is a possible legal argument that says that the Government authorizes the Church to solemnize marriage, and because the government is bound by the legal clauses of the Charter of Rights, particularly in regards to non-discrimination, the Church is similarly bound with regards to that particular authority. I would hope that the obvious counter argument is that Section 2 of the Charter would be interpreted in this circumstance to continue allowing Churches to choose which couples they are going to bless. (I believe that there is precedent for this in the fact that since 1982, nobody has taken the Catholic Church to task in law over the issue of ordination of female clergy - something which is in clear violation of the equality provisions of the charter)

I'm not saying that individual members of the clergy could not become marriage commissioners - in fact I think that would be a very good thing. I am merely advocating that the _fact_ one is a minister/priest/imam/whatever should not automatically permit them to solemnize a marriage. Celebrate it within the context of their faith, absolutely, but not necessarily solemnization.

How does this make a difference in the overall scheme of things? It's more semantics than anything else. Essentially we are freeing the Churches from any _legal_ implications surrounding their celebration of marriage. In doing so, the Churches are thereby absolutely freed from possible legal challenges arising from section 15 of the charter.

Religious bodies have long equated spiritual power with political power. In a world where there is no apparent unity of faiths, nor is there even geographic regions of any consequence that are unified in their faith, the notion of moral absolutes is radically different than perhaps it was 50 or 100 years ago. Religions have a valid voice in the discourse of our affairs, but their voice is no more, or less valid than those of the rest of the citizenry.

Laws which are based on largely arbitrary moralization will ultimately collapse under scrutiny. Like it or not, law in Canada must become independent of individualized moral codes. The question that must be asked is one of harm. Is harm done, and to whom? If you can demonstrate that harm is done by an act, then and only then, will the law created stand to scrutiny in the courts.

Churches can legitimately serve as social guides in our society. However, arguments of law that are fundamentally scriptural in their origins must be avoided, for there is no unity of belief, even within a faith, much less between and betwixt.

On a final note, I think that Jason Kenney has given the country a taste of the kind of illogical, bone-headed rhetoric we can expect to see recorded in next week's Hansard's during the same-gender marriage debate. (I swear he has calluses on his hands from walking, and headaches from trying to think)

Monday, February 14, 2005

What Role Religion?

Canada is in a unique place on the world stage. Of the "Western Democracies", we are the country with the youngest constitution, and therefore the smallest body of case law behind us. The United Kingdom has somewhere around 1500 years of assorted case law to draw upon; the United States has over 200 years since their constitution was drafted. Canada - well, our Constitution only reached the legal age of majority in 2000 - a sobering reality. Arguably, parts of our constitution date back to 1867, but the key document - The Charter of Rights and Freedoms - only came into being as a foundation piece of our legislation in 1982.

Ongoing debates in this country have caused me to read the Charter of Rights and Freedoms very carefully lately. I must admit to a growing admiration for the subtlety of the minds that crafted that document - in particular Pierre Trudeau and Peter Lougheed. Whether they foresaw the debates swirling around the country today, I do not know, but they crafted a document that is surprisingly clear and expansive in its content. Where it is incomplete, it acknowledges its incompleteness by using wording that makes it clear that other aspects of liberty may be read in legitimately.

Lately, I've noticed an upsurge in various religious right-wing pundits/columnists/whatever complaining that the religious voice in Canada is being suppressed or discounted. They claim that their legitimate concerns about the legal environment of Canada are being pushed aside, shunned by a legal system that seems to have become amoral.

First, most of these people are comfortably WASP-ish. They are typically of Western-European descent; Christian(tm); and without fail, they all admire George W. Bush and his band of pseudo-religious zealots in the White House today. In general, they stand and decry the "moral relativism" that they see sweeping the nation. They turn and stand on the pulpit of "Tradition", and claim that we are ignoring our past.

Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms probably positions this nation's government as one that is among the most liberal in the world, but also one that by necessity must also be highly secular. We are fundamentally a nation of immigrants from around the world. When considering section 2 of the Charter, we must realize that it applies equally across all citizens of this land. Since religions are seldom homogenous - within Christianity and Islam there are many subgroups with differing interpretations of their commonly held scriptures - it is unreasonable to expect the courts to rule in favour of laws that would abrogate someone's religious beliefs in favour of someone elses. "'Ah-ha!, gotcha!' will be the claim of the Religious Right movements. After all, doesn't legalizing same-gender marriage overrule _my_ religious beliefs in favour of some atheist?" Actually, it doesn't - the Christian is still free to believe that a same-gender marriage is wrong/immoral/proscribed/whatever. The point is that the individual still has that freedom of belief. Section 2 of the Charter speaks rather clearly to INDIVIDUAL freedoms.

Of course, this raises the inevitable "slippery slope" argument that would suggest that eventually we would wind up removing murder from the Criminal Code of Canada on the same premise. Oddly enough, the Legal Rights provisions of the Charter would preclude that under the Security of the Person clause, which clearly would provide the government with the necessary legal rights to enact laws against murder, assault etc.

Anyhow, I digress somewhat from my original topic. At first glance, it would seem that the Charter pretty much removes religious bodies from direct involvement in the laws of the land. While in some dimensions that will cause the "law to be an ass" from time to time, it's not all bad. The challenge for the churches - be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jedi, is to find a legitimate role in the dialogue of our nations affairs. The historic role of the church as the "moral guide" to a nation's affairs is long past. Nations are too large, and far too diverse for a close association with a church to be practical - especially in countries like Canada where so much of our population comes from all over the world, not just a single region.

An article in the Globe and Mail over the weekend sets the tone quite nicely. The author essentially argues that we should remove the power of the church to solmenize the legal entity of marriage. Churches would still be free to celebrate marriage however they see fit, but they no longer would possess the legal authority to marry (or deny marriage to) a couple. Some may look upon this as stripping churches of their power. In fact, it enables the individual church bodies to become active players on society's stage. Rather than possessing actual legal power, they possess the power to persuade. Of course, this means that some churches may have to make their teachings more relevant to a contemporary audience - but the point is that for any religion to be of social value, it must be a reflection of the era in which it lives. At present, far too many of these bodies are a reflection of an era some 1500 years in the past - and they cling to it in manner that is most troubling.

Religions must adapt to the world. Christianity's own roots in late Imperial Rome are a beautiful example of pragmatic adaptation. "Pagan" rituals were shunned, but strangely, parallel Christian ritual emerged to fill the gap. It seems that our Religious leaders have forgotten that, and worse still, they have yet to recognize that the world in which they exist is not the world in which their faiths were born.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Speculations of the Insane

Between the silence in Canada as the Federal governments prepares to deliver the coming year's budget, and the Americans being caught somewhat flat-footed in Israel the news has been somewhat less than inspiring.

However, it appears that in an attempt to recover from the blunder this week that the US made by being 'the odd body out' at the Israeli - Palestinian talks in Egypt, Condoleezza Rice has decided to once again start sabre-rattling in Iran's direction.

Okay - big deal, the US is once again flailing about looking for adversary - preferably one that can distract the world from unfinished work in Afghanistan and the ongoing disaster that is Iraq.

However, one has to ask why would Iran want Nuclear Weapons? The facile response is twofold - first, it's no big secret that Israel has a fairly significant nuclear arsenal; the second is to note that even the suspicion of nuclear arms has changed the US approach to North Korea significantly. In other words it would be mostly defensive.

However, I think that taking those two rather facile explanations at face value is about as useful as taking Bush's allegations about Iraq at face value. First, the Iranians since 1979 have become quite sophisticated players on the world stage - they have shown an ability to learn and be subtle in their dealings. Second, among the Arab states, they are one of the few to successfully govern their country as a theocracy, and achieve measurable economic and political success. Third, Iran can claim to be an anchor point for the successful blending of Islam and the affairs of state - making it a unique social and moral beacon for those in the Muslim world that would like to see more religious governance in the Arab countries.

So...once again, the question emerges, why does Iran want nukes? Largely for deterrance more than anything. Like a porcupine, nobody is too interested in handling something that can hurt you quite easily. The North Korea example is a good model. More significantly, Iran might just have people in its leadership that are seeing an opportunity that just might fly - that of an "Arab Union" a la the European Union. Clearly, this is a process that will be decades in the making. However, there are several things that ideally position Iran:

1. It's easily the "elder brother" of Arab governments - especially those with popular support. (25+ years as an Islamic state, in the face of immense pressure to "democratise" from other nations is no small feat).

2. Having nuclear capabilities, along with SCUD class launch capability gives Iran a reach through most of the Arab nations - making it very able to act as a 'defense' against foreign invasion. This positions Iran as a political stabilizing force in the region.

3. Saudi Arabia is rapidly showing signs of instability internally. In spite of protestations otherwise, counter-government activity in Saudi has clearly been on the rise for the last several years. I doubt that the current US-friendly regime will survive long after the present king dies. (and he's no spring chicken, either). It's not at all clear that what will replace the Saud government will be US-friendly, or for that matter, stable enough to remain an anchor point for Arab economies. (Note also that China is doing a vast amount of big dollar business with Iran...)

4. With the Americans tied up occupying Iraq, it gives the rest of the Arab world a focal point upon which to focus their anxiety and worries that isn't Israel. This could well lead to some thinking that goes beyond old tribal conflicts.

5. If the Iranians have a bit of vision, they can no doubt see various trade blocs emerging that are important entities in their own right. North America is becoming - steadily - a single economic entity; the EU is poised to be an economy much larger than the American economy on its own. An "Arab-Union" trading bloc could easily serve as a serious economic power in the world, as well as providing a 'fostering ground' for other Islamic governments to grow in with relative safety.

6. Although the EU is notorious for its internal squabbling, it does continue to hold together. This is a key point for the Arab countries to observe and work with.

Like it or not, the current Iranian government has a substantial amount of popular support, and although it is not a Western-style democracy it is uniquely stable for a government in the region - especially one born out of revolution. Looking at its situation rationally, Iran may well provide the structure that other Arab countries can move towards both politically and culturally in a gradual and successful manner. I think there is a huge will to change in the Middle East, but I do not believe that Western-style democracy as understood in the US, Canada or Britain is going to succeed - there are simply too many cultural barriers in the way.

A nuclear-capable Iran is uniquely positioned to foster such changes in the Middle East, and it's actually in the Iranian interest then for the US to remain tied up in Iraq for the forseeable future. Not only does it distract others from old disputes, it creates a focal point upon which the players can not only agree, but will see a need to provide a counter weight to. Since it is unlikely that any one nation will provide a military challenge to the US for the time being, the best position to work from is one of relative unity. Although the Arab states may not agree on political or military goals, economics is another thing altogether and a degree of unity may produce results far beyond anyone else's reckoning.

The one outstanding question is this - why is the US so concerned? Simple - a fractured Middle East is relatively easy for the US to retain influence over the resources that it will need in the coming decades. The Bush doctrine (formerly the Wolfowitz Papers) basically states that the Americans will do everything in their power to prevent a rival world power from emerging. Rivals may not be merely political or military in their influence - in fact as we all understand in the capitalist socieities - money talks - often rather loudly.

Of course, this is all highly speculative in nature, but its a fun little scenario to start cooking with. (Besides, if we can't speculate on the motives of the world's leaders, aren't we missing something?)

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Jason Kenney is a _what_???

According to Paul Jackson, MP Jason Kenney is some kind of intellectual heavyweight in the Conservative party. Says Mr. Jackson in his odious ode to Mr. Kenney's unfathomed intellect:

I've often thought Calgary Southeast MP Jason Kenney has by far one of the best intellects -- meaning he has a deeply perceptive rather than simply an intelligent mind -- in the House of Commons.
If Jason Kenney is so bloody perceptive, and so amazingly intelligent, then why is it that every time I write to the man (usually challenging his assumptions...), the impentrable depth of his silence is deafening? Oh wait a second - perceptive and intelligent doesn't mean that he can debate issues and recognize other positions - that would require that he also be articulate.

As I read further in Mr. Jackson's column, I can only conclude that not only is he similarly unable to engage in literate debate, but that between him and Jason Kenney, historical revisionism is alive and well in Canada's Riech Wing...

This is what Kenney said on the Liberal record: "It was the Liberal party that imposed the infamous head tax on Chinese immigrants, created a racist immigration system with the Exclusion Act, interred all Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, rejected Jewish refugees before and during the war, imposed martial law in 1970, permitted holocaust denier Ernst Zundel to run for its party leadership in 1968, eliminated constitutionally guaranteed rights for religious confessional education, and preached moral equivalence during the Cold War and with Communist China today."
Lessee - as I recall, one would have to point out the silence of the Conservatives (or whatever they called themselves in WW II) with regards to the Japanese internments. The Conservative party, in its various incarnations, has had its share of nut-cases involved and prominent. I don't need to point out that much of the deficit that we spent the 1990s digging out from underneath was generated under the Conservative Government of Brian Mulroney. Those living glass houses should not throw stones...

While the history books have yet to be "closed" on the FLQ crisis, it seems to me unlikely that you could argue much more than the fact that the government's reaction was disproportionate to the actual threat. However, if one looks at the PATRIOT act in the US, and the kinds of measures that Conservatives in Canada have argued for in the wake of 9/11, I can only conclude that the current Conservatives would likely have reacted to a similar terrorist action in Quebec in much the same way that Pierre Trudeau did. (Possibly even more severely)

Jackson further argues:

The Liberals -- and the Liberal-Left, both here and in the U.S. -- have insidiously stage-managed a huge charade that they are the parties of conscience and Conservatives are callous. In truth -- and in this case recorded history really does speak the truth -- it is just the opposite. Conservatives have been at the forefront not only in righting the wrongs of the past (Often orchestrated by the Liberal-Left), but in leading the way to advances on social issues, and protecting not only individual rights, but the security of free nations.
I don't accuse Conservatives today of being callous - merely of suffering a severe failure to recognize that equality cuts in all directions, not just that of their typically WASPish little view of the world. Mr. Jackson, in his sneering condescension continues to accuse people of being somehow lesser than he and his disciples simply because we may choose to disagree with him.

Where Mr. Kenney is concerned, if he is unable, or unwilling to respond to communications from his constituents, then he is doing democracy itself a disservice. No matter how intelligent he may be, he is failing to carry out his elected duties, in favour of carrying forward a narrow, partisan and politically opportunistic view of the issues before this nation. The man is an embarassment to the notion of representative democracy.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Simply Clueless

I was browsing through the news this afternoon, and discovered the following bit of enlightened thinking from one of our MLAs. What a lovely thought, so not only are the blinkered twits in Edmonton prepared to fight tooth and nail against same-gender marriage, they are perfectly willing to disallow civil marriages of any sort in order to get their narrow-minded view of the world imposed on the rest of us.

However, Mr. Morton's logic is flawed in one key dimension - two churches have long ago signalled their willingness to bless same-gender marriages: The United Church of Canada and the Unitarian Church. Yes, Ted Morton, Alberta could choose to only allow marriages that are sanctified in a church to take place in Alberta's borders. But that doesn't stop same-gender marriages from happening.

Also, there is the notion of transportability. By tradition and law, a marriage celebrated in one part of Canada is recognized elsewhere in the country. Therefore, same-gender marriages that take place in B.C. or Saskatchewan must be recognized in Alberta. In other words, Mr. Morton, like it or not, Alberta must deal with same-gender couples whether or not some blinkered twit like you thinks otherwise.

Technically speaking, this is The Province of Alberta, part of the larger nation known as Canada. It is NOT the Conveniently Theocratic Republic of Alberta, Governed by Ralph the Ignominous.

The clowns screaming blue murder in this province about same-gender marriage simply reinforce the notion that the rest of Canada has that Alberta is populated primarily by a bunch redneck rubes stuck somewhere in the arcane depths of the social 19th century.

Those who do not remember the past are doomed ...

My last article on Iraq brought out an interesting comment about Afghanistan as "window dressing" in the so-called "War on Terror" that essentially allowed the various politicians in the US to self-justify the invasion of Iraq later.

On further reflection, the author of that comment is alluding to a pattern that is most troubling. I am a casual student of Roman History. Although I am more interested in Roman social forms than the wars that Rome prosecuted, I can hardly ignore the wars in those studies.

Much of Roman history seems to be a constant, rolling conquest with armies sent out to pursue and defeat enemies - real and perceived - year after year. The parallels between the rhetoric used to justify invading Iraq and the words of Cato with respect to invading - and ultimately destroying Carthage are striking.

But Cato was so struck by the evidences of Carthaginian prosperity that he was convinced that the security of Rome depended on the annihilation of Carthage. From this time, in season and out of season, he kept repeating the cry: "Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam." (Moreover, I advise that Carthage should be destroyed. - Plutarch, Life of Cato)
Cato (the elder), in many ways echoed what became a driving force in Roman politics - the constant search for enemies outside the Roman realm. Peoples whose presence on Rome's ever expanding borders were perceived or twisted into being threats. (It is far from clear to me that all of the lands that Rome made conquest of were in fact threats, especially in the regions we now call the Middle East.

Is Iran the Carthage of today? Perhaps. Right now the Americans are making noises about "diplomatic" channels, and are trying to avoid the talk of war. (Of course, one must consider the source in this conversation - it's hardly reassuring to have C. Rice "disavowing" war - she has shown herself to be decidedly hawkish, and more perturbingly, willing to make policy based on religious belief. (it doesn't help that GWB has made it clear that his alleged faith is a key driver in any policy decisions he makes)

Short of a massive mobilization of troops (by means of a draft), it seems fairly clear that the United States Army cannot afford to actively occupy both Iraq and Afghanistan as well as open an offensive on a third front like Iran. It's not the actual defeat of the standing government of the invaded realm that is their problem, it is the post-invasion mop-up that takes years and thousands of troops to carry out.

Bush and his bunch of hawks will point to Iraq's recent elections and claim that they will be able to bring "democracy" to Iran even faster, since they won't repeat their mistakes in Iraq. It is sad that the Iraqis are going to pay the price for the American hubris that equates democracy with freedom.

In some respects, Rome was a form of democracy. Certainly the "executive" branch leadership were elected by the "tribes", but I'd hardly accuse it of being a "free" society. It engaged in slavery; the pater familias still had absolute rights over the lives of all in his household; it was a very cast-driven society, with the lower casts having much less say in their treatment and governance than other classes. Some of the Dictators and later Emperors would brutally suppress those that challenged their supremacy. Yet, the "elected" government persisted for years. (Arguably, today's Roman Catholic Pope is elected through a means very reminiscent of the elections in ancient Rome...)

The United States may be immense; and may well be the dominant military force in the world, but we would do well to remember that "Democracy" does not equate to "Freedom" per se.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

From the Mouths of Politicians

This past week, the world has been treated to the reassurances of Condoleezza Rice, GWB's new "Secretary of State", claiming that Iran is not on the US agenda for invasion.

Superficially, I'd suspect that this is quite true - the US is unlikely to invade Iran tomorrow, or even next month. A certain election in Iraq has their attentions focused.

Meanwhile, of course, she's all worried about a "common front" where Iran's nuclear programs are concerned.

Okay, apparently someone in the White House has figured out that they did a few things wrong by sneering at the UN before they invaded Iraq. Good for them - it demonstrates at least a modicum of sentient thought is possible.

Sadly, I suspect that there is at least a grain of truth in claims on al-Jazeera that the US is flying over Iran on spy missions.

The US is still smarting from the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979-1980. I doubt that Iran has too many friends within the senior ranks of either the US military organization, or US diplomatic forces. The reality is that Iran gave the US a very public bloody nose in that incident.

Would the current administration welcome an excuse to invade Iran? Probably. That would give them effective political control over a substantial chunk of the Middle East - or perhaps more accurately, it would put most of that region under US military occupation, thus giving a substantial _sense_ of control to Americans back home.

Of course, these occupations ultimately have little to do with liberating a country. The Americans will occupy Iraq as long as they need to in order to ensure that they have effective control over the access to Iraqi oil and other resources. No more, and no less. (Of course, this makes Afghanistan a bit of a puzzle, other than its military importance should Russia once again emerge as a rival to US power in the world.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Logical Analysis

So, President Bush wants to overhaul the US Social Security program?

In typically ideologue fashion, he wants to restructure it so it is based on 'user pay' style plans:

"We must make Social Security permanently sound, not leave that task for another day," Bush said.

He said the best way of reaching that goal is through a government-run program of "voluntary personal retirement accounts" that would have a "conservative mix of bonds and stock funds."
There's a problem here. Right now, the Social Security plan in the US is based on what amounts to a payroll tax. Employers pay it directly on behalf of employees. Making it a 'voluntary' program guarantees that a lot of people will just opt out.

The wealthiest won't particularly need it, so they will opt out. (Why should I pay into something I don't need, therefore, I'm not going to!).

The middle class families will opt out. Why? Because a lot of them will make similar assertions to the wealthy, or they will believe that they can achieve better returns through different investment vehicles.

That leaves the poor - in particular - the working poor holding the bag. They won't participate actively because they can't afford to. It takes every nickel they earn to survive month to month. These people don't save because they are in situations that preclude saving anything other than a few dollars now and then, which gets eaten up by routine emergencies - like the kids getting sick.

So, what we have here is effectively a tax cut for businesses. Coincidentally, the people at the top of the large corporate ladder (today's economic elite), get to opt out of paying into a program that they consider wasteful because they see no benefit for themselves.

Unfortunately, this lovely little plan of George Bush's (or his collection of henchment - whoever cooked up this scheme) is guaranteed to have exactly one result - many more poor people destitute in retirement. The poor get poorer in this system; the rich get that much richer.

The problem with the US Social Security system is not sustainability - as much as GWB and Co. would like us to believe. It is the fact that the very payroll taxes used to fund the program drop into 'general revenues', and are then looted by the politicians for whatever hair-brained scheme they can cook up this month. (Like invading Iraq...)

Canada went through a similar crisis a few years ago. People started to panic that the CPP plan was no longer "sustainable" into the future. Our government responded to this quietly, and effectively. First, CPP funds land in a separate set of accounts from the Government's "General Revenues" bucket. Second, they established a group whose job it is to invest CPP funds aggressively so that they grow well in excess of the rate of inflation. Today, those people have parlayed a few hundred million in surplus CPP funds into some $30 billion and counting.

If Bush gets his way (or Ralph Klein in Alberta, for that matter), in 30 years or so, the US will be in a situation that is ripe for a revolt originating in its poorest neighborhoods. Around about that time, people my age will be retiring, and if they've been living on the edge as it is, they won't have much to support them. Poor families will suddenly find themselves not just caregivers for their parents, but providers for them. Those already on the edge financial disaster may well go over it, and in sufficient numbers, could well form the body politic needed to foster armed uprisings.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Look at them weeds!

The first volleys of the Religious Reich (tm, pat. pend) against same-gender marriage come forth - in the form of "Wow! look at them weeds!".

In the Sun Newspaper chain, Ted Byfield has opened his ugly mouth in this article. In it, Mr. Byfield attempts to argue that Religious Freedoms are being suppressed by Bill C-38.

His argument begins with a fundamental assertion that all law is inherently based on moral principles:
The entire Criminal Code, for starters, is an anthology of morality. Thou shalt not steal, though shalt not lie, thou shalt not murder, all these rules are moral principles.
He then goes on to make the following assertion - after a certain amount of ranting:

The basis of the morality of just about everybody in the country is religious.

To wit, ergo, all law must spring forth from religion. Of course, in Mr. Byfield's thinking, not only does religion have a place in the creation of law, it is front and center in defining those laws.

If we seek to make education available to everyone, it's because we think it's "fair," and what we think "fair," whether we realize it or not, comes directly out of the Bible.

Therefore, when Pettigrew says that religion must not be allowed to influence public policy, he disqualifies from participation in government all those whose moral basis lies in religion.

Since our religion is ultimately the only reason we can give for favouring, or opposing, any law, he has in reality called for the disenfranchisement of just about every Canadian.

Mr. Byfield's assertions are flawed - period. First of all, my support or disagreement with any piece of legislation is based on the merits of that legislation. I do not cleave to alleged morality of any particular faith. To argue that morality as expressed in the legal constructs is inherently religious is to assert that all interested peoples are religious. I'm not, and frankly, I am insulted that Mr. Byfield would put such words in my mouth.

You will see this as the first volley in what I fully expect will become a campaign where the religious will focus their arguments on how liberalization in law impinges upon their religious freedoms. What I find exceptionally galling about this is that these same morons will assert that it is their right to marginalize people, even though their own scriptures speak to treating all equally.

Is it "Christian" to marginalize people? Was it Christian to marginalize women by denying them equal rights in our governments? I've seen some of the most godawful things advocated in the name of "Christianity" - in the "moral" certitude that these people know some absolute truth that are not shared by all - or any - Canadians.

The ugly underside of hard-line religion is bigotry and intolerance. I am disappointed to see that the mainstream religions have forgotten the horrors that they experienced at the hands of others in the past. It used to be that being Christian got you thrown to the lions in Rome; being Muslim brought down the wrath of Popes on the Middle East in the Medieval era; Questioning the Popes got you burned at the stake; Arguing against Rome's dogma got Galileo a life under house arrest.

I find it sad that the Religious Reich today has forgotten those lessons, and practices the very same bullying tactics as were once used against them. We live in a country where the Constitution protects the rights of all equally, and religious freedoms are protected as vigorously as any other rights.


BTW - it is now four days since I wrote to Jason Kenney - the silence is deafening. Not even an e-mail acknowledgement has arrived...anyone for starting a betting pool on how long it takes before I see a response?

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Apparently, Stephen Harper is Stockwell Day without the looks...

In his "statement" reacting to the Liberal party's introduction of Bill C-38 regarding the civil definition of marriage, Stephen Harper has proven, once again, that he - and by proxy, his party - represent a narrow segment of the population - the so-called "Religious Conservatives".

Says Mr. Harper:

“It is also troubling that the Liberal bill provides little in the way of assurance that religious freedoms will be protected if the legal definition of marriage is changed. The bill simply restates a clause that was rejected as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court for being outside of the jurisdiction of the federal government."

I invite Mr. Harper to review the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

d) freedom of association.
I do not know how much more absolute the protections could possibly be. Given that the Federal Government has no authority over who solemnizes marriage (that being a provincial responsibility - enumerated in section 92(12) of the 1867 Constitution Act and therefore something that only a province may in fact legislate on).

Mr. Harper further fails to grasp a key concept in the discussion - that civil marriage is not a religious discussion:
It is disappointing, but not unexpected, that the Liberal bill introduced today to redefine marriage has found no middle ground whereby the traditional definition of marriage could be maintained, while preserving in law the rights and privileges for same-sex partnerships.
Whose tradition are you talking about. As the Wikipedia Article on Marriage referenced earlier makes clear, the concepts of "traditional" marriage vary considerably from region to region on this world. Canada, as a society composed of immigrants, can hardly make a claim that it has any single, unified tradition upon which to stand. Even within the Christian faith, the picture is far from homogenous - there are those who take a very 19th century view of marriage, and expect the spouses to live rather rigidly specified roles; there are others who take a much more elastic view of marriage, and make room in their relationship for non-traditional roles and behaviours. Islam has a whole other set of assumptions and traditions around marriage, and then we encounter the various Asian cultures and their traditions. So, just what is "tradition" here?

As far as I can tell, Harper is essentially Stockwell Day - except Day takes better pictures.

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

The Cass Review draws some astonishing conclusions about the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) . More or less, the basic upshot of the Cass Rev...