Monday, March 26, 2012

Ontario Court of Appeal says prostitution laws unconstitutional: Thumbs up (kind of)

The Ontario Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court decision and ruled that several laws that make it all but impossible for "street workers" to ply their trade, is in fact unconstitutional for precisely that reason; although a restraining order has been hoisted for twelve months in order to give the federal government a chance to rewrite the laws.  The five judge panel did uphold the ban on solicitation on the reasoning that by doing business on the street it creates a "nuisance" but that by bringing it indoors it would substantially reduce that threat.

I am not entirely persuaded by that second one.   I think there is a danger whether an exchange of favours happens on or off the street.   But the threat is more caused by those paying for sex than those who sell it.   By decriminalizing the practice one can separate those who consent to sex (even if paid for) from those who use the opportunity to assault a sex worker.    It's incredible that in 2011 many police forces still think the rape shield law does not or should it apply to prostitutes when in fact §277 of the Criminal Code clearly states that "evidence of sexual reputation, whether general or specific, is not admissible for the purpose of challenging or supporting the credibility of the complainant."

The focus should be, should always be, on punishing the predators whether it's a sociopath like Robert Pickton or any given pimp or madam.   That much is clear at least for myself; I actually believe that had the laws which have been around since Victorian times (and which were aimed at deterring premarital sex for both males and females) were reformed some time ago, many if not all of the women who disappeared in Vancouver, Edmonton and a few other cities would not have died.

I happen to know people to have used the services of a prostitute or some women (and on the other side always a woman) who took money for it; but the activity was always of a consenting nature on both sides.    I am not the type of person who would even consider it (I happen to believe that sex is a privilege to be earned, not a right that can be traded for by money or an equivalent form of exchange).   I also believe however that putting the onus on hookers who sell rather than the johns (and their female equivalents) that do is wrong.   The onus should be equally based on all the circumstances at hand (pardon the expression).

As uncomfortable as the ruling makes me it is mostly the right decision; however the Supreme Court of Canada should reverse the solicitation ruling and restore the lower court decision in its entirety -- that all the impugned sections are unconstitutional.     Rather than fight the ruling, the government should tax the trade just as they do for any other legally occupied person.    That alone would get rid of most of the black market quite quickly.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Bad cases make for bad laws ...

... and in the current trial about the murder of Tori Stafford, there are a lot of hot tempers.    Some have even called for the reinstatement of the death penalty in Canada.

Bad idea.

I've explained too many times here why I am against capital punishment, but what really irks me are the so-called "pro-lifers" who are against abortion but for the death penalty.    I was under the presumption that if you're pro-life that means one supports the seamless web of life from conception to natural death.   Guess I was wrong.

No matter how solid the evidence, no matter if the case is "absolutely, one hundred percent" accurate, the deprivation of life by the state is just as abhorring as by a human being outside of the legal system.    There is and always should be the chance for rehabilitation and reconciliation.   While I do think Murder One should carry a penalty of life without parole, the prerogative of mercy must always be available to those who have truly repented.   The penalty of death removes that option.

Just ask Guy Paul Morin.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sledgehammer against refugees

In recent days Jason Kenney, the federal immigration minister, has proposed tightening some of the rules regarding refugee claims.   I have these thoughts.

First, it is true that there are some who come here just for our generous welfare benefits -- in fact they have been known to ask at customs where they can apply.   But it is some, and nowhere near the torrent that is implied by the current government.   It's just like a tourist coming here and planning to pay for his or her visit by getting a job.     No one should tolerate welfare fraud, especially of this kind, but to imply that large swaths of some ethnic communities are trying to rip us of is a bit of a stretch; and hearkens back to the "Whites First" immigration policies that this country had for many decades.

Second, and leading from the first, is that while the rules are supposed to apply to all, it appears to be in fact aimed at specific communities.    Not the least of these are the Roma.   This is a bit of a double edged sword for me, because I am rather warm to both sides of the debate.

On the one hand, the Roma (who used to be known rather scurrilously as the Gypsies) are mostly coming from all parts of Europe and in particular the member states of the European Union.   There is generally the right of abode in all 27 countries -- that is, a citizen of any EU country can live in another without getting an immigration visa.   There are currently restrictions on those from Romania and Bulgaria permanently settling in the other 25 states (although they can of course work temporarily) but these will be lifted no later than the beginning of 2014.    And while some of the Roma claimants under the Geneva process are from those countries, others are from countries that are "all in" including the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

On the other hand, the fact that all EU countries are considered "safe third countries" make one wonder why Canada would be more appealing.    The climate of hate against some minorities is not that much different than in Europe.   Some might argue that those groups would actually be better off in some of the more prosperous EU states than their own, anyway.

I am certainly not arguing to severely limit immigration until everyone already here is employed again.   That's the kind of position taken by "Nativists" below the border, particularly the euphemistically named FAIR.

What I am arguing for is a more stringent line but still with an open eye for fairness.   Economic refugees should not get a free pass at all.    But those claiming persecution need to demonstrate reasonable proof their claim has merit.   If they are victims at the hands of the state, directly or not, then of course there is merit; if it's just their neighbours being bullies it should be somewhat more difficult to demonstrate but it should not be ignored either.    What I also think here is that where there the country being fled from is a part of an intergovernmental trade bloc such as the EU (Europe) or MERCOSUR (South America), there needs to be a very good explanation why the "safe third country" route was not pursued first.

And families should not be torn apart unilaterally, unless all were in the "ploy" -- however, in these cases there still need to be sanctions, whether it's fines and / or jail time.

As a sidebar, I do offer some criticism at some settlement groups as well as some women's groups who try to rally in the cause of those facing deportation without checking all of the facts.   As I said, there is no doubt discrimination has happened in many of the cases at bar, but nowhere in the reportage or editorial replies of the civil society groups are there any mention of why other options were not pursued first.

Refugees who are legitimate make contributions to our society that benefit us all; eventually they are welcomed as full citizens as they should be.   I know first hand the good refugees can do -- my father and one of my uncles are.   I also revile at those who try to take advantage of our good nature.

Scoring points as a way of deflecting criticism against possible voter fraud is too clever by first principles, and it won't work.  I am not impressed either by those who try to tear at our heartstrings.   For myself I keep an open but nevertheless critical mind.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Towards a "living wage" in Canada

A number of years ago, Canada's statistics agency got rid of the concept of "the poverty line."    Instead they came up with what is called the "low income cut off" or LICO.   For the most recent year for which there are full statistics, 2010, a single person living in a major metro area (500,000 or more people) falls below the LICO with an income of $22,637 before taxes; for a couple with no kids, $28,182; and for a family of four (two and two), $42,065.    The numbers are somewhat less for rural areas but it is more than obvious there is something wrong with a system that allegedly claims to lift up the lowest strata in our society out of indignity but in fact comes nowhere near to that goal.

Yes, there are negative income taxes under all sorts of names -- at the federal level the GST credit, the Working Income Supplement, the Child Tax Benefit and for seniors the Guaranteed Income Supplement; at the provincial level provincial sales tax credits, additional child tax credits (which are combined with the federal amount) and senior's benefits.

The problem is that on the one hand, these are barely enough to lift the poorest out of bare subsistence.   On the other hand, those benefits that really do work are either not enough or they are undermined by other benefits that act at cross-purposes.

Here's one example:    The Working Income Tax Benefit, introduced in 2007, acts as an incentive to get people to get out of welfare and back to work by giving them some "start up" money.    And that is all well and good.    The only problem is that the maximum benefit for singles runs to about $80.33 a month, and it gets clawed back after one hits just over $11,000 of income.   Once you reach $17,500 or thereabouts, it's gone.   For families, it is somewhat more but the benefit goes once you hit just under $27,000.

Another example:  The so-called Universal "Child Care" Benefit, which is fully taxable and serves no purpose other than an ideological one.    It would have been far better to use it to top up the already operating Child Tax Benefit which was quite successful in getting tens of thousands of families to a zero net income tax situation so it could have helped even more families.

Radical ideas are needed here.   Much as the minimum wage should be raised to $15.00 per hour, this may be too radical a shock to the system if done overnight.    So instead perhaps the government should take a serious rethink of income redistribution which is what the income tax is in part about.   This is what I would suggest as we gradually work towards the living wage.   It's been suggested before in various forms, but this is what I would do:
  • First, get rid of all the myriad benefit programs, including all the various federal and provincial credits as well as the current form of welfare, and work towards a guaranteed income, with the LICO as a threshold.    Anyone, whether a pensioner, worker or chronically unemployed, earning less than the cut-off would get a monthly supplement for the difference based on the previous year's gross.   This includes income from all sources including lottery winnings, inheritances and worker's compensation settlements.   Those and other types of tax free income should remain tax free but should count against entitlement eligibility.
  • Second, the personal tax exemption should be raised much higher.   The only province that comes even close to what it should be is Alberta, but which also did this deliberately several years ago because it has a flat tax.   This year the federal exemption is $10,822.   Given the period during the 1980s and 1990s when we experienced bracket creep, a more accurate exemption should be about $14,588.   Also get rid of some of the "gimmie" tax breaks and replace it with real tax reform -- lower rates and a fairer system.    Families under, say, $80,000 (which isn't that rich by any means) shouldn't have to pay more than 15% combined federal and provincial.    This also includes resetting the threshold of the alternative minimum tax (which is affecting middle income families, not just the rich) from $40,000 to about double that with increases tied to inflation.
  • Third, we need to put back into place the legal principle that there should be equal pay for work of equal value.    This would require a more rational comparison of jobs and not an ideological one than some of the exercises 25 years ago, but women are still getting the shaft (so to speak).  There is general agreement that the fact that male administrative assistants get paid more than female "secretaries" is discrimination; but what of male jail guards and female health care personnel in jails -- well considered they should get equal treatment in that they provide an equal amount of output for the state.
  • And fourth:    Geared to income day care -- this is a no brainer.    Many other developed democracies offer it on a universal basis, but geared to income may be more acceptable to some of those ideologically driven.
This would take several years to roll out -- I'd say between 6 and 10 to do it properly.    But it is eminently affordable for this reason that people with good incomes make better lifestyle choices in personal health, which means less visits to doctors and hospitals and therefore costs the system less.   The savings can go back in equal measures to improving health infrastructure and boosting the amounts paid to lower income people.    Eventually when we achieve the goal of full employment (5% or less) then there would be little to no money need to be paid to get people to the LICO because they would be earning it anyway.

Out there?   Sure.   But I'm not the first to suggest it and I won't be the last.   It's worth talking about, though.   If we want to differentiate ourselves from Americans for the next generation this may be how to do it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Another massacre in Afghanistan

If this is how one "wins the hearts and minds" of a people, this past weekend's massacre of 16 civilians by a US soldier has only succeeded in creating even more terrorists.    There have been suggestions the suspect may have been mentally unstable but in this part of the world there is no such thing as insanity -- if you're a murderer you're a murderer, period.    And for the remaining 300 or so Canadian troops who are acting as training "advisors" the stakes are very high also.   (Advisors ... hmmm ... didn't Truman send a bunch of advisors to Vietnam?    Guess we know how that turned out!)

The majority -- the vast majority -- of deployed personnel abide by accepted norms.    This includes the Geneva Conventions, particularly relevant in this instance are the Fourth Convention of 1949 and the Second Protocol of 1977.    Innocent civilians may certainly be killed in the realm of combat, but there's a different between so-called collateral damage and an outrage like this one.    The soldier may actually wish the US was a signatory to the Rome Statute because the Hague Court for international war crimes doesn't have the death penalty.

President Obama was probably gambling that Afghanistan and not Iraq was the war to fight.    But if this keeps up, it will be the Alliance that is on the run (as if they aren't already).

Frankly, Canada should just give up and pull out who we have left.   There might not even be much point in having an embassy other than for a chargé d'affaires.   Afghanistan is a failed state.   The British couldn't conquer it, the Soviets were run out and all we've achieved in eleven years is extending a civil war but only changing the players somewhat.    Give up already.   If this what passes for civil behaviour, it makes rigging a democratic election tea time by comparison.

Besides, the war was never about the Taliban.  It's about Kashmir, and the border dispute between India and Pakistan.    All we've done by our presence is help defer the nuclear war that will eventually happen anyway.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

"Robogate"? Special prosecutor

Canada's relative proximity to the United States is beneficial in many ways -- not the least of which include that we get access to their markets relatively easily and we share a common air defense.    But it's not so beneficial in other respects; especially the dirty tricks in politics we have seemed to learn from south of the border.    Including robo-calls.     Thanks to the Internet, we can just program a list of phone numbers into a software program and auto ring the people connected to those phone numbers; often in the thousands.

Because there are so many complaints now, going into the tens of thousands where people were told by "Elections Canada" (not) to go to another polling station; and at least one district where quite a few registered with no address, an address not in the district or even a business drop (UPS ™) one can reasonably ask if enough districts were tipped to give Harper his long sought majority.

I am not accusing Harper or anyone else of wrong doing.   I do think all parties have tinkered with the rules long enough to know how to game the system, but there's a difference between GOTV and suppressing the vote to win.

At last count, the number of "irregularities" reported hit about 35,000.    There are so many that Elections Canada, the non-partisan agency of the House of Commons tasked with running and policing the system, is being overwhelmed.   If there was indeed thievery, maybe that's what the culprits are counting on so they can get away with it.

I think the leaders of all five parties should just get together and ask the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor.

To be clear:   This need not be a runaway cad like Judge Kenneth Starr who turned a real estate deal gone sour to an investigation about Vincent Foster (not murdered, said Starr -- twice), Hillary Clinton's playing the futures market (highly irregular in how she did it, but in any event just a case of dumb luck in making a lot of money) and finally Bill Clinton's middle leg (affairs with six women, only one of which resulted in impeachment but ultimate acquittal).

Instead, get a good, impartial lawyer or judge to go over the facts, specifically limited to the allegations at hand, set a date certain to conclude findings of fact, and then present them for referral for a preliminary hearing and possible indictment (unless the evidence is so overwhelming that that a direct indictment under section 577 of the Criminal Code  is indicated).     Let this special prosecutor sort through the wheat and the chaff so we can get back to fixing our economic problems.    A six or nine month breather isn't really that much to ask.    And if some of the elected members turn out to be disqualified because of fraud, it's not like the laws passed during that time would be automatically void; the "Doctrine of necessity" would kick in as it did with the Manitoba Language Reference in 1985.

I do worry ever more about the soundness of our democracy.   But cheap shot comments like calling unsuccessful incumbents "sore losers" doesn't help.    An open mind to fixing things so it doesn't happen again, does.

No more "nuclear ambiguity"

As tensions continue to rise in the Middle East about what Iran is up to with its nuclear program, a reasonable person cannot be in much doubt.   With the large number of centrifuges it's more than obvious that Iran wants a bomb.    And there can only be one intended target -- Israel.   Why else would a Holocaust denier like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad want the bomb other than to finish off what Hitler started?

That being said, I have to say that this is one time where there can be absolutely no double standards.    When India, Pakistan and North Korea each introduced their nuclear program in a "big" way the rest of the world imposed trade sanctions, as well as it should have.

However, despite overwhelming evidence that Israel also has nuclear weapons (depending on who's counting it's anywhere from 50 to 400, former President Carter is probably the most on the money with an estimate of 150), the country continues to promote a policy of "deliberate ambiguity" -- they have never denied having weapons but they have also said they aren't going to be the first to "introduce" a nuclear weapon.   Israel is not a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and continues to refuse admission to IAEA inspectors -- which puts it in the same company as Iran and North Korea, India and Pakistan.    Of this grouping, only India can be considered a legitimate democracy as is internationally understood and Pakistan is moving back towards democracy but not without a fight from radical Islamists.    What's more telling is that although the world has known the truth since 1985, no sanctions have ever been introduced against Israel.   Is it because the world thinks that its brand of democracy is legitimate but India's isn't?

Given Israel's neighbourhood one can probably understand its recalcitrance.   It does need every tool in its toolbox.   But I happen to believe there can be no double standards either.    The only outcome that could bring stability in the region is if all countries in the region declared the extent of their nuclear and other WMD programs and then disarmed without any qualifications.   This would also have to include explicit recognition by Arab states of Israel's right to exist.    Much as I would like this to happen I am not holding my breath.

The only possibility short term that I see is for Israel to launch an air strike against Iran to take out its nuclear sites, much as it did in 1981 against Iraq.    Back in those days, Iraq was too busy with its border war with Iran to care that much, in fact Saddam Hussein famously said that when he won over Iran, there wouldn't be any Israel any more.

Moreover the war in Iraq did not as its backers hoped produce a stable democracy.   Instead, there is a very shaky coalition that still refuses to recognize Israel and is increasingly in Iran's back pocket.    If Iran ever does succeed in building a bomb and stations some of them in Iraq, then the stakes get even higher.   And it's not just countries -- terrorist groups pretty much know how to make a nuclear bomb, it's just a matter of sourcing the ingredients.

The best diplomacy comes not from hiding things but putting everything on the table.    Much as it would discomfort me I think this has to happen:   1) The four dissenting countries all need to sign the NNPT on the basis that, yes, they broke the rules but they will get a one time free pass; 2) there needs to be international agreement that that's it -- no other country will be allowed to develop a nuclear deterrent under any circumstances; 3) inspections must take place regularly to ensure limits on weapons are being followed and indeed "The Nine" are reducing their stockpiles with a defined goal in time towards abolition; and 4) both Pakistan and Iran must recognize Israel's right to exist.

If there is a genuine security agreement based on these then I think we can finally begin to get a handle on the nuclear threat posed by rogue terrorist groups.   By exchanging notes on best practises we may finally get the upper hand against al-Qaeda and other like minded groups.

But I'm not going to dream about this, or how it should be.    This is going to be a hot year in international relations.   I can only hope, not to the point where it hits 5500 C.