Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pat Buchanan: Civil Rights Laws Have Served Their Purpose

Wow.  I've known that Buchanan had long since fallen off the rhetorical cliff of the far right, but today's column is a real prize winner.
A radical idea: Suppose we repealed the civil rights laws and fired all the bureaucrats enforcing these laws. 
Does anyone think hotels, motels and restaurants across Dixie, from D.C. to Texas, would stop serving black customers? Does anyone think there would again be signs sprouting up reading "whites" and "colored" on drinking foundations and restrooms? 
Does anyone think restrictive covenants against Jews would be rewritten into contracts on houses? Does anything think that bars and hotels would stop serving blacks and Hispanics?
Having travelled in parts of the US, and long since learned that although the Civil Rights movement successfully broke down the legal barriers which stood between blacks and legal equality, the wounds of racial segregation still run deep in the national psyche on both sides.

Buchanan might think that civil rights laws have "run their course", but he is profoundly mistaken in his thinking.  I would suggest that the demonstrably uneven application of the so-called "stand your ground" laws and the laws being proposed in Arizona which create a hierarchy of rights with religion at the top are clear indications that the need for civil rights laws continues to exist.
And, indeed, some bigots might revert to type. But so what? 
Cannot a free people deal with social misconduct with social sanctions? 
And isn't this what freedom is all about? The freedom of others to say things we disagree with, to publish ideas we disbelieve in, even to engage in behavior we dislike?
As for the Christians of Arizona and same-sex unions in Arizona, if they don't like each other, can they not just avoid each other? After all, it's a big state. 
Funny.  I would imagine that more than a few people who have been on the receiving end of bigotry might just see it a little differently.  The couple that a baker refused to make a cake for comes to mind as an example, and yes, I can imagine the reappearance of signs in restaurants saying "No Service for ...".

The point is not that someone might publish something objectionable, or that a restaurant might decide to deny service to others.  Rather, it is that too often those tools have been used to marginalize and demonize other human beings.  If Buchanan truly understands the concepts of liberty, justice and equality, he will understand that there are those who will always try to limit the ability of others to access rights.

One wonders how long it will be until we start hearing this same argument from so-called "Free Speech Warrior" Ezra Levant?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Far Right's Scorched Earth Policy

The last few weeks has been a series of horrifying revelations for supporters of LGBT rights.  What it has unveiled is the "scorched earth" approach that the far right in the US is willing to pursue.

First it was Kansas's House of Representatives passing a hideous "Jim Crow" law, only to have their Senate balk at it.  Kansas, it seems was only one head of the hydra, with Arizona's state Senate passing a very similar law a mere week later.  As writers at Alternet point out, Republicans in several states are pushing similar legislation:
Republicans in Arizona, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi, and Oklahoma have now introduced bills that would also grant religious zealots the right the segregate their businesses against LGBT Americans. Significantly, all of these bills were introduced this year. 
These kinds of laws are naturally appalling to reasonable people.  These aren't reasonable people pushing this legislation.

At the same time, we have anti-gay activists Scott Lively and Peter LaBarbera getting together to push for Russia-style anti "gay propaganda" laws.   Okay, these two are to some extent seen as a bad joke in their home country.  That doesn't mean they can be safely ignored.  It's pretty well documented that Lively has been influential in both Uganda and Russia creating anti-gay legislation in recent years.  It is through the activism of people like these two that the "Tea Party" Republicans get the idea of who to demonize - and the target is LGBT people.

In Canada, these "right to discriminate" ideas have been soft-peddled under the rubric of "conscience rights" - especially with respect to the abortion debate, and until recently "Conscience Rights" were part of the WildRose Party of Alberta's platform - so it's not like Canadian political discourse is immune to the influence of these ideas.

The optimist in me wants to believe that this is the thrashing of a dying movement.  Unfortunately, I think it really tells us that the price of the liberty and equality that the LGBT movement has gained since the 1960s truly is eternal vigilance.  There will always be a significant and very vocal group of people who will be using LGBT people as the choice target for demonizing with their politics of fear and division. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Rob Ford's re-Election Strategy

After reading this, I wonder just who from Harper's inner circle is advising their campaign?
In another pointed jab at the gay community, Doug Ford accused the mother of a gay son of “bullying” for accusing Rob Ford of homophobia.Rob Ford has begun his mayoral campaign by saying that hedeliberately avoids the Pride festival and vocally opposing the city’s decision to fly a rainbow flag during the Olympics in solidarity with the gay community in Russia. Doug Ford, his brother’s campaign manager, has complained that Pride involves “buck naked men.”On the second episode of their YouTube campaign show, released on Tuesday, Rob Ford read aloud a letter from a Scarborough mother who said she is hurt by his actions and called him “homophobic.”“This is about being patriotic to our country,” Ford said to the camera. “I am not homophobic. I will go to anyone’s house, anyone’s place, to help them out. I take offence when people say that to me.”Doug Ford said: “You know how many gay friends that we have? People that have worked on our campaign. So you may want to try to bully us into things, but — that’s how I feel sometimes, Rob. I feel like I’ve been bullied into something.”
This is hallmark tactics out of the far right these days - attack on one front, and then when you get blowback, start dog-whistling to the extremists in your base.  

It is a zero-sum game.  Any criticism must be eradicated.  If you can do it in a way that reinforces the support of your "base", so much the better.

I don't know how much of Ford Nation is staunchly So-Con, but clearly they have gained a prominent voice on the shoulder of the brothers Ford.  This is clearly dog-whistling to the supporters of people like Gwen Landolt and Charles McVety.

Of considerable note is the conflation of Rob Ford's opposition to flying the Pride flag outside of Toronto's city hall with "patriotism".
“This is about being patriotic to our country,” Ford said to the camera. “I am not homophobic. I will go to anyone’s house, anyone’s place, to help them out. I take offence when people say that to me.”
This position conflates opposition to Russia's anti-gay politics and patriotism relative to Canada.  Yet, among Canada's athletes at Sochi are no doubt LGBT persons, so how is sending a message of solidarity to them and the LGBT community at home "unpatriotic"?

Of course, it isn't.  But that won't stop them from trying to confuse things in the minds of voters.  This tactic has been used before, and the results weren't pretty.  One can only hope that the voters of Toronto are smart enough to see this for what it is.

Part of me wonders if this isn't a trial balloon for tactics that the CPC is planning for the proposed 2015 election campaign.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Wente Is Getting It Wrong ... Again

I suppose it should come as little or no surprise that Margaret Wente is getting things wrong again.  This time, she is expounding on the treatment of transgender children.
Suddenly transgender kids are everywhere – in the news, on Dr. Phil and in your neighbourhood. School boards have developed detailed transgender policies. Clinics to treat transgender kids have sprung up. A condition that used to be vanishingly rare, perhaps one in 10,000 children or less, now seems common. In a random sampling of 6th- to 8th-graders in San Francisco, kids were asked if they identified as male, female or transgendered – 1.3 per cent checked off the transgendered box. 
She concludes with:

It’s a mark of social progress that we are increasingly willing to accept people on their terms, for who they are. But maybe we’re manufacturing more problems than we’re solving. If we really want to help people, we should remember the old rule: First, do no harm. 
Through the entire article, she relies on two authorities - Dr. Kenneth Zucker and Alice Dreger.   Zucker, along with his colleague at CAMH Ray Blanchard, have long been seen by the transgender community as deeply problematic - for good reason.

Ken Zucker is a psychologist at the Clarke Institute (aka "Jurassic Clarke") in Toronto. Zucker is famous for forcing gender-variant children into reparative therapy to conform to his expectations for male and female behavior in children. He considers transsexual women a "bad outcome" for gay men. 
Zucker is a darling of the "ex-gay" movement because of his work "curing" gender-variant children. Here is a piece featuring his work via ex-gay group NARTH (National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuals): 
http://www.narth.com/docs/gid.html 
Zucker promotes his NARTH-like notions of reparative therapy for kids with gender variance, reviewed here on another ex-gay site: 
http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/narth/childhood.html
We already know that so-called "reparative therapy" doesn't work for homosexuality, what on earth makes Zucker, or anyone else, think that it has any validity for transgender people.

As for Ms. Dreger, anyone silly enough to get into bed with J. Michael Bailey and defend the atrocious work that he wrote called "The Man Who Would Be Queen" has a serious credibility problem in the first place.

Quoting from Ms. Dreger, Wente draws the following:
Here’s more unwelcome news from Ms. Dreger. A child’s gender issue may merely be a symptom of other family problems. “The dirty little secret is that many of these families have big dysfunctional issues. When you get the clinicians over a beer, they’ll tell you the truth. A lot of the parents aren’t well in terms of their mental health. They think that once the child transitions, all their problems will magically go away, but that’s not really where the stress is located.” Clinicians won’t say these things publicly, she says, because they don’t want to sound as if they’re blaming gender problems on screwed-up families. 
Can we dredge any more old tropes?  We used to blame the parents for their kids being gay, now we're replaying that same ridiculous script when someone's child turns out to be transgender?  Give me a break.  If Ms. Wente had bothered to even do a little bit more research, she would have found that Ms. Dreger is grossly distorting the picture.

The WPATH SOC V7 provides the following guidance to mental health professionals:

Provide family counseling and support- ive psychotherapy to assist children and adolescents with exploring their gender identity, alleviating distress related to their gender dysphoria, and ameliorating any other psychosocial difficulties
This is extremely important when examining what Dreger is saying.  Namely that she is implying that the treatment community has a mass conspiracy afoot to deny that there are "other problems" that are at the root of being transgender.  If that was the case, the WPATH SOC would not contain language like this.  Dreger's claims are very similar to those of Walt Heyer - whose misadventures negate his own claims of misdeeds and malice on the part of the treatment community.

Wente's argument also draws the following from Dreger:

For some people, including some adolescents, transgender treatment is lifesaving. But these treatments are neither simple nor benign. They may, among other things, retard maturation, suppress your growth or render you sterile. And in the end, medical science cannot create a body that makes you forget you were born the other sex. “Some kids need it, but for the kids who don’t, it’s dangerous,” she says. “All else being equal, it’s better to avoid long-term hormone therapy and major surgery that removes a lot of tissue.” 
Disturbingly, data on long-term outcomes for transgender kids are scarce. No one is tracking the evidence on puberty-blocking intervention either. “We are doing major interventions and we have shockingly little idea what the outcomes are,” Ms. Dreger says. You get the sense that what we have is not so much a rational approach to a psychosocial issue as a radical ideological experiment. 
Let's see ... the percentage of the population that is transgender is tiny to begin with.  It's going to be an even smaller percentage who are going to be able and willing to express those desires before they reach puberty.  Ironically, most transsexuals know that they are trans long before the age of puberty.  If the option not to go through "the wrong puberty" exists, dear god, but it would be a blessing for so many.

Dreger's claim that there is a lack of long term consequences data available is also highly questionable.  Given the fact that Dr. Spack has been been running his clinic in Boston since 2007, the criticism about "long term consequences" is debatable.  The fact is that just about every transsexual who has transitioned wishes that they had done so earlier than they did.  We already know the consequences of insisting that transsexuals go through puberty the wrong way, and then try to undo it through transition as adults - the psychological trauma is no small thing to deal with, and the cost of living life in the wrong body is impossible to calculate.

Quoting Zucker:

Gender dysphoria (formerly known as gender identity disorder) means being at odds with your biological sex. It’s not the same as being born with ambivalent genitalia, or being gay. The popular shorthand is “being born in the wrong body,” although that formulation probably does more harm than good. Sex-reassignment treatment is appropriate for some (although by no means all) adults who are unhappy with their gender identity, and some go on to live significantly happier lives. 

But for kids, especially younger ones, the issue is much more problematic. Gender confusion is often temporary. About three-quarters of little kids who have issues with their gender – boys who want to be princesses, girls who throw their dresses in the garbage – will be comfortable with it by adolescence, according to Dr. Zucker. (Many of them will grow up to be gay or bi.) Gender confusion can also be a handy label for whatever ails a child (or her family). That’s why Dr. Zucker takes a watch-and-wait approach. He even advises parents of princessy six-year-olds to say, “You’re not a girl. You’re a boy.” 
The point that needs to be made (again), is that the WPATH SOC is similarly clear about caution regarding the introduction of physical interventions:
Before any physical interventions are consid- ered for adolescents, extensive exploration of psychological, family, and social issues should be undertaken, as outlined above. The duration of this exploration may vary considerably de- pending on the complexity of the situation.  ...
In order for adolescents to receive puberty- suppressing hormones, the following minimum criteria must be met: 
1. The adolescent has demonstrated a long- lasting and intense pattern of gender non- conformity or gender dysphoria (whether suppressed or expressed);
2. Gender dysphoria emerged or worsened with the onset of puberty;
3. Any coexisting psychological, medical, or social problems that could interfere with treatment (e.g., that may compromise treatment adherence) have been addressed, such that the adolescent’s situation and functioning are stable enough to start treatment;
4. The adolescent has given informed consent and, particularly when the adolescent has not reached the age of medical consent, the parents or other caretakers or guardians have consented to the treatment and are involved in supporting the adolescent throughout the treatment process. 
These are not trivial claims, and an ethical practitioner is going to be very careful in making this kind of assessment and recommendation ... and that is for a reversible intervention.

Here is where Ms. Wente makes me quite annoyed.  Her article makes it sound like there is a sudden epidemic of children who are transgender springing up, and that these children are being "exploited" by greedy treatment providers.

Of course, she engages with Zucker and Dreger, two people who are going to validate her assumptions.  Does she expand her research to include Dr. Spack?  No.  Does she even take the time to review the WPATH SOC?  No.

Ms. Wente should be ashamed of doing such sloppy research, and the Globe and Mail should be embarrassed for publishing such tripe.


Friday, February 14, 2014

Disappointing ... But Unsurprising

In light of the Harper Government(tm)'s ongoing assault on science in this country - especially anything resembling the environment - it comes as little surprise that the government is currently not meeting its own legislated obligations with respect to endangered species.

In a case covering four species that Justice Anne Mactavish calls "the tip of the iceberg," the court found there's a major systemic problem in the two ministries charged with protecting endangered and threatened wildlife. 
The 47-page ruling released Friday states that "public officials are not above the law. If an official acts contrary to a statute, the courts are entitled to so declare." 
At issue was a challenge brought by five environmental organizations, who asked the court to enforce provisions under the Species at Risk Act. 
The groups cited four particular species: the nechako white sturgeon, the pacific humpback whale, the marbled murrelet and the southern mountain woodland caribou.
Frankly this comes as no great surprise.  The Harper Government(tm) has demonstrated repeatedly its disdain for any science which is inconvenient to the dogma of "free markets".  In their view, anyone who advocates for the environment is a "terrorist" of some kind.  
In her judgment, Mactavish pointedly noted that lack of resources for the government departments came up time and again in testimony. 
Yet the Conservative government counsel, she wrote, "advised the court that he had been specifically instructed not to raise a lack of resources as a justification for the delay in posting proposed recovery strategies for the four species." 
Mactavish ruled "there is clearly an enormous systemic problem within the relevant ministries." 
It is this last part of the article that is equally significant when evaluating this situation.  It is not just that the Harper Government(tm) has objectively written a great deal of legislation which has effectively gutted not only Canada's laws to protect the environment, but it has also systematically eviscerated the ability of the responsible departments to do their jobs by mangling their mandates and choking off the funds needed to actually do the job.

By no means am I some "bleeding heart" that believes that all development is evil, or that no pipeline should ever be built.  However, I do believe that the government has obligations to ensure that Canada is a good steward of the lands, resources and lives which reside within its domains.  It is not acceptable that our governing party has spent much of the past several years dismantling the laws and infrastructure solely because they find it inconvenient to their political ideology.

Canada is a land rich in resources and wildlife.  We owe it to ourselves and our descendants to safeguard that wealth.


Thursday, February 13, 2014

On Rob Ford and "Private Time"

Robyn Doolittle was the guest on Alberta At Noon on CBC today, and the discussion naturally revolved around Rob Ford.

Recently, Rob Ford has turned up in Vancouver - intoxicated apparently - and in nightclubs in Toronto.  When he has been accused of being intoxicated, he has tried to dodge behind the veil of "well, it's my personal time, I can do what I like" argument.

I can appreciate that Mr. Ford has a desire for "personal time", and to be free to do as he wishes in that time.  However, when you are a public figure, the reality is a little different.

From a business perspective, Ford is effectively the CEO of a $9 billion-a-year corporation.  Anytime he is out in public, he represents that corporation - even if that is doing something as mundane as buying a bottle of milk at the corner store.  You never know when you are going to encounter a prospective client.

Looking a little further, Mr. Ford is a politician.  He is a duly elected public official.  As such, he should be quite familiar with the campaign trail, and the equally brutal fact that he is even more visible to the public as a result of both his campaigning and his distinctive appearance.  No matter what he does, when he steps outside of his home, Mr. Ford is undeniably subject to observation by everybody who walks past him.

Is Mr. Ford free to do as he wishes when he isn't at work?  Yes, he absolutely is.  However, he should also recognize that he is also very much in the public eye anytime he leaves his home.  If he is photographed in the company of known drug dealers, or drunk in a nightclub, that really is his lookout.

The public, however, may see it a little differently.  If they see Mr. Ford "out on the town", and he appears intoxicated, they are similarly free to make their own judgments of the situation.  If it comes out in the news that Mr. Ford is consorting with known criminals, the public has a right to know this and make their own determination about what the implications are.  In today's world of smartphones, everybody has a camera at hand, and Twitter can be used to broadcast what Rob Ford is up to faster than he can inhale a puff from a crack pipe.  Private time simply isn't an option for him except in the privacy of his own home.

The issue that Rob Ford has to face is not merely that he drinks to excess, or has used narcotics.  (Both represent personal problems that he needs to deal with)  No, the bigger problem that he has to face is that he has lied to the public about his activities and actions.  In doing so, he has impugned his own credibility. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Senate Expenses Mess Continues

So, a bunch more Conservative Senators have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

In one case, Senator Scott Tannas of Alberta billed $12,000 to taxpayers to fly himself and his wife in executive class to Ottawa for a two-day trip. 
Another senator, from Toronto, was one of the party's highest billers for travel despite being just an hour by air from the national capital.   
The pricey travel, found by a CBC News review, came at the same time as senators were debating whether or not to suspend three of their peers — Pamela Wallin, Mike Duffy and Patrick Brazeau — for questionable spending practices.
I don't object to paying the travel expenses for the Senators as they travel to and from Ottawa on Senate business.  I may not even object too much to paying for "Executive Class" (or whatever first class is called today) if there is a reasonable justification for it.

I do object to paying for the flights of spouses, and I also object to paying for first class simply as a matter of course.  A first class ticket is in excess of $3,000.  An economy class ticket for the same trip is between $400 and $1000.  There has to be a good business reason for that upgrade.

As for spouses joining you on a trip, that should be paid for by the Senator, not by Canadians.  In private enterprise, it is rare indeed for a company to agree to pay the travel costs for a spouse joining an employee on a trip.

Perhaps what is most offensive about all this is that it comes from the very people, Conservatives, who have brayed long and hard about how government should be run more like a business.  What do we find?  Their snouts firmly in the public trough, at a time when the Senate itself is already being rocked by the revelations of four of their number who apparently have badly abused the very expense system in question.  Surely these Senators have more sense than that!

C-23 Summarized In A Nutshell

Kind of says it all, IMO:


The Galloping Beaver: New Model Country, New Model Army

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

C-24 In Conjunction With C-23 As Instruments Of Voter Suppression

There has been a lot of attention on Bill C-23 the last week or so, and in particular the parts of it which appear to be tools that can be used for voter suppression.

In discussing the Voter ID requirements of Bill C-23, I became very concerned that this government could well be introducing other legislation which could act in concert with Bill C-23 to suppress the ability of opposition groups to be heard.

Sure enough, Bill C-24 contains some interesting and troubling clauses which dramatically broaden the ability of the government to revoke citizenship.  The proposed section 10(2) reads as follows:

(2) The Minister may revoke a person’s citizenship if the person, before or after the coming into force of this subsection and while the person was a citizen,(a) was convicted under section 47 of the Criminal Code of treason and sentenced to imprisonment for life or was convicted of high treason under that section;(b) was convicted of a terrorism offence as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code — or an offence outside Canada that, if committed in Canada, would constitute a terrorism offence as defined in that section — and sentenced to at least five years of imprisonment;(c) was convicted of an offence under any of sections 73 to 76 of the National Defence Act and sentenced to imprisonment for life because the person acted traitorously;(d) was convicted of an offence under section 78 of the National Defence Act and sentenced to imprisonment for life;(e) was convicted of an offence under section 130 of the National Defence Act in respect of an act or omission that is punishable under section 47 of theCriminal Code and sentenced to imprisonment for life;(f) was convicted under the National Defence Act of a terrorism offence as defined in subsection 2(1) of that Act and sentenced to at least five years of imprisonment;(g) was convicted of an offence described in section 16 or 17 of the Security of Information Act and sentenced to imprisonment for life; or(h) was convicted of an offence under section 130 of the National Defence Act in respect of an act or omission that is punishable under section 16 or 17 of the Security of Information Act and sentenced to imprisonment for life.
The reference to Canada's Treason laws is a little surprising here.  Perhaps more interesting is the reference to "Terrorism" in S10(2)(b), especially in the context of this government's willingness to claim that opposition groups are "terrorists".  What I don't see in here is anything significant which stays the government's hand.  Instead, it gives the government, and in particular the Minister, excessive powers to act to strip people of their citizenship.  I am not at all convinced that the government cannot apply these same clauses to more than just those who possess citizenship in another country.
10.4 (1) Subsections 10(2) and 10.1(2) do not operate so as to authorize any decision, action or declaration that conflicts with any international human rights instrument regarding statelessness to which Canada is signatory.(2) If an instrument referred to in subsection (1) prohibits the deprivation of citizenship that would render a person stateless, a person who claims that subsection 10(2) or 10.1(2) would operate in the manner described in subsection (1) must prove, on a balance of probabilities, that the person is not a citizen of any country of which the Minister has reasonable grounds to believe the person is a citizen.
Take note of the burden of proof requirement in 10.4(2).  This creates a nasty little situation where the person being stripped of citizenship must attempt to prove a negative.  Generally speaking, proving a negative is rhetorically and practically impossible - even with the "on the balance of probabilities" language inserted in the clause.

Bill C-24 creates a situation where anybody who holds dual citizenship is implicitly subject to an additional level of scrutiny in their activities in this country.  Engage with an environmental lobby group?  Better hope that the government doesn't decide that it's a "terrorist organization".

This is an evil little bit of legislation.  The implicit threat it carries is that the government will go after a citizen's right to engage in lawful protest by declaring dissident groups "terrorist" and then using this mechanism to withdraw their citizenship.

What does it mean with respect to C-23?  It means that this government is about to embark on a program of suppressing dissent by having opposition groups that dare criticize its actions declared "terrorists", or possibly even going as far as trying to declare that they were engaging in "treason" of some sort.

The implications are clear enough, the threats are obvious.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Bill C-23: Part VI: The Theft Of Democracy - Muzzling The Chief Electoral Officer

Wading through C-23 is feeling more and more like trying to pick one's way through a minefield.  Every step, you half expect to find something that is going to go "click" ... followed by a very loud bang.

Today, I bring you what the Conservatives are doing to the ability of Elections Canada to evaluate what is happening in our elections and take steps to make things work better.  (Hint:  It isn't good for Canada)

At present, Section 18 of the Canada Elections Act reads as follows:
18. (1) The Chief Electoral Officer may im- plement public education and information pro- grams to make the electoral process better known to the public, particularly to those per- sons and groups most likely to experience diffi- culties in exercising their democratic rights. 
(2) The Chief Electoral Officer may, using any media or other means that he or she consid- ers appropriate, provide the public, both inside and outside Canada, with information relating to Canada’s electoral process, the democratic right to vote and how to be a candidate. 
(3) The Chief Electoral Officer may estab- lish programs to disseminate information out- side Canada concerning how to vote under Part 11. 
18.1 The Chief Electoral Officer may carry out studies on voting, including studies respect- ing alternative voting means, and may devise and test an electronic voting process for future use in a general election or a by-election. Such a process may not be used for an official vote without the prior approval of the committees of the Senate and of the House of Commons that normally consider electoral matters.
The amendments to S18 in C-23 read as follows:

Sunday, February 09, 2014

Bill C-23: The Theft Of Canada's Democracy - Voter ID : Part V

The Voter ID parts of Bill C-23 are profoundly troubling, and in my view are a giant red flag that this bill should be stopped as soon as possible.  It has the distinct smell about it of turning into a variation on the "Voter ID" laws that have been passed in several US states which ultimately serve as a means to make it impossible for the nation's marginalized populations to exercise their right to vote.

Should you be scared?  Yes.

It took me a while to sort out exactly what has been done with sections 143-146 in bill C-23, because Bill C-23 is a bit of a "scattershot" - lots of "section x is replaced by" and "section y is repealed" in there.  So, I am going to walk through things starting with the existing law (last amended in 2007, it appears).  You don't have to wade through all of this right now, it is here to provide a clear checkpoint back to what the law looks like before C-23.


Admitting Voters
141. Immediately after the ballot box is sealed, the deputy returning officer shall call on the electors to vote.
142. (1) The deputy returning officer shall ensure that every elector is admitted into the polling station and that the electors are not dis- turbed when they are in or near the polling sta- tion.
(2) A deputy returning officer may, if he or she considers it advisable, direct that not more than one elector for each voting compartment may at any time enter the room where the vot- ing is held.
143. (1) Each elector, on arriving at the polling station, shall give his or her name and address to the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk, and, on request, to a candidate or his or her representative.
(2) If the poll clerk determines that the elec- tor’s name and address appear on the list of electors or that the elector is allowed to vote under section 146, 147, 148 or 149, then, sub- ject to subsection (3), the elector shall provide to the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk the following proof of his or her identity and residence:(a) one piece of identification issued by a Canadian government, whether federal, provincial or local, or an agency of that gov- ernment, that contains a photograph of the elector and his or her name and address; or
(b) two pieces of identification authorized by the Chief Electoral Officer each of which establish the elector’s name and at least one of which establishes the elector’s address.
(2.1) For greater certainty, the Chief Elec- toral Officer may authorize as a piece of identi- fication for the purposes of paragraph (2)(b) any document, regardless of who issued it.
(2.2) For the purposes of paragraph (2)(b), a document issued by the Government of Canada that certifies that a person is registered as an In- dian under the Indian Act constitutes an autho- rized piece of identification.
(3) An elector may instead prove his or her identity and residence by taking the prescribed oath if he or she is accompanied by an elector whose name appears on the list of electors for the same polling division and who
(a) provides to the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk the piece or pieces of iden- tification referred to in paragraph (2)(a) or (b), respectively; and
(b) vouches for him or her on oath in the prescribed form.
(3.1) If the address contained in the piece or pieces of identification provided under subsec- tion (2) or paragraph (3)(a) does not prove the elector’s residence but is consistent with infor- mation related to the elector that appears on the list of electors, the elector’s residence is deemed to have been proven.
(3.2) Despite subsection (3.1), a deputy re- turning officer, poll clerk, candidate or candi- date’s representative who has reasonable doubts concerning the residence of an elector referred to in that subsection may request that the elector take the prescribed oath, in which case his or her residence is deemed to have been proven only if he or she takes that oath.
(4) If the deputy returning officer is satisfied that an elector’s identity and residence have been proven in accordance with subsection (2) or (3), the elector’s name shall be crossed off the list and, subject to section 144, the elector shall be immediately allowed to vote.(5) No elector shall vouch for more than one elector at an election.
(6) An elector who has been vouched for at an election may not vouch for another elector at that election.
(7) The Chief Electoral Officer shall publish each year, and within three days after the issue of a writ, in a manner that he or she considers appropriate, a notice setting out the types of identification that are authorized for the pur- pose of paragraph (2)(b). The first annual no- tice shall be published no later than six months after the coming into force of this subsection. 2000, c. 9, s. 143; 2007, c. 21, s. 21, c. 37, s. 1.
143.1 If a person decides to prove his or her identity and residence by taking the prescribed oath, the person who administers the oath shall, before doing so, orally advise the oath taker of the qualifications for electors and the penalty that may be imposed under this Act on a person who is convicted of voting or attempting to vote at an election knowing that he or she is not qualified as an elector.
2007, c. 21, s. 21.
144. A deputy returning officer, poll clerk, candidate or candidate’s representative who has reasonable doubts concerning whether a person intending to vote is qualified as an elector may request that the person take the prescribed oath, and the person shall not be allowed to vote un- less he or she takes that oath.
2000, c. 9, s. 144; 2007, c. 21, s. 21.
144.1 Once an elector has been given a bal- lot, no person shall require the elector to prove his or her identity and residence in accordance with subsection 143(2) or (3).2007, c. 21, s. 21.
145. [Repealed, 2007, c. 21, s. 21]146. If a name and address in the list of
electors correspond so closely with the name and address of a person who demands a ballot as to suggest that it is intended to refer to that person, the person shall not be allowed to vote unless he or she takes the prescribed oath.2000, c. 9, s. 146; 2007, c. 21, s. 22.
147. If a person asks for a ballot at a polling station after someone else has voted under that person’s name, the person shall not be allowed to vote unless he or she takes the prescribed oath.
2000, c. 9, s. 147; 2007, c. 21, s. 22.
148. If an elector claims that his or her name has been crossed off in error from an official list of electors under subsection 176(2) or (3), the elector shall not be allowed to vote unless the returning officer verifies that the elector’s name was crossed off in error or the elector takes the oath referred to in section 147.2000, c. 9, s. 148; 2007, c. 21, s. 22. 
After Bill C-23 is passed (assuming no consequential amendments), the revised law will look like this:  (emphasis added where there are changes made)

Admitting Voters141. Immediately after the ballot box is sealed, the deputy returning officer shall call on the electors to vote.142. (1) The deputy returning officer shall ensure that every elector is admitted into the polling station and that the electors are not dis- turbed when they are in or near the polling sta- tion.(2) A deputy returning officer may, if he or she considers it advisable, direct that not more than one elector for each voting compartment may at any time enter the room where the vot- ing is held.143. (1) Each elector, on arriving at the polling station, shall give his or her name and address to the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk, and, on request, to a candidate or his or her representative.
Proof of identity and residence
(2) If the poll clerk determines that the elector’s name and address appear on the list of electors or that the elector is allowed to vote under section 146, 147, 148 or 149, then the elector shall provide the deputy returning officer and the poll clerk with the following proof of the elector’sidentity and residence:
(a) one piece of identification issued by a Canadian government, whether federal, provincial or local, or an agency of that gov- ernment, that contains a photograph of the elector and his or her name and address; or
(b) two pieces of identification of a type authorized under subsection (2.1), each of which establishes the elector’s name and at least one of which establishes the elector’s address.
Authorized types of identification(2.1) The Chief Electoral Officer may authorize types of identification for the purposes of paragraph (2)(b). For greater certainty, any document — other than a notice of confirmation of registration sent under section 95 or 102 — regardless of who issued the document, may be authorized.
(2.2) For the purposes of paragraph (2)(b), a document issued by the Government of Canada that certifies that a person is registered as an In- dian under the Indian Act constitutes an autho- rized piece of identification.
Proof of residence(3.1) If the address contained in the piece or pieces of identification provided under subsection (2) does not prove the elector’s residence but is consistent with information related to the elector that appears on the list of electors, the elector’s residence is deemed to have been proven.
(3.2) Despite subsection (3.1), a deputy re- turning officer, poll clerk, candidate or candi- date’s representative who has reasonable doubts concerning the residence of an elector referred to in that subsection may request that the elector take the prescribed oath, in which case his or her residence is deemed to have been proven only if he or she takes that oath.
Examination of identification documents(3.3) A candidate or their representative may examine but not handle any piece of identification presented under this section.Voting(4) If the deputy returning officer is satisfied that an elector’s identity and residence have been proven in accordance with subsection (2), the elector’s name shall be crossed off the list and, subject to section 144, the elector shall be immediately allowed to vote.
(7) The Chief Electoral Officer shall publish each year, and within three days after the issue of a writ, in a manner that he or she considers appropriate, a notice setting out the types of identification that are authorized for the pur- pose of paragraph (2)(b). The first annual no- tice shall be published no later than six months after the coming into force of this subsection. 2000, c. 9, s. 143; 2007, c. 21, s. 21, c. 37, s. 1.
143 [Repealed, 2014 ...] 
144. A deputy returning officer, poll clerk, candidate or candidate’s representative who has reasonable doubts concerning whether a person intending to vote is qualified as an elector may request that the person take the prescribed oath, and the person shall not be allowed to vote un- less he or she takes that oath.
2000, c. 9, s. 144; 2007, c. 21, s. 21.
Proof of identity, etc., or oath not required144.1 Once an elector has been given a ballot, no person shall require the elector to prove his or her identity and residence in accordance with subsection 143(2).
145. [Repealed, 2007, c. 21, s. 21]146. If a name and address in the list ofelectors correspond so closely with the name and address of a person who demands a ballot as to suggest that it is intended to refer to that person, the person shall not be allowed to vote unless he or she takes the prescribed oath.2000, c. 9, s. 146; 2007, c. 21, s. 22.
Person in whose name another has voted147. If a person asks for a ballot at a polling station after someone else has voted under that person’s name, the person shall not be allowed to vote unless he or she takes an oath in writing in the prescribed form. The form is to state the penalty that may be imposed under this Act on a person who is found guilty of requesting a second ballot at an election contrary to section 7 or of applying for a ballot in a name that is not his or her own contrary to paragraph 167(1)(a).Name crossed off list in error148. If an elector claims that his or her name has been crossed off in error from an official list of electors under subsection 176(2) or (3), the elector shall not be allowed to vote unless the returning officer verifies that the elector’s name was crossed off in error or the elector takes the oath referred to in section 147 in writing.
This is only slightly more readable than the tabled legislation currently before Parliament, but it does give an idea of the changes being made in this section of the laws related to the conduct of an election in Canada.

Perhaps the most troubling, and shocking, aspect of these amendments is 143(3.3) which reads as follows:
(3.3) A candidate or their representative may examine but not handle any piece of identification presented under this section.
This is unprecedented.  At no time in my recollection have the party scrutineers at polling stations ever had any specific right to inspect the ID provided by a voter.  In adding this particular clause, the very process of obtaining a ballot has just become subject to political interference.

Consider the following scenario.  The CPC in particular is known to have a database which it uses for tracking both supporters and non-supporters.  It contains as much  identifying information as they have been able to glean from various sources, including legal names, addresses and so on.  So, one could easily imagine a situation where the CPC gives a bunch of "scrutineers" a list of names, and they stand behind the returning officers desks and as various people come up, they check their list.  Voters who are on the "supporter" list get left alone, and voters who are unknown or even explicit non-supporters, are suddenly subject to direct inspection of every piece of ID put forward.

The effect is one where even if the party scrutineer doesn't actually stop an individual voter from voting, they create an atmosphere of intimidation within the polling station.  That will cause some voters to feel that their right to a secret ballot is being abrogated, and they may be reluctant to vote in subsequent elections.

One might ask why I pick out the CPC as likely to conduct such an activity?  Simple.  The CPC has already been shown to engage in a variety of voter suppression tactics, most recently the Robocalls carried out in 2011, but there are other more subtle forms of voter suppression that emerged in the 2008 and 2006 campaigns which have never been fully investigated.

The removal of the "Vouching System" for voters seems unnecessary and punitive for no apparently good reason - the analysis conducted after the 2011 election suggests strongly that the amount of voter fraud arising from the process of Vouching is next to nil.

The Neufeld report found “irregularities”, or administrative errors in 1.3 per cent of votes cast on election day -- meaning there were an average of 500 administrative errors per electoral district. The report made recommendations to Elections Canada for how to improve Canada’s voter services. 
But the curious thing about the report’s findings is that they are completely at odds with the Fair Elections Act.  
The Neufeld report makes no recommendations to axe or change vouching and Voter Information Cards. It does not attribute any administrative errors or “irregularities” made on Election Day to the vouching process itself either. In fact, in no place does the report advocate that vouching be scrapped. 
To combat voting day errors, Neufeld and his coauthors recommend Canada adopt an entirely new voting services model to address the challenges on Voting Day. As it’s clear that an administrative fix won’t solve everything, it recommends Elections Canada ensure that the 200,000 election officers recruited and trained each election receive better recruitment, screening, training and support to better do their jobs on Election Day.
... But a study of 2,068 alleged election-fraud cases shows that actual ballot box fraud is infinitesimal -- it occurs just 0.0000068 per cent of the time, or almost never. 
The report crunched data from across the United States -- where there are 146 million registered voters -- and found just 10 cases of voter fraud.That fraud represents one out of about every 15 million prospective voters. 
The fact is that the vast majority of voter fraud cases are a result of human error, and voter ID laws will do nothing to change that. 
In short, the voter identification changes appear to be designed primarily to make it harder for Canadians to vote.  Where a lack of access to adequate identification documents doesn't stop them, the prospect of being subjected to partisan inspection every time one walks into the polling station will cause a great many people to not participate on the very real grounds of a fear of retaliation simply for not belonging to the dominant party.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Stealing Democracy: Part IV - Marc Mayrand Responds

When it comes to reviewing Bill C-23, as much as I enjoy exploring the labyrinthine language of legalese, I am also interested in what the current head of Elections Canada has to say - after all he's spent the better part of the last decade in that space.

Pierre Poilievre, the minister of state for democratic reform, justified the move to strip many of Elections Canada's powers by saying "the referee should not be wearing a team jersey." 
But Marc Mayrand, the chief electoral officer, told reporters that if he's wearing a jersey, it only has black and white stripes. 
"What I note from this bill is no longer will the referee be on the ice," Mayrand told reporters after a committee hearing on another matter on Parliament Hill. 
"The referee won't be able to call an offside." 
Mayrand told reporters he is concerned the bill, the Fair Elections Act, prevents him from adequately communicating with Canadians, limits citizens' ability to vote and may hamper investigations into major election breaches. 
"I can't talk about anything other than where, when and how to vote," Mayrand said.
This is important.  When Marc Mayrand says this, it should be alarming.  He's basically pointing out that the act guts the ability of Elections Canada to investigate electoral cheating.

Minister Poilievre's quip about "wearing a team jersey" implies that Mr. Mayrand is somehow "partisan" in his conduct - an accusation that makes little or no sense.  But then again, it has been the CPC which has been repeatedly under investigation for violating various aspects of the existing legislation - from individual candidates breaking spending limit rules to the Robocalls scandal.  The Conservatives have tried to violate Canada's elections laws at every turn for years, and then they have complained loudly that they are being "picked on" for "partisan" reasons.

I think the truth is far, far bleaker than that.  The CPC under Stephen Harper is rewriting the rules now so that they can do whatever they wish and not be held accountable for it.   

Friday, February 07, 2014

... It Gets Darker

A break from analyzing Bill C-23 today, but not a break from covering the darkness that is Harper's shadow.

Today's instalment comes in the form of the obviously politically motivated witch-hunt that the CRA is engaging in with environmental organizations in this country.  This isn't particularly new, the Conservatives have been trying to paint the environmental lobby in this country as "terrorists" for years.

Finance Minister Flaherty announced today that the upcoming budget would contain more of the same:
"There are some terrorist organizations, there are some organized crime organizations that launder money through charities, and make donations to charities," he said during a media conference in Toronto on Friday. 
"That's not the purpose of charitable donations in Canada, so we're becoming increasingly strict on the subject. You'll see some more on Tuesday." 
What this does is create a double jeopardy problem for  charitable organizations.  Suddenly, they could find themselves in a position of having to background check donors - in theory to avoid being smeared with the supposition that the charity is necessarily involved in money laundering.  
The finance minister did not offer specifics on what measures would be taken, but said he's not concerned about suggestions that changing rules for charities would be perceived as a way to silence critics of the government. 
"If the critics of the government are terrorist organizations, and organized crime, I don't care," he said.
Then there is the next part of the story - namely the fact that in essence, Flaherty's own comments suggest that there could be a connection between criticizing the government and being a "terrorist" (at least according to this government).

This is the only government I have ever known which has used the language of "othering" to suggesting that their critics are somehow part of a greater conspiracy, or that they are engaged in "illegal" activities somehow.  This kind of propaganda and the implicit lies and aspersions are straight out of the playbook of totalitarian regimes throughout the world in the last couple of centuries.

If nothing else, Canadians must treat this government and its utterances with even more skepticism.  If there isn't corroborating evidence from multiple sources, then it must be assumed that the government is lying.  There are few other choices available to us.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Bill C-23: The Theft Of Democracy Part III

I continue my analysis of Bill C-23 in depth, largely out of the same horror and curiosity that goes with looking at a traffic accident.  Except in this case, it more to shed light upon the various little poison pills and land mines that The Harper Government is slipping into this 240 page monolith.

Today's topic is the appointment of the Commissioner of Canada Elections.  This would be the head of the body responsible for investigating electoral irregularities.

In the pre C-23 legislation, this is a fairly simple piece:

509. The Chief Electoral Officer shall ap- point a Commissioner of Canada Elections, whose duty is to ensure that this Act is com- plied with and enforced. 
C-23 replaces this simple declaration, with the following piece of baroque thinking:
509. (1) The Commissioner of Canada Elections shall be appointed by the Director of Public Prosecutions to hold office during good behaviour for a term of seven years and may be removed by the Director of Public Prosecutions for cause. 
No consultation(2) The Director of Public Prosecutions shall not consult the Chief Electoral Officer with respect to the appointment of the Commissioner. 
Ineligibility(3) A person is not eligible to be appointed as Commissioner if the person is or has been(a) a candidate;(b) an employee of a registered party or a person whose services have been engaged by the registered party to support its electoral or political financing activities;(c) a member of the staff referred to in any of paragraphs 4(2)(a) to (f) of the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act or a person referred to in paragraph 4(2)(g) of that Act;(d) the Chief Electoral Officer, a member of his or her staff or a person whose services have been engaged under subsection 20(1); or(e) an election officer referred to in paragraph 22(1)(a) or (b). 
No re-appointment(4) A person who has served as Commissioner is not eligible for re-appointment to that office. 
Position within Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions509.1 (1) The position of Commissioner of Canada Elections is within the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
This is interesting in several dimensions that I find troubling.

First, disconnecting the Chief Electoral Officer entirely from the Commissioner's appointment seems to me one which blatantly neuters the ability of the Chief Electoral Officer to influence the investigation of any electoral irregularities that they become aware of.  Further, it makes very little sense to move the position of the Commissioner under the auspices of the Director of Public Prosecutions.  While this is not guaranteed to fail, I suspect that the complexities of additional lines of communication that will be required are intended to impede the ability to investigate irregularities.

The list of exclusions is even more concerning.  Depending upon how one reads this, anyone who has ever run for public office, and anyone who worked on those campaigns is automatically excluded from being eligible for this position.  It seems to me that while the Conservatives will claim that this is intended to stop patronage appointments to "old political friends" from happening, what it really does is ensure that anyone who has been burned by electoral misdoing on the part of other parties doesn't get anywhere near a place where they could actually prosecute it.

Section 510 is all the more troubling:

Investigation by Commissioner510. (1) The Commissioner, on his or her own initiative or in response to a complaint, may conduct an investigation if he or she believes on reasonable grounds that an offence under this Act has been committed.Notice(2) As soon as feasible after beginning an investigation, the Commissioner shall give written notice of the investigation to the person whose conduct is being investigated. The notice is not to be given if, in the Commissioner’s opinion, to do so might compromise or hinder the investigation or any other investigation. 
Independence(3) The Commissioner is to conduct the investigation independently of the Director of Public Prosecutions. 
Confidentiality510.1 (1) Subject to subsection (2), neither the Commissioner nor any person acting under his or her direction shall disclose any information relating to an investigation that comes to their knowledge in the exercise of their powers or the performance of their duties and functions under this Act, including information that reveals or from which may be inferred the name of the complainant, if any, the person whose conduct is being investigated or any witness. 
Disclosure authorized(2) The Commissioner may disclose or may authorize any person acting under his or her direction to disclose(a) with the consent of the person in question, the name of any of the following: the complainant, if any, the person whose conduct is being investigated and any witness;(b) information that, in the Commissioner’s opinion, is necessary to carry out an investigation;(c) when a matter is referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions under subsection 511(1), information that the Director of Public Prosecutions requires;(d) information that is required to be disclosed in the course of a prosecution for an offence under this Act;(e) information that is required to be disclosed under any other Act of Parliament; and(f) information that, in the Commissioner’s opinion, is necessary in order to enter into or renegotiate a compliance agreement.
This entire section is written in such a way as to guarantee that an investigation of electoral wrongdoing never sees the light of day as far as the public is concerned.  Even worse, it sets up whoever lodges a complaint to be subject to retaliation from the party that is being investigated.

Canadians have a right to be aware of investigations into electoral wrongdoing and the outcomes of those investigations.  With the way that this has been structured (and no doubt given the rules of the office of Public Prosecutions), there is no way that these investigations will see the light of day.  Of course, this suits Harper just fine, because it enables his MPs to break all the electoral rules they want, and unless something ends up on the public record (e.g. charges filed in a court), there is no way that the public will hear a peep about what is going on.

All this from the party that ran on a platform of being "more open and accountable" not so long ago.

Bill C-23: The Theft Of Canada's Democracy Part II

I have not by any means finished my analysis of this bill and what it is setting up.  However, a lot of other smart writers have been going over the bill too, and they have much to say which bears summarizing and considering.

First, over at the Toronto Star, Chantal Hébert has pointed out that the limitations the government is placing on Elections Canada in terms of its ability to inform the electorate of their right to vote and where they can vote fundamentally plays to Harper's desire to promote electoral apathy:
Under this bill Elections Canada would be allowed to tell voters where and when to exercise their franchise but forbidden to launch outreach campaigns to encourage them to actually vote. 
The government argues that such campaigns have no measurable impact on voter turnout. Yet it is a field that many provinces as well as comparable democracies such as Great Britain and Australia still deem worth exploring. The trend overall is to increase efforts to promote voting, not to force organizations that oversee elections to stand down. 
In the same spirit more than a few countries are looking to remove some of the practical constraints that are said to be keeping voters away by adopting alternative voting methods. One increasingly considered option is electronic voting. The bill shortens Elections Canada’s leash on that score.It would require that both houses of Parliament — and not just the committees that usually deal with election-related matters — give the green light to any pilot project that involved electronic voting. 
That means for instance that even if — after the 2015 election — a possible Liberal or a New Democrat government agreed that Elections Canada should road test electronic voting it could not do so without the permission of a Conservative Senate majority. 
Finally the bill tightens up voter identification rules — making it harder for a number of not usually Conservative-friendly constituencies to vote. The latter include younger voters. 
According to Elections Canada the 2011 turnout rate among voters aged 18 to 24 stood at a dismal 38.8 per cent. Across Canada some of the outreach campaigns that the bill would outlaw federally are specifically tailored to them. 
Given that each new cohort of voters is more wired than the previous one, an electronic voting system could have more impact on the voting pattern of the younger cohort that on their elders.Finally, younger people tend to move more often. As a result the deterrence effect of the more stringent ID requirements stands to be higher among the lower age group of voters.
This is a damning indictment of the breadth of this legislation.  If it were just Ms. Hébert saying it, you could be excused for assuming that it was the Toronto Star's natural dislike of the CPC and Mr. Harper speaking.  Fortunately, it isn't.

I'm not saying that all of the act is bad news, but rather that there are key features of the bill which are designed to stack the deck in favour of the CPC.  Yes, electoral reform has been needed for some time, but sticking escape hatch clauses in the bill that exempt parties from decisions of the Chief Electoral Officer, taking pages out of the "Voter ID" laws in the states which are used to deny many people the right to vote and other pieces of the equation which clearly limit the ability for the electoral oversight bodies are sufficiently despicable that they call into question the overall balance of the bill as a whole.

Perhaps above all else, the other clear sign of the Harper Government's motives in tabling this bill is that they have just announced that they are going to limit debate on the massive bill.