Friday, January 31, 2014

Harper Now Has His Own Secret Police

A feature of totalitarian states around the world is a "secret" police force that is engaged in spying on a nation's citizens and keeping them in line with implicit threats of "legal action".  Most notorious among these would be East Germany's Stasi, but there are many examples.

In Canada, it appears that Harper's Secret Police has become CSEC (and presumably its cousin CSIS).
Experts say that probably included many Canadians whose smartphone and laptop signals were intercepted without their knowledge as they passed through the terminal. 
The document shows the federal intelligence agency was then able to track the travellers for a week or more as they — and their wireless devices — showed up in other Wi-Fi "hot spots" in cities across Canada and even at U.S. airports.
My first thought is that while I acknowledge that there is no real expectation of "privacy" per se when using a public WiFi hotspot, I do have problems with what has been done here.  This isn't focused surveillance of particular "individuals of interest", but rather it is an across-the-board surveillance on a scale that the GDR's Stasi could only dream of.

CSEC's mandate very clearly restricts it from carrying out surveillance on Canada and Canadians directly, and yet that is precisely what it has done.  This may have only been a "test run" of a new technology, but that doesn't make it right, nor does it reassure me that this government has actually focused this new system within CSEC's actual mandate.  Given the "data sharing" arrangements between CSEC, CSIS and the NSA, I can imagine that CSEC has access to the equivalent data on Canadians that the NSA is no doubt gathering.

In short, the CSEC and its sister organization have become the secret police in this country - they have enormous amounts of information about all Canadians at their disposal.  This is mass surveillance when in fact these organizations are charged with identifying threats.  Law abiding Canadians _ARE_NOT_THREATS_, and should not be subjected to arbitrary, unwarranted surveillance simply because the state is able to do so.

This day has been coming for years.  Ever since the first DARPA experiments networked two computers together, the ability to gather and analyze network data has been evolving.  This is where the notion of professional ethics comes into play.  The fact that we can do something does not automatically mean that we should do it.

That Harper has allowed CSEC to believe that it can do this legitimately is no real surprise.  It is time to bring this government to heel and demand that it operate in the interests of Canadians, not treat us as adversaries.

[Update 31/1/14]
Apparently, according to Defence Minister Nicholson, there is no sign that CSEC is spying on Canadians.
Under repeated questioning by opposition MPs, Nicholson didn't directly deny the story, but said that the document detailing work by the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CESC) doesn't show that Canadian communications were targeted or used. 
"It's my understanding that CSEC made it clear to CBC that nothing in the documents that they had obtained showed that Canadian communications were targeted, collected, or used, nor that travellers' movements were tracked," Nicholson said in the House of Commons.
Right.  So stealing information from Canadian airports, which largely contain Canadian travellers, and then tracking their devices when they pop up in other locales is apparent not spying on Canadians.  News to me - last I checked ... surreptitiously gathering information about Canadians is spying on Canadians.  Apparently the Harperites have adopted Orwell's Newspeak as their official language.
[/Update]

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Harper's Short Sighted PMO

Canada is a diverse nation.  Our population is made up of peoples from all around the world, and until recently, we were well on the road to respecting all of our diverse cultures.

Then Harper took over.

While Harper's supporters have proudly proclaimed the "wisdom" of Harper's uncritical view of Israel, the jingoism he encourages is guaranteed to alienate others.  In what could well be a microcosm of the Middle East itself, one of Harper's staffers opened himself and the government to a libel suit:
"Rather than responding to our legitimate concerns, the PMO's director of communications attacked us and attempted to smear our name by claiming NCCM had 'documented ties to a terrorist organization such as Hamas,'" Ihsaan Gardee, the council's executive director, told a news conference Tuesday. 
"Nothing could be further from the truth. NCCM will not let the PMO's false statement stand."
Of course, we can't be overly surprised by this.  In the run-up to Harper's much ballyhooed trip to Israel, one can imagine that within the bubble of Harper's PMO things were running at fever pitch.  Anything which ran contrary to Harper's expressed view that Israel could do no wrong had to be denigrated in the same sound-bite manner used by the Conservatives to invalidate contrary opinions to their own.

Does NCCM have links to Hamas?  I frankly have no idea, nor do I think that it's particularly relevant.  It's quite clear from the context that Mr. Macdonald was using the accusation as a means to silence NCCM's voice at a time when it would have been very awkward to address the issues raised.

The Harper Government has, for years, expended a great deal of energy playing on misconceptions about the Muslim faith.  Whether that has been in the treatment of Omar Khadr's case, or any of several people being detained under "Security Certificates".

To me, this smacks of a degree of systemic bigotry that runs through Harper's foreign policy - to the overall detriment of Canada's interests on the world stage.  It is for this reason that I argue so strongly that Harper's black-and-white approach to foreign policy in the Middle East is so deeply problematic.

In Canada, we have significant populations from both Israel and her neighbours.  It seems to me exceptionally short sighted of Harper to seemingly go out of his way to alienate one group, especially given how much effort Harper has expended on courting various ethnic communities for votes.

The bigger picture is that in Canada we should be striving to find ways to live together, not allowing our politicians to divide us over some rigid ideology.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Interesting Move

Justin Trudeau has just kicked all of the Liberal Senators out of the Liberal Caucus.

I heard this just as I was rolling out of bed this morning, and my initial reaction was that effectively Trudeau had just taken the wind out of the sails of the Conservatives who routinely point to the Liberal Senators and cry "But, but, the Libruls" when they start finding themselves held to the flames of accountability.

I'm fairly certain that making it difficult for the Conservatives to try and deflect responsibility by pointing to the Liberals is part of Trudeau's political calculations in making the move.

There is another, much more interesting implication to this.  Trudeau has taken the first step to returning the Senate to being independent of the partisan maneuvering that is central to the House of Commons.  By cutting the Liberal Senators loose, he has made it much easier for them to evaluate and vote on legislation from the House of Commons independently of the partisan origins of it.

In general, I'm not a fan of "Senate Reform by convention" approaches, as they are easily undermined.  However, in this case, Trudeau is doing something which will enable the Senators to be much more effective than is currently possible.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

A Personal Boycott Of The Sochi Games

With the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games about to start in a few weeks, I think it's high time that I put forward my reasons for why I refuse to support the games - I will not be spending money with the sponsors, watching the games or otherwise granting them any validity.

First, and perhaps the most obvious is Russia's "anti-gay propaganda" law.  Passed in the summer of 2013, this law and its cousin laws passed at other levels of Russia's governments, these laws do not make homosexuality illegal per se, but they make "propagandizing" homosexuality illegal.  Of course the term "homosexual propaganda" is not particularly clearly defined in those laws, so it effectively makes any expression of being homosexual illegal - from advocacy for equal rights and treatment under the law to holding hands in public.  Putin has repeatedly tried to reassure the world that it's perfectly safe for gays to come to Sochi ... just so long as they don't show off in front of the children.

Russia's laws on homosexuality wouldn't necessarily be an issue if they weren't so draconian and poorly defined.  While the likes of Scott Lively are no doubt rubbing their hands with glee, I cannot sanction any country which passes laws that arbitrarily oppress a part of their population for no better reason than who they love.

The second part of my objections is aimed quite firmly at the IOC who seems to have lost sight of the wording of their own charter.  The IOC's lack of response to Russia's laws which were passed at the last minute told me that the Olympics is not about the principles set out so nobly in the IOC Charter, as it is about money - and lots of it.  Before 2013, Russia had been a country which appeared to be on a forward track with respect to human rights for all of its citizens.  The IOC has a moral responsibility to insist that host countries act in a reasonable manner, and they have not done so in the case of Russia.

The third part of my concerns is the situation in Ukraine.  The situation in the Ukraine has strong echoes of the old Soviet Union, with the Kremlin acting as puppet master.  While I can appreciate that Russia might have misgivings about the EU politically.  However, the situation in the Ukraine is as appalling as that in Syria.  My suspicion is that Putin is putting in place the pieces to renew the old "Iron Curtain" that he was familiar with prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union.  It may be slightly different, but politically will serve a similar purpose.

While what is happening in the Ukraine is not directly related to the Sochi games, it has the feel of being a part of a larger picture that is profoundly worrisome.  The Sochi games themselves have become a symbol of an Olympic movement that is no longer about celebrating athletics - it is an unfortunate reality of timing that Russia's second run at the Olympic games in my lifetime happens to be the games which proves the point.

It's About Recognizing The Realities

Over at Huffington Post, one of their columnists, JJ McCullough, is pontificating on Harper's trip to Israel.  In the comments, we find HP blogger Mitch Wolfe making the following daft statement:
This article is an excellent summary of Harper's pro Israeli policies. It also provides an excellent summary of the so-called pundits' views of Harper's pro Israeli position. The pundits, the Laurentian Consensus, Tony Burman of the Star and Simpson of the Globe, all fail to deal with Hamas, " the camel in the room". This is a terrorist organization that rules by violence and intimidation. There is no democracy, freedom or rule of law in Gaza. Hamas tortures and discriminates against those who do not adhere to strict Sharia/Islamic principles, which include non Muslims, women and gays of course. Hamas has become a mortal enemy of Abbas and the PLO on the west bank. Hamas still vows to destroy Israel as a Jewish state. But these ridiculous pundits want Harper to treat this disgusting group in a more even-handed and nuanced manner. No wonder these newspapers have sunk so low in public esteem and are bleeding red ink from dropping circulation.
I'll come back to McCullough's column in a moment.  Mr. Wolfe's statement is so ridiculous that it needs to be addressed before I tear apart McCullough's analysis.

Nobody I have read has ever spoken favourably of Hamas, Hezbollah or any other terrorist organization.  There is, however, something that needs to be paid careful attention.  Organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah are not just "terrorists" - in several countries they have become the agents delivering the social programs that alleviate the grinding poverty that so many people in the middle east find themselves living with.  In many respects, these organizations are the government more so than the actual governments in some areas.  In short, more so than the official governments, they actually have an enormous amount of practical political power which should not be ignored.

Further, the dispute between Israel and its Arab neighbours goes back not decades but centuries.  The grievances are entwined in the cultural fabric of the region on both sides.  We would be foolish indeed to believe that there is a "right side" and a "wrong side" in this dispute.  The issue is that Harper is taking sides in this dispute - unequivocally.

Returning to McCullough's column, let's take a look at a few things:
There are a lot of nasty tropes floating out there about the cryptic man running our country, and most of them are junk. The idea that he's ushered in a dramatic hike in military spending, for instance. Or massive cuts in scientific research. Or notions he's been pursuing a dogmatic anti-pot crusade, or has presided over a dramatic spike in greenhouse gas emissions, or is a fundamentalist Christian reactionary with a secret plan to destroy gay marriage.The no less oft-repeated claim that Stephen Harper is the most aggressively pro-Israel leader in the world, however  -- that one's on considerably firmer ground.
Let's see, on that military spending thing, under Harper military spending has increased to near WW II levels.  The amount he cut last year is a drop in the bucket compared to what he has poured into the military since 2006.

Harper's war on science ... well that's not exactly something I can ignore either.  This Prime Minister has done more to gut this nation's ability to make evidence-based policy decisions than any predecessor.  The fact that organizations like DFO have taken the brunt of these cuts merely speaks to Harper's dismissive hatred for anything that might substantiate climate change, or identify the damage that corporate businesses are doing to the environment.  So, while McCullough would like us all to believe that Harper's War on Science is just the imaginings of the "anti-Harper" CBC, there is so much evidence of this war starting in 2006 and continuing to present day (accelerating since 2011), that it cannot be simply dismissed as a "shibboleth".

As for Harper's environmental record, well, let's just say it's somewhat less than exemplary.  The man has axed a huge amount of research activity into matters of the environment, and during his tenure Oil Sands development in Alberta has increased in pace, in spite of concerns about managing the waste products of strip mining and "upgrading" the bitumen.

As for Harper on Gay Marriage - or other LGBT rights, his track record speaks for itself.  During the pre-legalization debate he and his party were vehemently opposed.  His caucus' voting on the Transgender rights legislation that has been before the House several times speaks volumes as well.  Harper isn't himself a "died in the wool reactionary" - he's smart enough to know that being overtly hostile himself has a political price that he is unwilling to pay.  He allows his backbench to keep throwing bits of red meat to the slavering base in the form of spurious motions and private member's bills.  He allows them to go on with them until such times as there would be a political price to pay for it.

Do I believe that Harper is hostile to Gay Marriage, LGBT rights in general, and women's rights (especially health issues like abortion)?  There is plenty of evidence that he and his government are - starting in 2006 when they came to power.  If the political price for reversing the Gay Marriage and abortion issues wasn't fatally high, I'm pretty certain that Harper would go after it.

McCullough seems to be willing to ignore or forget the evidence that is Harper's background and legacy.  The "tropes" about Harper exist not just because people don't like him, but because his actions past and present support those tropes.
The question is whether Harper has it in him to criticize his hosts after charming his way into their parlour. John Ivision at the Post thinks it's just as likely Harps will double-down on sucking up, and offer Netanyahu the sweetest diplomatic plum of all  --  a hint that Canada is interested in being the first country to formally recognize the plight of "the estimated 850,000 Jews displaced from states in the Middle East and North Africa" following Israel's war of independence. John says such an unprecedentedly fawning gesture  --  one that dramatically ratchets up the moral equivalency arms race between Israelis and Palestinians  -- could make the Israeli leader positively "delirious." 
I suspect he wouldn't be the only one.
Why yes, because nothing does your country more good than taking a polarizing position on a conflict that has been ongoing for centuries.   The consequences for Canada in this regard are enormous.  Harper thinks that he is bringing a "mature and decisive" approach to these issues.  What he is really doing is weakening Canada's voice on the world stage.

Israel is a nation located in lands that are believed to be sacred by Judaism, Islam and Christianity.  There cannot be a greater recipe for conflict to begin with.  Several centuries of conflict in the region has rendered the context in which Israel exists far too murky to justify taking a polarizing position as Harper is doing.

Now, the real question is what is Harper's motivation behind his stance on Israel?  There seems to be little sense to it.  Was this trip staged as a distraction to take attention away from the corruption and maliciousness being carried out at home?  Or is there something in Harper's unstated beliefs that supports his approach to Israel?  It's hard to say, but in any respect Harper is doing Canada no favours.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Harper Doesn't Get It

Several times on the news today, I've heard Harper protest to reporters that when he was in the West Bank that nobody asked him to single out the Palestinian Authority on matters of policy, but they are trying to do so on Israel.

Contrary to what Harper is insinuating with that dodge, this is not hypocrisy at all.  In fact, it is a direct result of Harper's absolute, uncritical approach to Israel.

If Harper was less absolutist about Israel, and more willing to publicly challenge their policies on topics like the "settlements", he might be surprised to find that most Canadians would be much more comfortable with his support of Israel.

The blind "Israel can do no wrong" approach simply comes across as too much like other aspects of Harper's approach to government - absolutism and propaganda.


More LowLights From Harper's Speech

As more of Harper's speech to Israel's Knesset comes to light, the degree of dysfunction and narrow-mindedness of it becomes all the more clear.
The prime minister said he refused to single out Israel for criticism, saying it is easy to follow the international crowd and focus only on one country — a "go-along-to-get-along" approach he described as both weak and wrong.
Why yes, because the politics of absolutes has worked so well in that region in the past.  Harper needs to be taken aside by an experienced diplomat and schooled in the realities of dealing with a region as complex as the Middle East.  Other leaders tiptoe around those issues for very good reasons.
He spoke of the founding of Israel as a place where people could "seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history." 
While criticism of Israeli government policy isn't anti-Semitic, Harper said, criticism that targets only Israel while ignoring violence and oppression in its neighbours is unacceptable.
This is perhaps the most upsetting comment in Harper's speech - at least with respect to Canadians.  Harper's stance here is essentially a variation on "Have you stopped beating your wife yet?" loaded questions.

Criticize Israel, and you are subject to being accused of being "anti-Semitic" if you haven't already published something equally critical of one Israel's neighbours.

This is nothing more than an attempt at silencing opposition.  Not surprising, this is little different than Vic Toews' notorious comment about "You're either with us or with the pedophiles" when Bill C-30 was introduced a few years ago.

First, Israel's actions as a state are subject to criticism and review just as the actions of their neighbours are.  There is no obligation in such criticism to "equally" criticize their neighbours.  Just as Syria's actions must be evaluated on their own merits, so must Israel's.  Doing so is not anti-Semitic or even anti-Israel.

For Harper to even suggest that criticizing Israel is unreasonable is itself an unreasonable position.  To implicitly claim that criticizing Israel is "anti-Semitic" is an appalling tactic aimed solely at silencing criticism.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Rob Anders ... Wants To Resurrect What?

Apparently, Rob Anders thinks that we need to resurrect the old "Rape" laws.
He wants anyone convicted of rape to serve a mandatory minimum of eight years in prison for a first offence and 10 years for each subsequent conviction. 
“I ideally would have liked to have seen rapists get 20-years mandatory minimum but because of what we anticipate in constitutional challenges, we decided to go with eight and 10 because it was well within inside the penalties for manslaughter.”
As usual for Rob Anders, he seems to be quite unaware of why the old Rape laws were replaced with "Sexual Assault".  First of all, Rape has a fairly narrow definition.  Second, as we have come to understand, there are entire classes of sexual assault which are just as damaging to their victims as forced sexual intercourse.  The much broader Sexual Assault laws actually encompass these laws, and because of the language of them, they encompass both male and female offenders, where a Rape law is largely solely enforceable with respect to male offenders.

Mr. Anders claims that the sentences being handed out are "too lenient", yet he fails to acknowledge that the available sentences for sexual assault can run as high as 10 to 14 years.  How often sentences that long are handed out, I cannot say.  I would imagine that the longest sentences are reserved for the worst offenders.  He is also ignoring the availability of long term and dangerous offender designations.

While we haven't seen Anders' legislation yet, I fully expect that it will be written in a manner which virtually guarantees that it will collapse the minute it is challenged under the terms of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
 

Harper's New Anti-Semitism

Few things make me angrier than the propensity of the far right to twist things.  In today's speech to Israel's Knesset, we find this lovely little gem:

"A state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish as Jews, and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history," he said. 
"That is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism. It is nothing short of sickening." 
Harper allowed that criticism of Israeli government policy isn't in and of itself "necessarily anti-Semitic."
Of course, Harper thinks he is being magnanimous in allowing that "criticizing Israeli government policy is not "necessarily anti-Semitic".  His words are, of course, disingenuous.  On one hand he castigates those who criticize Israel's policies of settlements and the wall as being unreasonable, and yet fails to see the similarities between these policies and other past racial segregation experiments?

Both Canada and Israel share "a sincere hope" that the Palestinian people and their leaders will choose a democratic Palestinian state that lives peacefully alongside Israel, Harper said. 
"Sadly, we have yet to reach that point. But, when that day comes, and come it must, I can tell you that Israel may be the first to welcome a sovereign Palestinian state, but Canada will be right behind you."
The problem here is that it creates false presuppositions about the form and structure of a possible Palestinian state.  We don't know if that is the kind of state that is desired by the Palestinians, and what happened to their right to self-determination?  Can we ignore the stranglehold that Israel continues to hold on the Palestinians and their ability to develop a coherent economy or government? This is no small issue, and one not to be ignored.

Fortunately, someone had the gumption to get up and leave during Harper's speech to the Knesset, and much of what he has to say should be profoundly troubling to anyone who is not invested directly in Israel.
Tibi said Harper didn't mention the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Canada officially opposes Israeli control over territories occupied in 1967, although Harper has refrained from criticizing Israel for its policy. 
"When you are controlling, discriminating, confiscating, occupying lands from one side and putting them in the corner without any basic rights, you are by this way ruling and committing apartheid in the occupied Palestinian Territories," Tibi said. 
"If he is talking about freedom, why he is totally neglecting the absence of freedom of the Palestinians under occupation? It is a double-standard. These words are moral double-standard from the prime minister of Canada." 
Tibi also took issue with the idea that debating boycotts of Israeli products and using the term apartheid is anti-Semitic. 
"Do you accept at any case to be under occupation and then somebody will tell you that it is absolute democracy? It is not. We are living day by day here. Palestinians under occupation are living day by day, and saying that the occupied territory is apartheid has no relation at any case with anti-Semitism," he said. 
"What's the connection? If you are criticizing the policy of the state of Israel, immediately you are categorized as anti-Semitic. This is a twisted logic of Mr. Harper."
Mr. Tibi's comments cut to the heart of the problem with Harper's uncritical approach to Israel.  Few things in that part of the world can be cast in black-and-white terms.  The conflicts in Israel and the surrounding region are centuries old, and no party to the dispute can lay claim to being beyond reproach.

I don't know what the answers are to the seemingly endless conflict in the Middle East, but blindly supporting one state over another is hardly helpful.  There is no rightness in lobbing rockets into Israeli territory, but it seems to me that there is no rightness in building segregation walls either.  As the old saying goes, two wrongs do not make a right.

Mr. Harper should tread very carefully in his declarations of just what value judgments should be applied to criticism of any of the parties in ongoing dispute that is in the Middle East.

Dear Leader Is In Israel

So, Harper is running around Israel blathering on about how Canada will blindly support Israel no matter what happens.  Frankly, Harper is acting like a little boy in short pants on the foreign affairs file ... but I have already discussed that in detail before.  Today's speech does nothing to change my opinion on that.

More important, and damaging, is the fallout from the Harper Government's ongoing war on science and knowledge in Canada.  The latest chapter in this saga is here, in the form of how this government's ongoing attack on Canada's ability to perform meaningful research and have policy that is informed by facts.

Health Canada scientists are so concerned about losing access to their research library that they're finding work-arounds, with one squirrelling away journals and books in his basement for colleagues to consult, says a report obtained by CBC News. 
The draft report from a consultant hired by the department warned it not to close its library, but the report was rejected as flawed and the advice went unheeded.
In short, our government shut down the research library for our health care system, and the users of that library are finding it necessary to create their own informal libraries.

"Staff requests have dropped 90 per cent over in-house service levels prior to the outsource. This statistic has been heralded as a cost savings by senior HC [Health Canada] management," the report said. 
"However, HC scientists have repeatedly said during the interview process that the decrease is because the information has become inaccessible — either it cannot arrive in due time, or it is unaffordable due to the fee structure in place." 
A recently retired Health Canada pathologist agreed with this assessment."I look at it as an insidious plan to discourage people from using libraries," said Dr. Rudi Mueller, who left the department in 2012. 
"If you want to justify closing a library, you make access difficult and then you say it is hardly used." 
At its root, this is no different than the liquidation of the Fisheries and Oceans Canada libraries, closing the Experimental Lakes Area, the axing of the long form census, or any of a number of other actions taken by the Harper Government which have ultimately removed the ability of the government to make informed policy decisions ... not that the Harper Conservatives have exactly been paragons of informed policy making - it's easier to make it up as you go along.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Robocalls Revived

With Michael Sona's trial expected later this year, the RoboCalls scandal has once again booted up, reminding Canadian voters of the corruption in the 2011 election.

The most recent thing to fall out of the back of that horse?  Apparently one of Sona's co-conspirators has just been granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony on what actually happened.
Prescott's name has come up in some of the court filings made by investigators from Elections Canada, although he has so far declined to be interviewed by them. 
Prescott, who was paid a $1,000 stipend for his work on the campaign, including IT services, was the main contact with RackNine, the company whose services were used to make the illicit calls. 
All political parties use robocalls, or automated calls, to reach voters. Robocalls are regulated but not illegal. The calls at the heart of the investigation in Guelph were illegal because Elections Canada believes they were meant to interfere with some voters' right to cast their ballots.
The extent of Mr. Prescott's involvement is but one part of the issues that this whole debacle raises.

First, this speaks volumes about the laws and the powers conferred on Elections Canada to enforce elections law and to ferret out electoral misconduct.  That Mr. Prescott has been able to "decline" to be interviewed by Elections Canada for this long is criminal.  Clearly Elections Canada lacks the teeth to carry out the investigations effectively.  There should be no "easy escape hatch" that enables someone to avoid being interviewed by investigators for years after an election that is suspect.

Second, it suggests that the notion of accountability in an election needs to be much different than it was.  Elections Canada should be able to seize any and all evidence related to an election campaign immediately - including e-mail records, financial records etc.  from campaigns the minute that there is a whiff of suspicion that there has been efforts to win the election by subverting the electoral process.

If you will, the Harper Government, and the CPC, have shown that they are willing to lie, cheat and steal to win an election.  Elections Canada needs to have the tools at its disposal to move to intervene in these matters without the parties being able to weasel around and hide facts, evidence and people involved.  

Seats where electoral fraud is alleged should be held as vacant until such times as the investigations are completed.  If that means the government is missing a few MPs for a while, too bad.  The price of running a crooked campaign should be high.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Cal Wenzel Hasn't Got A Leg To Stand On

I didn't think much of Wenzel's allegations when he filed his lawsuit.  After reading the statement of defence filed by Naheed Nenshi today, I don't think Wenzel has much to work with.

Perhaps the most damaging to Wenzel's case is a series of tweets by Wenzel's supporters referring to him as "The Godfather" - before the interview in which Nenshi allegedly defamed Wenzel by referring to him as "The Godfather".

I think more concerning than the lawsuit itself (which is truly "pass the popcorn" political theatre) is the response of Alberta Justice regarding alleged funding irregularities in the 2010 election:
"Sometime later, Alberta Justice advised Mayor Nenshi that while there appeared to have been a violation of campaign finance law during the 2010 Calgary municipal election, based on Wenzel's statements in the Wenzel secret video, Alberta Justice had no authority under the applicable legislation to investigate the allegations and enforce the law."
If Alberta Justice doesn't have the authority to investigate and enforce the laws in Alberta, then who does, and why haven't they been tasked with investigating the irregularities and enforcing the laws?

Perhaps Alberta Justice doesn't have the direct authority to enforce the laws in question, but surely they could have passed the case along to the appropriate body for further investigation and enforcement.  That they did not suggests that the watchers over our elections are ineffective and worse than useless.

There is a serious problem here - and it is politicians undermining the very machinery of democracy. 

Friday, January 10, 2014

About That Sound Economy, Stephen

In light of Kim Jong Harper's launch of a propaganda channel, perhaps he'd like to explain how it is that Canada's economy is "doing well" when it is shedding jobs across the board?

Why would unemployment be on the rise?  Isn't Alberta booming?  Oh waitasec ... it isn't.  The oil patch has been laying people off at a fantastic rate throughout 2013.

You see, one of the problems that is emerging here is the intersection of the TFW program, along with Harper's "sell everything in sight" approach to the economy.  More and more, Canadian companies are not owned by Canadians.  With a few exceptions, the largest employers in Canada are in fact now divisions of multinational corporations which are moving production work wherever they can get it done cheaper.

It's time that Canada started focusing on making the economy work for Canadians - not investors in far flung countries.


Kim Sung Harper

Wow ... just wow.  I never would have believed it if I hadn't seen it.  I still can't quite believe that it's being done in Canada, to Canadians ... at our expense.

It seems that Harper has found a use for the money that he is "saving" by shutting down research libraries across Canada and research funding:  His Very Own Propaganda Show.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the launch of a new video series promising to keep Canadians “in the know” with a weekly ration of edited government updates to trumpet Tory achievements. 
With “The Maple Leaf Forever” playing in the background, the first episode of “24 Seven” features a highlight reel of the prime minister’s travels from Vancouver to Inuvik and the appointment of Canada’s new ambassador to Israel. 
Noticeably absent from the week's play-by-play is acknowledgement of the prime minister's run-in with climate change activistscrowds of protesters, and fresh criticism over claims the government is destroying Department of Fisheries and Oceans research.
Hmmm...the only governments that need to do that kind of propaganda are little tin-pot totalitarians.  Like North Korea's Kim Sung Un.

Harper is essentially trying to campaign for the next election at taxpayer's expense, and he's trying to avoid answering tough questions that Canadians rightly deserve answers to by trying to be the media himself.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The Hypocrisy of "Pro-Life" Laws

The diagnosis was crushing and irrevocable. At 33, Marlise Munoz was brain dead after collapsing on her kitchen floor in November from what appeared to be a blood clot in her lungs. 
But as her parents and her husband prepared to say their final goodbyes in the intensive care unit at John Peter Smith Hospital here and to honour her wish not to be left on life support, they were stunned when a doctor told them the hospital was not going to comply with their instructions. 
Munoz was 14 weeks pregnant, the doctor said, and Texas is one of more than two dozen states that prohibit, with varying degrees of strictness, medical officials from cutting off life support to a pregnant patient. 
More than a month later, Munoz remains connected to life-support machines on the third floor of the ICU, where a medical team monitors the heartbeat of the fetus, now in its 20th week of development. Her case has become a strange collision of law, medicine, the ethics of end-of-life care and the issues swirling around abortion – when life begins and how it should be valued.
This comes from the same kind of fetus fetishist logic that makes being pregnant some kind of sacred state.  The problem is that these laws end up making the supposition that the fetus is somehow sacrosanct, and further that the woman is not a reasonable, intelligent agent.

Having a loved one die suddenly is traumatic enough.  Having the state keep their body alive as an incubator for a fetus multiplies that trauma for the family even more so.  Ultimately, in situations like this, the decision has to start with the woman's expressed wishes in the first place.  The family's wishes after that.  Sometimes, for the sake of the family, it is best to let things go, and that decision belongs to the family not the state.

When laws force the state to turn a dead person into a mindless incubator, they have become monsters themselves.

Truly, the hypocrisy of these laws is that they fetishize the fetus ... until birth.  After birth, you're on your own.

Harper Is A Boy In Short Pants On Foreign Policy

When it comes to matters of Foreign Policy, Harper is neither subtle or particularly smart.  As with all things in Harper's world, it's all about partisan position and absolutes.

Yesterday's announcement of Vivian Bercovici's appointment as Canada's new ambassador to Israel fits that pattern exactly.

Ms. Bercovici is one of those who is completely uncritical of the regime in Israel, and about as nuanced as Harper himself in her musings on the subject.
In a Jan. 28, 2013, column in the Toronto Star, Bercovici praises Netanyahu and criticizes Palestinian leaders. 
"Many western governments, judging from their comments, hold onto a misguided fantasy of the Middle East: that the persistent obstacle to peace is Israel, not the intransigence of Palestinian leaders," she wrote. 
She called Netanyahu a "respected leader" who has "enhanced national security, immeasurably."Of the Palestinian leadership, she said it calls for "the destruction of Israel — disseminated openly in political forums, the tightly controlled media and taught freely in schools and universities."
Okay, fine.  Ms. Bercovici is entitled to her opinions on Israel, as we all are.  However, Foreign Policy isn't about opinions - whether hers or Harper's.

It's not as if the Harper Government is terribly nuanced on the Foreign Affairs portfolio.  Harper has all but declared that Israel can do no wrong, and the only objective for Foreign Affairs is to make economic gains, so appointing someone of Ms. Bercovici's stripe to play ambassador to Israel is no big surprise.

However, this is an incredibly short-sighted move on Harper's part.  It effectively guarantees that Canada has absolutely no voice outside of Israel in the Middle East.  While we might have some influence within Israel, Ms. Bercovici's appointment will be looked upon by all of the Arab nations and their allies as a signal that Canada is distinctly uninterested in their story.  That lack of interest will be reciprocated.

But, the implications of this decision are even more far reaching than Mr. Harper seems to have envisioned.  Whatever the reasons Harper's unquestioning support of Israel, he fails to understand how this move will impact his other objectives.  If commerce is his Foreign Affairs "raison d'ĂȘtre" overall, he has forgotten something very important.  By alienating the Arab world, he has cut Canada off from a very large market space.  Further, he has also alienated a number of other large economies which are traditionally much better connected with the Middle East than our own - Russia and China come to mind here as central to the discussion - and neither of those nations has exactly the warmest of relations with Israel.

What the Harper Government continues to overlook is that even more so than domestic politics, Foreign Affairs is a delicate process of walking a series of very fine lines.  Only in the most extreme of circumstances do you take such absolute lines as we see the Harper Government taking on Israel.

Ms. Bercovici is partially correct when she criticizes the Palestinian authority for their intransigence in peace talks, but only partially.  One can hardly ignore Israel's disregard of the pre-1967 borders, building an apartheid-inspired wall around the Palestinian lands and creation of settlements on lands which the Palestinians lay claim to.

The web of disputes in the Middle East are centuries old, and the redrawing of borders which took place in the wake of WW I did not help matters at all.  Rightly, the Arab nations are skeptical of Western powers and their intentions in the region.  A series of resource wars, and clumsily executed colonial era edicts have created a situation where the entire region is a political minefield which must be negotiated very carefully.

Harper's approach to the region has been like a small boy - he runs into the middle of the minefield, quite unaware of the dangers which he is exposing himself to.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Papers, Citizen!

As if it couldn't get any worse, the ridiculous paranoia of the Harper regime has surfaced once more in the wake of a sneaky, but peaceful protest in BC.  Senator Runciman wants a law so that protests like this can't happen again.
"People who sneak into these kinds of events, using phony ID, impersonate others, or conspire with others to do the same, should face indictable offences with serious fines and/or imprisonment," said Senator Runciman in a written statement sent to the parliamentary press gallery. 
"The decision not to charge two individuals who impersonated wait staff, avoided RCMP security and got to within a few feet of Prime Minister Stephen Harper trivializes a serious security breach and highlights the need for new laws to deter future improper attempts to gain entry to events where designated persons such as the prime minister or Governor General are present."
Nothing says democracy like a government willing to create laws to inhibit peaceful protest, and here we have another Conservative with his knickers in a twist over a relatively harmless protest of the Harper Government.

If you don't think it's bad, consider the following piece of data.  From 2006 to 2012, the cost of PMO Security from the RCMP has ballooned to $20,000,000.  That's right, we spend more on security for the PM than a lot of small companies make in a year.
This combination of world-travel risks and the increased threat level at home has seen the transformation of the security detail from a cozy enclave of the RCMP into a tightly run tactical squad, insiders said. 
It is also expensive: Overtime has gone through the roof, and the budget of the PMPD, as the unit is called, is set to reach $20-million this year, or twice the 2006 cost. The Prime Minister’s Office and the RCMP say the increase in costs is justifiable, since security concerns are growing and threats are now taken more seriously.
We are spending how much on this?  So the least accountable Prime Minister in Canada's history can blissfully move about in his bubble and not have to hear a protester or two?  Considering the amount that the Harperites have cut from programs that benefit average Canadians, perhaps the PM needs to hear more from the population rather than from the people living in his bubble.
 

Monday, January 06, 2014

It's Only A Security Breach If You're An Authoritarian

We all know that Harper does his level best to stage-manage every aspect of a public appearance.

Civil protest - like this - is not a "security breach" - it is a protest.  Only authoritarians are going to call it a "security breach".

Think about it ... what is Harper afraid of that he has to have lines of security that dense?  It's not exactly like Canada has a history of violence against Prime Ministers - no matter how bad they may be.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

He's Back ...

It's been quite a while since we saw anything about Craig Chandler in the political sphere in Alberta.  It's not that he's gone away - his twitter feed has been fairly active, and he publishes the occasional column in "The Calgary Beacon".

However, a thread of discussion on Facebook caught my attention yesterday.  In it he tipped his hand about what he is up to politically:


Sure enough, if you go to his personal website, it has changed once again, and has the initial appearance of being the starting point for some kind of campaign website.



I don't have enough inside knowledge of what is going on in the Alberta PC party, but I do find it interesting that Mr. Chandler is claiming to have been approached by people in the party as a prospective candidate.  The last time Chandler attempted this, it did not end well.

Since there are no by-elections pending in Alberta right now, it's hard to guess when and where Chandler will stake his candidacy next.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Andrew Coyne Is Mystified

Apparently, when you live in the Harper bubble, it becomes an absolute mystery as to why support for the wannabe dictator is falling through the floor.
The paradox remains: How could a government presiding over such a strong economy be so unpopular? It is unusual enough for a governing party to fall, and stay, below 30% in the polls. But to do so in good times? Unheard of.
Seriously?  Mr. Coyne has clearly spent far too much time in Harper's little bubble and has lost sight of how the rest of Canada sees things.  Even in Alberta, support for the Harper Government has been softening.  The reasons for this aren't exactly rocket science.

Contrary to Mr. Coyne's perspective, we aren't living in a "great economy" unless you are part of the 1%.  The Harper Government has been working actively to undermine Canadian workers at every turn (e.g.  the Temporary Foreign Workers program, pre-emptively halting strikes and so on), a series of questionable bills from the back benches that continue to raise "moral issues" that Canadians have long since moved on from, and repeated lies from the Prime Minister himself over the course of 2012 and the Senate Scandal.
It seems, rather, to be almost entirely to do with their no-prisoners approach to politics. 
He's close - in fact, that is as close as I've ever seen Mr. Coyne get to grasping the enormity of the problem with the Harper Government.  This is a government which has used every lever at its disposal and created some new ones in order to maintain its grasp on power and to suppress dissenting voices.  Harper used to oppose omnibus bills, now he uses them as a matter of course with "time allocation" to limit debate.  He has instructed his MPs to reject any amendments to legislation - why?  simply because it would look like a loss of face.

They've already signed one big trade agreement, with Europe, which won them the best press they've had in years (before the Senate scandals enveloped them again).  Others may follow, notably the Trans-Pacific Partnership.  Assuming continued economic growth - and there are signs the recovery is picking up speed, notably south of the border - they will almost certainly be able to report a balanced budget before then, making way for the tax cuts promised last time out:  income splitting for couples with children, and a doubling of the amounts that can be socked away in Tax-Free Savings Accounts.
Uh yeah - the TPP ... the trade agreement that is being negotiated in secret so that few people have actually seen all of it - and the bits that have been leaked suggest that it will enable corporations to force changes to intellectual property laws that would criminalize most Canadians.  Yes, that would be a real feather in the cap, wouldn't it?  Or perhaps we might want to take a closer look at the economic growth discussion.  Again, Coyne is trying to give Harper credit for the state of the economy, when the reality it has more to do with external forces that he has little or no direct control over.

As for the "proposed tax cuts", all that does is further hobble the government's ability to do things that actually benefit Canadians.  Funding things like EI, CPP and other programs come to mind as important considerations that Harper is gradually removing the government's ability to engage in.  The net result?  The middle class in this country is getting decimated.

... and perhaps most importantly, Canadians don't like being lied to.

Friday, January 03, 2014

No, Yaakov Roth, The Supreme Court of Canada Is Not Overstepping Its Boundaries

I see the Harper PMO must have found another muppet to write opinion pieces for them.  In the National Post, we find Yaakov Roth expounding on the "problems" he has with the way the Supreme Court of Canada has been ruling on such matters as safe injection sites and prostitution.

The first thing I want to point out is that Mr. Yaakov Roth is not an expert on Canadian Constitutional Law - he was a Legal Clerk to Antonin Scalia - an American with no particular history in Canadian law.  Further, Antonin Scalia is notoriously conservative in his opinions, and it is in part from him that the entire narrative of "activist judges" started from.

On the D.C. Circuit, Scalia built a conservative record, while winning applause in legal circles for powerful, witty legal writing, which was often critical of the Supreme Court precedents he felt bound as a lower-court judge to follow. Scalia's opinions drew the attention of Reagan administration officials

Mr. Roth's arguments are very much consistent with the false narrative that any time the court rules against a set of laws the judges are being "activist".
I’ve seen my share of eyebrow-raising decisions. But using illegal drugs and publicly soliciting prostitution are, to put it mildly, not activities that come to mind when one thinks of fundamental constitutional rights. How did we get here? How did the SCC go so far off-track? 
The root of the rot, in my view, is not an erroneous legal doctrine or a misconstrued Charter provision (although there are plenty of both), but something far more basic: how the Court finds facts in Charter cases.
First of all, Mr. Roth's position presupposes that he actually understands the rulings he is talking about.  He doesn't.
In Charter cases, however, the relevant considerations often transcend the individual parties and relate more broadly to society as a whole. What are the long-term social effects of allowing prostitutes to solicit business in public? Will safe injection sites encourage increased drug use? The Supreme Court calls these “social facts,” facts about “society at large.” Shockingly, it now treats them identically to ordinary adjudicative facts. Contrary to earlier jurisprudence, Bedford expressly ruled that the trial judge is supposed to review social science, hear from purported “experts,” and make a conclusive determination that is binding on appeal unless “palpably” wrong.
Apparently, Mr. Roth has never actually read Canada's Constitution and come to an appreciation of how that document establishes a guiding framework for all aspects of this nation's government.  In particular, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms establishes a set of rights which is designed to hold in check a government which can otherwise run amok over the interests of its citizens.

Perhaps unique to having "conservative governments", the Supreme Court finds itself being put in the position of arbiter over laws and actions of governments whose overweening desire to control aspects of society that proscription has never effectively controlled.  Under Mulroney, it was the Supreme Court which struck down abortion laws in Canada - for similar reasons to the InSite and Prostitution rulings.  In all of these cases, the laws as written placed citizens into places of increased danger, at the hands of the law itself.

The InSite case was a matter of the Harper Government wanting to shut down the program, in spite of a mountain of clear evidence that it has been effective in reducing the damage done by heroin consumption in Vancouver.  There was no law struck down in that case, rather the government was effectively told that it had to abide by its own rules rather than arbitrarily imposing its political will through policy alone.

The Bedford case on prostitution is more complicated, in large part because the laws surrounding prostitution largely predate the creation of the Constitution in Canada.  Further, the awareness of the impact of those laws on prostitutes (who, I must point out are not criminals under the law), created a peculiar dynamic which ultimately placed the prostitutes in danger.

These are subtle points in law, though.  It is easy, if not silly, to claim that because parliament passed a law that it is valid.  Politicians are creatures of the moment, and prone to creating laws which are to one degree or another reactions to the pressures of the day.  Laws drafted before the 1983 Constitution Acts are very likely going to violate one or more aspects of the Constitution.  This is not a bad thing, it is simply a reality.  A law written when I was born is not guaranteed to be a meaningful law forty years later.  Understandings change, society changes (hopefully for the better), and the impact of that law changes.
In practice, this means that a single, anonymous trial judge is authorized to impose his social worldview on the entire country. In the Insite case, for example, the trial judge found as a “fact” that the social benefits of the safe injection site outweighed its costs. 
Ummm, yes, Mr. Roth.  Perhaps you should go read some of the research that has been published related to InSite.  You know, that objective stuff called evidence?  Does that constitute a "fact", or does the Harper Government's overt hostility to a program based solely on talking points and political spin constitute a stronger "fact"?  Personally, I'll take the one that has actual evidence behind it as opposed to talking points and emotional statements.
Ultimately, these cases — like most Charter cases — are about policy choices. Courts can serve as a useful check on democracy by ensuring that Parliament is using reasonable means to advance its objectives. But turning every social policy issue into a disputed “fact” to be resolved by a single judge after hearing testimony from academics is nothing but a transparent effort to substitute judges’ policy views for those of Parliament  —just what the SCC repeatedly claims not to do.
Here is where Mr. Roth drops the veil of supposedly objective analysis and plays the "activist judge" card.  Unfortunately for Mr. Roth, his entire argument falls apart on this.  There is a fascinating balance in the Canadian Constitution which he fails to understand.  The judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, is in the unique position of acting as a counterweight to the inclination of politicians to be excessive in their legislation and implementation of policy.

The Supreme Court does not deal in the cut-and-dried logic of concrete evidence as one would find in a lower court dealing with a murder case.  They are often called to deal with the law and its impact across the broad swath of society.  Laws are ultimately matters which affect the society which they are written for.  As much as Mr. Roth (and no doubt his mentor, Mr. Scalia) might like to remove "soft facts" such as social impact studies from the picture and only deal in "hard facts", the fact is that the higher courts simply cannot do so and carry out their role effectively.

This is not "judicial activism", as the far right likes to call it.  Rather it is a part of a process which ultimately ends up holding the desires of politicians to exceed their legitimate authority by writing laws which violate fundamental principles set out elsewhere in law.  The Harper Government has done this repeatedly in a swath of laws that it has passed - all of which will have to be challenged in court, or repealed by future governments in order to bring the body of Canada's laws back in line with the principles of our nation's Constitution.