Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Terrorism comes home

It's been thirty years or so since there was a coordinated terrorist attack in Canada - the bombing of the Litton plant in Toronto that was making guidance systems for American cruise missiles. Since then, and especially since 9/11, we've kind of hoped and prayed that it wouldn't happen again. Well, it has.

Two days after a soldier was shot and killed and another maimed at Saint Jean sur Richelieu, Corporal Nathan Cirillo of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Hamilton was shot and killed while guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa. A second shooting then happened inside Parliament, with a gunman firing in rapid succession until the Sergeant at Arms, Kevin Vickers, shot him dead. The gunman was Michael Joseph Hall, also known as Michael Zehaf - Bibeau, and it turns out that 1) his passport was revoked as he was considered a high risk traveller, and 2) the FBI also had him on their watch lists. There is a present a second shooter on the loose. Reports a shooting took place at a nearby mall are, fortunately, false.

On days like this, it's easy to jump to conclusions. I think it will be quite some time before we find out the why.

But all I want to say about this is the following. First, we cannot let fear become the new normal. We have to keep vigilant, but we can't let the fear of something make us do things we would normally do. This is the only way to stay one step ahead of the terrorists - by saying as clearly as we can we won't let them have it their way.

And second, the news that we've had two converts to Islam (or rather what they call Islam but really isn't) is undoubtedly going to cause a wave of violence against Canada's Muslims, just like after 9/11. We can't let this happen either. There is no better time than this for all peace-loving Canadians to stand united. Whatever our political views, we have to say we won't let violence overtake us either.

That's all I have to say, other than that seeing so many news crews at the Armoury here in Hamilton, just a few blocks from where I'm writing this, would be telling. Far more telling, though, are all the flowers in front of the front gate. Out of our grief can come hope for a better tomorrow. That's all we can ask for.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Kick Russia out of the Helsinki Accords

Is the Helsinki Accord of 1975 a worthless scrap of paper? Because Vladimir Putin sure seems to think it's a joke.

I was not even three years old when the declaration was signed but my father, an emigré from Croatia, understood its meaning. As a younger it was impressed on me the importance of a document that, among its provisions, was a statement of several important principles:
  • The inviolability of national borders in Europe, and that border disputes could only be resolved via peaceful negotiations.
  • There should be no threat of use of force from one nation to another.
  • Every country had a right to its own internal affairs without interference from another.
  • That there were basic human rights that all persons had that could not be violated, including free speech, a free press and due process.

There were other areas discussed, including scientific cooperation and the opening of trade between western and eastern states, but it was these main points that came to the fore. While not a binding treaty, many dissidents took Helsinki seriously and used it to fight for what they saw were inalienable rights. Eventually, they were successful.

It's notable that NATO continued to stress that they did not recognize the illegal occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by the Soviet Union, and that Helsinki did not change this. Nor could Helsinki keep the former Yugoslavia from collapsing. When Germany reunited, it was tacitly a merger of equals but everyone knows that in actual fact the West annexed the East with the latter's consent.

It therefore seems pathetic that the West seems to be willing to let Russia get away with its games in the Ukraine. First, by illegally annexing Crimea (only five countries, including erstwhile western ally Afghanistan, have recognized Russian sovereignty). Second, by overtly arming Russian rebels in the east of Ukraine. And Putin is on record as saying he could take over all of Ukraine in just two weeks.

Helsinki was also about reducing tensions in Europe. Which it did. Merely by threatening to cut off the natural gas that heats a quarter of homes in the EU, Putin is raising the stakes.

And let's not forget, all the networks and most of the papers in Russia are government controlled or sympathetic. And that titans of industry have been imprisoned for wanting to speak the truth. Not to mention there haven't been any free elections in Russia since Boris Yeltsin resigned.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the permanent body that was established by the Helsinki framework, should be on top of this. This is the best forum, I think, to deescalate the tensions.

But Canada as a founding member as well as long time champion of the Accord (and far as I can tell has been faithful to its rules) needs to firmly put its foot down. If Russia won't call a timeout of its own to give a chance for things to calm down then perhaps it is time for the West to say that, if Russia won't play by the rules that ended communism and has helped keep the peace in Europe all this time, then perhaps it should be expelled or suspended from Helsinki. On top of current and coming sanctions, this is not a palatable option, but at stage I think it may be the only way to make Putin wake up.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tim Horton's Farce

Am I the only one in Hamilton who's embarrassed by the Tim Horton's Field debacle? The stadium, which really never should have been built on the site of the old Ivor Wynne to begin with, was supposed to open at the end of the month. Now it won't now be ready until September, maybe not even in time for the Labour Day Classic. The only redeeming note is that it will be finished on budget, one of the few Pan American Games facilities that will meet that threshold.

For what it's worth, a lot of people in town think that Hamilton should not be in the business of selling naming rights to anything. That the Hammer should remain "pure" on this one. I'm surprised the city didn't sell the rights on the old stadium. It's not like Tim's is going to run the place or be responsible for its maintenance. That will be delightful old us taxpayers. I don't care what it's called, just as long as it has real seats and not just bleachers like the old place had. And that they start having concerts there again. Gibson and Stipley are actually very nice neighbourhoods and having people there for more than just the nine games a year would help that and other parts of the East and North Ends start to get out of their decades-long funk.

I have been way too busy to comment on the issues of the day as of late, part of it scheduling issues, so for my regular readers I apologize for the gap and appreciate your patience. I hope to pick up the commentary starting next week.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Oil spills, oil schmills

So the Cons have announced they're raising the penalty for offshore oil spills - from $161 million to $2 billion ($400 million for the actual offence, the rest for environmental damage). It's not just they're not kidding anyone. It's that they made the announcement on the East Coast where the risk is way less than a spill on the West Coast -- where tar sands oil would be headed, the higher sulphur content would mean greater damage.

If Exxon and British Petroleum were willing to pony up for damages to the Alaska and Gulf coasts, respectively, why should anyone here get off the hook for the same or worse the costs borne by the taxpayer? Corporate responsibility relies partly on governments setting tough rules, especially here when endangered and threatened species may be on the line, not to mention the livelihoods of those who make a living off the sea.

This is just another ticket to ride. The penalties have to be way stronger than this.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Arkansas sees the light; who next?

Four states in the South (via the courts) have now recognized gay marriage: Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma ... and now Arkansas. The latter three are actually quite conservative, which is one thing; but what makes the Arkansas ruling interesting is that the court didn't use "strict scrutiny" to strike down the law, instead it used the "rational relation" test which in civil rights cases is a much easier burden for states which want to uphold a law. Judge Chris Piazza said there was no rational basis for the provision in the state constitution that banned the practice.

Of course not.  There is no rational basis for banning gay marriage, period. And it's way past time to get the issue before the Supreme Court so they can rule if it's legal for all in America. SCOTUS struck down DOMA and Prop 8 last year so it I think it isn't a stretch how they'd rule now. The will of the people is rising on this one. Just get it done so there can be "equal justice for all".

Friday, April 25, 2014

Federalism wins with Senate decision

When Stephen Harper tried to go about his ideas about Senate reform, his belief was that one could have Senate elections and fixed terms without the consent of the provinces. Today, the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed that Canada is a federation, not a unitary state like France and not a devolved state like Spain. The Senate is such an important part of the Confederation bargain, it said, that most changes -- especially direct elections -- require seven provinces with 50% of the population. Abolishing the Senate would require unanimous consent.  (Decision is here).

Matter of fact, the only thing Harper won on was the property requirement of $4000 and getting rid of it. This item does require only Parliament, with the exception of Québec which would also require the National Assembly to agree.

All I say about this is, this is proof once again that Harper has nothing but contempt for the provinces. That he has never sat down with all thirteen Premiers at the same time is bad enough. But changes to criminal justice, immigration, employment, even farm assistance, has all been done without consulting the provinces and territories, or by keeping it to the absolute minimum.

Perhaps after losing so many cases at the SCC - especially a big one like this -- the Prime Minister may finally realize that Ottawa alone does not steer the ship.

This doesn't happen to be good for the NDP, though. They have argued they could abolish the Senate unilaterally. Now with this decision, it'll have to come up with a way to work within 7-50 and come up with a solution that Canadians could accept going forward. On this one, I don't think it should be that hard. Given the choice, I think most people in Canada would prefer an elected Chamber, to a system where it's just pure rep by pop so the smaller provinces get shafted.

The Liberals? Justin Trudeau expelling his Senators from caucus was a conniving political ploy. No one buys it. Even many Liberals, myself included. He should just come forward and say what kind of elected Senate he'd like to see. How many Senators per province, the length of terms, whether it will have power of veto over the House like it has now (except for constitutional amendments), and so forth. Claiming victory without a plan for an alternative is like invading a country with no concept of how a provisional government would operate.

Unfortunately, changing the Constitution for this would open up a can of worms as the provinces would demand other reforms, including immigration and shared cost programs (which I agree with) as well as the amending formula and yet another crack at the "distinct society" notion (with which I disagree). There could be others. In this case, Canadians should be able to vote on these line item rather than for an "all or nothing" package like Meech Lake or Charlottetown.

For now, this is a victory for Canada. Particularly, for our federation.  We truly are a "community of communities" (in the words of Joe Clark) and the Supremes recognized that today.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

With the new Québec government, the provinces should push back

Monday's landslide win by Phillipe Couillard and his Québec Liberal Party is a great sign that the idea of sovereignty may have been set aside for a long time. But I think it should lead to something more. It should lead to the federation our Founders wanted but has often wavered from this principle, especially under Stephen Harper.

At the outset, I have to say that with the win, the new governing party will definitely have to come clean about its possible role in the ongoing corruption investigation into kickbacks in the construction industry and fast. If campaign and other contributions found its way from dirty money into its coffers, it will have to be paid back and openly. Being frank and honest is the best kind of government, which will set a best practice for the rest of the country, including the federal government.

But beyond that, there is a much more important issue. That is the Harper government doing so many things unilaterally without the advice or the consent of the provinces and territories. And in some cases, even infringing on their jurisdiction and not caring.

The provinces and territories are not "glorified municipalities" as John A. Macdonald dismissively referred to them. The provinces are the primary components of our federation. Otherwise, they'd have the same status as the National Assemblies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - the national government in the UK can shut them down permanently simply with an Act of Parliament. (The territories, which form the rest of our country, do exist at the wim of the feds, but disbanding their Assemblies would be unthinkable.)

I'm not just talking about the fact there has been no meeting where all jurisdictions sit with Harper at the same table.

Nor am I just talking about crime legislation which impedes jurisdictional authority to have sentencing options that are appropriate to each individual offense rather than a blanket "my way or the highway" mandatory minimums. We've seen how that works in the States (i.e. grossly overpopulated prisons).

It goes further.  Even though the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords failed, the federal government under four Prime Ministers took at least two of the planks seriously and made it semi-official policy.  Harper has not. And perhaps with a federalist government in Québec, the push-back that is required will have much more credibility.

One of the planks is shared cost programs and the principle if a province or territory wants to opt out it should have access to federal funds if they create a program with similar objectives. When we created Medicare in the 1970s, for instance, it was understood that it would not be the feds managing a national program - we left it to the jurisdictions.

I for one cannot understand, for example, why Harper created the Canada Jobs Grant without considering that every province and territory already have their own job retraining programs that actually work for many of the applicants that need them. This is insanity. Federal funding should be increased of course, but leave it to those who know best to implement their own policies (the principle of subsidiarity).

The other plank somewhat related, and I think much more important, is immigration. As I've noted here several times, immigration is a shared head of power. Canada may be the only federation in the world that has this feature. But at present, it is only Québec that has actually excercised their rights and insisted on selecting its own regular (i.e. skilled workers) class immigrants. By all accounts this has been a successful program. And frankly, using its best practices, the other provinces can a) insist to the federal government they have the power do the same, and b) they get the same level of per capita settlement funds as Québec does.

It is true the Québec arrangement has its origins in an agreement signed back in 1977 under René Levesque. Pierre Trudeau wisely consented to this with his former friend turned enemy (despite the then Prime Minister's "One Canada" policy) because he knew what the Constitution said, that the provinces do indeed have this privilege, and it was hoped it would be a role model for the English speaking provinces to follow. Why they haven't I don't know but it's way past time they should. We know who the best workers are that can contribute to our "community of communities" - not the feds.

Actually having a federalist party enforcing its rights on this and other heads of power, gives the other provinces leverage. And I think, the opportunity to make Harper deal with his co-equal partners as they are. This is, right now, the best way to move things forward and to give the incumbent a much needed lesson in what our Constitution says, and means.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

RIP Spousal privilege

One of the oldest principles in law is the spousal privilege. Considered even more sacred than the privilege between a lawyer and client, physician and patient, or cleric and penitent, it has at its core one basic principle: Unless there was abuse involved or a couple conspired together, any communications between spouses is privileged unless the "witness spouse" (i.e. that whom is not accused) waives this right and testifies. This has existed in the UK for centuries (although Scotland is phasing it out) and was inherited by Canada and the United States.

PMS wants to get rid of it. The proposal is part of a larger victim rights' bill.

Set aside the two are totally separate issues. I do support giving victims of crime a greater say in the judicial process (although this cannot give them veto over plea bargains).

But there may be very compelling reasons not to testify. The privilege ends if there is coercion but one may very well want to keep his or her mouth shut if there is any possibility he or she could be charged as a conspirator. As well, confidence is a two way street. If one can't be trusted, then who else can?

I can see an exeption if there was prior knowledge a crime would take place. But after the fact? I'm not sure This one really has to be thought out, and as usual Harper isn't really doing that.

What in the world is Eve Adams?

When I was a kid, I was known for throwing hissy fits on just about anything that didn't go my way. Now a lot of us adults probably were like that in our younger days, too, but we smartened up. In that vein, though, I have to wonder if Eve Adams was like that as a child, because lately she's been at the edge of losing it - and her party's respect too.

Adams started out as a bright light in an otherwise dark Conservative administration. She handled some pretty touchy assignments. One of them was a visit by Prince William and Catherine Middleton (in a country that increasing has anti-monarchical tendencies, which Harper is trying to crush).

But according to Tonda MacCharles of the Toronto Star, Eve Adams has become a real disciplinary case for the Prime Minister. And the chain of events started out with, of all things, a car wash. Seriously. And it and other events have prompted Harper to order an internal investigation.

Back in December, Adams was getting her car washed. Apparently there was still some ice left on her vehicle. She complained and demanded her six bucks back. When the station owner - a Conservative - refused, she blocked a lane in front of one of the pump lanes, which caused a major backup onto a busy Ottawa street. The owner then filed a complaint with Harper.

Note that if this was a Liberal or ND, it might have caused embarrassment for the leader but not much else would flow out of it other than a severe reprimand. But crossing a fellow Conservative? Well, regardless if she knew his affiliation or not, an MP or Senator may have some special privileges that go with the office but there is no excuse at a privately owned and publicly accessed facility. She "apologized" but we all know what that means - she wasn't sorry at all.

Then there's her disrupting a meeting of her party for a new district being created for the next election, one that isn't even contiguous to the one which she represents right now. That's her choice if she wants to run there - unlike the United States one does not have to live in the district he or she represents. (One of the most famous examples of this is John Turner who when he returned to Ottawa in 1984 was chosen as MP in a Vancouver district for two terms, even though he's lived in Toronto for as long as anyone can remember.)

But she just shows up at the constituency meeting, and keeps disrupting it even though most members of the committee would rather have a local candidate. The committee kept asking her to end the filibuster and leave but she did not.

In an election where every district in the Greater Toronto Area is up for grabs you'd think Adams would fight for the nomination the old fashioned way - hitting the ground and going door to door. Instead, she uses her "ten percent" mailers and uses her party's database of how nearly every Canadian can be expected to vote to solicit memberships in an area that doesn't even exist yet!

There must be more but I guess there was only so much space for Tonda's story.

I, for one, am disgusted by this behaviour. I guess we're all used to the hijinks of some MPs who use office expense accounts for their own purposes. Or members who use too many of their free airline or train privileges to make trips that are personal, and not related to official Parliamentary business or going home for the weekend so they can spend time with their families.

Privileges are not the same as rights. I've stated this before here. Those who have the privilege of serving in the Second Estate are expected to have at least slightly higher standards than the rest of us. Particularly, their right to speak their mind without repercussions are limited to the House and its committees. Anything that happens outside the Château by the Rideau is their responsibility, not ours.

If I had a hammer ... no, I would never do that. But Harper can't wait for the investigation to go on. We know the facts. Eve Adams should not only be expelled from caucus, she should be banned from her party - for life. Only this would send a message to the other MPs that the patience of We the People can be tested so much before we get really pissed off.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Another rebuke against PMS

0 and 4 so far for Stephen Harper.

First, he lost the InSite decision, which now allows safe injection sites.

Then he lost the prostitution decision, which all but legalizes the sex trade.

Yesterday, he lost a decision which in effect restores accelerated parole for those who have served just 1/6 of their prison sentence.

Today, he got a really big slap in the face, when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled 6 to 1 to annul the appointment of his choice to fill one of the vacancies for Québec on the High Court, Marc Nadon.

In laypersons terms, Judge Nadon had been sitting for nearly two decades on the Federal Court of Appeal; but while his legal residence was Québec, he had never sat on one of the courts in the province.   In fact, it wasn't even clear if he was a member of the province's bar.

Today, the court came down hard.   In a joint decision written by all members of the majority, the ruling was that a justice from Québec must have have been seated in a court within that province -- whether the Court of Appeal or an inferior court, and by logic also a member of the bar of the province.   It's not just enough to be a member of any court.   And one also has had to be a member in good standing of the province's bar for at least ten years.

And this goes back to the reason why the province is guaranteed three seats on the High Court -- while the other jurisdictions of Canada base their non-criminal law on common law (i.e. judge-made principles), Québec has a Civil Code, an exhaustive statement of over 3000 rules that guide family and property law as well B2B, B2C and C2C transactions -- and that means everything, even hotel lodging and insurance policies.   (For example, most Canadians usually get a very long auto insurance policy full of gibberish, in Québec reference is made to just eight to ten sections of the Code, in quite plain language, that says pretty much the same thing.)

I find it hard to believe that Harper didn't bother to read the law or the Constitution close enough.   Then again, he's had nothing but contempt for our supreme law from the moment he entered office.   More to the point, he just views the Charter of Rights as a detail.    Human rights are not a detail, they are part of and indeed the heart of the fabric of justice.   Same with the division of powers between the feds and the jurisdictions.    And now, he really got caught red-handed.

The odd thing is that Nadon has recused himself from every case on the docket pending this decision.   And all that time, he's been collecting an annual salary of $351,700.    Now that his appointment has been annulled it's not clear if he has to pay that money back.    I doubt it since he was certain he got his appointment in good faith, but it does send Harper back to the drawing board.

I think Nadon would have made a good justice.   He just didn't qualify.   The Prime Minister had better get the credentials of his nominees straight.   It may reduce the pool from which to select, but there's a better chance of finding a suitable candidate within that pool than spreading oneself thin.

Next shoe to drop?   The Senate Reference.    And I think we know where that's leading when the Supremes rule later this year.

Strike five (we hope).   Unfortunately, this isn't baseball.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Two steps forward in America, one step back in Uganda

Another good (and bad) week for common decency.

1) Freedom of religion.   That's the excuse a lot of business owners used well into the 1970s when they refused service to Blacks, Asians and Native Americans.     So it was good to hear Gov. Janice Brewer of Arizona veto the so-called "religious freedom" bill that would have allowed people to do business with gays and lesbians.    It followed the same flawed logic as segregation.    You just can't deny service to someone without a good reason -- for example, they're a known gang member.    9 million people in the States are openly gay, roughly the size of New Jersey.    Why would you turn away a revenue stream like that?    Really.

2) Also this week, a federal court in Dallas struck down the portion of the Texas constitution that bans gay marriages.    That's now two of the eleven Confederate States, and cases are pending in five more.    The march is relentless and that's a good thing.    If this ruling stands, nearly half the population in America will have marriage equality.     What two people do, as long as it's consenting and there's no abuse, is really none of my business.

3) Unfortunately, the regression took place in Uganda, which has now decreed a life sentence for gays and lesbians and even prohibits advocating for LGBT people.   Upon signing the bill the country's President, Yoweri Museveni, said that one of the reasons he was signing the bill was that he didn't "understand" homosexuality.

For the record, sir, I don't know what it's like to be gay (even though I have been falsely accused numerous times of being gay), but that doesn't give me the right to discriminate against LGBTs.   I don't know what it's like to be a visible minority but that doesn't give me the right to discriminate against people who don't have the same skin colour as me (white).    I'm not a woman and I will never know what it's like to be a woman -- and I will plead guilty to some male chauvinism -- but I have never discriminated against, or hated, a woman because she's a woman and I never will.     Homosexuals, people of colour, women -- they are not my enemies, they're my partners.

It wasn't that long ago in Canada that women couldn't file rape complaints against their husbands, but we changed that.    We once forbade women from getting a loan without a male co-signer, but that was changed too.   People of colour once couldn't be in the same sections of a theatre as whites (yes, in Canada) but we saw sense in that.    And gays and lesbians were granted equality in employment and housing a long time ago -- I think Québec was the first, in 1979, when most in that province would have still been opposed to the idea.

People evolve -- I know I have on this issue.   Some people, and some countries, not near fast enough.    If we boycotted with our tourist dollars those states that still discriminate, it just might change minds if sales tax revenues began to dry up -- it certainly did with South Africa and apartheid when the petrodollars of tourism dried up (today, not only is the country free of course, but so is the LGBT community).

The EU member states and other European countries have cut off foreign aid to Uganda.    The US is threatening to do the same.    Meanwhile, Canada has only said the law will "impede relations" but otherwise is doing nothing (for now).    We have to do something.    Last year, our remittance to Uganda was somewhere in the neighbourhood of $41 million.   A lot of it to "on the ground" local groups, many of which are blatantly anti-gay.    We all know how PMS personally feels about the overall issue of homosexuality, but he has scrupulously enforced our laws here as they are.    Isn't it time he "stood up for Canada" and said he will not tolerate in any way what Uganda is doing?   He's cut off all aid to Mali and a big chunk to Haiti for their human rights abuses.    Why should the home of "The Cranes" be any different?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Finally, the Confederacy gets on board -- well, one state does

In a decision that surprised me, a Southern federal judge overturned Virginia's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.   Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen also ruled that the state also had to start respecting the laws of 17 other states and Washington DC that permit the practice.   This marks the first time a Confederate state has joined the bandwagon of equality.   (Read the decision in Bostic v. Rainey

Of course, I support the decision.   But I would like to briefly talk about my concern that some civil rights leaders are comparing this ruling to Loving v. Virginia which legalized interracial marriage in the US in 1967.   This case was also referenced by Wright Allen.

I think the comparison is misplaced because the Loving case, along with similar laws in 14 other states (most of the other states, knowing how the High Court was going to rule, put an end to the nonsense themselves) was based on a law that was totally based on a racist conception of how the gene pool should operate, one that was completely misguided and later scientifically proven to be wrong.   But the fact was the Court primarily cited the 14th Amendment, which put an emphasis on equal protection of the laws.

In the case of Bostic, Wright Allen went much further.    She did agree that the 14th Amendment (equal protection of the laws) was violated, but far more fundamental in her analysis were two items: 1) the 1st Amendment which guarantees the right to peacefully assemble -- or we in Canada and most other democracies call the right to freedom of association; 2) Article IV, Section 1 of the original Constitution which requires, as I noted above, a state or territory to respect the decisions of other states -- which includes marriages, legal contracts filed in court (a fact even straight-sex couples often forget -- it is a legal contract!!!).    The fact that the state amendment in question violated both of these clauses made the entire law invalid.

Opponents of the law will say, violated on a technicality.    This is not a mere technicality.    The law was designed to protect opposite sex marriages regardless of race.    It prohibited even same sex opposite race marriages.    And that took it to a whole new level.    This wasn't about prohibiting certain kinds of sex.   It was about prohibiting "different" kinds of families.

This isn't an enhancement of Loving, it compliments it -- big time.    It's time for SCOTUS to rule in favour of common sense and ensure as its motto does, "equal justice for all".    If they struck down DOMA and California Prop 8 then it's time to have equality across the United States.    Heck, it's been made legal this year in each of England, Wales and Scotland (and even the very religious [on both sides] Northern Ireland has conceded to civil unions).   Why won't America -- all of it -- join the train?

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Future posting

I haven't gone away, I'm still very much here.   Sometime in the next few days, I'll be making a very personal diary entry.    But it's something I've wanted to say for a while.   When I do write it and post it here, I hope you'll understand.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Doing right by sex trade workers

Due to multiple technical issues I haven't been able until now to comment on the Supreme Court's decision in Attorney General of Canada v. Bedford on December 20th but all I can say is it was absolutely the right decision.   What surprised me was that it lined up 9-0, I was expecting 5-4.   Given that five of the justices were appointed by PMS and one by Mulroney, one might expect conservative thought to win, but as we have come to expect, the Court thankfully looked at the big picture and agreed that the three provisions of the Criminal Code at dispute -- running a whorehouse, communication for the purposes of sex and living off the avails of prostitution -- were meant to go after pimps and johns but instead went after the very people the law was designed to protect, sex trade workers, and that was unconstitutional.   If you haven't read the decision, do so at the link, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin doesn't mince words about the dangers of the business or the real harm it causes the victims but that there has to be a better way.

By no means should this be seen as a total victory.   The rights of workers in the trade have been guaranteed but there is still exploitation, especially with teens and immigrants.

That said, I had to laugh when I heard the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada -- which with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and REAL Women (no surprise on the last one) filed a joint amicus curiae brief against the women who filed the original petition during the appeal -- said the best way forward in light of the judgment was to just ban prostitution altogether (it has been legal ante the ruling).    Don't go after prostitutes, just the pimps and johns.

Well, two points.   As I said above the law was meant to go after those two groups but the way the law was constructed made them go off relatively free.   Of course we should be going after the exploiters.

But making it illegal?    That would just force everything underground and make things even worse for the workers, especially the women.   It's those workers who are our front line.   They know what's going on with their fellow workers.   They know what's going on in the underground.   They're the ones the police should be going to first when there are missing women and missing teens.   They shouldn't be ostracized because of their chosen profession.

I am almost certain I would never hire an escort or another else woman in the trade for "services".   (Right now I can't afford it anyway!)    But I think both men and women who want to purchase such services should have a reasonable expectation his or her temporary partner isn't being exploited.

Don't forget, the Mafia got its start with Prohibition.   By the time alcohol was made legal again, they were firmly entrenched and now control at least 10% of our economy.    They definitely have their hands on prostitution.  Do you think it'll get better with making that illegal?   Really?   (Apologies to Seth Meyers and Amy Pohler.)

I say, totally legalize it, with appropriate safeguards.   If rape occurs during a paid for transaction, then it should become a hate crime with enhanced penalties just like any other crime motivated by hate.   Empower the workers to help the police go after the real scums -- those who do exploit people for the money or the hell of it.

Tax it.   This is a huge revenue stream waiting to be tapped into.   It may be a bridge too far for the incumbent government but with fiscal restraint it cannot be ignored.

This is an opportunity to fix the law.   But the PM may have other ideas, and not just because he's an evangelical (although many friends of mine at work who are support the decision).

I'm sure Harper is tempted to use the "notwithstanding clause" which would reinstate the ante quo and kick the issue down the road for another five years.    But there is a strong precedent his Attorney General, Peter MacKay, can use instead.

When the original rape shield law was "voided for vagueness" in 1992, women's groups were clamouring for the clause to be invoked.   But as the then AG Kim Campbell pointed out, the fact the law was vague did neither attackers nor victims any good.   Not the victims because it wasn't clear what evidence was excludable    Not the defendants because they didn't know on what basis they could defend themselves.

The statute that replaced it, which passed unanimously in both Houses (when has that happened under Harper?) was the "no means no" law.   Not only did it put in clearer guidelines for when a victim's past sex history could be used, the law also created a nine-point test to determine if there was consent to sexual activity.    It has survived court scrutiny, and more important there have been a higher number of convictions for sexual assault.

The point:    Rework the nullified provisions.    Make it clear who gets protection under the law and who doesn't.   If it means expanding and tightening "no means no" by all means do so.   But don't make the whole business illegal.    Then it's society as a whole that will be the victims, not just sex trade workers.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is that all the post office could come up with?

Since the post office department (literally part of the government) became the Canada Post Corporation in 1982, its mandate has been to deliver the mail but to do so on a self-sustaining model; in other words, no bailout from Parliament.    That's been fine, because until a few years ago it was a very profitable venture paying dividends into general revenues.

Recently, though, despite having huge revenue streams from Purolator Courier and the Canadian arm of Amazon.com, it's been losing money.   Simply stated, with people getting their bills online, through ePost no less (!), and a switch to e-mail as the main form of communication -- not to mention pretty tight collective bargaining agreements and being on the losing end of a pay equity case -- the post office has been losing money.

There are ways to turn all of this around.   But I am worried about the choices the company has made.   And I'll go through their "five points".

First, jacking up the price of postage to a buck (yeah, yeah it's 85 cents if you buy a book of ten but who does that, really?).    This may indeed reflect the true cost of service, and it may be Canada Post's way of getting out of the bind it was in when Parliament said it could only raise postage prices to just ¾ of the rate of inflation for several years ... that restriction has now expired.   For those on fixed incomes, or those who can't afford Internet access (or believe it's the tool of the devil), it certainly puts a crimp on their lifestyle.   So what if costs less than a cup of coffee?

But it's interesting this is happening just as the federal and provincial governments are phasing out cheques as a method of paying entitlements and refunds.    Members of Parliament and Senators get double-ended franking (i.e. postage is free both ways), but the executive has to pay for mailings.    There may be volume discounts for them as well as large commercial enterprises but small businesses pay the going rate .   And as far as Business Reply Mail?   It's like a collect call, they pay more to receive it (there, one of "Their" dirty secrets is out in the open!)   Guess how many charities will stop accepting BRM, even if it means a drop in donations?    Do the math.  A ton.

I find it more than coincidental that the Post, knowing they would lose their biggest customer by far, would make up the difference and then some with postage.     If anything, this may actually get people who don't bank online or get direct deposit to do so.  No money, no money.

I'd say phase in the increase over four years.   Not in one fell swoop.

Second, ending door to door delivery for the third of the population that still has it.     Sure, it's easy to just walk to a mailbox.   When I was just five or six years old, my family and I were using a primitive version of the Superbox.   But when I moved to neighbourhoods that had them, I enjoyed the convenience of D2D.   Maybe that has gone the way of the dodo, but there are a lot of people, especially seniors and the infirm, who won't appreciate having to walk with difficulty to get their mail or worse paying someone else to do so.

I think everyone should get D2D -- every household -- but that's not really practical under the current framework.    But how about giving us the choice, on a user-pay basis?   If the difference between delivering to a doorstep and to a community mailbox is just $100 or so, as the Post claims, then why not let people decide?   Given the choice, I think most of us would gladly pay for the convenience.

Third, franchising post offices.   Most of them actually already are.   Contrary to popular belief, they are not allowed to charge more for parcel service than corporate owned stores --  that's against the law and it should continue to be so.  But getting out of the business altogether is another story.    There may be some cases, especially in rural areas, where a franchise simply isn't sustainable.    In this case, a higher hand is warranted.

There should be no sacred cows, but every corporate office should get the magnifying lens and the determination if local involvement is more appropriate or if the company should stay.    Whatever the case, corporates should have the same operating hours as franchises -- usually, the same hours as most malls.    And for God's sake, don't get rid of the historical offices, like the one on Adelaide Street in The Smoke.    I'd kind of like, just once, sending out mail the way they used to -- with a seal and wax!

Fourth, the old standby, streamlining.    This means fewer postal sorting plants.

There was a big uproar not that long ago in the Tri-Cities (Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo) when The Post wanted to close the plant there and move operations to the Millen Road plant here in Hamilton.    Delivery of sensitive mail is essential everywhere; but in an area much more prosperous than The Hammer, it is much more so especially with financial services and health and life insurance which they have a lot of.    There was some backing off although there were also layoffs, but no guarantee of the future.

What does this mean?    More centralization.

I'm sorry, but my answer is no.    There may be some plants which are truly redundant, but processing close to the point is what helps get the mail out in time.    I don't think the Millen plant is going away anytime soon, but I'm sure people in Stratford or Saint Thomas would be happy to learn their mail was going through Hamilton, if you know what I mean.     Better mail sorting machines, sure.    But this is nuts.

Fifth, attrition.   Ah yes, get rid of the deadwood, don't hire any new people -- or at least as few as is necessary to run the joint.

Two points there -- severance packages mean you get your company pension up front until you're 65 at which time it stops paying.    You have to rely on CPP / RRQ, OAS and your RRSP (if you have one).    People paid into these things counting on a pension for life, and while there is a big shortfall of $6.5 billion (which can be overcome), it's not fair to change the rules midstream.   For new people coming in, maybe.   Not for the veterans.  A deal is a deal.     And what if one takes a package while his or her union grievance is still in process?   Does that mean if he or she loses, the pension is gone too?    No one has answered that.

As for new people -- yes, there are intakes every so often, but it's not like it used to be.   The wages are lower and the benefits less.   And remember, these are not civil servants, they are employees of a Crown Corporation.    But as federally regulated employees, the labour and workers' compensation rules are different than for everyone else.    They may not get the same treatment they might get at a lower level of government.    The disenchantment and "revolving door" syndrome could be substantial unless newbies have the expectation of getting to a "regular" pay level rather quickly.

There are other ways of achieving the goal of getting back into the black.   Three day a week delivery; contracting delivery to the private sector; making some components of the "midstream" other than sorting competitive as well.

But this is a worst case, graveyard scenario.     And the problem is, it's harder to dig out of a grave than to dig it.    Ask any government who's run a deficit; going back to the black there is a Herculean task.