Archive for September, 2009

Polygamy’s still illegal, Winston

September 27, 2009 2 comments

The dismissal of polygamy charges against the two leaders of a Mormon fundamentalist sect in Bountiful, B.C., puts the British Columbia government in a quandary.

An appeal could uphold the decision of Madam Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein that the B.C. Attorney General at the time, Wally Oppal, had improperly interfered in the justice system by “prosecutor shopping” for someone who would go forward with charges against self-admitted polygamists Winston Blackmore and James Oler.

Alternatively, the government could ask the B.C. Court of Appeal to make a ruling on whether Canada’s polygamy law is constitutional. Blackmore argues that it violates the Charter of Rights by denying his religious freedom — in this case, to take multiple wives.

Secret LivesThe evils of Bountiful are well described in Daphne Branham’s Secret Lives of the Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada’s Polygamous Mormon Sect (Random, House of Canada).

No one has more zealously pursued this story of victimization and religious extremism than Ms. Branham, a long-time Vancouver Sun reporter.

Justice Stromberg-Stein’s decision has sent shock waves through the anti-polygamy movement. Nancy Mereska, the Alberta leader of Stop Polygamy in Canada, says she’s “absolutely devastated.”

It’s important to remember that the decision has nothing to do with the merits of the charge itself. The judge has made no finding in that regard. She dealt with a procedural issue, namely whether or not the Attorney General was within his rights to recruit a third special prosecutor after two previous ones had declined to prosecute. They were of the view that it would be impossible to obtain a conviction because of the Charter of Rights guarantee of religious freedom.

I recall discussing this issue with Mr. Oppal for an article I wrote for The National Post a couple of years ago. He told me at the time he was convinced that polygamy charges could be made to stick. There’s a huge file of academic and legal opinion that the practice of polygamy is discriminatory and oppressive and is a violation of international laws that Canada has vowed to uphold.

It’s been almost half a century since Mormon fundamentalists from Alberta moved into B.C.’s remote Creston Valley and set up a religious colony called Bountiful. It’s a beautiful part of the world — I spent my boyhood there and nature is truly bountiful in its gifts of climate, soil and spectacular scenery.

The fact polygamy has survived largely untouched by outside laws speaks to something in the Canadian character of tolerance and acceptance. It’s also testament to the economic clout of Bountiful, which has fed a constant stream of commerce into what might otherwise be a depressed area.

But facts remain. Polygamy is against Canadian law. Religious-based polygamy (is there any other kind?) involves oppressive brain-washing, usually accompanied by sexual abuse, of young females.

B.C. needs to put an end to the charade of legality that surrounds Bountiful. Is Canada a country to be governed by religion or by reason? Blackmore and Oler must be prosecuted. And our laws must be reformed, if necessary, to put an end to religious abuse of the civil rights of young and defenseless Canadians.


The take-down of Barack Obama

September 19, 2009 1 comment

An interesting pattern is emerging in the wave of criticism being heaped on President Obama for his assumed past associations with extremists and his alleged sympathy for socialist (or worse) solutions to the problems that confound the United States.

A highly critical column this week in Canada’s National Post — you can read it here — is typical of what is becoming a widespread attempt to “take down” Obama so as to render him impotent to carry through the kind of change he promised.

The degree to which Obama’s presence in the White House drives his opponents into fury is truly remarkable. In many instances, the attacks are joined with an implied defence of the Bush administration.

Writing in The Post, Lorne Gunter laments the fact that Barack Obama is getting “a free ride” for his sins while George Bush, “on far less evidence” was presented as “the most dangerous, illegitimate president ever.”

This conclusion represents such an egregious misreading of history that it’s difficult to keep the debate on a rational level.

Whatever ethical or moral missteps Obama might (or m ight not) have been guilty of — such as tolerating a racist as his family pastor or serving on a board whose members included a former Weatherman — the president’s sins are so infinitesimal in comparison to Bush’s that they are hardly worthy of comment.

The mass death of hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of Iraqis can be laid directly at Bush’s feet, along with the deaths of several thousand American soldiers after his administration lied its way to gaining support for the war.

By all the conditions of international law, Bush and the United States were (and are) guilty of war crimes: first, for waging aggressive war on a nation that posed no threat to it; and (second), using torture to gain information from its enemies captured in the resulting combat.

The furor over funding healthcare has sharpened the tone of the attacks. As a Canadian, I’m aware of course that the battle is really not about healthcare, but about the profits of health insurance, something we brought under control forty years ago.

For those who think Obama’s too radical, I’ve gone news: He’s no radical.

President Obama is likely to end his time in office, whether after four or eight years, as one of the most conservative presidents in American history. Like FDR’s efforts in the 1930s, Obama’s attempts to reform the financial system will end up not bringing on socialism, but strengthening capitalism. 

Where the President would have been fully justified in ordering a thorough investigation into how George Bush led America into an unjust war, he has wisely refrained, knowing that the outcome would tear America apart. Even the timorous inquiries into CIA torture techniques are unlikely to result in any meaningful retribution.

Then there’s the matter of Mr. Obama’s color. In 2007, he told a Newsweek magazine writer:

Solving our racial problems in this country will require concrete steps, significant investment. We’re going to have a lot of work to do to overcome the long legacy of Jim Crow and slavery. It can’t be purchased on the cheap. I am fundamentally optimistic about our capacity to do that. But these issues aren’t just solved by electing a black president.

In recent days the White House has gone out of its way to deny that attacks on the President have any connection with race.

Former President Carter probably spoke accurately, but not too carefully, when he told NBC News that “I think an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.”

Meanwhile, the solid signs of hope remain. Cancellation of the missile shield in eastern Europe is a rational decision. The stimulus funding — a lot of it yet to reach Main Street — is helping to shorten the recession. Whatever healthcare plan comes out of Congress, it will help to bring down costs while extending coverage.

Against these successes, the critics of the President are likely to become louder and more extreme. But they cannot deny the successes.

Gorging on excess – of food and greed

September 16, 2009 1 comment

At first, I felt a sense of mild disgust as the hefty 104-page insert DINE, printed on the glossiest of slick paper, tumbled from my copy of this morning’s Globe and Mail.

Another one of those self-congratulatory things that charities often publish after their big fund-raising balls, I thought. Lots of pictures of self-satisfied party-goers and triumphant organizers. Were they there to contribute to a good cause, to see and be seen, or just to indulge themselves?

DineWhen I looked more closely, I saw that this one was different. Edited by the foodie guru Sara Waxman, DINE seemed to be dedicated to excess in eating in all the most expensive food bordellos of the world, from Hong Kong to the Cayman Islands.

I don’t know if it was the idea of grossing out on vastly over-priced culinary delights, or ravishing the forests for the raw materials to produce this exhibitionist excess, that troubles me the most.

As I leafed through this temple of gross, my initial distaste turning rapidly to revulsion, I wondered what it is that motivates anyone to admit they would be part of this kind of lifestyle.

Yes, the rich we will always have with us, and we must allow them their small amusements. But for over a century now, we’ve had ample evidence of the culture of ostentation, first pronounced on by the classical economist Thorstein Veblen. In the interests of conspicuous consumption, he wrote, they pursue “the latest properties of dress, furniture, and equipage; of games, sports, and fancy-bred animals, such as dogs and race-horses.”

In North America today, the richest one per cent posssess more wealth than the bottom 99 per cent. When you’d think it would be in the interests of the rich to try to hide this fact, publications like DINE celebrate it.

I think what bothered me almost as much as the vulgarity of its purpose was the triteness of the writing in DINE.

Vancouver is about to “implode” (“collapse inward violently”) from an influx of Olympic visitors. The Okanagan has winemakers “pushing the envelope” to make wine that “really packs a punch.” The genetically-faulty Iberian pig has “made the cut” as “one of the world’s ultimate delicacies” and can now be bought in Toronto. A restaurant in Shanghai serves only “angry” fish.

The object of DINE, aside from garnering as many advertising dollars as can be coaxed from its mindless supporters, is obviously to idealize the life of the wealthy.

For all but a tiny proportion of the people who encounter this exhibition of conspicuous carnality, it does just the opposite. Perhaps for that, we should thank Sara Waxman and the Globe and Mail.

Bring on the election

September 11, 2009 Leave a comment

The day of the anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Tower is a good day to renind ourselves of the privileges of living in a democracy. So I say, Bring on the election — Canadians should never complain about an opportunity to choose who governs us.

As Rick Salutin rightly observes in The Globe and Mail, frequent elections “keep citizens engaged and parties on their toes.”

Now that Michael Ignatieff has made it clear the Liberals will no longer support Mr. Harper’s government, a fall election is as cerftain as the fall colors that we’ll soon see across the land.

The parliamentary maneauvering now falls to the other parties. The NDP and the Bloc can support the Conservativers or not –either way, the Liberals are freed from the strait jacket they’ve worn for the past two years.

Mr. Harper can shout all he wishes about the danger of a Liberal coaslition with the socialists and separatists. The PM has curried the favor of both those parties in the past. He’s likely to do so again, if it means surviving a Liberal non-confidence vote. The chances are, though, the Bloc and the NDP will have none of it.

The election, when it comes, is likely to mark one of those rare, momentous turning points in Canadian politics.

Turning PointsI wrote about 15 of those occasions in my 2004 book, Turning Points: the Campaigns that Changed Canada.

I included the 2004 election because it marked the breakdown of the virtual one-party rule we’d seen since the collapse of the Mulroney-era Conservatives in 1993. The 2006 election, when Stephen Harper came to office in a minority government, merely completed that process.

Before 2004, the last federal vote I’d designated as a turning point was the 1988 free trade election that gave Brian Mulroney his second majority. It was major because it locked Canada into a closer than ever economic partnership — or subserviance, depending on your point of view — with the United States.

The issue in the coming election — the ballot question, as the pundits call it — is going to be who’s best equipped to manage a fragile economy. The Conservatives think they have an edge here because they see themselves as the more prudent, anti-tax party.

In fact, the biggest tax cuts in Canadian history came from the Chretien Liberals, following years of Chretien-Martin deficit slaying.

Now that finance minister Jim Flaherty has revised yet again his deficit forecast — to $56 billion this year, he can hardly lay claim to much in the way of money management smarts. He’s the guy, after all, who predicted just a year ago that the Tories would bring us five successive years of budget surpluses.

There’s an answer to the current deluge of red ink — and all the parties have it. Assuming the recession is close to an end if we’re not already there, government revenues soon will be rising again. Simply restraining the GROWTH of government spending will bring the deficit under control in half a dozen years. No need to slash and burn.

The ballot question might be fiscal but I suspect Canadians will be voting as much with their hearts as their guts. Which do we want — a Tory regime that grudgingly accepts its responsibilities, or a Liberal government that embraces the idea of common effort for the common good?

We see plenty of examples of how Mr. Harper prefers to leave Canadians on their own — whether they’re Muslim citizens stranded in Kenya or at Guantanamo, or natives trapped in reserves riven by a hopelessness that rivals anything in the Third World.

Bring on the election!

The FLQ Manifesto – part of our history

September 7, 2009 Leave a comment

It started out as a commemoration of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham — the crucial 1759 contest between English and French that made Canada British.

It’s degenerated into a war of words over what’s to be read at a two-day marathon next weekend in Quebec City.

The read-fest was organized after plans for a 250th anniversary recreation of the Battle were abandoned in the face of stiff opposition by Quebec nationalists and sovereignists.

Now the shoe’s on the other foot. Federalists, led by the Quebec Liberal government of Jean  Charest, have raised a hue and cry over having the manifesto of the FLQ — the Front de liberation du Quebec — read at the event, Moulin à paroles.

If anyone needs reminding, the manifesto was issued by a murderous gang of terrorists who kidnapped the British trade commissioner in Montreal, James Cross, and murdered the Quebec minister of labor, Pierre Laporte.

The FLQ got the manifesto read on TV as a condition of freeing Cross. I wonder how many remember what it contained?

The Front de Libération du Québec wants total independence for Quebeckers; it wants to see them united in a free society, a society purged for good of its gang of rapacious sharks, the big bosses who dish out patronage and their henchmen, who have turned Quebec into a private preserve of cheap labour and unscrupulous exploitation.

Pretty scary stuff, yes, and it was a scary time. The manifesto went on to declare that the FLQ “is not an aggressive movement.” But this didn’t prevent the killing of Laporte.

As it later turned out, the governments of Quebec and Canada grossly overreacted to the FLQ’s desperate grasp for power. Events would prove it was a tiny group, with little influence on the population.

180px-FLQ-FlagBut the grievances aired in the manifesto — exploitation at the hands of foreign capitalists and mistreatment by the vendus in Ottawa — are still felt by many in Quebec. (That’s the FLQ flag on the left.)

A total of 140 works have been selected for reading. They include texts by Louis Riel about the Red River Rebellion in Manitoba, and by Louis Joseph Papineau, leader of the 1837 Lower Canada (Quebec) Rebellion.

Reviled during their lives, both are seen today as heroes and patriots.

The Quebec government has apparently withdrawn from the event, having first demanded the exclusion of the FLQ tirade. Ottawa is having nothing to do with it.

One of the organizers says the government criticism of a privately-staged event is over the top.

“What rights do governments have to interfere with an event that is not publicly funded and that is an artistic event?” asks Brigitte Haentjens.

Good question. The FLQ Manifesto is a primitive but powerful document. It drips with venom. But it’s part of the history of Quebec, and Canada.

Let it be read. And let anyone who is troubled by the fact commit themselves to ensuring that the conditions that brought it into being are also relegated to history.

Witnesses don’t always get it right

September 4, 2009 Leave a comment

I can’t recall an event in the recent past that has aroused such public interest and emotion right across Canada.

I’m referring to the tragic street accident involving the former Attorney General of Ontario, Michael Bryant, and the bicycle courier, Darcey Allan Sheppard.

As I write, this, The Globe and Mail web site has no less than four stories about this case highlighted on its home page.

Anyone within sight of Canadian media knows the basic facts: Bryant, 43, is driving his pricy Saab convertible along Bloor Street about 10 o’clock at night. He’s on his way home after a night out with his wife — a modest snack and a walk on the beach marking their wedding anniversary.

There’s a minor collision with Sheppard’s bicycle. Seems that the 33-year-old Sheppard passes Bryant and perhaps cuts him off. Then things get ugly.

In an instant, Sheppard is clinging to the side of Bryant’s car as it speeds off. The car veers onto the wrong side of the road, Sheppard is smashed against some poles and a mail box. He falls off, unconscious.

Bryant drives around the corner, pulls in beside the Park Hyatt Hotel, and calls police. Other 911 calls go in. Responders take Sheppard to Mt. Sinai hospital, where he is pronounced dead.

Bryant is arrested at the scene. He is photographed in the back seat of a police cruiser. Later, he is charged with criminal negligence causing death, and dangerous driving.

Here you have the irresistible combination of fame and folly. In an instant, the career of a high profile over-achiever is on the rocks. Bryant has resigned as CEO of Invest Toronto. His hope of someday being Premier of Ontario may have vanished. Worse, a man is dead.

The media are quick to the scene. Initial interviews with witnesses paint a deplorable chain of events. One says the driver (Bryant) deliberately smashed his car into poles so as to injure the bike courier. Here’s a clip of the early TV coverage:

You can see a sympathetic picture being created of the victim. All very understandable.

Later, it comes out that Sheppard has been drinking that evening, has left his girlfriend’s house despite her wish that he not try to bike his way home. A neighbor says he was so drunk he fell off his bike. Sheppard’s girl friend calls the police, asking them to take him to his place. They refuse. One officer comments later “We are the Toronto Police, not the Toronto Taxi Service.”

More information comes out about the courier. It’s learned there are outstanding criminal charges against him in his hometown of Edmonton. Not necessarily relevant to this horrific accident. But part of the story nonetheless.

Canadians love to see a successful person get their come-uppance. “Who does he think he is?” is a favorite Canadian putdown.

There’s an outcry that Bryant will get favored treatment. Hardly seems likely to me. He’s charged within a day. An outside special prosecutor, a prominent Vancouver lawyer, is brought in. There’s talk that an out-of-province judge may be needed when the case comes to trial in October. Bryant, as Attorney General, appointed many of the judges serving on the Ontario bench.

The story’s a big one partly because it raises the compelling question of whether Bryant will ever be able to restore his reputation. One of the pieces in The Globe today discusses the question, citing the ordeals suffered by other famous names who have struggled to rehabilitate their public image.

The cases raises all kinds of issues. One of the big ones is the co-existence of bikes and cars on the same busy streets. Toronto’s been pushing to restrict car lanes in favor of bicycle routes. Is this the best way to “calm” the street? There’s a lot of animosity out there right now. Are the changes being made to our streets contributing to the increased level of road rage that’s being reported?

I think there’s one lesson we should learn from this. Initial witness reports can’t always be relied on to give a balanced picture of an occurrence. These reports painted a dreadful portrait of Bryant’s actions. But now, it seems there’s at least a possibility that Sheppard may have had a hand in the car’s erratic path.

Mistakes by witnesses, according to a legal analysis I’ve read, are one of the  big causes of wrongful convictions. The witnesses we’ve heard are honestly reporting what they think they’ve seen. It may turn out that what they thought they saw is not necessarily what actually transpired.

It will be up to the lawyers to argue this out, and to the courts to render a final verdict.

Time to curb Human Rights Commissions

September 2, 2009 Leave a comment

I wrote a few days ago that purveyors of extreme views should be judged by their words, rather than be squelched by repressive acts of censorship. “Distasteful words are best fought by reason, not repression,” I wrote.

My reference was to a book by Ross Thatcher, Final Appeal, in which he argues he’s innocent of the killing of his ex-wife, JoAnn Wilson. The Saskatchwan government, I believe, will be guilty of interference in his civil rights if it uses a new law to strip him of income from sale of the book.

With that background, I’m pleased with the report that the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal has found that the Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That’s because the Charter guarantees Canadians’ rights to “the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression.”

Section 13 undid all that, so it’s to be hoped that the Tribunal’s decision will be taken as precedent by the courts.

The National Post has a full report here. I find it interesting that almost a day later, there’s been no mention of the decision on the web sites of either the Globe and Mail or the Toronto Star.

The news is cheering to right wing bloggers such as Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant.

Levant, more than any other commentator, has crusaded against Canada’s hate laws ever since being hammered by the Human Rights Commission for publishing the Danish cartoons about Mohammed in the magazine he used to publish.

LevantLevant describes his ordeal in Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights (McClelland and Stewart).

I don’t count myself among these right wing zealots. But I do agree with them that Human Rights Commissions have gone far beyond their origjnal purpose. They need to be curbed of their reckless attacks on free speech.

It’s worth remembering that the Human Rights commissions came into being to protect individuals against discrimination in employment and housing. That’s a worthwhile purpose. From there to censoring freedom of expression is a long ride down the proverbial slippery slope.

In the 1960s, the Act was extended to combat racist telephone hotlines. In 2001, the entire Internet was dumped into their domain. The result is that every blogger, including this one, writes at the risk of being penalized by these outfits.

There’s a familiar pattern among the special interest pleaders who want new laws to deal with old problems. Pornography crusaders are never sastisfied that obscenity is illegal under the Criminal Code. They want more and stiffer laws.

So it is with those who would slap hate embargoes on purveyors of unconventional views. These laws are particularly popular with extremist religious factions, such as the fundamentalist Muslims who organized riots to protest the freedom of expression of the Danish paper that first published the famous cartoons.

The repeal of Section 13 was recommended last year in an independent review conducted by University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon. The Liberal MP, Keith Martin, has urged the scrapping of the section.

Perhaps now that the Human Rights Tribunal itself has spoken out, we may soon see the last days of this invidious legislation.