Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Questioning McVety's Money Trail...

I don't have much time for Charles McVety on good days. I think he is an unpleasant little man who will stoop to anything to turn Canada into a Theocracy - but that's just my opinion.

Fortunately, the keepers of the Shuffl blog are a little more patient than I about the man and have done an outstanding job of tracing through McVety's little lobbying empire and revealing quite a bit about how money apparently moves around his world. (There's much that we can't see without access to McVety's books, but I imagine a forensic accountant would have a grand old time with them.)

The upshot of it all is that an awful lot of the contact pages from various organizations affiliated with McVety (CFAC,, Institute for Canadian Values and Canadians United for Israel) all ultimately point back to telephone numbers and an address that mysteriously corresponds to Canada Christian College.

Of particular interest are observations such as how the "donations" page from mysteriously links to the "donations" page for the "Institute for Canadian Values".

All of this doesn't actually prove that McVety is engaging in a shell game with donor's money, but one does have to wonder about how "arm's length" the relationship between known political lobby organizations (such as CVI) and McVety's college (which is a registered charity) really are. CFAC is a bit of an oddity here, since its offices are in Calgary, and I believe that Rushfeldt founded CFAC locally - although McVety is the titular President. The details of the relationship between Rushfeldt and McVety are unknown to me, but their names keep popping up together on various organizations McVety runs.

I can only imagine what would turn up if Revenue Canada actually did an audit of the books for the various organizations that McVety is affiliated with - and the financial shell-games that are being played to fund the various political lobby organizations.

In any case, the donation pages along with the suspicious collision of offices makes me wonder aloud about whether or not donations actually go where people think they are going in the first place.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

No Sympathy For Victoria

For decades, Victoria's sewage has been dumped into the ocean slightly offshore - raw and untreated. I'm sure that they must be the last major municipality in Canada which doesn't have a sewage treatment system in place. Even the ever-parsimonious Calgary has invested in sewage treatment - quite aggressively, actually.

Well, it seems that the Provincial Government in B.C. finally got its head around the fact that Victoria wasn't going to do anything on its own, so they ordered the city to take steps.

The cost of the project is now approaching $1.2 Billion, and homeowners are crying the blues about a levy that they will have to shell out to pay for the project:

"I question these figures," said Oak Bay Mayor Chris Causton, addressing the discrepancy between ratepayers in his municipality - who will pay the extra $713 a year - and the rest of the region. "I'm not convinced there's four times the flow coming from Oak Bay."

Mr. Causton said that despite the province's dictate, an environmental impact study hasn't even been done.

"I think there's a lot of residents that need to be convinced."

Too bad. The rest of us have been paying for our civic water and wastewater treatment for decades, pal. Victoria's been hemming and hawing over putting in a sewage treatment system for at least 20 odd years that I know of. Meanwhile, it continues to dump its raw sewage straight into the ocean. Like Calgary in so many ways, there's a huge amount of "NIMBY" happening, and now the price is steeper than a lot of residents are willing to pay. Had Victoria started this process in the 1980s, the basic project would have cost a fraction of the $1.2 Billion being discussed now.

Infrastructure is a "pay me now, or pay me later" proposition. Victoria chose "later", and now is obliged to pay with interest. Calgary went through a similar debacle with the south end of Deerfoot Trail. As new developments came in, developers were permitted to simply install traffic lights at intersection points on Deerfoot - turning a highway into a high speed parking lot. In the last five years, we've replaced all of the traffic lights with interchanges - at a cost several times what it would have cost had those interchanges been put in place when the new developments were being created.

Sewage treatment plants aren't pretty things, and few people ever "see" the benefit they deliver. Consequently, in the very "tourist centric" mindset in Victoria, such infrastructure gets pretty low billing for most people, and very few people understand just how much damage dropping raw sewage from 330,000 people into the ocean year after year really does.

Up to this point, I've been somewhat ambivalent to Victoria's waste water issues. However, when the issue is not that the plant needs to be built, but rather the fact that the residents of the city will have pay for it, just as the rest of us do, I lose what patience I do have. The politics have allowed this issue to languish for decades, and now the pigeons have come home to roost. Suck it up, and get on with the damn job.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Next TheoCon Talking Point

I've heard this story before.

It seems that Connie Heintz used to work for an Evangelical Ministry that provided services to the developmentally handicapped, and then she was fired when they found out she was a Lesbian.

According the the shrieking wingnut crowd over at Lifesite (and their affiliates), this is another example of HRC's compromising "Freedom of Religion" rights.

Connie Heintz, an employee who signed onto the "morality statement" as a condition of employment, promised not to engage in "homosexual relationships", among other anti-Christian activities such as "extra-marital sexual relationships (adultery)", "pre-marital sexual relationships (fornication)", "viewing or reading pornographic material" and "lying". interesting.

Then there's reality:

For five years, Heintz was a support worker at a Waterloo residential home for five developmentally delayed adults.

She quit her job in September 2000, after employees and supervisors made her final months there "the worst time of my life."

After revealing she was a lesbian, "they said this would be grounds for dismissal," she said.

"On a regular basis, I was told to look elsewhere for work . . . I was harassed.

"I constantly had to watch my back," Heintz said in an interview. "They made allegations about me."

Heintz said some co-workers made unfounded accusations that she abused residents.

No, we're not finished with this yet, because the ruling itself gives us even more details:

[4] Ms. Heintz is an individual of deep Christian faith. She is also a lesbian. Ms. Heintz came to an understanding of who she was, and her sexual orientation during her tenure as an employee of Christian Horizons. The Lifestyle and Morality Statement prohibits homosexual relationships, and the faith belief adopted by Christian Horizon views homosexuality as unnatural, immoral and contrary to the scriptures. Because she was not in compliance with the Lifestyle and Morality Statement, Ms. Heintz was required to leave her employment in the fall of 2000.

[5] The Commission and Ms. Heintz allege that Ms. Heintz was terminated from employment because of her sexual orientation, and the requirement that all employees sign the Lifestyle and Morality Statement is a violation of the Human Rights Code. They also allege that the manner in which Ms. Heintz was treated, after she came out as a lesbian, constitutes discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Ah - so, the reality is that she went through a period of self-discovery, and eventually determined that she was a Lesbian. Okay, fair enough. At this point, this starts to remind me of the way that Julie Nemecek was treated, or in some respects, Delwin Vriend's case in Alberta.

There's a couple of problems I see here. First of all, I have real problems with so-called "conduct codes" that attempt to regulate employees behaviour outside of the workplace along "moral" lines. Such codes often extend well into what I consider to be private life spaces. No employer has any right to know anything about my private life that I choose not to disclose to them; and further, they have no right whatsoever to take punitive action against me on the basis of that private life, even if they do know about something they consider "immoral".

Second, these kinds of "contracts" have the unfortunate consequence of being largely unenforceable because of their highly moralistic content, but also because they tend to make some suppositions that do not recognize the enormous variety of human experience that exists in our world. Someone like Ms. Heintz may well have denied her own sexual identity so deeply that at the time she signed the agreement she did so in perfectly good faith. The fact that her self-perception and circumstances changed so dramatically is perhaps unusual, but hardly implausible.

However, it is the way in which Christian Horizons conducted itself that is deeply troubling:

[75] In April 2000, two co-workers, Sophie Odhiambo and Jennifer Ward, confronted Ms. Heinz and asked whether she was a lesbian. A few days later, on April 26, 2000, Ms. Dorothy Girling, Ms. Heintz’s immediate supervisor, met with Ms. Heintz to advise there were rumours she was in a same sex relationship. Ms. Heintz admitted this to Ms. Girling. Ms. Girling said she would have to speak with Michael Alemu, who was the Administrator of District Services, West Region at the time.

[76] Ms. Heintz testified that, at the April 26, 2000 meeting, Ms. Girling said that Ms. Heintz would be terminated or would have to find work elsewhere because she was not in compliance with the Lifestyle and Morality Statement. Ms. Girling testified that she did not recall saying this at the initial meeting but spoke with Ms. Heintz about having signed the Lifestyle and Morality Statement, that she was not in compliance and this was “a matter of integrity.”

This is deeply troubling to me, as it is the early stages of a similar strategy that was played out with Julie Nemecek - and underscores a fundamental unwillingness on the part of the employer to even attempt 'reasonable accommodation' of any sort, but it gets better:

[79] On June 23, 2000, Ms. Girling received an occurrence report from Ms. Odhiambo alleging Ms. Heintz had assaulted one of the residents on May 24, 2000. Ms. Odhiambo’s report also stated:

Since October 1999, I have endured months of harassment and abuse from Ms. Heintz. There have been times I have feared for my physical safety. My health has been at times affected. Our Program Manager is aware of my fears/apprehensions.

A prior conversation with our Program Manager led me to understand that Ms. Heintz’s behaviour was not as important as another underlying matter and therefore any behavioural matters were to be dealt with in her performance appraisal….

… A conversation [with Ms. Heintz] about the occurrence was impossible – I was alone with her, the Program Manager was away. It may have escalated the situation. Ms. Heintz is a bully and can become explosive.

I mentioned this matter to trusted staff… No one wanted to touch it or get involved. I think there is some fear but it is mixed with confusion over the other matter … i.e. how to handle things. No one knows…

[80] Ms. Heintz did not know at the time that allegations of resident abuse had been made against her, and Christian Horizons management did not inform her. Ms. Heintz was also not made aware of the other allegations made in the occurrence report.

[81] Mr. Alemu held a series of “one-on-one” meetings with staff at the Waterloo 6 residence on June 26 and 27, 2000. Their purpose was to address what he recognized as a high level of stress at the Waterloo 6 program and a breakdown in the team dynamic and cohesiveness. He said he wanted to hear from staff on any conflicts, issues, disagreements or disputes that were affecting the program, including any complaints against staff, management or of mistreatment of the residents.

[82] Following the interviews, Mr. Alemu decided to set up a formal inquiry team to look into Ms. Odhiambo’s allegations of resident abuse. Ms. Heintz was suspended with pay pending the investigation by the inquiry team. The results of the investigation were “inconclusive”, though Ms. Heintz was issued a disciplinary letter for her behaviour during the staff interviews conducted by Mr. Alemu. Ms. Heintz returned to work on July 12, 2000.
[217] At that meeting Ms. Heintz expressed her upset and a concern about the manner in which Mr. Alemu was inquiring into the allegations against her. She told Mr. Alemu she felt it was unfair that she was not told of the allegations and was finding out from other staff. She felt that certain staff were being deceitful and that the organization would “prefer for me not to be working here.” She told Mr. Alemu she thought the organization was “biased and hypocritical”. Mr. Alemu took offence and indicated that her behaviour was grounds for termination.

Let me get this straight - someone makes an unverifiable complaint against Ms. Heintz, the investigation into the complaint results in Ms. Heintz being reprimanded - not for anything to do with the complaint, but for some issue to do with her "behaviour" during the interviews. At this point in time, the Director doing the interviews should have taken issue with the person who wrote the unverifiable complaint. It's pretty clear that the complaint itself is slanderous, and a poor attempt to undermine Ms. Heintz's credibility in the workplace.

In short, instead of dealing with the innuendo and slander being thrown about the workplace, Mr. Alemu chose to tacitly approve of it by NOT taking actions to stop it immediately.

[222] During the inquiry, the issue of Ms. Heintz’s sexual orientation was raised. Ms. Odhiambo indicated that she was afraid of Ms. Heintz, that Ms. Heintz was stalking her, and she carried her car keys at all times in case she had to escape from the residence. Ms. Heintz told the inquiry team that she felt that Ms. Odhiambo was extremely uncomfortable with the fact that she (Ms. Heintz) was gay.

[223] The inquiry team noted that “Sophie’s fears must be taken seriously, and steps need to be taken to ensure that she can maintain a sense of well-being and safety in the workplace”. The inquiry team made no comments about Ms. Heintz’s well-being, nor did it recommend management take steps to address the apparent tension in the workplace related to some staff’s discomfort with Ms. Heintz’s sexual orientation.

Can you spot the "Spanish Inquisition" taking place here? The allegations being made against Ms. Heintz are not verifiable or substantiated in any way, yet she is being held as the person who must "change" things? Put in simple terms - what's up with that? Any rational person will recognize that there is little, if anything that she could do that would satisfy the moralizing ninnies she was working with. The fact that Christian Horizons chose to disregard the obvious problems with the allegations being made is disgusting.

[230] In my view, the course of events described above demonstrates a complete failure of Christian Horizons to deal with Ms. Heintz in a way that is consistent with an employer’s obligation under the Code. First, it is apparent that the investigation and inquiry into allegations of abuse and harassment by Ms. Heintz were biased and tainted by discrimination. Mr. Alemu testified that Ms. Heintz’s sexual orientation was not relevant to his investigation and he did not ask staff about Ms. Heintz being gay during the interviews. He indicated that it never occurred to him that Ms. Odhiambo’s allegations might have been related to Ms. Heintz’s sexual orientation, or that Ms. Odhiambo was homophobic. Rather, he said he thought that Ms. Odhiambo’s fears were well-founded. During his testimony, he did not accept any shortcomings on his, or the organization’s, part in how the matter was handled. He laid all the blame on Ms. Heintz and on her “hostile” attitude during the investigation process and her negativity toward Christian Horizons. As he put it, just because Ms. Heintz’s lifestyle had changed, did not mean that “all of a sudden the organization, the management is all of a sudden, is a rotten one.”

[231] I have difficulty accepting Mr. Alemu’s contentions. The contents of his notes do not bear out his assertions that he did not consider Ms. Heintz’s sexual orientation relevant and did not raise it with staff during the interviews. Ms. Odhiambo’s June 23, 2000 occurrence report should have, at a minimum, caused Mr. Alemu to question whether it was motivated by a fear or dislike of homosexuals. Beyond this, it is inconceivable that, in an organization where one of the core beliefs is that homosexuality is immoral, and fundamentally incompatible with “Christian ministry”, Ms. Heintz’s sexual orientation played no role in Mr. Alemu’s consideration of a “breakdown in the team dynamics.”

In short - Mr. Alemu set out to find what he wanted to claim, and he wasn't going to consider any evidence to the contrary. (Shades of standard inquisitional logic - we are going start from the supposition of someone's guilt, and move forward from there...argh!)

[235] Rev. Dr. Stiller also described how having a gay or lesbian employee was completely antithetical to an Evangelical organization:

And I must tell you that within the Evangelical community, this is not a -- this is not a knee-jerk response to social trends. But it, at the very heart, is our understanding of who we are in Christ as his creation and in his image. And sexuality is a very critical part of that. And so to go outside of what we think is normative sexuality, male/female, take a homosexual lesbian, it isn't that those persons aren't cared for loved, but to have a person like that salaried by the organization, what -- that strikes at the very heart of its -- of its identity and its commitment.
(. . .)
What I was referring to was that our understanding of sexuality strikes at the very heart of our theology, which is that we are created in God's image and that he has created within human civilization and within human life a particular – what we call normal sexuality which is the male/female relationship. And that's critical to our theology.

Now, if "Christian Horizons" was a church, I'd perhaps be more willing to accept this. It isn't. It is a social support organization funded by the government (primarily) whose role is to provide care for those who cannot provide for themselves. To claim that they are "purely" a religious organization runs at dramatic odds with their undertakings and the degree of funding they receive from the government. Furthermore, they are employers in the public workforce.

[237] Christian Horizons says that its core beliefs require adherents to treat all persons, particularly those who are marginalized, with care and compassion. The ultimate goal of human rights legislation is not about caring for the marginalized, or treating them with compassion, it is about removing the barriers and discriminatory attitudes that cause individuals to be marginalized in society. The obligation placed on employers by the Code is to ensure that the working environment under their control does not become a place where discriminatory attitudes are permitted to poison the atmosphere and require employees, as a condition of their employment, to endure attacks on their dignity and self-respect. In Hinds, supra, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal framed the obligation of an employer this way:

(,,,) there is a duty upon an employer to take prompt and effectual action when it knows or should know of co-employees' conduct in the workplace amounting to racial harassment ... To satisfy the burden upon it, the employer's response should bear some relationship to the seriousness of the incident itself ... To avoid liability, the employer is obliged to take reasonable steps to alleviate, as best it can, the distress arising within the work environment and to reassure those concerned that it is committed to the maintenance of a workplace free of racial harassment. A response that is both timely and corrective is called for and its degree must turn upon the circumstances of the harassment in each case. (para. 41611)

[238] Christian Horizons had a responsibility to respond to the rumours and allegations which were clearly tied to Ms. Heintz’s sexual orientation. It had an obligation to investigate, to inquire, and to take steps to put an end to the effects of the attitudes that were poisoning the workplace and having a detrimental impact on Ms. Heintz. Christian Horizons says, and Ms. Heintz agreed, there were a number of events and issues that where causing stress in the workplace in the spring and summer of 2000. But it is clear, and should have been clear to Christian Horizons, that the negative and discriminatory attitudes towards gays and lesbians that were being played out in a real and active way, was a central factor in the discord at Waterloo 6.

The issue, in short, is that theology is being used as a crutch here. Someone with outstanding performance reviews and other feedback in their history doesn't mysteriously become an underachiever overnight simply because they are gay. That doesn't make sense to me. Worse, the toxic use of innuendo and suggestion on the part of one or two staffers is deeply troubling. What if Ms. Heintz was in fact straight, and these allegations were suddenly being made about her? The simple fact is that it is calumny of the worst kind - and the most destructive kind. Instead of looking at the situation rationally, her employer set out a program of progressive harassment with the objective of making Ms. Heintz quit, or to create the necessary fiction with which to justify terminating her employment.

What's really interesting in the decision is the OHRC's investigation turns up a whole bunch of examples of deeply religious organizations finding ways to reach out to the GLBT populations in and around them:

[194] Mr. Cobrough testified that the Salvation Army is engaged in various social service activities, including hospitals and caring for individuals with developmental disabilities. In carrying out its work, it has approximately 1200 officers, 10,000 employees and 68,000 volunteers. Officers, who are ordained pastors of the church, and “soldiers”, are required to adopt the articles of faith of the organization and must agree to live by the values and lifestyle statement. For example, they are not permitted to engage in homosexual relationships.

[195] The Salvation Army does not require all employees to sign a lifestyle and morality statement. Individuals who are not officers or soldiers are not required to sign a lifestyle statement. Adherence to lifestyle and morality standards is considered to be a qualification for some positions, such as youth pastor, but other positions, such as registered nurse, do not have such a requirement.
[196] In his testimony, Rev. Dr. Hawkes spoke about his experiences in the 1990’s and working to ensure that the gay and lesbian community in Toronto had proper access to health care. He explained that several hospitals in downtown Toronto that had traditionally served the gay and lesbian community were slated for closure. As Dr. Hawkes put it, “in the height of the AIDS crisis, the only hospital that was going to be left was St. Mike’s Hospital, a Roman Catholic hospital, a Roman Catholic institution with a terrible reputation [within the gay and lesbian community].”

[197] Rev. Dr. Hawkes testified:

So I went and met with them and I said what are you going to do because we don't feel we're going to be safe here. And they were amazing. This is a Catholic institution. They educated their staff on gay and lesbian issues, they started to treat gay and lesbian couples as full couples before the law required them. They put a rainbow flag into the foyer, they put signs up for Pride Day. They did all kinds of things to make it a safe environment, not only for gays and lesbians but for their partners as well. So there is a public institution -- sorry, a Roman Catholic institution that's probably 100 percent public funded or pretty close, that set aside the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which said you're not to treat gay and lesbian couples as couples. Set that aside to say we have a greater public good here. We are serving the public here and so we have to move past what our priest might teach in the Church to say. We are a public institution, we are an institution serving the public, and we need to be able to have public policies that welcome everybody.

And so they have gay and lesbian staff that are fully welcome, where they get benefits even before it was required in law, and they welcome the gay and lesbian community. So we have a wonderful -- now I hear great stories about St. Mike's Hospital and how they're accommodating the gay and lesbian community.

These are delightful examples of how such situations can be handled the religious organization constructively rather than at the cost of tearing another human being apart and shredding their lives so publicly. Nobody deserves the kind of narrow minded treatment that Ms. Heintz received at the hands of her employer and her colleagues.

If someone were to be treated the way Ms. Heintz was as a result of their religious convictions, I can only imagine the outrage that these same people would be expressing. At some point in the future, they might start to get the idea that these issues cut both ways.

However, I can imagine Alberta's Ted Morton popping up and quoting this one the next time he decides to reintroduce his anti-gay rights bill in the Alberta legislature.

H/T: Mark @ Slap Upside The Head

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Logical Consequences of C-537

If the brain-damaged rantings of Maurice Vellacott become law, we can look forward to scenes like this tragedy in India happening here.

Why? because bill C-537 creates an environment where a practitioner's religious beliefs trump the patient. Is bill C-537 as sweeping as the societal attitudes towards India's "untouchables"? No, but it is rooted in the same class of stupidity - where someone allows their superstition to guide their treatment of somebody else down a path that will be damaging to the patient.

Truly sad is that C-537 makes women Canada's "Untouchables" when it comes to health care.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wingnut Legislation - Bill C-537

Remember Maurice Vellacott - the MP who asked Harper not to put him in cabinet so he wouldn't have to compromise his beliefs?

Well, right on the heels of Bill C-484 (the criminalize abortions act), we find Vellacott putting Bill C-537 before the House of Commons.

So, just what is Bill C-537, you may ask? Well, it seeks to amend the Criminal Code of Canada S.425 to protect the "conscience rights" of educators and medical practitioners with respect to subjects they "object to". (e.g. Distributing contraceptives for example)

Section 425(1) deals primarily with what most of us understand to be "whistleblower" situations:

425.1 (1) No employer or person acting on behalf of an employer or in a position of authority in respect of an employee of the employer shall take a disciplinary measure against, demote, terminate or otherwise adversely affect the employment of such an employee, or threaten to do so,

(a) with the intent to compel the employee to abstain from providing information to a person whose duties include the enforcement of federal or provincial law, respecting an offence that the employee believes has been or is being committed contrary to this or any other federal or provincial Act or regulation by the employer or an officer or employee of the employer or, if the employer is a corporation, by one or more of its directors; or

(b) with the intent to retaliate against the employee because the employee has provided information referred to in paragraph (a) to a person whose duties include the enforcement of federal or provincial law.

(2) Any one who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of

(a) an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years; or

(b) an offence punishable on summary conviction.

2004, c. 3, s. 6.

Vellacott's legislative dropping isn't even "on topic", but rather attempts to add "non-compulsion" clauses regarding "matters of conscience" worded as follows:

(2) Every one is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction who, being an employer or the agent of an employer,

(a) refuses to employ a health care practitioner,

(b) refuses to advance or promote a qualified health care practitioner, or

(c) dismisses, or threatens to dismiss, a health care practitioner from employment,

because the health care practitioner is, or is believed to be, unwilling to take part, directly or in an advisory capacity, in any medical procedure that offends a tenet of the practitioner’s religion, or the belief of the practitioner that human life is inviolable.

(3) Every one is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction who, being an educator or the agent of an educator in any field of health care in Canada,

(a) refuses to admit any person to courses in a field of health care, or

(b) refuses to grant accreditation in a field of health care to any person,

because the person is, or is believed to be, unwilling to take part, directly or in an advisory capacity, in any medical procedure that offends a tenet of the person’s religion, or the belief of the person that human life is inviolable.

(4) Every one is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction who, being an officer of a professional association of health care practitioners, or the agent of any such officer,

(a) refuses to admit a person to membership in the professional association,

(b) refuses to advance or promote the standing of a person as a member of the professional association, or

(c) excludes a person from, or threatens to exclude a person from, the professional association,

because the person is, or is believed to be, unwilling to take part, directly or in an advisory capacity, in any medical procedure that offends a tenet in the person’s religion, or the belief of the person that human life is inviolable. Maurice Vellacott's world, there is an equivalence between an employer who retaliates against an employee who has reported violations of Federal Law to law enforcement authorities, and moralizing pharmacists who refuse to do their job. Wow - that's quite a leap.

Like Epp's ever-so transparent attempt to set the foundation for banning abortion in Bill C-484, the wording that Vellacott uses is so astoundingly broad that it could be used (or abused) in a plethora of unhappy ways.

Consider the following phrase which ripples through Vellacott's legislation:

...that offends a tenet of the person’s religion

I have a huge problem with this phrase. First off, in the context of S.425 overall, it declares an equivalence between codified Federal Law, and its interpretation through the various agencies of government including the judiciary and religious "tenets" - written or unwritten as interpreted primarily by the individual.

The concept of 'religious tenet' is contentious even among theologians, and to place such an ambiguous concept at the same level of importance as someone reporting possible violations of law to the government is troubling. I'm sure just about anything could be declared a violation of someone's religious tenets, depending on how one reads various tidbits of scripture.

the belief of the person that human life is inviolable

Again, this is very troublesome wording. Superficially, this is intended to protect people who object to procedures such as abortion from being punished for refusing to participate. However, again, the overall wording is exceptionally broad and all too easily could be read to include topics such as contraceptives or even dispensing information about STIs.

There are some serious problems with this legislation. It opens up the possibility where a practitioner could easily refuse service to someone even under emergency conditions.

Consider the possibility that as a result of a late night traffic accident, a woman is brought into the emergency with serious, life threatening injuries. Not only is she seriously injured, but she is also pregnant. Surgery is required, but it is also likely to result in the termination of the pregnancy. So, the doctor(s) on shift abstain from participating in the surgery because it might "violate the tenets of their religion" to be involved in a medical procedure that would result in the termination of the pregnancy.

We aren't talking about a procedure that can wait here, but rather a situation where action must be taken immediately. In this circumstance, Vellacott's law could be read to imply that the appropriate professional organizations involved could not take disciplinary action against the doctors involved even though the decision to refuse to participate would stand in violation of the ethical guidelines and regulations of the profession.

*Note: The above scenario is hypothetical, and intended to be illustrative of the possible consequences of this legislation. It is however, rooted in an amalgam of real-life situations where needed treatment has been arbitrarily refused on what amount to moral grounds

Vellacott's legislation is vastly out of line with the intent of S.425(1) in the first place. Second, like Epp's bill C-484, it is overly broad in its wording to the extent that it actually puts someone's interpretation of their religion above and ahead of their obligation to do their job.

Further, Bill C-537 is rooted in the assertion that "god-fearing Christians" are being "forced" to do things against their will or faith. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. Except in the festering imaginations of people like Maurice Vellacott and Charles McVety, no such thing is happening. Typically, the cases that they point to as examples actually wind up being a reflection of someone being completely intransigent - or worse - with respect to doing their jobs; or arbitrarily denying service to people on what amounts to whim.

If, for example, a pharmacist wishes the right to refuse to dispense certain medications based on their religious beliefs, the clients have a right to know that up front. It should not be a matter of finding out by having your prescription refused at the desk, or a phone call left 'on hold' forever. If that means posting a sign by the dispensary that says "Christian Pharmacist on Duty - Limited Service Available" - fine. Do it. Just don't put me as a patient in the awkward position of having to find out by getting a moralizing lecture from said pharmacist.

Further, I would argue that in situations where the practitioner has specific religious objections, that the areas of treatment that will be curtailed be listed where a prospective client will be able to see them. The issue is not one of religious discrimination at all, but rather one of clarity. People should not have to guess whether or not they will be "granted" service from day to day.

In more sensitive areas, such as emergency treatment, such situations are less voluntary for the client and similarly, there are moral and ethical duties that the practitioner must be held accountable to. In practical terms, Vellacott's approach to the laws involved would effectively oblige the Federal Government to become the owner of topics such as medical ethics, as Vellacott has proposed making it a criminal offense for the existing regulatory bodies (such as the Colleges of Physicians) to enforce their ethics rules.

During the fall 2005 election, I predicted that Harper was going allow his back-benchers to write the truly wingnutty garbage legislation, and I wasn't disappointed.

Now, just to follow through, let's take a look how the various Con$ervative MPs voted on Bill C-484:

Stephen Harper
Jason KenneyY
Dianne AblonczyY

This is just a random sample, but having gone through much of the "front bench" in Harper's Cabinet over at How'd They Vote Canada, I'm seeing a remarkable level of consistency in the Conservative party voting pattern on Bill C-484, and I imagine a similar pattern will emerge in the as C-537 approaches vote time. Why? Because we already have considerable evidence that Harper is a Micromanager, which tells me that the odds are pretty high that the caucus is finding themselves ordered to vote a particular way on every issue. (For example, I was a little surprised to see Ablonczy vote for C-484 - she's a pretty smart lady, and I would have expected her to vote against such an open-ended and dangerous piece of legislation).

In my opinion, this is another piece which underscores the fundamental dishonesty of the HarperCon$. Harper hasn't got the basic honesty as a politician to state what he really wants to do, so he leaves it to the obvious wingnut politicians to write the most vile legislation - he just votes for it. Think about this.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Just Whose Interpretation Is That, Stephen?

Every day that Harper occupies the PMO, I swear you can see the man's chin lengthening as he emulates the terminally dishonest antics of the last Conservative leader to win an election, Brian Mulroney.

The latest gem to fall from his lips:

“This is the same story as before,” he said. “We always follow the law as it has been interpreted.”

Mr. Harper said Elections Canada's position now is that some Tory ad expenditures should have been charged to the national budget, not local budgets.

“We do not agree with that,” he said following a meeting with his U.S. and Mexican counterparts on trade and North American security.

How convenient, so now the Con$ "don't agree" with Elections Canada's view of the rules. Horsefeathers - they knew they were being dodgy about the whole business, and now they are trying to cover the mound of crap they left with tarpaper.

Typical. In Stephen's world, there are two sets of rules - the ones he applies to everybody else, and the ones that apply to him and his Con$ervative allies.

The prime minister said if the agency's reading of the rules prevails, then the Tories will change their spending strategies.

But he said all the other parties will have to follow suit.

Ah yes - the classic Con$ervative modus operandi of accusing everyone else of their weaknesses. Since Elections Canada doesn't seem to be finding any evidence of the other parties engaging in such a ridiculous attempt at money laundering, I have to suspect that Harper has no proof of what he is insinuating here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Signs Of Collapse

Those familiar with the history of Rome and her Legions should be finding the emerging stories about US military recruiting quite familiar. In a manner not unlike Rome's legions, the US finds itself obliged to recruit its soldiers from populations that previously would have been excluded from military service for a variety of reasons.

The US is now recruiting from the most dangerous of possibilities - those whose criminal past shows them to be dangerous at the best of times, and hardly among those that one would willingly arm.

Along with the huge armies of mercenaries that are fighting in Iraq for pay, the "professional army" of the United States is now recruiting criminals - people who often would have no right to even vote in an election, and handing them weapons.

This comes as no surprise. Just as Rome ultimately had to recruit from her conquered peoples to feed the ever expanding needs of her armies in order to secure Rome's conquests, the US finds itself pushed to turn to those whom it would have chosen to exclude from all other aspects of public life.

I can only imagine that the US is in grave danger of finding itself in the situation of having the proverbial tiger by the tail, and not having much choice but to let it go.

Expelled: The Background Reality

Via Pharyngula, we find that someone decided to introduce the allegations of the movie "Expelled" to the shredder of fact by actually doing - you know, research.

Unsurprisingly, when you examine each case in detail, the talking points collapse pretty quickly. (It's not unlike the talking points Alberta politician Ted Morton was tossing about not so long ago) - look at the case objectively, and the talking points collapse under the weight of context and reality.

No, Jason of Shock-and-Blog, this isn't about being "afraid" of anything, it's about intellectual honesty - something long lost on the makers of Expelled and those who think it's got any basis in some factual reality. (But then, religionists will use anything to justify playing the "persecuted" card)

Ministerial Censorship Versus Legislated Process

The sexuality-obsessed and deeply repressed Michael Coren has been on a real tear this past week.

First, he managed to persuade the editors over at National Post to publish another of his anti-gay screeds. His reasoning on SGM is so pathetically poor it's not even worth my time to dissect it.

Second, he opened his yap on the Bill C-484 issues, and he makes the most amazing leap of illogic, claiming that there is some equivalency between C-10 and various human rights commission complaints.

I can't pretend to be a regular viewer of the television show Kink. ... There also are some quality products that are given a tax credit, but the point about the government's proposed C-10 legislation is that it doesn't threaten anything that's any good. Only cheap trash watched by a handful of people who should really fund their pornography through their own pockets.

Screech. Halt. All Stop.

I don't like the example Coren puts forth any more than he does. But then again, what I've seen of "evangelical television" doesn't exactly grab my interest either - in fact I find it just about as offensive for different reasons. But then, that plays into my point. Coren's whining about his right not to be offended, and demanding that his morality be imposed by ministerial fiat with NO review process, no process whatsoever other than the opinion of the minister of the day and whoever happens to have the minister's ear.

Really? They should, then, be campaigning for magazines such as Maclean's and Catholic Insight, websites like Free Dominion and Five Feet of Fury and a whole bunch of journalists who are currently under attack by numerous federal and provincial Human Rights Commissions for indulging in genuine freedom of speech without any fatties in latex or government handouts.

"Genuine freedom of speech"? Just what is that really, Michael? Your right to spout anti-GLBT lies with impunity? Your right to marginalize others for offending your moral code?

Of course, he's whining about HRC's underneath it all. However, the HRC's - even Alberta's - have a process that is clear, documented and publicly visible. (In spite of what Coren, Levant and others may claim) More to the point, only a small percentage of complaints actually go much beyond initial investigation. For the most part, the opinions of the minister responsible seldom come into the picture - any more than they do in other matters of law.

Second, there's a massive difference between someone's art being offensive to others, and a discrete attempt to marginalize members of society for offending Mr. Coren's particular sensibilities.

Allow me to illustrate by example. I do not like evangelical television - for a variety of reasons I find it deeply off-putting. The solution is simple - I don't watch it. I am not asking that it have whatever government funding it receives pulled, nor do I care if it does receive some funding. I don't partake in it, and frankly I have no interest in doing so.

The other side of the coin comes when people like Coren open their fatuous mouths and demand that GLBT people be treated as second class citizens (with the full burden of paying all of the taxes anyhow, I might add). The difference is that GLBT people offend Mr. Coren's sensibilities, and therefore he demands marginalization - not merely socially (which happens already), but in law. Making it harder for someone to get a job or to live their lives in peace is quite different from funding for the arts.

Step back from this for a minute or ten, and it becomes quite clear what the difference is. In one case, there is a process that is public and known to weigh the balance of competing rights; in the other we grant to the political minister of the day the arbitrary right to change the rules on a whim - largely on the basis of whether or not they are "offended" by something.

It always fascinates me how the first people to cry censorship when conservatives merely suggest a level playing field are just the sort of people who write letters to newspapers calling for people like, well, like me, to be fired.

That's a level playing field, Michael? No it isn't - in fact, there's no equivalence. I have a right to ignore art that offends my sensibilities - which I exercise on a daily basis; on the other hand, I have no right to demand that (for example) evangelical art be denied funding because it offends me.

Granting ministerial fiat rights in matters of "public morality" is extremely dangerous, especially if there is no process for review, input or otherwise besides the lobby system. Even the quasi-judicial HRC model works better than that.


[Update 10:30]:
Via the Globe and Mail, here are the Search Warrant documents:
First Part
Second Part
On my best days, I don't have a lot of use for PM Stephen Harper and his merry band of goons. Today is not one of my best days - especially not after hearing about the latest round on Con$ervative shenanigans.

Not only has the content of the Elections Canada search warrant become public, we also get some more insight into the arrogance and ignorance of the Con$ervatives.

The Canadian Press obtained a copy of the documents, which were supposed to be released Monday by an Ontario court.

Other media, including the Toronto Star and CTVglobemedia, received the documents in a private briefing from the Conservatives on Sunday in Ottawa, the CBC's Keith Boag reported.

Boag said CBC News requested to attend the briefings, but was rejected and told by party spokesman Ryan Sparrow that it was a private meeting. Reporters from the Canadian Press, Maclean's magazine and Canwest Global Communications Corp., along with others, were also excluded.

Giving some reporters a briefing before Monday's court release of the warrant allows the party a chance to shape the story, but it also creates the impression that the Conservatives need to spin it, Boag said.

So - the Con$ervatives are returning to their "shut out the public" approach. Apparently, we don't need to know what our government is up to, nor do we need to know how the governing party attempted to subvert the electoral laws in Canada?

I had heard rumblings that the Con$ were playing games with money in order to overcome the limitations of the campaign finance laws last election, but didn't spend much time covering it here because I couldn't find anything to corroborate what I was hearing allusions to from a source that I felt was credible.

However, in the last few weeks, more about this has been coming out in the news, and it is showing us the worst of the HarperCon$ and their attitudes.

Even more unsettling is the way that the Con$ are trying to muzzle the media - without which we would have less than no information about our government at all. This most recent attempt at coverup and spin by the HarperCon$ stands as a clear example of the disrespect, nay contempt, with which the Con$ervatives regard Canadians. Shutting out the media suggests that the Con$ have something to hide, and we should all be worried about that.

This is a government that is still new enough it shouldn't have any baggage to speak of. Instead, we see that the government is being run by a bunch of thugs who cannot even work with the fundamentals of our electoral laws (which are pretty straightforward when compared to the more subtle arcana of criminal and constitutional law in this land).

How can Canadians trust a party, and its leadership, when they won't even comply with the public institutions that oversee the electoral process? Whether the Con$ actually did something which contravenes Canada's electoral law is immaterial. Their actions in this spat with Elections Canada have underlined for Canadians the fundamentals of the HarperCon$ and their government - it is not Transparency and Accountability as their platform claimed, instead it is Secrecy and Lies.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

It Does Little To Change My Opinions

In spite of the efforts to sanitize Guantanamo Bay and the prisoners held there, it's clear enough to me that the entire model that BushCo cooked up when they decided to use Guantanamo Bay for holding their prisoners remains not only legally dubious, but morally and ethically vile as well.

The simple fact is that the American government has had neither the honesty to call these people what they are - Prisoners of War (POWs), or to charge them with actual crimes and bear the consequences of attempting to apply US criminal law to events that happened halfway around the world from the USA.

Besides the obvious jurisdictional problems that attempting to apply US legal codes in foreign lands presents, the harsh reality is that the American government likely could not assemble sufficient evidence to make their claims against the detainees stand up in a court of law.

If they were to be honest, and declare them to be POWs, the United States would have to admit that they were engaged in a war, but then the problem becomes just as sticky for the Americans because the first question would be "who is the enemy?" - something which BushCo knows it cannot answer in terms that would satisfy the Geneva conventions that the USA is signatory to. It would also recognize a fairly broad set of rights as being applicable to the Guantanamo detainees that are currently vigorously denied.

However, the US has created a "double damnation" problem for itself. Not only is it unlikely that any body will ever hold the Guantanamo Bay trials being planned to be valid expressions of any understandable legal construct, but the the vast majority of the detainees held there today are now in something of a legal limbo - their home countries do not acknowledge them as citizens, and the US and its allies refuse to consider these people as refugees or other forms of civilian war casualty.

Given the conditions that the Americans have kept these people under, I can appreciate that there would be some reluctance to simply turn them loose in American civil society - it's a little bit of a "Tiger By The Tail" moment, and that isn't something that any of use really want to experience. However, that problem is a direct result of American ham-handedness in the entire affair, and it is now up to the American government to negotiate with other countries to find a home for captives who are arguably victims of American foreign policy in the first place.

Any "criminal trial" held at Guantanamo Bay is unjustifiable. Not only is the Bush Administration concocting a "judicial system" here based not upon any sense of reasoned law, instead they are dependent upon political expediency that puts them in an ever precarious position - for not only are the charges themselves (those few that have been laid) questionable (How can someone who is a participant in a "non-war" be held accountable for "war crimes"? If these people are "war criminals", then by definition they are held as "prisoners of war" - oh wait - that means they might actually have rights that can and should be measured...

No matter what steps the US takes to convince us that they are "looking after" the detainees at Guantanamo Bay "well", they are still holding people in a legal no man's land that is unconscionable - no matter how "humane" the conditions are.

Friday, April 18, 2008

So, Charles, Just How Do You Define "Public Interest"?

Since Charles McVety is so hot to trot about the film credits censorship clauses in Bill C-10, I thought I'd like to consider McVety's arguments as recorded by the Globe and Mail.

Mr. Rushfelt said the Conservative government proposal to refuse tax credits to productions that are "contrary to public policy" would limit only one avenue of federal funding for objectionable films and television shows.

So "this bill, in our opinion, may not go far enough," he said. "It deals with tax credits more than grants and subsidies as incentives, as we understand it. But it is a start."

(BTW - Rushfeldt is one of McVety's verbal puppets, put forth to make it look like McVety actually has the backing of people who don't think he's a complete loon)

Is anyone else here a little freaked out by the use of the phrase "contrary to public policy" here? "Public Policy" is a phrase that politicians pull out of their ass on a regular basis, and it changes almost as rapidly as the weather in Calgary.

The accusations of censorship are clearly out of line, said Mr. Rushfeldt. "And I would like to suggest to the committee here that maybe there be some investigation of the films that we've paid for over the last - now I don't expect you to go back 40 years - but certainly over the last three or four years, possibly. We need to look at what films did get funding and did they meet standards, if there were any."

Dr. McVety repeatedly pointed to a movie called Young People Fucking - which he referred to as "Young People F-ing" - and another called The Masturbators as examples of pornography that have qualified for the tax credits.

Okay, so there's some movies that McVety and Rushfeldt don't like. Big deal. Who the heck appointed them as the arbiters of "public policy"? They happen to believe that those shows are "bad" or "against the public interest". But, just what does that mean? How would that be decided?

While I certainly have little desire to watch the movies cited as examples, I don't profess to sit in judgment over whether they have any particular merit, either.

However, it really has more to do with McVety's overbearing desire to ram his particular sense of morality down the throats of Canadians:

Breakfast with Scot, released last fall, is about a gay ex-hockey player and his partner caring for a young orphan who displays less-than-masculine tendencies.

"(It) is about an 11-year-old boy who is being raised by a homosexual Toronto Maple Leaf to be a homosexual," said McVety. "... This is not something that the government should be (funding)."

So, the problem here is not that 'Breakfast With Scot' is some kind of "adult movie", but rather the fact that one of the characters happens to be gay?

Toronto-based filmmaker Laurie Lynd said he was "appalled" by McVety's description of his movie.

"The film is a gentle family comedy about self-acceptance and loving your child for whoever he or she is," Lynd said in an interview. He added that losing public financing just before production "could have killed the film completely."

Returning briefly to the IMDB entry on the show, and the plot synopsis in particular:

When 11 year old Scot arrives and they open his duffle bag, inside they find... one pink musical hairbrush, two plastic containers of beads and faux-gold chains, a pink poodle belt, and four pairs of white sock-ettes with lacy fringe at the top... they realize Scot is more out of the closet then they are even though he does not know it yet. A unique boy in an even more unusual situation, Scot throws Ed and Sam's life into complete disarray.

Okay, I get it. With the exception of having GLBT themes, this is a pretty classic style of comedy plot line. Hardly any more offensive than hundreds of other movies out there. So what's McVety's issue here? Nothing more than his ever burgeoning desire to declare anything to do with GLBT folk "off limits" - after all, if you can't see it, it's not there - right?

Of course, when pushed on defining things, McVety can't define what should be suppressed in his ideal world:

McVety would not say how he would define entertainment that is "against public policy," instead listing titles such as The Masturbators and Young People F------.

Perhaps even more amusing is the blatant dishonesty of McVety and his cohorts. Not so long ago, he was bragging about how influential he had been in getting the HarperCon$ to slide this bunch of garbage into Bill C-10. Now that the implications are becoming public knowledge, we find the following:

Dr. McVety backed away from that yesterday.

"We had no discussions about this legislation period. We didn't even know it existed. We didn't know it until The Globe and Mail called us the day after they had put this provision on the front page of their newspaper. We had zero knowledge of it. We had no specific meetings on this," Dr. McVety said.

"All we did, over the years, is we brought this to light: that our government is funding objectionable films."

So, what is it McVety? You either were directly involved in this little charade, or not. (I'm putting money on the former rather than the latter) McVety has bragged before about his connections to Harper's government, and by inference his influence.

The hypocrisy of these loons is astounding at times. Not only do they whine, bitch and bellyache about bodies like the CHRC - which have an actual process wrapped around them, but they then want to hand an astonishing amount of direct control to the whims of whatever politician happens to be sitting in a particular chair. Considering how much they supposedly value "freedom", it seems to me that McVety, and his allies within the HarperCon$, seek to exercise a greater degree of arbitrary control over the rest of us, with even less accountability than the HRC's they campaign against so vocally.

The line between art and obscenity is a fine one indeed - what I don't want to look at, another person might find to be the finest of art. McVety doesn't have a lock on "what's right" here, and without some kind of clear definition, I cannot imagine how the clauses of C-10 can possibly be implemented in a consistent and meaningful way. At best, it places the entire subject at the whim of the minister of the day - a situation that would make it nearly impossible for most media productions to ever qualify. In his zeal to control what we see and hear, McVety would have us become the dull, grey monochrome of Orwell's 1984 - our entertainments limited to the imagination of whatever the minister of the day happened to approve of.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Harper's Lips Are Moving...

... and he's spewing utter crap again.

Yesterday, the RCMP raided the Conservative Party offices as part of the Elections Canada investigation of dodgy money laundering tactics used by the CPC during the 2006 Election.

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper fired back with a counterattack against Mr. Corbett and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, who is being sued by the representatives of the candidates for failing to reimburse those expenses – a suit launched after Mr. Corbett opened his investigation.

“The Conservative Party initiated court action against Elections Canada some time ago on the advertising issue,” Mr. Harper told Parliament during the daily Question Period yesterday.

“I also would observe that tomorrow Elections Canada officials were scheduled to be examined by lawyers from the Conservative Party. While today's actions may or may not delay that somewhat, we remain extremely confident in our legal position.”

Yes, Mr. Harper, we all know that you've been in a pissing match with Elections Canada since 2006. I said it then, and I'll say it now - there's nothing more infuriating to voters than a party that claims to be all about "law and order" that turns around and ignores the laws that should bind and govern its own conduct.

The current generation of "Conservatives" seems to believe that the rules apply to everyone except themselves, and will try to insinuate that everyone else is the real problem.

Coming from a government whose legacy is rapidly becoming "accountability for thee, not for me", it's difficult to feel even the slightest pang of sympathy for Mr. Harper on this matter.

Coming from a government whose most recent acts of intellectual dishonesty and debate squashing include:

1. Introducing ministerial censorship powers as part of legislative changes to the income tax act.

2. Changing immigration policy by fiat in a budget implementation bill.

3. Attempting to grant rights to those who cannot exercise rights freely (Bill C-484). {yes, it's officially a private member's bill, but I said before that Harper was going to use that mechanism to legislate the topics he can't get away with doing officially, so Harper owns it in my opinion}

So, not only has Harper done his level best to stifle and squelch debate in the House of Commons, he has slammed doors shut on access to information (or releasing stuff so heavily redacted it's not funny), he now wants Canadians to accept that his party is above the laws of the land too.

[Update 18:00 16/04/08]:
Garth Turner has an excellent post telling the "insider" story of how the HarperCon$ are out to rape Canadian taxpayers:

The Tories are alleged to have broken election laws by transferring marketing expenses to local campaigns when they should have been counted as part of the national media buy. In doing so, they’d be able to exceed the legal spending limit. Worse, by passing cash through riding associations, they’d then created a situation in which local candidates could claim a larger post-election refund from Elections Canada. In essence, ripping taxpayers.

But it did not stop there.

A few months after the election, still a Conservative MP, I was invited to give a speech to a riding association annual general meeting in Quebec. Before I got to my feet, the treasurer gave his report, and was pleased to tell the crowd that tens of thousands of dollars had been loaned to the campaign by the national party, and then paid back immediately. While that did not give any money for the local election effort (they lost), it did earn it a fat refund afterwards, since taxpayers are on the hook to reimburse of 60% of campaign expenses. In this case, it was money never spent on electioneering – just passed through, for no other reason than to milk the system.

This is nothing short of a money laundering scheme designed not only to subvert the electoral law of Canada regarding campaign spending, but it was also clearly designed to defraud the Canadian taxpayer.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Progress in Afghanistan

Such as it is, we have to be cautious about any politician making the claim that we are making progress in Afghanistan. Foreign Affairs Minister Bernier has just lowered the bar quite dramatically.

“We have to go back in Canada and have a discussion about the future of our mission,” Mr. Bernier said. “We have to set benchmarks for the training of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.”

But the mission cannot be assessed only according to its steps toward improving the country, Mr. Bernier said, because the presence of Canadian troops also serves as a deterrent against greater bloodshed.

Ah - I see the reality of the situation is finally beginning to dawn on the Ottawa Chickenhawk crowd. They think that by lowering the standard of "victory" they can persuade people that "progress is being made".

Of course, this is little more than window dressing, intended to divert our attentions from the Government's attempts to cover up the uglier side of the situation.

Thoughts on the FLDS and Polygamy

With recent events surrounding the FLDS compound in Texas, I thought I would delve a little into the discussion of polygamy and why in a North American (and perhaps more broadly "Western") context it is a social structure which does not square with either our social norms or our laws.

The argument has been made repeatedly by various people that legalizing gay marriage would ultimately lead to legalization of polygamy. I do not believe that such is the case, and I will lay out some of my reasons for disagreeing with the initial claim.

In my view, the FLDS group stands as a case study in all of the things that can go horribly awry within the context of a polygamist society that is attempting to exist within contemporary society.

(1) Polygamy creates an environment which artificially imposes a secondary status on one of the parties. In the case of the FLDS, because they permit a man to have multiple wives, it is the woman who is relegated to a secondary status in the relationship. (Among other points, one has to wonder just what happens in these environments when a woman passes beyond her childbearing years, especially when the male is permitted to establish relations with women over a full generation younger than himself.

(2) Isolation. Although this is a reaction to both the group's perception of being persecuted, as well as laws which prohibit polygamy more or less across the western world, the FLDS response of walling themselves off from the rest of the world has proven to be a social disaster, as it removed some of the other social barriers.

Although modern society is strongly individualistic (I'll come back to this in a bit), we exist within the context of a very broadly based society that is anchored in a sense of national commonality. The self-imposed isolation of the FLDS has created an artificial tribal structure which operates with a hierarchy and set of social guidelines that are distinctly separate and at odds with the greater body of society around it.

(3) Ephebophilia

There are very serious allegations of child molestation involved here. I do not believe that the people involved here are psychological pedophiles, but legally they appear to have engaged in child molestation.

Superficially, I imagine that this has much to do with a combination of isolation, and the removal of the social barriers that would ordinarily prevent adults from expressing sexual interest in underage youth.

This is by far the most troubling aspect of the entire FLDS situation in Texas. In this situation, we have a series of decisions being made by the adults which profoundly affect their children in ways that are deeply negative to the psychological well-being of the individual.

Legal Considerations

There are significant legal considerations involved when assessing polygamy.

First of all is the fundamental principle in western legal traditions that rights are assigned to an individual. This means that the legal rights and status of each individual within the FLDS compound are in fact equally protected by law.

Yet, it is equally clear that the society that has been evolving within that compound does not in fact implement that legal equality. How can I make such a broad pronouncement without having seen the society intimately?

From where I sit, there is significant evidence from several respects. First of all, involving underage girls in sexual relationships speaks volumes about the social value that is being assigned to women in that context. The expectation appears to be that a woman's primary function in the world is the production of children, and her other attributes as a person take second place to that. One can imagine how that would translate into restricted access to education, as well as other subtle, arbitrary limitations being placed on these young womens' lives.

In general, legal rulings in both Canada and the United States have held that someone's rights cannot be arbitrarily abandoned. In other words, although you may choose not to exercise those rights, the right itself has not been removed. Polygamy, along with other tribal social constructs tends to focus upon collective rights which often conflict with individual rights and freedoms. Although our laws do reflect some sense of collective rights, they tend to do so only in areas where those collective rights are complementary to individual rights, not in conflict with.

I am certainly aware of polyamorous relationships which exist within the broad fabric of society. These are perhaps considerably different from the isolationist situation we have in Texas as they are attempting to exist within the overall norms of our culture. (How successfully is open to discussion, for I am not close enough to this subgroup in society to have any strong evidence either way)

The situation in Texas should be viewed as a caution flag when considering polygamy in the broader context of society and law. By placing itself apart from the broad fabric of society, the FLDS has created an environment where practices that are known to be damaging to individuals are sanctioned.

In many respects, this is not a condemnation of polygamy itself, but rather the Texas situation speaks loudly against any tribal social construct that attempts to hold itself apart from the social and legal fabric in society.

As with any social relationship, if the balance between the participants is not equitable, then one can expect all kinds of unfortunate outcomes. (It is not as if utterly dysfunctional or abusive situations don't happen in "traditional" marriage scenarios either) The real question is whether or not the Texas situation tells us something about the problems that polygamy can create, or does it merely show us the ugly outcome of strict social isolationism? (Just as the Jonestown incident tells us a great deal about the dangers when a religious cult goes too far)

I suspect that because polygamy tends to suggest a tribal social construct, and that it requires the gender which is on the "many" side of the relationship to accept a subservient status to the singularity (often male) that it would be hard for our lawmakers to create a law that would be able to define a legal recognition of polygamy that did not substantially infringe upon the rights of the parties involved.

Human nature is such that in any social construct a hierarchy of power will tend to emerge. This is not necessarily bad unless the hierarchy of power that emerges ceases to provide all participants with the right to decline their participation in the situation. (Someone under the age of majority is not held to have the capacity to make such decisions, and has a right to be protected from exploitation by their parents - something which the FLDS situation seems to have lost sight of)

To draw us back to the opening conversation, the key distinction I make between polygamous situations and same-gender marriages is that where most same-gender couples wish to exist peacefully within the fabric of society, we cannot make quite the same assessment of polygamy, which seems to often be associated with religious movements that wish to hold themselves apart from the greater body of society.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Circular Reasoning 101

Circular reasoning irritates me. That is one of the key reasons I tend to reject arguments which rely upon the supernatural to justify themselves. (Even more annoying to me are claims of "proof" that the supernatural exists that rely upon invoking the supernatural in the first place)

The latest bit of idiocy to be published on Lifesite underscores my point.

Titled "Nothing Wrong With Incest If Secular Worldview Is True - Man's intuitive sense of moral law points towards a Lawgiver", I figured we were in for yet another variation on the classic biblical arguments about how 'secularists' are fundamentally lacking any kind of "moral foundation", and therefore could derive an acceptance of just about anything as a result - no matter how horrific.

Sure enough, the author does not disappoint.

After all, everyone has a philosophy by which they understand life. In addition, every person has a theology, a set of convictions relating to God(s) and His/their relation or lack thereof to the world. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, "You cannot evade the issue of God, whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him." Our laws are inevitably related to our convictions about the nature and destiny of man as formulated in philosophy and theology.

Actually, I fundamentally disagree with the opening assessment that one cannot avoid the discussion of the relationship of the supernatural with the world around us. But for the social construct of religion, in fact, there is no compelling reason whatsoever in my mind to have any opinion about the supernatural. In fact, if it weren't for the bleatings of the bible-beater crowd these days, I would probably ignore the subject entirely.

However, let's leave the opening assertion alone, and follow through the author's reasoning, shall we?

In discussing the incest cases he uses to seed his argument, he writes:

"The main problem is, of course, that the couple might produce unhealthy children. But if they don't have children, then I see no reason why not, in this day and age. But then, I'm a scientist, not a moralist," stated Professor Roland Littlewood.

From a secular perspective, Littlewood's moral assessment is unassailable. If, as the great neo-Darwinian narrative teaches, man is merely the accidental byproduct of blind, unguided natural processes, then there seems to be no reason for man to restrain his sexual desires. If there is no God, then there is no transcendent purpose for sexuality. Man is thus free to follow and satisfy his sexual urges as he sees fit.

No, actually Littlewood's assessment is not a moral assessment - it is an ethical assessment, and as such it is perfectly reasonable in that light. He is not assigning any kind of moral weight to the matter at all. This is one of the great distinctions that is often overlooked when the accusations the column's author makes are brought out. The "secular" viewpoint tends to speak to the ethical status of a situation, and assigns a moral value to it as a "secondary consideration"; the religious viewpoint often comes at it from the other side, assigning a moral value and then attempting to derive the ethical stance from that. Neither is necessarily correct - but the derivations are reversed.

Unlike Professor Littlewood, most people, even if they haven't had extensive philosophic or theological training, are revolted at the notion of same-sex unions, pedophilia, and incest. They have an intuitive sense of right and wrong, a "gut" sense that certain things just aren't right. Of course, this sense of right and wrong can become obscured through repeated vice or a permissive culture. Nonetheless, both educated and uneducated, religious believers and non-believers, generally agree on the impropriety of certain sexual behavior.

I love argument by assertion. Who is this "most people" that the author is talking about? Where has he derived this notion from? He might be correct in claiming that "most people he knows" share a particular viewpoint, but someone whose social context is dramatically different may have quite a different perspective. For example, while most people I know who are my age aren't interested in homosexual relationships, they are not "revolted" by them - they simply don't care one way or the other.

However, the author proceeds to invoke the supernatural to explain the relative social uniformity towards various behavioural norms that we experience:

It's to man's intuitive recognition of morality that theistic pro-lifers must appeal when dealing with those who have rejected the Judeo-Christian worldview. Theistic pro-lifers need to encourage their secular counterparts to examine the grounds for their disgust with certain acts.

The fact is that man's intuitive sense of a moral law points towards a lawgiver. Theistic pro-lifers can point towards God as the author of the binding moral law. Further, they can explain sexuality as a gift from the Creator designed with a specific purpose. Honest secularists, on the other hand, realize that they have no basis for their moral revolt, for making any statements whatsoever about what should or should not be permitted.

This is an intriguing paragraph for a couple of reasons. First off, it makes the blanket claim that because societies tend to develop common systems of moral values that there must be some kind of supernatural source for these systems of values. Like the arguments that are put forth by Michael Behe in support of so-called "Intelligent Design" theory, this is what I call "argument by credulity". The author is making the claim because they simply cannot, or will not, accept that there are other perfectly reasonable explanations.

For example, we know that societies, like organisms, respond to the stimuli of their environment. Much of the dietary laws in the Old Testament are excellent examples of such responses - prohibitions against eating pork, shellfish and other foods make a great deal of sense when one recognizes that eating any of those in an improperly prepared (or stored) state is extremely bad for someone. Today, we know how to handle those foods more reasonably, and for the most part those same proscriptions are no longer seen as significant.

Further, if one examines the evolution of societies like those found along much of coastal Asia, the proscriptions against eating shellfish do not seem to have appeared at all - or if they did exist, there doesn't seem to be a recorded history of them that I am aware of. So the uniformity of "moral law" that the author is claiming exists is questionable at best, and the variations between societal groups further calls into question the existence of a "common source" for such conventions.

The second part of the paragraph starts off with the claim that any "secularist" (read atheist) who claims to have a basis for their moral arguments is being intellectually dishonest. As I pointed out earlier, most secular (non-scriptural) moral judgments are derived through ethical evaluation rather than deriving ethics through moral evaluation.

Religious critics of this dismissively complain about this as being "relativism", and thus unfounded in any "concrete" moral structure. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The secular view is rooted in the social context that we all exist in, and derives much from re-evaluation of existing constructs in the light of current knowledge and understanding.

Can the "pure" secularist point to some document as an absolute foundation from which their morality springs? No, of course not, but that does not mean that there is "no foundation" for their beliefs regarding morality. Those beliefs are rooted in the social era that we all live in, and are largely influenced by the knowledge and understandings available at the time. In a sense, the "secular" worldview that the column's author is criticizing is in fact quite honest with itself - but it does not claim that there is any absolute truths - especially in the realm of the social rules that humans create for themselves.

I for one recognize that today's society is a reflection of the societies that came before it, as well as the influences of both new and old understandings of the world around us. Those who claim that scriptural law is immutable and unchanging put themselves into the awkward spot of having to explain away many scriptural laws that in modern day Canada are laughable. We no longer view women as property (I hope not!), nor do we keep slaves today and goodness knows how many other proscriptions there are that most of us quietly ignore today because they reflect a time now long past.

Those who know Him need to help others identify the moral Lawgiver Who teaches man how to properly use his precious gift of sexuality for the purpose for which it was designed.

As I pointed out earlier, arguments which rely upon the existence of a supernatural being tend to rely upon the assertion of that being's existence, followed by deriving the being's existence (and thus authority) from it. To no great surprise, that is exactly what this column's author does with his entire argument.

The result is a rather awful corruption of Rene Descarte's observation "I think, therefore I am": "I think God is, therefore God is".

For someone who claims to hold a degree in the field of Philosophy, that's a rather sad attempt at logic - one which any respectable Philosophy professor would doubtless assign an 'F' to on the paper or exam which contained it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Living Wage - A Condemnation of "Minimum Wage"

Alberta's not an easy place to live right now. Yes, there's tons of jobs, but only if you have specific skills will you garner a wage that's of any substance. Those who are in semi-skilled or unskilled positions struggle to find work that will pay them anything close to a wage that will allow them to make ends meet - forcing many to work multiple jobs just to pay the rent.

In spite of what the inflation numbers suggest, the cost of living has skyrocketed in the last few years. Modest accommodations in the city run in excess of $1,000 per month; utility costs have skyrocketed in the wake of Ralph's experiments with deregulation as has the cost of staples like food.

The provincial government has been stingy to say the least in its adjustments to the "minimum wage" in this province - it currently sits at $8.40/hr - a gross earnings of $1344/month, before taxes.

When the City of Calgary adopted a Living Wage policy yesterday, I had to think about it for a bit before I came to any kind of opinion on the subject.

Superficially, it is a noble idea, and one that I applaud from a human perspective. A full time job should pay someone enough to make ends meet - even in a boom town gone mad.

But, this comes at a price, and one we should not take too blithely. Increasing city wages will inevitably place pressure on city revenues, and thus, will no doubt have an impact on tax rates. As a homeowner, that's an additional expense that I incur every month.

For small business owners, it's a bit more of a problem. Often their cash flows simply cannot support paying a "living wage" rate. A small business often lives or dies on its monthly revenues, and bumping wages from $8.40 to over $13.00 an hour could be quite damaging to the viability of some. Yet, driving around Calgary the last few years, even the so-called "McJobs" have been offering starting wages between $10 and $12 an hour - a reflection of a job market which is starving for workers.

Of course, a blanket increase in the minimum wage could trigger still more inflation, as the costs of goods and services would go up as well (it's not like there's such a thing as a 'free lunch' here).

However, the reality is that in Alberta's urban areas, "minimum wage" is a joke. Unless you are retired, or work for reasons other than economic survival, a minimum wage job simply isn't cutting it.

The Alberta government's approach to its wage structures has been monolithic, treating economic hotspots like Calgary and Fort McMurray the same as the rest of the province. The net result has been that for those on the economic margins, life in those areas has become increasingly difficult with no relief in sight. In this regard, I applaud Calgary's city council for taking an interest in the well-being of the City's employees.

Unfortunately, I do not think that the current Alberta government will be willing to consider any such thing, and will continue to allow a set of laws rooted in a very different era to determine how Alberta's low-wage workers are compensated.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

No, no, that's not the point...

In what he thinks is a revelation, we find the resident genius over at "shock and blog" whining because critics of the film "Expelled" just won't give the movie a break.

It's the half-baked claim that he uses to justify it that gets me though:

So really, what the critics of "Expelled" have a problem with is the origins of life, even though they claim evolution has no opinion on the issue. ... Funny how no one ever defined science as excluding any sort of intelligent designer.

This couldn't be further from the truth. The simple reality is that there is no testable means to test the claim of an intelligent designer. Period. You can claim it all you like, but you cannot demonstrate it in any meaningful sense. (and no, a Behe-style argument-by-credulity approach doesn't count either)

The second, and more serious problem with the film, is the fact that it grossly mischaracterizes the political/academic situation by essentially claiming that the oh-so-evil evolutionists are trying to suppress a valid theory. Nothing could be further from the truth, but none of ID's proponents has come up with anything that substantiates their claims that would survive peer review.

The reason that science in general has no opinion on the "origins" of life is because to this point, there is no means to prove or disprove what exactly happened at the moment that life became identifiable. In the purest sense of the word, science is quite atheistic (in the "without god" sense, not the "excluding god" sense that is so often inferred). Science in general concerns itself with what it can describe based on what we know, not the utterly unknowable.

Along the lines of the classic philosophical "brain in a bucket" model, we cannot prove the validity of anything that we cannot describe with our senses. However unlikely, it is possible that our entire experience is the result of someone artificially stimulating our brain while it sloshes about in a bucket of fluid somewhere. Since we have no means to prove or disprove the assertion that we are just floating in a bucket somewhere, we cannot meaningfully support it or refute it.

Accepting as "fact" the notion of an "intelligent designer" being involved in the creation of life falls into the same category - it is simply an assertion. As a hypothesis, it remainjavascript:void(0)
Publish Posts quite untestable - which is why ID doesn't even qualify as valid science.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

It's Bad When ...

I'd say that when Sun Media columnists are complaining loudly about Harper's "transparency" in government, things are in pretty sorry shape in Ottawa.

I've tracked Harper's secrecy for a long time, and it hasn't been a pretty picture.

While I doubt that anyone in Calgary will actually hold the man accountable for his actions (and yes, censoring the living hell out of every document requested is an action for which PMSH is very directly responsible), others in the nation might take note of the fact that two years to release a series of ministerial briefing notes - with by far the vast majority redacted to the point of being meaningless - is not only excessive time, but unreasonable secrecy on the part of a government ostensibly elected to "clean things up" in Ottawa.

It seems to me that Harper is returning to the depths of the Mulroney era in record time, and is digging to find new lows.

Why Harper Won't Turf Lukiwski

Given Harper's rather ruthless eviction of people from the Conservative Caucus, whether we are talking about Garth Turner, or any of several other MPs that he has sidelined, fired or marginalized, his statements regarding Lukiwski are intriguing.

Superficially, you could look and say that he's just "brushing it off" - except Harper doesn't "brush off" anything. The pattern has been pretty clear in the last couple of years, and it is one where anyone who becomes a political liability gets axed - often very publicly.

So, why is Harper defending Lukiwski?

Well - it's pretty simple if you think back to Harper and the TheoCons which I commented on some time ago. (Update: The Walrus has rearranged their website, so the article itself is now available here)

Lukiwski hasn't said anything that other's in Harper's inner circle haven't said or worse. In fact, compared to some, Lukiwski looks almost moderate.

But this is a reminder to all of us of the squirming base of "TheoCons" lurking in the CPC - waiting for their opportunity to demand their "pound of flesh". Whether that is through an out and out legislative attack on the civil rights of GLBT people, or criminalizing abortion is hard to say - there are a plethora of topics which the TheoCons would love to legislate into criminality.

Harper isn't going to discipline Lukiwski because he fundamentally agrees with him, and because he knows he can't do so without pissing off his "base" within the party. (Remember, this is the Canadian analog to the "base" that has support Bush Jr. - if you want an idea of how ugly it is, just look south)

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...