30 March 2007

Shapiro Out; What Comes Next for Canada's Parliamentary Ethics Regime?

Today it was revealed that the ethics commissioner, Bernard Shapiro, will be stepping down immediately. My first thought upon reading this was that I had to email one of my former teachers in political science about this exciting news (ethics in government is one of her key areas of interest and expertise). Then I harkened back to what I wrote in November 2005 on the subject of the ethics commissioner as part of Prime Minister Paul Martin's six-pillar plan of democratic reform:

The managerial aspects of government accountability have been under intensely close scrutiny since the explosion of the sponsorship scandal, but the problems date back further. When Auditor General Sheila Fraser tabled a report in 2002 examining questionable government accounting tactics in the gun registry cost sheets, part of her scathing criticism revolved around the fact that officials in the Justice Department failed to carry out any internal audits or provide “value for money” assessments.[i] While the Justice Minister is ultimately responsible for the behaviour of the people and actions undertaken in his department, the public servants in Justice failed to meet their accountability obligations of ensuring that public monies were being wisely spent.
It is with that backdrop Martin proposed the creation of an independent ethics commissioner to report to Parliament. The proposal included numerous measures to ensure the strengthening of ministerial accountability, holding the prime minister and Cabinet to a “higher standard of reporting” via a guide providing “personal directions to the government on democratic reform and integrity.”
[ii] Unlike the previous accountability regime, which was a mechanism of the government that reported to the government, Martin’s concept would see a commissioner independently anointed and his reporting would be to all of Parliament, ensuring greater transparency and stronger reporting to prevent the type of backroom tactics that had permitted the wrongdoings perpetrated under the sponsorship program.

. . .

The final pillar of Martin’s democratic reform platform involved the creation of an independent ethics commissioner who would report to all of Parliament. Previously there had been a counselor who report to the prime minister, but the position lacked true independence and accountability. Thus it was a momentous occasion when Martin delivered on his promise very early in his mandate. The powers of the ethics commissioner are wide-ranging, and include authority in areas of conflict of interest between an MPs public and private interests, public disclosure, and ensuring that parliamentarians behave according to the highest standard of ethics. The extent of his authority includes the ability to refer an inquiry to the “proper authorities” (i.e. the RCMP) if there are sufficient grounds to suspect an MP has broken the law.[iii]
The announcement of Bernard Shapiro, former principal at McGill University, was met with initial positive response, but there have been obstacles. During an appearance before Parliament’s Ethics Committee, Shapiro confessed that he was “learning as [he goes] along,” prompting criticisms across the spectrum.[iv] The idea of an ethics commissioner who does not fully understand the concept of ethics is indeed troubling, particularly in the wake of the sponsorship scandal. While all the parties agree that the position of the commissioner is valuable and will go a long way towards restoring accountability and credibility to Parliament, the particular choice of Shapiro leaves room for improvement in the future. Nevertheless, Martin achieved something of great consequence with the creation of the commissioner, and it arguably stands as the greatest achievement in paying down Canada’s democratic deficit.

It appears as though, after a year of pressuring Shapiro to resign, Harper is now at a point where he can act to improve the mechanism of ensuring ethics and accountability in Parliament. It remains to be seen whether he will appoint a replacement or if he will use the opportunity to scrap Martin's ethics regime and implement the measures that were discussed and approved in the Federal Accountability Act. If it is the latter, it will be yet a further diminuition of Martin's legacy as Prime Minister, something which I have no doubt Harper is all too happy to pursue. A thought popped into my head earlier today that he may reach out and select Ed Broadbent for the position, which is something guaranteed to win NDP approval and perhaps encourage some horse-trading on other key components of the Harper agenda. Remember, all Harper needs to get any legislation through Parliament is the agreement of any one of the opposition parties. The next move, and the immediate future of Canada's parliamentary ethics regime, is in the hands of the Prime Minister.

[i] CBC News, “In Depth: Canadian Government – Role of the ethics commissioner,” 10 June 2005. CBC 16 Oct. 2005.
[ii] C.E.S. Franks, “Parliamentarians and the New Code of Ethics,” Canadian Parliamentary Review 28.1 (2005), 16 Oct. 2005
[iii] CBC News Staff, “Ottawa accused of hiding true cost of gun registry,” 4 Dec. 2002. CBC Website. 13 Oct. 2005
[iv] Office of the Prime Minister, “Ethical Conduct,” 22 Dec. 2003, Prime Minister of Canada Website, 13 Oct. 2005

25 March 2007

Swords and Shields: The Charter and the Notwithstanding Clause

The latest issue of Policy Options features a revealing essay by Thomas Axworthy on the subject of the notwithstanding clause and the 25th anniversary of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It's a subject that is of great interest for me, and hearing anecdotes from one of the people who was present at the creation is always an interesting and enlightening experience. As you all know, I've got a forthcoming publication in the journal Federal Governance on the subject, so any major pieces on the Charter and the override always have a special interest for me, as it opens up the opportunity for me to utilize my own paper to debate others.

The introductory paragraphs of the piece utilized the theme that provided the impetus for me to write my paper in the first place: Paul Martin's pledge to abolish the use of s.33 at the federal level. Axworthy proceeds from there deeper into 2006, noting that Preston Manning has recently advocated that the federal government take steps to re-legitimize the override so that the taboo surrounding it is weakened and its usage becomes politically salient. As you can well imagine, both Axworthy and I disagree with that particular contention. As the old saying goes, "Rights are rights are rights" and any use by the federal government of s.33 would be acknowledging that it was removing a right from Canadians. There are other means under the law to limit certain behaviours, and recourse to s.33, even as a last resort, would be unpopular and would mitigate my support for the party that initiated it.

Axworthy spends a fair deal of time on the history of notwithstanding clauses in Canada and how the first override came to be. This was something that I didn't spend a whole lot of time discussing in my paper, though I did acknowledge the importance of its inclusion in the 1960 Bill of Rights and its usage by Trudeau in the wake of the FLQ Crisis. The back story to key pieces of legislation can often be as interesting as the legislation itself, and the override's tale fits that description. During the run-up to the passage of the Charter, there was a lot of negotiating between Trudeau, Jean Chretien, his adviser, and the provincial premiers over how to get the Charter passed and entrench rights in Canada in the Constitution. Lots of strategic planning, compromise, and threats of a national referendum are but three of the highlights.

I know that it's not the most interesting subject out there for many people, but when you consider how important and treasured rights are in Canada--often taken for granted--knowing the history of how they came to be guaranteed at the constitutional level is critical in gaining even deeper appreciation. Be sure to check it out, you won't be disappointed.

24 March 2007

On Decorum

There's a story in today's Post that brought to mind (again) something that Anna Lou and I were talking about last night: the lack of civility and common respect people have for one another. It's an "interesting" phenomenon to behold people behaving without any regard for the other people in their immediate vicinities, and knowing that it is a microcosm of the general level of disrespect and almost contempt that some in society have for their fellow humans. On a completely unrelated note, there's a classic picture of Stu Hart in the paper too.

What sparked our conversation last night was a particularly rude fellow sitting on the bus cranking out some rap music on his headphones that contained the usual level of profanity and n-bombs. Now, it was late in the day so there weren't any children present to hear such filth, but myself, Anna Lou, and the two other women on the bus didn't really appreciate the young man's choice in music and his desire to listen to it so loudly that everybody else could hear it. I realize that taste is in the eye of the beholder; certainly not everybody would want to hear my cranking of Metallica or Nine Inch Nails or I don't know what all else. But they don't need to worry about overhearing it because I keep the volume at a reasonable level. The person standing beside me probably doesn't want to hear my music, and I take that into consideration, even when the i-Habs-Pod is playing something that everybody loves, like George W. Bush's Weekly Radio Address.

The Internet is, of course, much much worse when it comes to civility and decorum. People are allowed to hide behind the anonymity that their computer screen provides. There is no window into that person's chair, so they feel as though they can say anything they want with impunity, whether discussing Britney Spears or proclaiming that they wouldn't even raise a stink when the Jews start getting rounded up, as a prominent (now former) Blogging Dipper recently did. When someone has the audacity to ask for a little decorum (as I've made the apparent mistake of doing a couple of times), they are immediately accused of seeking to impose censorship and restrict a person's free speech, or that maybe they'd like to live in a country such as China or Iran where they don't need to live in fear of such freedom of expression. I once took a guy to task for his misogyny and his close friendship with a strip club owner as a contributing factor to his dislike of women, and he went off on the most bizarre rant I've ever heard, citing that if he's friends with a doctor he must hate all cancer patients in the world and other such gobbledygook. So not only is decorum out the window, but apparently so is common sense.

I'll admit that I'm far from being the model citizen of public and personal decorum. I swear too much and too casually (which means I'd get in trouble from the Charlottetown high school principal cited in the news story), and often I'd rather listen to my iPod than talk to other people in the office. However, I do make an effort to keep my vices in moderation and I definitely don't celebrate them. Last weekend I had the unfortunate experience of sharing an elevator ride with a group of drunken party animals who were going out to celebrate because one of their number was apparently "accused of being a child molester." Why you would broadcast that to a complete stranger is beyond me. After reaching the bottom, another of the group started urinating on the wall outside the building. Again, no class, no dignity, no decorum. That it was St. Patty's Day was no excuse. A day on the calendar doesn't legitimize inexcusable behaviour, but what if the behaviour is so widely-spread (as we will recall, even urinating on the War Memorial on Canada Day is possible) that it has become de facto legitimized already?

23 March 2007


There is a lot happening today, so let's get right to it:

The Iranians have taken 15 British naval soldiers hostage. The sailors, who were boarding ships in Iraqi waters, which they have legal cover to do, were directed into Iranian territory and are being held there. Iran did this back in 2004 as well, and only some heavy negotiations and serious hardball prevented any larger crisis from erupting. Interestingly, 48% of respondents at CTV suggest that "military action" against Iran would constitute an appropriate response. I would be happy with some more deep negotiations and, that failing, buzzing Ahmedinejad's house with a couple British fighter planes. Tehran increasingly seems hell-bent on provoking a confrontation with the Anglo-American alliance, and I'm not certain as to why. It's not what would fit under the category of "Iranian national interest," after all.

The U.S. Congress has passed a resolution that would mandate all US forces in Iraq be out of the country by the end of 2008. Because I'm a nerd, I listen to the President's Weekly Radio Address and Tony Snow's press gaggles on my iPod. Therefore, I can pass along word that GWB is going to veto this. Guaranteed. Given that the resolution passed only slimly, and the Democrats don't have total unanimity and can't count on the Republicans to want to tuck America's tail between its legs, there's no hope of it being overridden, either. All the talk about a constitutional crisis is talking-head hot air because the executive is going to win this battle very easily.

Sponsorship is back! The Tories have brought to a life a new entity to handle federal sponsorships, but they're wisely avoiding the use of the word "sponsorship" given that it has a rather tumultuous history in recent Canadian politics. As Kinsella has long been saying, sponsorships work. Cutting the program entirely on his first day of the job, Martin threw out the baby with the bathwater. The Conservatives are wise to bring it back, as promoting Canada is never a bad idea.

Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe says he's not afraid of "little fellows" like Tony Blair and George Bush. The man who has turned this former Commonwealth member into an international pariah is taking a page out of Chavez's book and talking tough, insisting that he'll resist any efforts by the West's Anglo-American partnership to unseat him. Given that there's no such effort on the table, it's the type of second-rate nationalist rhetoric that may be popular at home among his supporters but it makes him look like a dummy to the rest of the world. Even Qaddafi was smart enough to be just a little afraid of Bush & Blair, but this windbag that orders assaults on any and all political opponents is yelling in an echo chamber here.

Have a good weekend!

22 March 2007

This Says It All

I'm glad that I screen-captured this, because it was gone from the headlines 20 minutes later:

No kidding eh?

21 March 2007

This is Not a Good Idea

A group of prostituted women in Toronto are planning to launch a constitutional challenge at the Supreme Court of Canada to get prostitution legalized in order to enhance their personal liberty and security, which they feel are impeded by Canada's current laws. As you can imagine, I do not think that this is a good idea.

It is not the illegality of prostitution that puts women at risk. It is the men, the johns, who do that when they solicit a woman for the purpose of prostitution. The women in this case want the government to "remember that they are human." This is an interesting comment, because in the news story where I first heard of this (link), only once is the word "woman" used and is overshadowed by the usual dehumanizing terms used to describe the people involved: "sex-trade workers" and "prostitute" appear regularly and in more prominent sections. Rather than seeing Ottawa as the problem, they ought to focus on those who seek to procure them, for they are the ones who do not care about the humanity of these women. It is those men who threaten female security through their actions, because prostitution itself is an act of male violence against women.

I have argued in support of the Swedish model for dealing with the problem of prostitution, for it recognizes the act of procuring a woman as an act of violence against her person that threatens her security while not imposing penalties on women who are involved in prostitution, either due to threats, duress, or their own free will. Johns can receive up to 6 months in jail for solicitation, and the results in Sweden in the past 7 years have been demonstrable: bawdy houses have all but disappeared and the overall occurrence of prostitution has declined.

On the television news story, it was mentioned that these women have had their "freedom of expression" curtailed by Ottawa's policy on prostitution. Again, this is not true, and misses the real target. It is those who have created the conditions for these women where they have no other alternative who have limited their ability to express themselves, whether that means the abusive parent or relative, their pimp, or their john(s). To suggest that in Canada there is an "official death penalty" imposed upon prostituted woman is not true. It is certainly not the state which is killing women; it is depraved individuals such as Pickton and his ilk, for they are the ones who are killing these women without even a moment's thought for their own humanity.

It is a situation of terrible personal circumstances and a lack of opportunity that often pushes women into prostitution. Where Ottawa has failed these women is in not providing them with enough resources, such as safe houses and stronger police protection, to avoid prostitution or escape from it. I have no shortage of empathy for women who seek to make their own lives more secure and free, but what this constitutional challenge does is not eradicate the cage that is imposed upon prostituted woman; rather, it would only make the cage larger and make it easier for people to get inside. Freedom, in the only true sense of the word, means being able to live one's life in the manner of their own choosing and pursue our happiness in our own way without infringing upon the right of others to do the same. This challenge to potentially legalize prostitution would make it easier for pimps to violate that basic principle of freedom with greater impunity. It is also an entire level removed from consideration of giving women enough opportunities, training, and resources to pursue their happiness without having to resort to prostitution and sacrifice their own humanity.

Brief Budget Thoughts

My comments on this are going to be pretty quick, if only because there's not a whole of earth-shattering news in the budget to respond to:
  • Establishing Canada's western frontier at the Rocky Mountains was a bit of a boo-boo. My trip home in May is not an international flight!
  • Dion's immediate reaction was sandbox politics. He cited Duceppe's support as one of his main reasons for opposing it. I don't like Duceppe either, but if he likes certain hockey teams or bands I'm not going to stop liking them simply because he's a fan. Grow up!
  • Very little mention of defence spending. I'm sure it's in the document, but it wasn't given much tout during the speech.
  • I like the announcement of increasing international aid. We're still a long way from our 4 decades-old pledge to hit 0.7% though.
  • Thumbs up to Joe Comuzzi for taking a principled stand. Equal thumbs up to Stephane Dion for enforcing party solidarity. I like free votes on some issues, but the budget isn't one of them.
  • Credits are good, levies against gas guzzlers are good. Some people need to learn how credits work, though.
  • A couple of people may be wondering why there wasn't the second cut to the GST. Easy: Harper said it would be introduced by the end of his first term, and as I've been saying all along, he has no intention of forcing an election this spring or any time in the next six-to-twelve months.

17 March 2007

Shed No Tears for Musharraf

A story in today's Post details the current troubles being experienced by our "ally" and military dictator, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. As you can imagine, my sympathy runs very low for the leader of a government that doesn't permit elections and enforces sharia law against the women of his country (readers will recall my March 3rd post where I discussed the state-mandated gang rape of a young woman for an offence her brother committed).

The imbroglio surrounding Musharraf intensified with his dismissal of the country's top judge on a whim. You see, dictators have the ability to make a mockery of institutionalized checks & balances and the rule of law in that fashion. He's also dispatched police officers to rough up the judge when on his way to court hearings to determine the legality of Musharraf's action and whether the judge can be fired (given that Musharraf has already installed a replacement, you can imagine how this will all end), and has been leaning on the Pakistani media to ease up on the anti-Musharraf stories in the newspapers.

Which brings us to the broader global problem: the United States has invested a lot in Musharraf to assist them during the War on Terror & Tyranny, to the tune of $10B in the past 5 years. If the concept of sending such funding to a tyrant to advance American aims sounds awfully Cold War-ish to you, you're not alone. It is exactly this type of alliance that undermines American calls for the rise and establishment of democratic rule of law societies around the world. It's fantastic that Pakistan has been helpful in rounding up some al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists--but not all of them and not all of the time--but the benefit gained from that does not cancel out the country's deficiencies in transparency, democracy, liberty, and the rule of law.

The problem in all of this is that if Musharraf is ousted, we don't know who he would be replaced with. Many in Pakistan do not support Musharraf's siding with the United States, and there is a significant level of Islamist fundamentalist sentiment. Many support, silently or otherwise, al Qaeda, and Pakistan was one of only three countries that recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan during their brutal tyranny over the country. It is entirely possible that he could be replaced with the Pakistani equivalent of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, which would actually be worse than Ahmedinejad because Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. We know that top Pakistani nuclear scientists have already been arrested for attempting to sell nuclear know-how to al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

This is where cold realism thrives. Musharraf is odious to the values we seek to advance in the world, but he's less bad than several potential alternatives that would impose strict(er) Islamic law, deny rights even more than presently, and openly support al Qaeda and the Taliban. Pakistan's nuclear arsenal makes it a country of great strategic importance, within the region and globally. American cash has worked to keep the extremists in line and somewhat mollify opponents of Musharraf's US partnership. Any shift in Pakistan could have severely negative effects in Afghanistan, the initial front of the War on Terror and arguably the greatest success to emerge from the American-led policy of regime change. These are not considerations that can be discarded simply to support democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. But that doesn't mean we should necessarily shed any tears for the "beginning of the end" for Musharraf.

*Note: this post almost got lost by GooBlogger's gremlins. I blame the snow.

15 March 2007

KSM Confesses

I'm hoping that somebody can explain to me why exactly there is so much fuss over Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in the news today. Apparently he's come clean that he was the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, "from A to Z," no less. Yeah, anybody that's been paying attention for the last couple years already knows that. Or is this one of those cases where everybody "knew," but this just seals it for sure?

I remember reading about KSM months ago and was fully aware that he was the man responsible for organizing and plotting the operation that ultimately became known as "the planes operation" amongst his al-Qaeda operative colleagues. It was even initially much grander in scale, as they were plotting to hi-jack at least 10 planes and fly them into buildings in places all across the United States. Information on this can be read in the 9/11 Comission Report and a number of other sources that I provide in the unlikely event anybody would like to read about such a thing.

Now for the dark side of all of this: I read that this information was procured from KSM after he was "waterboarded" by interrogators. If you want to know what waterboarding is, the details of it are not pleasant. It involves creating the sense that the person being waterboarded is drowning, I believe by blindfolding him, setting him at a certain angle, and pouring large amounts of water over his face. It is, in short, a form of torture, and not something that I believe the United States should be practicing as part of its "coercive interrogation" programs to wring information from terrorists. I recall reading that the interrogators were impressed by KSM's ability to withstand the waterboarding for 3-4 minutes before finally confessing. Somewhere out there are lengthy papers by Charles Krauthammer and Michael Ignatieff that discuss whether democracies should use various forms of torture, and either or both of them make reference to waterboarding, that are both fascinating (and often shocking) reads. I will reiterate, because it is important to say these things often and boldly: I do not, under any circumstances, support the use of torture as a means in the War on Terror & Tyranny.

What did qualify as news to me involving KSM was that apparently he also confessed to being the person who killed Daniel Pearl, the American journalist beheaded in 2002. This was, I believe (correct me if I'm wrong), the first beheading by Islamist terrorists during the War on Terror & Tyranny of a non-combatant, setting a grim tone for future gruesome and repugnant acts that also claimed the life of Nick Berg and others. It typifies their approach of deliberately killing innocent people in order to inspire fear among civilian populations, and is one of the defining differences between us and them.

Again, if somebody wants to clarify the confession of responsibility for 9/11, that would be appreciated. I will conclude by stating that I hope this man and all of his accomplices ultimately receive justice--which will not come in the form of their heaven.

14 March 2007

Response from the Government

As you will recall, a few months back I sent an essay to the Minister of Justice on the subject of strengthening Canada's laws revolving sexual and other violent offenders (The original post about the essay can be found here, while a link to the essay itself can be found here). In the time between sending that paper and today, there was a Cabinet shuffle that saw Vic Toews replaced by Harold Nicholson, who was at the time the Leader of the House. Nonetheless, it was current Minister Nicholoson who responded to the paper. I received that response today.

First thing that I noticed was the typo. I appreciate the sentiment, but had to chuckle when Nicholson apologized for the "lenghty delay in responding." Oops!

Other than that, the two-page letter ran over Canada's New Government's steps to crack down on violent sexual crimes since taking office. He was nice enough to include an October 17th news release and backgrounder on Bill C-27, which was the government's initiative to make for "more effective sentencing and management of sexual and violent offenders." It also promises to make it easier for the Crown to obtain dangerous offender designations for repeat offenders "by reversing the onus where there is a third serious violent or sexual offence," something which I am certainly in favour of doing and hope that there will be no run-ins with the courts over any potential conflicts with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The response didn't make reference to anything I directly in the essay, which was somewhat disappointing, but I was glad to receive a response and an assurance that the Government does take this matter seriously and is taking steps to address violence against women and children in this country. I may even send a response to Minister Nicholson's response to see how long we can keep the dialogue running. If I do, I'll be sure to post it here.

12 March 2007

In the Headlines

The grand return of News Headlines!

Canada is seeking a free trade deal with India. If this happens, it would be colossal in its impact and would have many benefits for both countries. India has the benefit of being the world's most populous democratic state, making it a natural ally and partner of Canada. Access to its rapidly developing markets will be a potential avenue to diversify our export industry, and quality Canadian goods & services will find a home in India, which is expected to have a $400 billion market by the end of the decade. India's been making a lot of strong headlines ever since it signed a nuclear pact with the United States, and this move would be a next step in its integration. I am a supporter of free trade and open markets. Canada has the capability to compete with everybody for its fair share of the market, and now is the time to expand our horizons with the major players of the 21st century.

Turns out that when people who like Michael Moore try to do a documentary about him, they end up not liking him so much at the end of the process. Can't say I blame them.

In sports, Sergei Samsonov regrets signing with the Canadiens. I think it's fair to say that the feeling is mutual. This story should pretty much confirm that the Habs will do everything in their power to move the free-agent signing bust during the off-season, either via buyout or trade. At $3.5M this season, he's made $134,615.38 per point he's notched. That's even less value for money than a sponsorship-era report.

The UN may be getting off its butt and doing something about the genocide in Darfur. Wait, no, they're just saying that the world has to protect the people and that the UN has to step up and do something. So really, they're just talking some more about it, and noticeably failing to use the word "genocide" to describe the atrocities that continue to occur within Sudan. What happened to the Responsibility to Protect? Clearly every single criteria has been met, it's well past time to stop talking and start acting.

10 March 2007

If Harper Rights a Wrong, and Nobody Reports It, Did It Happen?

An interesting piece of information came my way on Thursday evening from a Conservative friend of mine. Thursday was, of course, International Women's Day and the Conservative government used the occasion to right quite possibly its greatest tactical error while in office: they restored the $5 million that had been cut from the budget of Status of Women Canada.

The full press release can be found here.

Says Bev Oda, the Minister for the Status of Women and also for Canadian Heritage: "Canada's New Government is proud to enhance the Women's Program in order to make a real difference in the lives of Canadian women facing challenges."

Also from the press release is the following information: The budget of the Women's Program has been increased by 42 percent, bringing it to its highest level ever of $15.3 million. As of April 1, 2007, the Women's Program will have two components: the Women's Community Fund and the Women's Partnership Fund. The Women's Community Fund will support projects at the local, regional and national level in order to enable the full participation of women in all aspects of Canadian life. The newly created Women's Partnership Fund is an enhancement to the existing grant program and will facilitate the engagement of eligible organizations and public institutions through joint projects designed to address issues pertaining to women.

What is most interesting about this maneuver is that the media has been relatively silent on it. This is all the more intriguing given the volume of press and anger that was expressed--from this quarter included, as seen here--when the initial cuts to SWC were made. I wonder, will Stephane Dion continue to use the rhetorical line about this government being anti-women, anti-equality, etc? Will those who refer to this government being the "most woman-hating government in history" (actual quote I read somewhere a few months ago...can't remember where, though) now rescind that comment because things are now at the status quo ante? Are the groups that protested the cuts now going to give the government its due for restoring the funding to a very valuable entity? Will the media report on the story and inform the people of new programs that may come into existence because of the restored funding and its new mechanisms?

Bear in mind, I'm not one for giving out cookies just because they've atoned, but I do give credit where credit is due. The silence from opponents of the original cuts, however, is pretty deafening right now.

Is the Season Lost?

There is less than month left in the NHL regular season, and currently the Canadiens are sitting in 11th place--3 points out of a playoff spot--and have only 13 games left to leap over the other teams in the hunt for the last two spots that are really up for grabs (the 6th place Lightning are 4 points clear of 7th and looking good of late). It has been frustrating more often than not in the past two-plus months to watch them struggle early in games, fall behind, and spend the rest of the night taking poor penalties and not generating the offence needed to get back in the game. It is made all the worse knowing that on December 23rd, this team was only 5 points behind Buffalo for 1st place in the Eatsern Conference.

It is in this context that the lead story in today's Montreal Gazette suggests that the Canadiens' season is all but done, and they should blow up the team during the off-season and undergo some major reconstruction to build a better team in 2007-08. Jack Todd suggests that nobody outside of blue-chip goaltending prospect Carey Price should be considered untouchable. That includes the much beloved Saku Koivu, says Todd. It's been over a dozen years since the glorious victory of 1993, and the team hasn't made it out of the second round since then. Big changes are necessary in order to make this team a legitimate Stanley Cup contender again. Let's be realistic, Habs fans: even if they do make the playoffs, they'll be playing either Buffalo or New Jersey. That would probably mean lights out in a matter of days, even if Cristobal Huet is able to play in the opening round.

So what should be done, then? Obviously, the team owes it to their fans and themselves to play their hearts out for the next four weeks in an effort to make the post-season. As the Edmonton Oilers of 2006 demonstrated, once a team is in, anything is possible. They will need to start playing with much more intensity, desperation, and intelligence. No more terrible penalties, no more coasting through shifts, no more soft goals. They need to recapture the zeitgeist of the first two months of the season. They need people to step up, act like leaders, and get their best players playing like they are the team's best players.

After the season is another story. There's going to be a lot of free agents, including: Sheldon Souray, Andrei Markov, Janne Niinimaa, David Aebischer, Radek Bonk, and Mike Johnson. In this new era of the salary cap, not everybody can be re-signed, which means some difficult choices will have to be made. Of those 6 names above, the Habs should make every effort to retain four of them: Souray, Markov, Bonk, and Johnson. Niinimaa has been in the pressbox for most of the season, and his $2.4M salary will be much better applied elsewhere. Aebischer has clearly lost the confidence of the coach and the team--and the fans--and with Carey Price waiting in the wings, he has been made expendable.

Additionally, Sergei Samsonov and possible even Alex Kovalev should be bought out of their contracts. Samsonov has been a total bust, notching only 26 points this season and spending significant time in the press box while earning $3.5M. Again, money that can be better spent elsewhere. Kovalev has been a polarizing figure off the ice. The recent controversy involving the Russian media, whether real or hoax, has been a horrid distraction at the worst possible time. Couple that with earlier comments this season by the likes of Jean Beliveau about Kovalev's selfishness, and it may be time for the ultra-talented underperformer to be moving along.

The team has a solid core of young players, such as Chris Higgins, Mike Komisarek, the Kotsitsyn brothers, Guillaume Latendresse, Kyle Chipchura, and of course Price. There are others in the system who may also get their shot next season to demonstrate that they belong in the NHL. As the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently demonstrated, youth has the potential to be dominant in today's NHL. Nobody will confuse Higgins for Crosby or Latendresse for Malkin, but these are two very able players that can make their mark with this team and become leaders and mainstays for years to come. Retain some of the veteran presence to help guide them and ease some of the pressure that playing in Montreal brings, but give the future a chance to make itself known now.

08 March 2007

Where is M. Dion?

Last Thursday I put out a plea for information regarding the whereabouts of Stephane Dion's appearance in Halifax. It went unanswered. Now it's likely that nobody really cared enough to fill me in (after all, I apparently sold my Liberal soul to become a Tory....thanks JBG!), but there's also the possibility that nobody else actually knew.

I've seen in a couple places, no less than the top headline at Bourque, that all of Dion's appearances on this cross-country tour (the ones that aren't sabotaged by the heavy hand of Stephen Harper) are being kept on the down-low. The story that Bourque links to in the Post begins with this simple introduction: "Stephane Dion was in Toronto yesterday. Somewhere."

Needless to say, this is highly problematic for a leader that is having excessive difficulties establishing himself and diffusing Tory attacks that proclaim Dion is "not a leader." If the people can't access Dion and hear what he has to say, the only message they will have about him is the caricature created by his opponents. The mildly-Liberal-friendly media can only do so much to highlight his positives (he was the Liberal architect of the Clarity Act, an important piece of legislation, absolutely, but one that came out almost a decade ago and probably something that nobody who doesn't take constitutional law classes has ever read), and sometimes even that gets boring. The Globe today, for example, has a story about Dion's former Cabinet colleague and Environment Minister at the time Chretien signed on to Kyoto pointing out that M. Dion wasn't exactly the best champion for selling Kyoto to the provinces when he was Intergovernmental Affairs Minister. Christine Stewart says, "I think what I am saying is he wasn't against [Kyoto], but he was not a champion. But then he wasn't unique. If you can find a champion [in that Liberal cabinet], let me know." Ouch.

So in the few glimpses that the public gets of Dion, it's leaning strongly towards the negative. The Tory message is clearly working to this point, and that is reflected in the sharp drop in Liberal popularity since December 2006 when Dion took the helm. If he wants to meet with small groups of grassroots members, fine, but shutting out the broader public and keeping everybody, the media included, in the dark as to his whereabouts will do nothing to expand party membership or support.

As I said on Thursday, I would not have gone to Dion's event in Halifax (turns out it was in Dartmouth) to do the cheering thing or grab myself a membership form at the end of the speech. But I would have listened and made a report here so that people could hear about it from a source that is neither pretending to be neutral (i.e. the media) or a partisan supporter. I would have given props where due and been critical where appropriate. As it is, all we got in the local press was a couple of really uninspired recaps and the establishment of a secret tour that everybody knows about. He was here. Somewhere. That is not good enough. I'm not a Tory member but I learn, usually a day in advance, where the Prime Minister will be on any given day. That is the upshot of signing up for the PM's mailing list, I guess. You can do that too by following the link on the right. Availability is key. Access is crucial. When Stephen Harper goes out and about to meet Canadians, they have a reasonable idea of where he will be and when he will be there. The same does not appear to apply for the Leader of the Opposition, and that will ultimately cost him face-time with potential voters.

07 March 2007

Hatred Hits Home in Toronto

Easily the most vile story of the day comes from Toronto, where four young (and I use the term extremely loosely) men--two youths who cannot be named plus a pair of shitheads named Philip Perry and Barton Reeder--raped an unconscious young woman. And they videotaped it on their cellphones, presumably to forever treasure the memory of their action and show it off to their friends. They probably would have even told themselves that she was asking for it, since she didn't say "no" and all.

This is the type of story that should make every decent human being shudder in disgust. I know that since I first saw the headline in this morning's Post and subsequently read about it again in the G&M and saw it on CTV, a fury has been building inside of me. It is the type of thing that makes me want to call the Minister of Justice's office and repeat the calls from all corners of the country to get serious and impose some serious punishments for this type of violent offence against the integrity of the person. Sure, stiffer penalties may not deter everybody from committing crime, but they will make at least some potential perpetrators think twice. Getting locked away for 20 or 30 years would no doubt affect the thinking of some potential rapists who would no longer feel as though it was worth the risk.

Of course, we probably have to take another step back. If groups of young men are patrolling the streets looking for passed-out women to gang rape, we're already in a world of trouble. Kids such as this already have such hatred for women that they're actively looking for targets to express that hatred and assert their lust for domination. The parents, the schools, and the system have already failed by this point. And the ones that have to suffer, as is often the case, are women. Women bear the main brunt of male hatred.

How many will it take until people stand up and say "NO MORE!" We're already at a point where 1 in 3 women in Canada will experience male violence during the course of their lifetimes. Does it have to be 1 in 2? 2 out of 3? 3 out of 4? 4 out of 5? All of them? At what stage of things do women and men--particularly the latter, since it is ONLY MEN WHO CAN STOP RAPE--collectively say, "Enough of this bullshit. It is well past time we took action against those who rape and inflict violence against women simply because they are women." Because clearly 1 in 3 isn't enough.

A 16-year old girl, who had no agency or ability to defend herself in this circumstance, was assaulted by a group of males who hated her for what she is. Will they face the appropriate consequences? Seemingly yes: they are being charged with sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, gang sexual assault and manufacturing child pornography. Philip Perry is also facing a charge of uttering death threats, while one of the 17-year-olds is facing an additional charge of possession of child pornography. If convicted, they will face jail time, a not insignificant amount of it. The young woman, however, will have to bear the scars of this assault for the remainder of her life. Whatever their intentions were, these men have profoundly affected, for the worst, the life of another human being that they didn't even see as a person. And it is for that reason, I conclude by asking: will the consequences, if any, amount to justice? On that front, I fear that the answer, as it so often is, is no.

05 March 2007

Sticker Sightings

Looks like someone's taking a page from CharlieGrrl's playbook...ahhh the fun. In case you have trouble making out the wording on the "Warning" stickers, they read: "Use of this product may impair your ability to relate to actual women and has also been shown to increase levels of aggression against them in laboratory experiments."

03 March 2007

The Wonder of Schmoo

Though I am well-gifted when it comes to the power of prose, on the poetry front, not so much. With that in mind, I turn it over to one Elvis Aaron Presley...

When no one else can understand me
When everything I do is wrong
You give me love and consolation
You give me hope to carry on
And you're always there to lend a hand in everything I do
That's the wonder, the wonder of you

And when you smile the world is brighter
You touch my hand and I am a king
Your love to me is worth a fortune
Your love for me is everything

I guess I'll never know the reason why
You love me as you do
'Cause, that's the wonder, the wonder of you

I guess, I'll never know the reason why
You love me as you do
'Cause that's the wonder, the wonder of you


Thank you for the most amazing and wonderful two years, Anna Lou. I love you more than I can possibly ever tell you. Like I said before, it all makes so much sense.

*shock* UN Incompetent at Advancing Mandate

It is a vulgar morning here in Halifax. The sidewalks are treacherous combinations of snow, ice, slush, and 6-inch deep water. Trekking through this disgusting combination at 6am is not the most enjoyable way for one to enjoy a Saturday, but sometimes you do what you gotta do.

No less vulgar is a story in today's Post documenting the unwillingness of the United Nations to name and shame countries that systemically abuse women's human rights. The story particularly focuses on the case of a U.S.-organized UN parallel conference called "State-Sanctioned Mass Rape in Burma and Sudan" that would address, you guessed it, state-sanctioned mass rape occurring in the military dictatorship of Burma (Myanmar to its friends and fellow juntas) and in the Darfur region of Sudan. It turns out that some very high-ranking officials at the UN sent some very strongly worded emails to the U.S. mission strongly objecting to the placement of the names of the two misogyny-endorsing countries in the title, and therefore asked the conference organizers to move the event somewhere off of UN property.

Should this move surprise anybody? Not really. We are talking about the UN after all. The same organization that has been impotent to uphold its supposed core principles and prevent genocide in Darfur and the Congo, ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia, WMD production in Iraq, Iran, and North Korea really shouldn't be expected to uphold other such lofty principles as promoting the idea that women are human beings and deserve to be treated accordingly. It is beyond contempt that they refuse to "name and shame" those states that are complicit and actively involved in targetting women for the most heinous of crimes and violations of the person. This is not the first time the UN has shunted women in order to protect the sterling reputation of the most vile states from being publicly embarrassed for their deplorable treatment of women. The story also notes a recent event in which a young Pakistani woman, Mukhtar Mai, was ordered by a tribal judge to be gang-raped because her brother had the audacity to try and make friends with a person in a higher caste was to appear at a film screening about this atrocity was cancelled because Pakistan's Prime Minister was at the UN that week and officials felt that would send the wrong message to his government.

I'm of the mind that silencing women who speak out against their government advocating rape as a legitimate form of penalty for the actions of other human beings sends the wrong message. However, that is what the UN does. Building a clandestine nuclear program and are worried that the US and other states may take action against you? Don't worry, the Security Council will make sure nothing happens to you. Have a terrible human rights record? Fear not, the UN will put you on its Human Rights Council and you can blame it on Israel. Practicing genocide and systemic rape against minority groups? As long as you keep it within your boundaries, we have no responsibility to protect those people. Need some extra cash because the sanctions we imposed in a fit of pique ten years ago are crippling your ability to build shrines to yourself? We can help with that; in fact, the Secretary General's son's phone number is right here.

It is deeply regrettable that the United Nations fails to take its mandate to advance the causes of women seriously, and prefers to protect decrepit regimes from suffering the humiliation of the world knowing that it is their custom to abuse, degrade, rape, and murder women simply because they are women. The women of the world deserve far better. They deserve to have an entity that will speak out and lobby hard for governments to publicly denounce those states which practice barbaric atrocities against them. 6-year old girls in Cambodia should not be locked in cages and suffer in silence while their government turns a blind eye to their pernicious rape industry. Women in Darfur should not have to suffer the indignity of being raped by soldiers who have just murdered all the men of a village. Young women in other parts of Africa should not have to live in the constant fear of being raped by HIV-infected men who believe the atrocious lie that sex with a virgin will cure them. These are types of issues that the UN and its member states, including and especially Canada, should be condemning with the full force of their authority. Instead, many of these incidents go undocumented or, worse, shoved aside to protect the guilty and complicit.

02 March 2007

Dion in Halifax, But Where?

I read yesterday at the CTV website that Stephane Dion will be in Halifax today. I can't find out where or when. There's nothing about it on the Liberal website or Dion's own site (which doesn't look like it's been updated since December), and calls to Dion's office have gone unanswered. My fellow traveller, Chucker, has insisted that I try to get the 411 on this hootenany and try to attend. If anybody knows, do tell.

Now, I'm not going to do the rah-rah thing. We're an awfully long way and time from this, after all:

But I do like notion of social justice and would like to hear what Dion has to say on the matter. I hope that he's got some ideas for getting prostituted women out from under the control of pimps that go beyond making Ottawa the country's big pimp daddy. I hope he has a plan for utilizing the talents and credentials of new Canadians so that they can fulfill their dreams of a better life than their home countries may have offered. Despite his less-than-stellar performance thus far as Liberal leader, I still have a lot of respect for Dion (long-time readers all know the story) and would genuinely be interested in hearing what he's got to say on subjects that are of importance to me in my voting considerations. As long as the answer to all of the problems of social injustice isn't "Ottawa is here to help" it could be a speech well worth listening to. But where is it?!?