Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Just In Case ...

...you had some delusions that Harper was engineering some magical improvement in relations with the United States.

The US claims the Northwest Passage is "international waters". Of course, anyone with the teensiest bit of common sense will have long ago realized that the United States will only "cooperate" when things are in their own interest. It's fine for Canada to "own" the Arctic lands and waters while they are desolate and impractical to navigate. When the prospect of a "cheap" passage becoming navigable, the United States claims that the waters are "international" - I won't even begin to raise the utter irony of the claim, since Canada is the recognized owner of most of the arctic lands to the north of our continent. It seems a trifle strange to claim that the waters in between those islands would be "international" territory.

Here is a perfect opportunity for our CPoC government to stand up for Canada. Of course, when this government won't event stand up for its citizens when they have been illegally deported by the United States, it's hard to imagine them standing up for Canada on a matter so seemingly trivial as our territorial sovereignty.

The TheoCon Party of Canada

Shortly after Garth Turner was turfed from the CPoC caucus in Ottawa, I started to speculate that his demise as a Conservative had a bit to do with the TheoCons in the party flexing their muscles.

An anonymous commenter pointed me to the potential of Dianne Haskett's candidacy. Others in the blogosphere have been digging up quite a bit about Ms. Haskett's resume, and it's a little unsettling to say the least.

Starting with Rob Edger, we find quite a list of things that link Ms. Haskett back not only to the U.S. Republican Party, but to an American Religious Lobby group.

...and just for giggles, we find Garth Turner publishing an "arm-twisting" memo that came down on Parliament Hill recently regarding Ms. Haskett's campaign.

All I can say is that this simply reinforces my perception that the CPoC is being utterly dishonest with Canadians about what they really represent.

H/T: Allison @ CreekSide

Compas Poll on "Protection of Religious Freedom"

Some days, it doesn't pay to get out of bed. This morning, I was doing my morning review of the headlines when I ran across this little piece crowing about a recent COMPAS poll commissioned by the National Post.

My first alarm bell went off when I realized that this poll had been commissioned by the National Post. As part of the CanWest Global group, which appears to be well on its way to becoming Fox News North(tm), I figured that the poll itself might be a trifle loaded.

Sure enough, a brief bit of digging turns up the the Poll itself.

The poll contained these questions:

1) Should an individual minister, rabbi, iman or other clergy have the freedom not to marry a same sex couple if this were against the clergy’s religious beliefs?

2) Should a school teacher have the freedom to disagree with the same sex law in a letter to a newspaper?

3) Should a religious person who prints brochures for a living have the freedom to recommend another printer to a homosexual group wanting some brochures printed?

4) So long as there are enough marriage commissioners available for gay marriages, should individual commissioners be allowed not to officiate at gay marriages if this is against their religious beliefs?

It then goes on to ask the following questions about parliament's involvement in the subject:

1) do you think Parliament should…Review the same sex law to make sure that freedom of speech and freedom of religion are fully protected?

2) do you think Parliament should…Review the same sex law to decide when freedom of speech and freedom of religion should or should not be protected

3) do you think Parliament should…Not review the freedom-related aspects of the law

This is about the most blatantly dishonest poll I've ever laid eyes on. First of all, the opening questions are based on largely bogus "talking points" such as the cases of Scott Brockie and Chris Kempling - which I debunked back here. Not only are the questions loaded, but they are vastly misleading. In the case of Brockie, it wasn't a matter of "religious freedom", it was a denial of service complaint - pure and simple. As for Kempling, his actions went far, far beyond merely writing a letter to the editor or two.

Question 1 was specifically addressed by the legislation in Bill C-38 as follows:

3. It is recognized that officials of religious
groups are free to refuse to perform marriages
that are not in accordance with their religious
3.1 For greater certainty, no person or
organization shall be deprived of any benefit,
or be subject to any obligation or sanction,
under any law of the Parliament of Canada
solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of
marriage between persons of the same sex, of
the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed
under the Canadian Charter of Rights and
Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in
respect of marriage as the union of a man and
woman to the exclusion of all others based on
that guaranteed freedom.

The last question, regarding marriage commissioners bothers me further. For two reasons. First of all, marriage commissioners are solmenizing secular marriages - they are not specifically bound by any one faith. While I don't support "forcing" someone to do something they find morally objectionable, I do have concerns about blithely treating this as a matter of "religious freedom" and simply allowing refusal. (My feeling is that if you are going "refuse" something like this, then you are at least obliged to provide a referral to someone else who will - besides who wants their marriage solemnized by someone who is hostile to it?)

However, returning to the poll itself, the direction of questions in the opening scenarios opens up a whole raft of evil potentials. In particular, if the Brockie case were "allowed to stand", then we open a significant can of worms. For example, does that allow a doctor to refuse to treat a patient because they are gay, on the basis that the person's sexuality is offensive to the doctor's religion? Does it allow a doctor to refuse to prescribe oral contraceptives to a woman because the doctor is Catholic? Does it then justify a restaurant refusing service to a couple because they think the couple is gay? The answer to all of these is - potentially - yes, it certainly could be read that way.

If allowed to go to its logical extreme, one could begin denying service to members of specific religions because your own faith happens to believe that the other faith is "apostate".

Fundamentally, the poll is among the most dishonest polls I have ever seen. The questions are leading, and worse presuppose either outright hypothetical situations (that have not yet occurred), or misconstrues those that have already been evaluated. Both Compas research and the National Post should be embarrassed by this poorly designed, blatantly political poll.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Iraq Fatalities and The Lancet

Earlier in October, The Lancet published a report that estimated some 655,000 Iraqis had been died since the Iraq invasion.

Needless to say, this made numerous bloggers to whine and complain about how evil and incorrect the estimate was. When confronted with fairly logical assessments of their rejection of the report, the response is typically denial.

Well, poking around on BBC's website, what do I find, but a transcript of a web chat with one of the authors of the report.

Sure enough, the author's position more or less reflects what I expected on a variety of points:

1) It's damnably hard to get accurate mortality data in a war zone. (No kidding)

Can you explain, if your figures are correct, why 920 more people were dying each day than officially recorded by the Iraqi Ministry of Health - implying huge fraud and/or incompetence on their behalf?
Dan, Scotland

It is really difficult to collect death information in a war zone! In 2002, in Katana Health Zone in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) there was a terrible meningitis outbreak where the zone was supported by the Belgian Government, with perhaps the best disease surveillance network in the entire country. A survey by the NGO International Rescue Committee showed that only 7% of those meningitis deaths were recorded by the clinics and hospitals and government officials.

2) The Lancet paper describes the sampling and estimation methodology used in considerable detail. (See "Methods" in the PDF link above)

It seems The Lancet has been overrun by left-wing sixth formers. The report has a flawed methodology and the counting process shows signs of deceit.
Ian, Whitwick, UK

This study was the standard approach for measuring mortality in times of war, it went through a rigorous peer-review process and it probably could have been accepted into any of the journals that cover war and public health.

3) Sure enough, the mortality statistics include much more than violent death attributable to stray cluster bombs. (No kidding...)

4) The study documents in considerable detail where they took their samples, and the clustering of sample data with respect to the political geography of the country. (Which tends to shoot holes in the "but the country's half desert" reasoning)

5) The other classic whinge is the "where's the bodies" demand:

Why is it so hard for people to believe The Lancet report? I am an Iraqi and can assure you that the figure given is nearer to the truth than any given before or since.
S Kazwini, London, UK

I think it is hard to accept these results for a couple of reasons. People do not see the bodies. Secondly, people feel that all those government officials and all those reporters must be detecting a big portion of the deaths. When in actuality during times of war, it is rare for even 20% to be detected.

I do not claim that one has to "accept as fact" the Lancet paper's estimate, but to reject it out of hand because you think it's "a VERY POOR estimate", is very short-sighted.

The authors of the report are very clear in their use of language that the 655,000 number is an estimate, and do not use it as a bludgeon to argue that the US should pull out of Iraq, but rather leave the following very reasonable statement in the conclusions:

... We estimate that almost 655 000 people—
2·5% of the population in the study area—have died in
Iraq. Although such death rates might be common in
times of war, the combination of a long duration and tens
of millions of people affected has made this the deadliest
international conflict of the 21st century, and should be
of grave concern to everyone. ... We continue to believe
that an independent international body to monitor
compliance with the Geneva Conventions and other
humanitarian standards in conflict is urgently needed.
With reliable data, those voices that speak out for civilians
trapped in conflict might be able to lessen the tragic
human cost of future wars.

Of course, the reality is that wartime fatalities carry a political price for those in power - especially if they started the war. The current US administration has a vested interest in making it as difficult as possible to find out what the impact of the Iraq invasion has been on the Iraqi people.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Harper and The TheoCons

Via Canadian Cynic, it turns out that someone has found an accessible link to The Walrus magazines article Harper and The TheoCons that I mentioned back here.

If you haven't read it, I highly recommend that you do so.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Lying By Insinuation

In the latest bunch of outrages from Canada's mini-Dobson, McVety's whining about SGM again - but this time by lying through his teeth and insinuating things, rather than producing facts to substantiate his arguments.

Charles McVety, president of Canadian Christian College and a member of the executive committee of Rushfeld's committee, said the federal government helped pay for a "pornographic" book being promoted as a developmental guide for teens.

He said the book, entitled The Little Black Book for Girls was produced by an organization in Toronto called St. Stephen's Community House. It is designed as a guide to personal and sexual development for teenage girls.

He suggested it could eventually be used in schools, although he said he's unaware of any schools using it.

"This book is now curriculum designed for 14 year olds in this country and it is deeply, deeply offensive," he said.

"It puts forward terrible pornographic statements, wrongful statements that 80 per cent of our country is bisexual.

"It shouldn't be taught to our children."

If it's the book I'm thinking it is, I read an online copy a few months ago (I'm hunting for the link, and will post it if I find it again), and while the book is certainly frank; may even use language I'm not comfortable with, most of it is written by teens for other teens. It is far from "pornographic", although it does talk about sexuality and relationships in rather raw terms.

The inference McVety is making is positively vile - he's picked up on this publication as something he finds offensive, and is now claiming that it would become part of a school curriculum as a result of bill C-38. The insinuation itself is offensive, the conclusion he draws is plain false.

There are worries that freedom of religion may be eroded and that clergymen could be forced to conduct same-sex marriages even if the concept conflicts with religious beliefs.

Ummm...no. This is yet another utter falsehood. Bill C-38 contained explicit verbage protecting churches from performing marriages that they do not "believe are valid", similarly, Bill C-250 also provided for religious exemptions with regards to the hate speech amendments. McVety is pulling the "repeat a lie often enough and it will be the truth" routine.

But McVety said same-sex marriage was rushed through without proper consideration.

"It was a real joke, it was a real insult," he said. "We're looking for an open, honest debate."

Dear God, McVety. You don't call the years worth of debate both political and legal that led to the decisions at the provincial level in Ontario and British Columbia weren't "open, honest debate"? Or are you admitting that half of your arguments are based on outright lies, and the other half are pure insinuation?

Representatives of the United Church, the Unitarian Council, some rabbis and the Quakers said the move to jump-start the debate is an effort by the religious right to impose their beliefs on the country as a whole.

"The religion of one should not become the law of others," said Laurie Arron of Canadians for Equal Marriage.

At least there were a couple of sane voices that the reporter talked to. It's way past time to move beyond this issue. Canada's society hasn't crumbled as a result of C-38 - that really isn't surprising either. Even the most optimistic estimates show that only a tiny fraction of the population will take advantage of the extension of legal marriage to same-gender couples.

Politics Is The Art Of Compromise

Sadly, it seems that HarperCreep hasn't figured that out yet.

The CPoC government seems to think that their legislation should go through unaltered by the committee process. Even more peculiar is the fact that they are using filibuster tactics in committee to halt private member's bills. It's a little odd - to say the least - for a sitting government to engage in filibuster tactics at any time.

The sniping is getting somewhat amusing though:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper accused the opposition Thursday of being "anti-democratic" — even as the Liberals offered an olive branch by agreeing to pass more than half of Harper's proposed tough-on-crime bills.

Liberal Leader Bill Graham bridled at the accusation:

"If the prime minister wants to find the problem with his legislative agenda has he tried to take a look in his own mirror?," Graham told the House of Commons.

But the real smackdown comes from Gilles Duceppe:

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe said the Tories are worse in government than the Liberals because they're not only arrogant, but incompetent as well.

"I would say they're paralyzing themselves," Duceppe told a news conference.

"(Stephen) Harper was telling us — Jack and I — at the time we were in opposition that the Liberals were arrogant in not speaking to us.

"He's doing worse than them. And since they have almost no experience in the House, they're worse than the Liberals in the procedures because they're acting like amateurs."

Pamphlet Held Up By Postal Workers

Bubbling around the news since yesterday is a story that Postal Workers Refused To Deliver The Mail - or more precisely, a 28 page "anti-homosexuality" pamphlet being sent around Vancouver.

As is true with all stories, there's at least two sides to this one.

Morally, I think the Postal Workers who protested "did the right thing" - I've had borderline hate literature arrive at my door via various delivery avenues, and I don't like it no matter who the target is. I would hope that similarly they would be equally offended by materials aimed at smearing or condemning specific faith groups as well.

Ethically, I believe that the Postal Workers involved blew it. They have the right to raise the alarm, not to refuse to deliver the mail (Unless it's actually hazardous to their health). Certainly, nobody I can think of has appointed Canada Post our nation's intellectual censor and watchdog. Put in context, I worked in a warehouse years ago, and a shipment of tobacco products came through (a large one). Tobacco is a known carcinogen, and on moral grounds I would certainly be justified in saying I didn't like the fact we were handling this crap, but ethically, I'm still bound to make sure the product gets to its destination intact.

To the "pamphlet" itself. I haven't seen a copy of it yet (if you happen to locate a copy online somewhere, please let me know), but I find it hard to believe that there's enough material lurking in the scripture to make a 28 page argument that's coherent (Even if you reproduced the entire story of Sodom and Gomorrah!). The CBC article makes a few observations about it's content that suggests it's fairly unhinged:

"The first words I saw when I picked it up were: 'The plague of this 21st Century: the consequences of the sin of homosexuality (AIDS).' "

When that's a title to a section, I'd say it's a pretty good hint at where it's going to head. (I'd wager that most of it is an aggregation of the usual talking points that are readily debunked - at least factually) {I'll reserve judgement until I actually see a copy of this thing, but I can suspect...}

According to CBC, it was being distributed by a Rev. Sterling Clark of Waterdown, Ont. I can't find anything about the man lurking on the Web (yet), but apparently he does these distributions quite regularly.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Dear Stephen...


Says our Prime Minister:

"Canadians elected this Parliament - not just the Conservative party. They expected all parties to be tough on crime," Harper said as he left the House of Commons on Wednesday.

No, I don't think crime was a top issue last election, you arrogant halfwit. As I recall, the last election tended to center around honesty and integrity of government - none of which you have delivered since you took office.

Getting a little more on topic, here's a synopsis of the amendemnts:

Under the amendments adopted at committee, house arrest - formally known as conditional sentencing - would still be ruled out for serious violent and sexual offences.

But judges would retain discretion to impose non-jail sentences for most property crimes, including auto theft, breaking and entering into private homes and some kinds of robbery.

So, the problem here is what? Oh, I see, we still allow house arrest for property crimes. For the more serious crimes in our criminal code, the option has been removed. Sounds like a compromise to me. (Besides - tossing every miscreant in society into prison does little more than expand the prison population and the police state - not my first choice in a free society)

Besides, it's about time that the CPoC minority government started to be held to account for some of the bullying bullshit tactics.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Science is Inherently Atheistic

Sure enough, as predicted back here, the Quebec Government is now moving with regards to the "Evangelical Schools" that they have been quietly ignoring, and sure enough we find the freedom of religion card being played by advocates for these schools.

This annoys me on a dozen different levels. First of all, science in general is inherently atheistic. That is not to say that it denies religion, but rather it ignores religion in its pursuit of knowledge. The common misconception is that atheism is specifically a denial of religious faith, but in the case of science it is in fact closer to NonTheism. There is a tradition in the english language that was adopted from either Greek or Latin where prepending an "a" onto certain words generates a logical negation of the term. (e.g. Theism as the belief in the supernatural, Atheism as the non-belief in the supernatural - which may well be simply a matter of ignoring it)

The second part of this that really begins to irritate me is the following assertion made in the Lifesite article:

“Darwin’s theory of evolution is an issue about which many Christian parents are very concerned,“ said Dr. Epp Buckingham. “They don’t like the way [the theory] is taught in a very atheistic way. That’s one reason parents send their children to private Christian schools, so that they’re not subjected to public school teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution as being not only fact, but in a way proof that God is not involved in creation.”

For crying out loud, there's absolutely nothing stopping a teacher from discussing evolution with respect to theology. Outside of a broad framing of the topic itself "with respect to scripture", it's hard to imagine how any primary, or even secondary, level course would discuss much that would be "anti-religious". To me, it's like trying to talk about physics or advanced mathematics - the school courses simply don't go into enough detail to get into metaphysical arguments about the correctness or validity of specific theories - and most parents are ill-equipped to adequately debate at that level, come to that.

The second part of the "freedom of religion" argument comes out here:

Dr. Epp Buckingham said parents’ right to educate their children in accordance with their religious beliefs is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In 1986 the Supreme Court ruled that although an Alberta pastor who was running a school out of the basement of his church did have to license the school, the provincial government had to provide reasonable accommodation for religious belief.

The court ruled that the province must “‘delicately and sensitively weigh the competing interests so as to respect as much as possible the religious convictions as guaranteed by the Charter,’” Dr. Epp Buckingham quoted.

“That makes it pretty clear that when the Quebec government is licensing schools they have to respect religious beliefs.”

“We have seen a number of religious freedom cases coming out of Quebec where the government hasn’t been respecting religious freedom. So we would hope they are aware that this is a Charter right, parents do have the right to educate their children in accordance to their religious beliefs, and that they will negotiate on that basis.”

Around about the time I run into this little piece of excremental reasoning, I get quite annoyed. This is complete nonsense. Demanding that schools stick to provincial standards in order to be recognized is not a matter of "disrespecting freedom of religion". Nobody is stopping these schools from teaching their particular view on sex education or evolution (or whatever other freaking topic they've got their knickers in a twist over), just that they are obliged to teach to the provincial standards.

BTW - I think this is the case that is referred to in the above quote. Note that it is a two sided ruling, and is not absolute victory for either side of the conversation. (Something which is often ignored by people trying to use these cases as part of their "talking point" arguments)

Nobody is saying they cannot teach their beliefs, but there are minimum standards set down by the provinces - for damned good reasons. I cannot "home school" children without complying with provincial standards, no matter what my faith is, why the hell should these "evangelical" schools be any different?

Of course, the standard talking point argument made about evolution is that "it's just an unproven theory", which completely misrepresents how science today uses the term Theory:

In scientific usage, a theory does not mean an unsubstantiated guess or hunch, as it often does in other contexts. A theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a related set of natural or social phenomena. It originates from and/or is supported by experimental evidence (see scientific method). In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations that is predictive, logical and testable.

In other words, an explanatory model has to meet a very high standard before it will be "generally accepted" within a field. The mountains of evidence that have piled up to support evolution as a scientific theory have only continued to grow over time, with new evidence tending to support existing inferences.

As I said before, I have no problem with people teaching evolution in a science course, and then turning around in a parallel discussion of theology bringing up whatever religious viewpoint about evolution they want. I may disagree with them, but I won't argue against their right to do it. I will, however, argue that they do not have a right to keep their children "in ignorance" by failing to teach to curriculum standards that are (IMO) bare minimums (and pretty minimalist at that!)

I'm sure, if there's a real freedom of religion case here, the Charter Challenge Program would be quite an applicable agency to engage to help with the legal costs - oh waitasec, HarperCreep cut that program didn't he?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Saga of Calgary West

The bubbling cesspit of Conservative party nominations continues in Calgary West.

Updates here: Buckdog Politics Blog

Garth Turner - Updates

I may not agree with Garth Turner on a lot of manners of policy, but I have to admire the man's forthrightness on his blog, especially in the wake of his recent expulsion from the Conservative caucus.

His articles from the last few days are quite revealing - both of his current situation and headspace, but also of other aspects of the workings of the Harper government that the public should know more about.

On October 21, he has posted a copy of an article from the Ottawa Citizen which draws more or less the same lines I had between Turner's expulsion and the party TheoCons flexing their muscles.

I'll reproduce one paragraph of the article because it so beautifully illustrates the incommunicado nature of the current government:

It should have been no surprise to Mr. Turner that Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not want backbench MPs to speak publicly about anything over the summer, let alone caucus beefs. The muzzle Mr. Harper has on his caucus could make a pitbull legal in Ontario, and NDP MP Pat Martin quotes a joke making the rounds: “Harper tells his caucus God kills a puppy every time an MP blabs.” Conservative whip Jay Hill cited with pride at the end of the summer break that it had been a quiet one; no backbench problems. For journalists trying to reach MPs in their ridings, it was like phoning a morgue. No one called back.

Open, honest and accountable government, eh? So why so strict a muzzle?

Following up are a couple of interesting discussions of the behaviour of the caucus, and the clear expectations for uniformity of opinion:

Oct 22
Oct 23
Oct 23 - Part ii

From these last two are some interesting footnotes:

And in I went. I spoke to the Speaker and worked out a way to ask questions every few days in Question Period. As a Conservative MP, I had been banned from doing so by the party.

I arranged to make statements in the House regularly on issues that need to be addressed. As a Conservative MP, any rare statement had to receive both advance permission and approval of the script.

I have started the process of being able to table private member’s bills. As a Conservative MP, I was not allowed to pursue any legislative initiative without ministerial approval.

While I can appreciate that party discipline does oblige some constraint on an individual member's actions in the house, it's interesting that Harper's government has locked it down to the point where an MP cannot, for example, introduce a private member's bill at all without the consent of a minister. (I presume the minister most affected by a bill) Certainly, under Chretien, various Liberal backbenchers presented legislation to the house that was at odds with the governing party's script numerous times.

Then, as I stated yesterday, I head back to the Hill. This is a switch in plans since I was already booked to fly to Halifax this morning, for a full day of media interviews on my role on the Finance Committee. I’d asked taxpayers there last week for bright ideas for the coming budget, to include in my pre-budget report for Jim Flaherty.

But, they’ve kicked me off the committee. Yeah, that, too.

This is a tad more profound than it might appear, since House of Commons committees are intended to be all-party affairs, and one of the only places where MPs from all political backgrounds get together to try and do constructive things. The fact I have been removed – the only MP on one side of the table with a financial and economic background, government experience and cabinet experience (facing two hugely experienced former Liberal cabmins and a very able colleague, plus a Bloc economist and an impressive NDP expert) – hints at the Harper Administration agenda.

Well, being punted from the Finance committee probably isn't terribly surprising in itself, but Garth is correct that committees are intended to be all-party creatures. However, I think he also has just run smack into the monolith of uniformity that TheoCons seem to demand.

This government has actually had a PMO senior staffer in national caucus recently instructing MPs on how to politicize the committees and turn them into instruments of government policy. Tory MPs are instructed to meet before committee meetings to plan strategy to help ministers, and to be assigned questions to ask witnesses. Attendance at these meetings is mandatory, and recorded.

I'm sure to some degree or another, other parties do the same things. It's interesting to note that this appears to be directed from the PMO, and is being so strictly regulated.

Remember, this is coming from a party that claimed it was going to deliver an open, honest government, and maybe even start the process of democratic reform. But how genuine is any committment to reform from a party that shows us - repeatedly - that it is profoundly undemocratic internally?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Reality in Iraq

It's a long video, but I recommend watching it:

Iraq The Real Story

H/T: The Galloping Beaver

All I can say is that this is precisely what I would expect.

New US Space Policy

I don't know what's more amazing to me - the arrogance behind the "new" US Space Policy, or the monumental stupidity of anyone who could possibly believe that they have either the right or the power to stop other nations from becoming space-capable.

It's not like the US has either the resources or the mandate to start yet another war - especially over gaining access to space.

Think about it for a minute - the world was not able to stop North Korea from acquiring nuclear arms - in spite of it being the most isolated nation in the world both politically and economically. It's not exactly a huge leap to figure out that the same problem exists when it comes to acquiring the technology to get into space.

As the utterly abysmal situations in both Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate, conquering other nations is damnably difficult; turning them into "allies" afterwards is even more so.

The American policy that became "visible" late last week is little more than a redeclaration of the "Wolfowitz Doctrine" for defense, only focused on space activity. The foolishness of this doctrine is obvious - the United States doesn't control the world, nor does it have the muscle to do so in any practical sense.

It's really quite sad when a government gets stuck in a mindspace where the only options that they seem willing to consider are explicitly non-collaborative. Where space travel and exploration is concerned, the cost of the technologies involved are such that we have little - or no choice - but to learn to collaborate in order to move forward. (and collaboration is a two way street)

If humankind is to successfully "take to the stars", we will not do so successfully as a series of nation-states, but only as a world united in common cause.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Thoughts on Peter Mackay's Outburst

There's been a good deal of "yes he did", "no he didn't" going around in political circles and the blogosphere over the allegation that Mr. Mackay referred to his former partner, Belinda Stronach, as "a dog" during question period last week.

I'm not going to address whether or not I believe Mackay said that - I think that's quite irrelevant here.

In some respects, this incident harkens back to the "Fuddle duddle" incident in Pierre Trudeau's latter years. I don't think it will ever be completely clear what happened, but I can guess what most people will suspect was said.

However, Mr. Mackay is being his own worst enemy here. By being utterly intransigent in the matter, he reinforces the beliefs of those of who suspect that he did call Ms. Stronach "a dog". Worse, he is also giving the CPoC opponents further ammunition by validating the suspicion that the CPoC has a profound disrespect not merely for minorities and women, but is also perfectly willing to use people for cheap political points.

Mackay himself is on shakey ground in terms of public credibility to begin with. He has a track record filled with what many perceive to be a series of betrayals and immature behaviours. Whether that is the agreement to merge with the Alliance party mere months after committing to David Orchard that he would not do so during the Progressive Conservative party's leadership convention, the outbursts over Belinda's defection to the Liberal party, or telling Alexa McDonough to "return to her knitting" over a foreign policy matter. None of these actions speak well of the man. In fact, they show us a picture of a man who has yet to mature beyond the hideous behaviours seen in junior high students.

It is unfortunate that Mackay seems to believe that he has "done nothing wrong". The most productive thing he could do would be to rise in the House of Commons and issue what I would call a "soft apology". He doesn't have to admit to what he said, or didn't say, but rather can couch his statement in the language of "if I was misheard in the fracas..." and proceed from there. Had he done so last week, he might have saved himself some significant "public bruising". Unfortunately, he has not, and the window of opportunity is rapidly closing for him to do so.

It is this failure, when combined with other past behaviours, that leave one with a very bad taste after dealing with Mr. Mackay. Canada deserves far better than this from her politicians.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Harper and The TheoCons - Part II

Related: Harper and The TheoCons Part I

I had been considering whether this particular essay was necessary, but with recent events that look suspiciously like the TheCons in the CPoC flexing their muscles, I decided that it is worth some time to examine who some of the personalites that the article in the October issue of The Walrus noted.

First out of the gate is Texas Evangelist John Hagee, the man behind John Hagee Ministries. Hagee came up to Canada at Charles McVety's invitation of Charles McVety. What's the relevance of an American Evangelist coming to Canada? Not much - superficially. However, the Walrus makes two very important observations about Hagee:

...to hear a superstar pastor with a direct pipeline to the born-again occupant of the White House. As Hagee confied to a reporter before his Toronto appearance, he first broke bread with George Bush back in the Texas statehouse, "so I know that he is with us."

Now he has reached the same conclusion about the man ensconsed at 24 Sussex Drive. On stage, Hagee lauded one of Stephen Harper's first post-election acts: after Hamas militants won power in the Palestinian Authority, Harper became the first world leader to cut off its funding, trumping even Bush.

This segues nicely into a discussion of Charles McVety - a very significant player in the "Christian Right Wing" in Canada. He was certainly one of the loudest opponents during the arguments over SGM, and is known to be trying to load the Conservative caucus in Ottawa. (Besides the challenge to Garth Turner, the Walrus makes more observations)

His Toronto host, not to mention longtime Canadian major-domo, was Canada Christian College president Charles McVety, one of the most outspoken players in this country's religious right wign. During the last election, as head of a handful of pro-family lobbies including the "Defend Marriage Coalition", McVety emerged as a power to be reckoned with. He bought up the rights to unclaimed Liberal websites such as josephvolep.com and stacked a handful of Conservative nomination contests in favour of evangelical candidates adamantly opposed to same-sex matrimony, a campaign he has vowed to repeat. As Harper navigates the tricky waters of minority rule ... it is noteworthy that he has continued to cultivate a man regarded as the lightning rod of the Christian right. Last spring, those around the prime minister drafter McVety to help sell the government's contentious child-care policy and on budget day he was the personal guest of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in the Common's VIP-gallery

I'll not spend too much time on Darrel Reid - I've already discussed him.

Last winter, The Institute of Marriage and Family opened its doors in Ottawa, headed by a gentleman by the name of Dave Quist. Besides the known connections back to Dobson, I'll let the Walrus' excellent research speak about this man who is otherwise a cipher to me:

...A born-again Christian who spent six years as executive assistant to Reed Elley, the Reform/Alliance MP from Nanaimo-Cowichan, Quist more than fit the job description. In 2004, when Elley resigned, Quist ran for his seat and, aftr losing spent last year as operations manager in Harper's office.
...On the day of the Throne Speech, Quist was one of more than a dozen guests at a festive pre-event lunch in the parliamentary restaurant hosted by Senator Ann Cools, a vocal social conservative in Harper's caucus. There had been no mention of a business agenda in the initial invitation, but Cools' guest list included some of the country's most muscular so-con voices, include McVety and Gwen Landolt of REAL Woman of Canada.

There's more, much more that I want to discuss. What I see as key here is a pattern that is consistent with what we have observed in recent weeks, especially with respect to MP Garth Turner's treatment. More and more, the picture that is emerging is that the CPoC is being driven not by a group of moderate conservatives, with the extreme being kept somewhat at bay by numbers, but rather it appears that the extremists are slowly pushing out the last vestiges of the old Progressive Conservatives (or those who will not convert to their particular way of thinking...)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

"Clean Air Act" - Mostly Hot Air

I haven't had time to read the legislation itself yet, but the Clean Air Act tabled in the House of Commons today strikes me as a declaration to do absolutely nothing:

Highlights of the Conservative government's proposed Clean Air Act: • By 2011, develop new regulations for vehicle fuel consumption.

• By 2025, set national targets for smog and ozone levels.

• By 2050, reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 45 and 65 per cent from 2003 levels.

• No mention of the Kyoto Protocol and the emissions targets the government of Canada comitted to in 2002.

The closest goal is 5 years out, and it's just a goal to decide what the goals are. Give me a break. For a government that claims they have "better ideas", it strikes me that this bunch are trying to buy time so that they can figure out how to write policy on topics they have yet to even think about.

In an exceedingly lame attempt to make it look like they are going to do something, we find this:

• Harmonize vehicle emissions standards with those of the United States over the next 12 months.

• Harmonize regulations with those of the U.S. for volatile organic compound emissions in consumer and commercial products over the next year.

• Over the next three years, discuss and set “intensity based” targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, rather than total emissions targets, for major emitters.

Jeepers - does this lot think that the world revolves around Washington, D.C.? Are they incapable of coming up with something that isn't pre-approved by BushCo?

I'll try to read the legislation in more detail later on, to see what is lurking in the depths of this thing. (Although I suspect that the environment portfolio just isn't high in the HarperCreep's mind, so whatever's there is apt to be either invented elsewhere, or little more than a time-buying ploy)

It's amazing how the government has done more or less nothing to commit itself to action for some years - no doubt hoping that Canadians will have forgotten by the time that they actually miss their goals.

More on Garth Turner's Eviction

If, as I suspect, Turner's eviction from the CPoC caucus is the religious wingnut faction beginning to flex their muscles and purge from the party any remnants of the old "Progressive Conservative" party, there's an intriguing dynamic that could emerge.

On Garth's blog, I've seen a few comments suggesting that he join the Green Party.

Intriguingly, this could be a viable option for people like Garth Turner who are long time PC's, and find themselves pushed out by hardline, radicalizing ideology. Much of what the Green Party's platform contains reflects pre-Campbell era PC party policy. (After Campbell's disastrous 1992 election, the party changed rather dramatically)

[Update 18:40]
Following up on anonymous commenter who mentioned Dianne Haskett parachuting into a nomination race in London Ontario.

Most interesting, indeed.

H/T - Anonymous - whoever you are.


[Update 09:10]
Garth Turner did a Q&A on The Globe and Mail yesterday Here it is.


Bill C-27 In Detail

Bill C-27 is available to read now. Like most law, the text of it is rather dry reading, but it does warrant a closer examination than merely "flipping it off" as a trivial amendment to the Criminal Code of Canada. (after all, most of us are law abiding citizens, and it really talks about "hard core" offenders, right? - well perhaps such complacency is ill-placed)

The first thing that struck me was the rework of section 752(1) with a positively enormous list of specifics. The original wording was quite broad, and reads:

“serious personal injury offence” means

(a) an indictable offence, other than high treason, treason, first degree murder or second degree murder, involving

(i) the use or attempted use of violence against another person, or

(ii) conduct endangering or likely to endanger the life or safety of another person or inflicting or likely to inflict severe psychological damage on another person,

and for which the offender may be sentenced to imprisonment for ten years or more, or

(b) an offence or attempt to commit an offence mentioned in section 271 (sexual assault), 272 (sexual assault with a weapon, threats to a third party or causing bodily harm) or 273 (aggravated sexual assault).

This has been replaced by a lengthy list of offenses, naming just about every offense that ever makes headlines. I haven't read through the list in detail, but it strikes me as a bit brain damaged to do, partly because exhaustive inventories seldom recognize the ingenuity of the truly vile, and because such exhaustive lists tend to be constraining in the long term.

It is the amendments to section 753(1) that worry me most. After Bill C-27 has been passed, section 753.1 will read as follows:

753.1 (1) The court may, on application made under this Part following the filing of an assessment report under subsection 752.1(2), find an offender to be a long-term offender if it is satisfied that

(a) it would be appropriate to impose a sentence of imprisonment of two years or more for the offence for which the offender has been convicted;

(b) there is a substantial risk that the offender will reoffend; and

(c) there is a reasonable possibility of eventual control of the risk in the community.

(1.1) If the court is satisfied that the offence for which the offender is convicted is a primary designated offence for which it would be appropriate to impose a sentence of imprisonment of two years or more and that the offender was convicted previously at least twice of a primary designated offence and was sentenced to at least two years of imprisonment for each of those convictions, the conditions in paragraph (1)(a) or (b), as the case may be, are presumed to have been met unless the contrary is proved on a balance of probabilities.

(1.2) Despite subsection (1), the court shall not find the offender to be a dangerous offender if it is satisfied by the evidence adduced during the hearing of an application under that subsection that a lesser sentence — either a finding that the offender is a long-term offender or a sentence for the offence for which the offender has been convicted — would adequately protect the public. Neither the prosecutor nor the offender has the onus of proof in this matter.

* Underlined text is new
* Bold Text is my emphasis

There are serious, and significant ramifications to this single small sentence. First, is the assumption that prior convictions automatically define a "pattern" of behaviour. This is an amazingly dangerous assumption to make. Let me put forth a possible scenario. At the age of 18, someone is convicted of two offenses under the amended list mentioned earlier arising out of a barroom altercation that got seriously out of hand. Convicted, they serve their time, and eventually return to the community and live a relatively normal life until they are in their late 50s, and catch a thief breaking into their home in the night. Picking the only thing that falls to hand at the moment - a crowbar or some such - our convict kills the thief. At this point, he is quite likely to find himself facing charges of manslaughter. Following conviction, a slightly overzealous crown prosecutor who is seeking to make a name for themselves decides to file a dangerous offender claim in the case.

Now, when the case is placed before the judge, the prior convictions - even though they happened forty years earlier - are presupposed to define a pattern of dangerous behaviour. Combine this with situations like the David Milgaard case and several other wrongful convictions, the measure is very dangerous because it makes a blanket assumption of pattern where none may exist in reality.

This leads into my second worry about this amendment. This appears to violate two aspects of our legal system - the assumption of innocence, and second the notion of "habeas corpus". I find it greatly disturbing that past conviction is presupposed to describe future behaviour, without any reasonable test of the relevance of those convictions to the situation currently before the courts. This is essentially accusing and convicting someone of some undefined future crime, without providing reasonable recourse for the defendant.

Because the law is exercising the right of conviction, and because it is by assumption, downloads the "burden of proof" from the crown to the defense, the extended detention of the offender is arguably in significant violation of the principle of habeas corpus (at least as I understand it). First, the burden of proof has been placed upon the offender to disprove the pattern that is alleged by prior convictions - remember, it is the Crown that is detaining the person. In doing this, we have removed the burden of proof from the Crown, inverting a basic principle of our justice system, and of tools like habeas corpus. It should (rightly) fall to the Crown (who represents the accusers) to justify why someone is to be detained; not the other way around.

One last aside - I find it very curious that in amending the legislation, the Conservative legislators have replaced the term "prosecution" in the existing text with "prosecutor". I am unsure of the significance of this particular change, but there are several paragraphs amended in that way, with no other changes.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Garth's Been Ousted

Today, Garth Turner was evicted from from the CPoC caucus, and is now sitting as an independant MP.

Superficially, this comes as little or no surprise. Garth Turner has been a vocal member of the party that often has spoken at odds with official party dogma, so it shouldn't really be a shock that eventually the party would toss him. Unlike Carolyn Parrish, Garth seemed to have his wits about him, and was at least speaking sensibly about issues - just not necessarily quite saying what Harper and his handlers wanted said.

However, I'm going to put pretty high odds that the Conservative nominee in Turner's riding (Halton, I believe) will be a strong theo-con, likely with connections back to Charles McVety. Why do I say this? Well, last summer, we discovered McVety was trying to oust Turner by undermining his riding organization. That combined with a lot of evidence coming to light over the past year or two that link the CPoC to all sorts of hardline religious lobby groups is painting a picture of a party where the power is in fact firmly rooted in "evangelical politics". Previously, I had thought that the party simply had a sizable, vocal minority that was voting "faith" but now it appears that in fact the minority is the remnants of the old PC party. (This will be explored in more detail in coming essays related to Harper and the TheoCons)

Conservative "3 Strikes Law" Tabled

It's all over the news, the CPoC tabled their version of a "3 Strikes" law in the House of Commons. I'm waiting for the full text to appear on the Parliamentary Library website before I dissect that thing for implications.

As I commented back here, I suspect strongly that this legislation violates some key principles of law that we should all be concerned about.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Flip Side

A short while I ago, I wrote about the the Delwin Vriend case, and back here, I wrote a bit about the Scott Brockie case - both of these cases are regularly trotted out as examples of how "gay rights" is trampling on "freedom of religion".

I think I've more or less debunked that particular line of reasoning, but today, I see in the news an example of the discrimination being reversed in Berkeley, Califoria. I've argued before that if you are going to engage in discrimination against GLBT citizens because of your religion, you may well find some turnabout coming back sooner or later.

What was striking was the following bit of the article:

Even so, the California supreme court said in March, local governments are under no obligation to extend benefits to organizations that discriminate. Berkeley, home of free speech protests since the 1960s, adopted a nondiscrimination policy on the use of its marina in 1997 and revoked the Sea Scouts' subsidy a year later.

The Sea Scouts is a branch of the Boy Scouts that teaches sailing, carpentry, and plumbing. City officials had told the group that it could retain its berthing subsidy if it broke ties with the Boy Scouts or disavowed the policy against gays and atheists, but the Sea Scouts refused.

I thought that this was very interesting, because it strongly mirrors a key aspect of the factual scenario in Vriend:

On February 20, 1990, in response to an inquiry by the President of the College, Vriend disclosed that he was homosexual. In early January 1991, the Board of Governors of the College adopted a position statement on homosexuality, and shortly thereafter, the President of the College requested Vriend’s resignation. He declined to resign, and on January 28, 1991, Vriend’s employment was terminated by the College. The sole reason given for his termination was his non‑compliance with the policy of the College on homosexual practice.

Please note the similarities here - in both cases, a policy contrary to the aggrieved party was adopted. When compliance was refused, outstanding agreements between the policy making organization and the other party were terminated.

The Berkeley situation gains a similarity to the Brockie case in that the municipality appears to have engaged in a "denial of service" discrimination against the Sea Scouts - based largely upon the Sea Scouts statements of faith. (Please note that the Sea Scouts were not prohibited from using the berth, but had a long standing subsidy removed)

Before I dive into trying to map this into Canadian Constitutional scenarios, I'm going to point out that the US court system has upheld the right of the Boy Scouts of America to discriminate against gays. (I was unaware of their policies with regards to atheism, but I'm going to assume that they are very similar) - so in some ways, this scenario is the logical counterpoint to the original rulings in support of the Scouts.

Of course, Canada's legal framework is substantially different from our American friends, so what follows is my speculation of how this same case would ultimately play out in the Canadian system.

The first thing I'll point out is that any decent lawyer is probably going to drag up the cases of Vriend, Brockie and the Knights of Columbus (see my previous linkage) when raising a complaint about having their subsidy revoked as a human rights issue. The irony is almost humorous here - given the screaming that those cases normally incite from the religious wing.

Principle #1: Individual Rights and Protections can, and are often extended to organizations.

This is clearly the case in the Brockie and Knights of Columbus rulings.

Principle #2: Non-Discrimination

The split decision in the Knights of Columbus case is intriguing here. On one hand, the KofC was censured for breaking a contract after the fact, but they were explicitly told that they were perfectly free to not rent their facilities to same-gender couples celebrating a marriage as long as the policy was explicit up front.

This is an interesting blend of the Brockie ruling which concluded that:

12 There are organizations so imbued with the identity or character of their membership, or so clearly representative of a group that is identified by a prohibited ground under the Code, that they cannot be separated from their membership and the organization itself takes on the protected characteristic. The Archives are such an organization.

... and the support of the Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Principle #3 Freedom of Religion

I will point out that in neither the KofC nor Vriend cases does it appear that the "corporate entity" is compelled to alter their policy. As far as I know King's College in Edmonton still has an "anti-homosexuality" policy, and I do not believe that the Knights of Columbus have been obliged to alter their policy, merely make it explicit.

So, returning to the hypothetical case that the Berkeley Sea Scouts scenario were to unfold in Canada, we would likely find the following:

(1) The municipality would be in breach not just of contract, but of the Scouting organization's charter supported rights. (Uniquely, using the same logic that was applied in Vriend, Brockie and KofC.) They would likely find themselves penalized, ordered to restore services, and ordered to drop or substantially alter the offending policies.

(2) If Scouts Canada were to engage in the same policy as their US cousins, they would likely find it necessary to make that policy explicit, and possibly would also need to define themselves as a "religious" organization as well.

(Note: Scouts Canada does not make any "faith statement", nor do they engage in explicit discrimination as a result of such a statement, so this second aspect is pure conjecture)

This is precisely why the suggestion that Canada needs a "Defense of Religions Act" is such an utter logical farce.

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Assault on Women's Rights and Freedoms

I'm continually amazed by the regressiveness of groups like "REAL Women". In a recent news release they claim that "anti SGM expert testimony was ignored during the committee process.

Coverage of the Parliamentary Committee that studied the issue was inadequate as the Committee, after hearing over 500 witnesses, dealing with over 250,000 letters from the concerned public and traveling thousands of miles across the country, was not permitted to table its report in Parliament. Concerns for the well-being of children, presented before the Committee by REAL Women, Dr. Margaret Somerville, and others, were ignored.

{There's also a certain amount of "de rigeur" whining about the media in there as well, but I'm going to ignore it, because that is not the part that is notable and of interest}

The anti-SGM arguments have long argued that somehow or another SGM was harmful to "children's rights" - an argument that is utterly ridiculous, but gives us a window into the regressive views these people are pushing.

The news release itself was typically vacuous and lacking in concrete statements, except for a reference to Margaret Somerville's testimony regarding bill C-38. Given the number of witnesses and letters the parliamentary committees were dealing with, it seems to me quite possible that a lot of conflicting testimony was being put forth.

A bit of digging about turned up this article with a few tidbits about Ms. Somerville's testimony that I found particularly enlightening with respect to the "it harms the children" line of fallacy:

Senator CĂ©line Hervieux-Payette opposes C-38. She concluded from an examination of various dictionaries: "...that marriage is the union of a man and a woman and almost always for the purpose of procreation....I maintain that this bill is more a political action than a legal exercise confirming the equality rights of same sex couples" She quoted Dr. Margaret Somerville, a McGill University specialist in ethics. She said: "When restricted to one man and one woman, marriage establishes as the norm the rights of children to a biological father and mother who will raise them ...Because same-sex marriage is not based on procreation, it deprives all children of such rights, not just the children of same-sex couples. Bill C-38 expressly recognizes and applies this change by redefining the parental condition in general, changing it from the natural, or biological, parental condition to the legal parental condition. This is the effect of Bill C-38....The rights of children must include:

1. The right to be conceived with a natural biological heritage — that is to say unmodified biological origins — and to be conceived with natural sperm from an identified man and a natural ovum from an identified woman; and
2. The right to know the identity of their biological parents."

Senator Hervieux-Payette concluded: "I cannot agree to vote in favor of Bill C-38 as it stands. It would run counter to my profound convictions on my role as a senator, which is to protect Canadian institutions and the most vulnerable of Canadians, our children."

The first thing that strikes me here is this statement:
The right to be conceived with a natural biological heritage — that is to say unmodified biological origins

The reasoning being applied is rife with implications. The accusation is that because a SGM couple cannot produce children, that somehow these relationships bear no legal status. The second prong of the attack is similar in that it raises the utterly invalid talking point that same-gender couples cannot provide "correct" parenting successfully.

However, stepping aside from the implications for sexual minorities, the wording and phraseology hints at a much broader attack on women's rights, especially around reproductive freedoms:

(1) By implication, only a child borne of procreative sex is a "valid" child. (After all, you must not only know that the child has a known father)

(2) The various reproductive technologies we have (artificial insemination, and a plethora of fertility treatments) are theoretically "out of bounds" - the use of the word "natural" has very significant implications here.

(3) Note the use of the word "conception" - this is very important because it turns out to be the underpinning of the forced-birth crowd's line of reasoning. By using this word, they twist things around and claim, essentially, that a woman has no control over her body the moment a zygote is formed.

(4) In recent years, the forced-birth crowd has also adopted an "anti-contraception" stance. They have begun campaigning quite vocally in the United States against most forms of birth control - from "The Pill" to condoms - I suspect largely on "moral" grounds, but it really comes down to punishing a woman for having sex.

Groups like "Real Women Canada" have been cheering recent changes in Federal Government funding, especially to the Status of Women agency. Whether or not they realize it, they not advancing anyone's rights, but in fact are attempting to push us back not merely a decade or so, but nearly a century, by revoking a woman's right to decide how she will contribute to society.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Ignatieff Gets One Right

The sniping comments coming from Prime Minister Harper around Michael Ignatieff's comments criticizing Israel appear to have finally gotten Ignatieff to start finding his rhetorical legs.

In today's Globe and Mail, Ignatieff makes some very lucid, and clear statements abouut the whole business:

Nevertheless, he insisted he won't be muzzled by outraged reaction from Jewish groups or accusations from the prime minister that he's anti-Israel.

“Canadians deserve a prime minister that helps Canadians from all communities to find a common language in which we can speak about difficult issues together,” Mr. Ignatieff said.

Followed by this most insightful statement:

“All communities in Canada have a right to contribute to the public debate about where Canada's national interest lies but no community has the right to determine what can and cannot be said.

“And no prime minister has the right to say that anyone who voices criticism of Israel is an enemy of Israel.”

Well said.

The Next "Freedom of Religion" Talking Point

Apparently, Quebec has been quietly ignoring illegal schools run by evangelical organizations.

As is the case in most provinces of this country, the Quebec provincial government sets the base standards for educational curriculum. Schools are, I believe, free to push beyond that base standard but those that do not meet the standard will not be licensed by the province.

Given that Quebec suffered under Maurice Duplessis' religiously focused regime until The Quiet Revolution one might understand why they are more than a little cautious about formally recognizing these schools - especially when they blatantly ignore the core curriculum.

..."Certain teachings that are conveyed there are anti-biblical," he said in French to a Radio-Canada reporter.

He gave teachings on sexual education and evolution as examples. His school teaches creationism instead of evolution as the origin of different types of plants and animals.

Around about this point, my reaction was twofold. On sex education, I can accept that the religious are going to have objections to talking about sexuality frankly anyhow. Ultimately the children will figure it out anyhow. Teaching creation in place of evidence-based science is another thing altogether. Last I checked, evolution is considered part of basic biology. I pity any of those students should they take college-level biology later on.

I have no problem with a school adding bible studies to the curriculum - that's fine by me. I do however see a significant problem with an approach that thinks it's just fine to ignore standard material curriculum because it "conflicts with faith".

However, I'll put money that we start hearing about how the awful Quebec government won't recognize these schools officially, and are therefore limiting the students' futures. {e.g. chances are you won't get accepted into any credible university without a recognized high school diploma} The line will be that they are being discriminated against based on their religion.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Shorter Stephen Harper

If Hezbollah does it, it's a war crime. If Israel does it, it's self defense.

In criticizing Liberal leadership candidates as "anti-Israeli", Harper has once again shown how limited and short sighted his positions really are.

Hezbollah lobbing rockets at Israeli settlements is just as wrong as Israel dropping high explosives on Lebanese villages. Both are civilian populations, and neither side is exempt from criticism for it. Under many standards, both Hezbollah and Israel can be accused of "war crimes" for attacking civilian populations.

Mr. Harper's own response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon last summer was to call Israel's response "measured", as if some kind of restraint was exercised. I suppose, if one considers the prospect that Israel could have nuked Lebanon, one might consider Israel's invasion "measured"...but that's like saying that a disgruntled customer that burns a restaurant down after a bad meal experience engaged in a "measured" response - it just depends on what rubber ruler you use.

Conservative "3 Strikes" Law - Next Revelation

Ever so slowly, our elected government in Ottawa is showing us more and more of their agenda - however brain-damaged it may be.

In today's news, Harper's blathering on about their "3 Strikes" approach to declaring people a "dangerous offender".

Laws that tally up an offender's past worry me, but this particular one is really beginning to scare me as it looks like a fairly serious reversal of rights and obligations in our justice system.

Under the proposed legislation, the person would automatically be considered a dangerous offender and would have to prove the designation should not apply.

Harper said if the person cannot prove this, he or she will be put in prison for an indeterminate period of time and won't be eligible for parole for seven years.

This is very worrisome for several reasons. First of all, it is next to impossible to "prove a negative". Anyone with some basic grounding in formal logic and argument will recognize that it is far easier to demonstrate that "there is a reasonable expectation that X is the case" than it is to demonstrate that "X is NOT the case".

The second aspect of this that bothers me greatly is the reversal of obligations. We are creating a scenario here. The previous legal standard was eminently consistent with the notion that the Crown as the accuser is obliged to show before the court why someone should be considered a dangerous offender. Now we find a situation where the accused must demonstrate the opposite.

There are a few reasons why this is bad news. First, it is a clear violation of the presumption of innocence. Yes, the person has been convicted of crimes, but it seems to me that the onus should fall upon the state to demonstrate that someone is in fact a dangerous offender, not upon the offender to demonstrate that they are not. In essence, you are playing out the very scenario that the movie "Minority Report" played with - the notion of stopping a crime before it is committed.

I'm not saying that the designation of dangerous offender is a bad idea, far from it, but rather I am objecting to it being applied automatically as a matter of statute. I would feel much more at ease with the statue obliging the Crown to make application for dangerous offender designation following a third offense. (In other words, retain the current basic structure, but oblige the crown to make the application instead of allowing it to be a matter of discretion).

This is significantly different in how it reflects the core principles of our justice system in that it still requires the Crown to demonstrate before the court why such a designation is appropriate on a case by case basis.

The second, and more subtle aspect of this legislation, is the implicit attack it contains upon citizen rights and freedoms as guaranteed in the Charter. In automatically designating someone a "dangerous offender", this law is in essence filing a pre-emptive accusation against someone, and then demanding that they prove that they will not do what they are being accused of. This is worrisome because it is a subtle attack on the guarantees in Sections 7 - 14 of the Charter, and in particular sections 10 and 11, as it gives the government blanket rights of detention without accountability to either the accused or the public.

Again, one may argue that an offender should be obliged to demonstrate that they have taken steps to minimize or manage the risk that they pose to society. Of that I have no particular difficulty, however, such obligations are far more reasonably bound to the rules around a prisoner's release. (e.g. Traceable commitments to attend group therapy or other appropriate constructs) Post incarceration supervision can reasonably be applied beyond the term of an offenders' sentence if there is reason to suspect that further similar offenses are likely. (Again, as with the 'dangerous offender' designation, I still feel that it is the obligation of the Crown to demonstrate why this is necessary, not the accused.)

When the legislation is tabled in the House of Commons, I'll take a closer look then. Harper's words today suggest a law that is potentially quite harmful to the rights of otherwise law abiding citizens.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Harper and The TheoCons - Part I

Related Articles:

Harper and the TheoCons - Part II

The Walrus: Stephen Harper and The TheoCons - October 2006
(8/4/08: Link to Walrus Archives added due to restructuring of their website breaking some links in this post)

This is the first part of my impressions and thoughts on the article in the October, 2006 issue of The Walrus entitled "Harper and The TheoCons".

The article itself is a lengthy expose of the connections betweens the Harper-led Conservatives and the theologically-oriented conservative movement in Canada.

Elsewhere in this blog, I've speculated that what Harper was presenting to Canadian voters during the last election was something quite separate from what he intends to do, especially should he achieve a majority government. Much of this this article tends to underscore that.

Three years ago, in a speech to the annual Conservative think-fest, Civitas, he [Harper] outlined plans for a broad new party coalition that would ensure a lasting hold on power. The only rout, he argued, was to focus not on the tired wish list of economic conservatives or "neo-cons," as they'd become known, but on what he called "theo-cons" - those social conservatives who care passionately about hot-button issues that turn on family, crime and defence.

- Oct 06 Walrus, P. 50

This reinforces what I argued in December of 2005 - that Harper was at the time presenting something to the people of Canada that was considerably at odds with what he actually believes and represents.

What I find fascinating are some of the other connections in this article. We find Preston Manning and his "Manning Centre For Building Democracy" showing up as a primary background force in trying to rein in the more extreme members of the party and attempting to create a "moderate" face for the party.

Now Manning is doing his part to ensure that his spiritual protege and the estimated seventy evangelicals in the Conservative caucus - however well muzzled - don't suffer the same fate. [ed. as Stockwell Day] Last year he set up the Manning Centre for Building Democracy, a $10 million Calgary-based non-profit aimed at training Conservatives how to run ridings and campaigns, then staff MPs' offices. He calls it a"a school of practical politics," but one of the centre's main preoccupations is tutoring the Christian evangelicals now flooding into Ottawa on how to survive the perilous waters of public life. Oct. 06 Walrus P. 50-51

Well, so far, my experience with this particular aspect of the CPoC has been an MP who refuses to answer communications that aren't ideologically correct for him. (But my personal experiences with my MP predate the creation of the Manning Centre, but not Manning himself).

There's a few things that this article points out about how Harper has organized his cabinet that are deeply worrisome for those of us who actually believe that Canada is based on a plurality of religions, and that no particular religious belief should hold sway.

Borrowing a page from Bush's White House, which boasts a deputy responsible for "Christian Outreach", Harper has installed a point man for the religious right, among other groups in his government, under the title "director of stakeholder relations"

Oct. 06 Walrus P. 50

This is quite an eyeopener. Among other things, I find it something of a slap in the face to Canadians as a whole. We are all stakeholders in our government. To create a position that is clearly focused upon keeping a specific - and rather noisy - group of stakeholders "happy" is very disturbing. (Especially when one considers the kind of agenda some of those "stakeholders" actually pursue.

But evangelical activists know that a more direct route to the prime minister is through his parliamentary secretary, Jasone Kenney. After the election, many in the Ottawa press corps were astonished when the Calgary loyalist who served as a critic in every recent Reform/Alliance shadow cabinet didn't win a portfolio. But these days, Kenney may have more clout than any minister, playing emissary to groups with whom Harper doesn't wish to leave prime ministerial fingerprints, above all on the religious right.

Oct. 06 Walrus P. 50

I wasn't entirely surprised when Kenney wasn't appointed to a ministerial portfolio. I suspected back then that his role needed less accountability than being a minister would oblige him to accept. (And believe me, the man amazingly deft at making sure he's nowhere near anything that would make him "accountable" for anything.

I think the underlying point, so far, is that the Harper government is about one thing - gaining power at all costs. They are trying desperately to do so without the Canadian public twigging to what they would really be electing. Their own actions to date have been intriguing. On one hand, they have tried to stick to "five key points" legislatively, and on the other hand, their "spending cuts" speak to a much different agenda than what they ran on.

To this point, I have but scratched the surface. Although Harper has clearly kept most of his extremists well zippered (Perhaps with the exception of Maurice Vellacott), it is quite clear that the "TheoCons" are not merely a "faction" within the party, but a very powerful one. As someone who watched the Reform/Alliance party grow in Alberta, this comes as little surprise. In its early days the Reform party quickly became a roost for the extreme religious movement, and they have never to my knowledge left the party - even after the "merger" with the former "Progressive Conservative" party.

Next, I will begin to examine just who some of the "background" lobbyists that the Walrus talks about and what they represent.

Monday, October 09, 2006

October Issue of "The Walrus"

If you haven't read the October, 2006 issue of "The Walrus", its feature article is well worth the time and effort to track a copy down.

The feature article is entitled "Harper and the TheoCons".

I will be commenting on the particulars of the article over the coming days (it's lengthy), but it is well worth the read. I've read about half of it so far, and most of it strongly reinforces many of my assertions on this blog in the past that Harper's government is not what the CPoC campaigned on.

Sadly, The Walrus website is locked down for subscribers only - so you'll have to find the dead tree edition at Chapters.

North Korea Tests A Nuke ... So What?

...or at least that's the claim. Whether or not North Korea actually detonated a test device or we are merely hearing the continued ravings of Kim Jong Il, I don't know. (The evidence suggests that something happened)

Even if North Korea has nuclear arms, I'm not sure it means a whole lot on the world stage. Kim Jong Il is, as far as anyone can tell, a quasi paranoid loon whose focus appears to be on stirring things up, rather than any kind of coherent plan.

About the only thing we know about North Korea is that the country can't even feed itself, and most of its citizens depend on international aid for food. That probably means that most of the country's resources are bound up in military programs of some sort or another, but at the same time, it's pretty apparent that the country hasn't got a whole lot of anything to bargain with. Certainly, without nuclear capabilities, they are pretty well hemmed in by powers that aren't overly impressed with the current ruling bunch of loons.

Do they pose any real threat outside of the Asian region? No. Even their "long range" missiles are unlikely to reach across the ocean today. Does the fact that they now publicly claim they have nuclear weapons change anything. Probably not. We have no idea how much of the old soviet-era nukes found their way into North Korean hands, and I suspect that there's a few that they've had 'in reserve' for a long time.

I fully expect to hear lots of the "A madman has nukes" line for the next little while - of course the people wringing their hands over that will be conveniently ignoring that other madmen have been running around starting wars - and they have much bigger arsenals than Pyongyang will ever achieve.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Freedom of Religion Examined

Every so often, a topic seems to take on a life of its own. Lately, there's been a lot of debate rolling around this blog, and others I read, about an odious little proposition with a working name of "Defense of Religions Act" (DoRA - sounds like a stage name for a drag artist, doesn't it?) has spawned a renewal of the "Omigod, Christian beliefs are being sidelined/marginalized/constrained debate - with the usual list of "suspect cases" being postulated as examples of unreasonable constraints being placed upon the notion of "freedom of religion".

Section 2 of the Charter reads as follows:

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.

Perhaps equally significant and important is section 1 of the Charter which reads:

1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

This is extremely important, because it states quite clearly that no rights described in the Charter are absolutes. Instead, they are bounded by other rights and freedoms, either as described in the Charter, or in statute law such as the Criminal Code.

I've stated my reasons why I do not accept the argument that cases such as Vriend, Brockie, Kempling and the Knights of Columbus in B.C. as being examples of constraining "freedom of religion" unreasonably.

It boils down to this fundamental point - each of those cases involves discrimination against somebody because another individual's "religious convictions" lead them to conclude that the other party is immoral/licentious or whatever.

Section 15 of the Charter itself runs at odds with the notion of "freedom of religion" in those cases. There are two key observations I wish to raise about this:

a) First, as previously observed, no right is an absolute - they are bounded to varying degrees. So, for example, while I argue that "freedom of religion" is not an adequate argument in the commonly cited cases, it is because those cases all involve projecting religious beliefs upon those who do not necessarily share them. I am not arguing that the faithful cannot have those beliefs, nor am I arguing that they cannot express them. Merely that like all of us, we must be circumspect in when and how we do so. For example, within a Bible Study context, it may well be perfectly reasonable to express strong "anti-gay" beliefs, but that doesn't mean it is appropriate to do so in the workplace.

b) Second, is the complaint that recent amendments to section 318 of the Criminal Code unreasonably constrain "religious freedom". Again, a careful examination of the wording makes it clear that there are contexts where such expressions are quite reasonable (See the "Defenses" subheading):

(b) if, in good faith, the person expressed or attempted to establish by an argument an opinion on a religious subject or an opinion based on a belief in a religious text;

Again, this makes it fairly clear that any prosecution of these clauses is bound to refer back to section 2 of the Charter. What is perhaps less clear is whether an argument which - for example - cites the work of Paul Cameron could then claim religious protection because the argument is intended to support a religious viewpoint. (Cameron's work is notoriously suspect in quality and method)

Conservatives in Canada have long complained that programs such as the "Charter Challenge Program" (recently axed by the Government) work against their freedom of religion and expression. While I agree that by far the majority of cases that I've heard about have certainly arose out of someone raising a "religious objection" (mostly to GLBT rights), there are other cases where challenges have arose regarding the application of religious freedom.

In particular, I am thinking of the RCMP Uniforms incorporating Turbans. I don't recall if this was a specific "Charter Challenge" case, however, it certainly is a case where an application of the Charter was key to the final decisions. Here is a clear case where "freedom of religion" was being unreasonably constrained, and the complaints about "tradition" etc. fell by the wayside.

Now, the distinction here is that the Turbans case involved an individual's expression of his religious faith in a manner which really only impacted his appearance as compared with situations like Vriend where religious faith was being projected from an individual or group in a manner intended to regulate someone else's life.

In many respects, what goes on within the context of a faith community doesn't worry me too much. Churches which choose to adopt the 'abomination' line towards the GLBT are free to do so, for I have no obligation whatsoever to accept their tenets of faith. However, I do have reason to get upset when those groups attempt to impose those views outside their faith community.

The Charter actually appears to strike a very delicate, but appropriate balance. By specifying individual rights, the Charter recognizes implicitly the variety of belief systems that a nation like Canada has, and extends protections to all of them. However, it also creates an implicit obligation that the exercise of those freedoms is necessarily bounded by consideration for the rights and freedoms of others. (Hence the presence of the critical equality clauses)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Talking Point: Delwin Vriend Case and Religious Freedom

Back here, we have a commenter dredging up the Delwin Vriend case in Alberta as an example of how "unfair" the Charter Challenge Program is to "religious freedom".

Given that the Vriend case concluded sometime back in the 1990s, I decided to go digging around and take a look at what the actual Charter challenge that Vriend raised really was all about.

Vriend was fired from his job - specifically because he was gay. I'm not going to get into my opinions about firing someone because of their sexual orientation here - I've expounded on what I think of that particular issue many times before. However, the Vriend v. Alberta case has little to do with the particulars of Vriend's firing. In fact, almost nothing.

The Charter challenge was related to the fact that Vriend's attempt to file a human rights complaint was rejected specifically because Alberta's Human Rights legislation at the time did not include GLBT citizens. The Vriend case was a matter of forcing the Alberta government to cease its tacit discrimination by omission against GLBT citizens living in that province.

It is notable that neither King's College or The Christian Reformed Church are named in the suit itself, nor in fact do they appear on the list of intervenors in the case. (They may have been members of one or more of the groups listed as intervenors in the case, as quite a large number of them are conservative religious organizations).

In short, the Vriend case with respect to King's College didn't go very far in the first place. (As far as the Alberta Court of Appeals perhaps - but I don't happen to have the case documentation for that at hand). The actual Supreme Court challenge was with respect to the laws of Alberta, not King's College per se.

So far, I have yet to see any religious organization actually launch a charter challenge. (If I recall correctly, the CCP was specifically intended for funding challenges against laws that breach the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, therefore, I would expect that it would provide funding assistance to the parties launching the challenge) Since the other party to such challenges is, unsurprisingly, the government, this is quite legitimate. Few individuals have the financial resources to push a challenge like that through to the Supreme Court, while the Government has effectively boundless resources. (If nothing else, they can stall things almost indefinitely - draining the plaintiffs resources if they so choose - after all when your budget is in the billions, what's a few million?)

So, as I suggested earlier to my commenter, I can't think of a single case where a religious organization has in fact launched a charter challenge of any sort. There have certainly been numerous cases where they have claimed that their "charter rights" are being infringed upon, but nobody seems to have actually raised an actual charter challenge. (Not surprising, when the legislation that generates the most whining almost always provides explicit references back to the Charter - it becomes pretty hard to claim that the law itself breaks the Charter)

The Vriend decision has been a sore point with religious conservatives in Alberta for a long time. Mostly because it forced the Alberta government to recognize the civil rights of GLBT citizens, and made it much more difficult to deny those citizens recognition in law. I suspect that had Vriend's appeal to the human rights tribunal in Alberta been heard in the first place (which would have tacitly admitted GLBT citizens have right to recourse under Alberta's human rights legislation), that no Charter Challenge would have been launched anyhow. I also suspect, in light of other human rights decisions I've seen, that his dismissal would likely have stood anyhow - but it is troubling to think that an employer would dismiss someone simply because they are gay.

However, the talking point that Vriend got a "free ride" is utter bunk. The man was fired from his job (removing his income source), made a public figure whether or not he wanted it, and had his life dragged through the court system for years. I can hardly call that "a free ride".

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...