Thursday, October 19, 2006

Liberty Under Siege

It's been a very good week, unless you are a believer in freedom and liberty. If you are one of us, then its been perhaps one of the darkest weeks in recent memory.

First, we had a crusading reporter in Russia gunned down in a contract killing. Her crime was trying to tell the truth.

Next, in Canada, we have a Reform* government that is attempting to introduce a draconian reverse onus for dangerous offenders, despite the continuing drop in Canada's crime rate, including he rate for violent crime. They have offered no evidence, no proof that there is a such a crime problem with repeat offenders that it requires this clear violation of the Charter (put forth, conveniently, after they killed the Court Challenges program). They do so to divert attention from their other failures and shortcomings, playing on myth and fear to gain political power.

Worst of all, yesterday the United States of America, formerly the beacon of freedom and liberty in the world, signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006. This act destroys over 200 years of jurisprudence and history, in the name of protecting the US from "terrorists." As the ACLU points out, the act allows for:

"The president can now - with the approval of Congress - indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions. Nothing could be further from the American values we all hold in our hearts than the Military Commissions Act."[emphasis mine]

It destroys legal protections such as habeas corpus and the right to face your accuser that have existed since the Magna Carta. It is the antithesis of justice.

So to my American friends and cousins, I would like to remind you of something that perhaps many of you have forgotten:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security" [emphasis mine]

Our current Reform* government, who seem quite the fans our our US cousins, would do well to heed these words (Their supporters should read this).


Well, at least some of our cousins in the US are paying attention. Read or watch, its powerful stuff.

* Since they support arbitrary and undemocratic government, are purging real, principled conservatives from their midst, I refuse to sully the good name "conservative" by associating it with these people. Nor will I ever from this point forward. "Reform" is much more polite than the alternative, more accurate name I had in mnd.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Hotstove, Get yer Hotstove here!

Despite a weekend of technical dificulties and an absence from the internets by James Bow and Greg Staples (both attempting to get their sites back up), we managed to put together a pretty good Blogger's Hotstove with the help of Stephen Taylor (who is busy working to create the Borg).

The readers and commenters in my last post ought to listen to this, you might be in for a surprise.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Conservative Political Theatre

In the last few months, Prime Minister Harper and his Conservative government have been taking hits with their policies. Afghanistan is still perhaps one of the most divisive issues, with 59% of Canadians disagreeing with his policy. The Softwood Deal can be best described as a sell-out. Earlier this week, the much touted "Green Plan" was released not to applause but to more criticism.

What better time then, to jump on the trusty Conservative standby issue of "Law and Order" to draw our attention away from these other, far more important issues. The government is proposing a shocking "Reverse Onus" for dangerous offenders. In otherwords, after a third conviction of any "sexual assault" or "violent" crime, an offender must now prove they are not a dangerous offender as designated by the Criminal Code. Being designated a dangerous offender means that a person is imprisoned indefinitely.

Clearly neither the Prime Minister nor Vic Toews, the Justice Minister have read or understand the Charter of Rights. The Supreme Court ruled in 1986 in R v Oakes that reverse onus clauses in criminal law were unconstitutional. The only way for this to be legal, would be for the Federal government to do some thing that it has never done - invoke the Section 33 "notwithstanding" clause or for a Section 1 reasonable limit challenge.

Surely, I can hear you all saying, with all the crime we are facing this could certainly be reasonable?

Of course the problem is we aren't facing a crime problem, despite what the Conservatives want you to believe. According to the latest from Stats Canada, the crime rate in Canada dropped 5% last year.

While some violent crime was up from the year before - sometimes seemingly significantly - there is less crime now than 10, 20 even 30 years ago. For instance, while the rate of murder was 4% higher than last year, it is only 2% higher than 10 years ago, after a 30 year low in 2003. Attempted murders are up 14%, but are still 20% lower than 10 years ago. Assaults and Sexual assaults are down or unchanged and are down 8% and 25% repsectively from 10 years ago. Overall violent crime remains unchanged from last year and is still 7 % lower than 10 years ago.

"The national crime rate has been relatively stable since 1999, with last year's 5% decrease offsetting a 6% hike in 2003. The crime rate declined during the 1990s, after rising throughout most of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s."

In other words, over the long term, crime, including violent crime, is falling, even without these new "reverse onus" clauses. The increase in the murder rate can be attributed to 10 extra murders in the cities of Edmonton, Toronto and Regina can account for ALL of the 34 increase in murders in Canada. There is no need for a draconian reverse onus to protect us from crime.

The effect of this "reverse onus" clause, apart from the fact that is is not needed and violates the Charter, will be cost. If this passes, there will be a sudden increase in incarcerated offendeers. Our prison costs will explode. And yet as studies into mandatory minimums have shown, increased rates of incaceration have no effect on the crime rate (which is already dropping, remember?) nor do they prevent recidivism among offenders. An increase in incarcerated offenders, with no hope of parole or release, will have nothing to loose, making life far more dangerous for prison guards and other, non-violent offenders. Add to this the almost certain court battles and even more certain loss in the Supreme Court, which will overturn this kind of law, making this a frightful waste of government time and taxpayer's money. A strange stance for a government that says it is about "value for money."

The bottom line is that this reverse onus is an unneeded, unconstitutional law, meant solely to implement a policy based on ideology rather than fact. It is a crass attempt to pander to the social conservative base, rather than to seek real solutions to real problems facing Canada and Canadians.

The Opposition should most definitely NOT "get onside" with this rights-trampling nonsense. They should soundly defeat any attempt by this government to pass such a law.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Hysteria and Torture

The US has recently turned its back on its own constitution, allowing and legalizing torture. Yes, now this is a legal method of interogation in the US.

Yet the apologists for torture still come out. Gitmo is a 5-star hotel, they say. No torture here. Ok, maybe a little.

Besides, we must use these harsh methods of interrogation in order to make America Safe.

Last night PBS Frontline brought into sharp focus the fallacy of this stance with their program "The Enemy Within". You can watch online as the US government fans the flames of fear and hysteria in order to advance a political agenda. The program concludes that most of the time, reports of 'Al Queda' operating in the US and various 'plots' are overblown, plain wrong or outright fabrications.

But most disturbing in regards to torture, is the Lodi Case in which the FBI investigated an 'Al Queda' cell in Lodi, California. They had a paid informant, wiretaps and even a video taped confession from two of the suspects, Hamid and Umer Hayat. It would seem an open and shut case. But when the tapes were examined by a former 35-year veteran FBI agent and supervisor with an expertise in interogations, James Wedick, it turns out, things were not:

"I spent a weekend looking at the video confessions. I was shocked, … because what I saw was something rather unprofessional, something that suggested that these agents were not really familiar with the two individuals being prosecuted, and they didn't look like they had done their homework relative to Al Qaeda in Pakistan and the Middle East. I began to suspect maybe that the evidence was not there. "

Wedick spent the next months working for the defence. He was convinced that the US Attorney and the FBI had mishandled the case.

But what of the confessions? The Hayats had been interrogated for hours, after coming into the police department on their own. If you watch the tapes, they are clearly being led by the interrogators to the answers the interrogators wanted. According to Wedick, they simply wanted the interrogation to end:

"They were attempting to return home, to go back to their house. … They had repeatedly denied attending any camp, being associated with any terrorist activities, but then finally at some point, if you look at the tape-recorded confessions, you'll see that they more or less answered the way the bureau wanted them to answer. Most of the answers were just short bursts of agreement of whatever was proposed. Other times it doesn't make any sense. What I found shocking was the bureau never tried to mitigate or reconcile the differences between what Hamid said and what Omer said."
So convinced is this former senior FBI agent of a miscarriage of justice, that he worked for the defence for free:

"I'm doing it simply because they're not guilty. …"

Hamid Hayat was convicted and faces 39 years in prison for terrorism related charges. Umer was convicted of a minor, unrelated offence and freed.

What makes this case, and other like it, most terrifying is not only they way they were blown out of proportion in order to scare the US public into accepting hitherto unacceptable state powers (itself quite terrifying), but was the fact that two men were made to confess - to tell the FBI interrogators what the interrogators wanted to hear - without the use of torture. Imagine what they might have said in order to stop torture.

From a security perspective, this makes the US, and by extension the rest of North America, less safe. A few points:

- These men were made to give false confessions, either purposefully or accidentally, without torture. Waterboarding or making a person hypothermic will simply ellict false confessions faster.

- The FBI spent millions in taxpayer money and used valuable investigative resources chasing and manufacturing a false conspiracy. That is money and resources not available for other investigations, or more valuable intelligence gathering activities.

- The more cases like this that come to light (like our own "terror cell" from last June or the similarly incompetant Florida cell) two things can happen: either the public is lulled into a false sense of security and real threats are missed or they fall into the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome, where they no longer believe real threats when they appear. Niether is good for real security.

- Adding torture techniques to this already volitile situation will make things worse, not better, mainly because torture does not work. It is ineffective at getting real information. It is a degrading practice with no real benefit.

I will not get into the ethical and moral problems with the use of torture. Those have been raised by others.

I am being pragmatic and practical. In an environment where false confessions can be so easily extracted without torture, where valuable resources can be wasted ensnaring innocent people rather than bing used effectively, torture will make us less safe not more.


Like you need more reasons to think torture is not about getting intelligence or stopping the ticking time bomb? Read...

Monday, October 02, 2006

5 Things Feminism has done for me

As it is the beginning of Women's History Month, I thought, like jeff at 'where'd that bug go?', that I would post my list of the 5 Things Feminism has done for Me today. It seems very apropos:

1. Saved My Life - yes indeed. Had it not been for feminists arguing for equal rights for women, changing the divorce laws and bringing issues like spousal abuse (know as 'wife battering' back then) to the public attention, my mother would have been trapped in an abusive relationship back in the 1970's. She would not have been able to escape and probably would have been killed by my 'father'. Where would I be then? A violent drunk like him? Even alive? Because she could excape, because she could have a job and her own bank account, because being a single parent or a divorcee was no longer the social stigma it had been even 10 years earlier, we were able to have a pretty good, albeit poor, life.

2. Opened up the world to me and my daughter - my daughter can come to me and tell me she wants to be an astronaut, a soldier, a dancer and a swimming instructor. It allows me the luxury to know that my daughter can do anything she wants and her intelligence won't be pigeon holed into nurse, elementary school teacher or stay-at-home-mom - unless she wants to do those thing. Feminists have truly given my daughter that choice, the same kinds of choices her brothers have.

3. Made my wife and daughter people, not property - up until about 1910, rape was a property crime, a tort, not a part of the criminal law. A rapist was guilty of stealing the sexual property of a father or husband rather than for harming a woman. That made situations where women were not afforded the same kind of criminal law protectiosn as men (see #1 above). No longer. My wife and daughter are protected because they are human beings, not because they are legally my property.

4. Opened a new world of sports - yes, this is a silly one, but it is one nonetheless. I can now watch the Olympics and cheer on our Women's Hockey team, just as hard as the the mens (harder actually since they seem to win). I can be in awe of great hockey from Cassie Campbell and Hayley Wickenheiser, something that would not have been possible for me as a hockey fan and for them as players if not for feminism and Justine Blainey.

5. Opened communications - feminism has allowed, even forced us to talk about uncomfortale issues and deal with them, rather than sweep them under the table. Things like the aforementioned spousal abuse, or child abuse, abortion, adoption or divorce.

That is not to say their work is done, however. We still have people that think you need a penis to pull a trigger or aim a cannon and wish to keep women out of combat. Women still make on average about 75% of what a man with similar qualifications and experience does for the same job. There are those that think women should be made to stay home with their children rather than work, even if that means living in poverty. Our political process and Parliament are still made up of men, when 51% of the population are women.

I would consider myself a feminist, in that I believe in the equality of the sexes - equality of opportunity and equality of treatment.

So long as there are people out there who will tell my daughter that she cannot do something, or must act a certain way, simply because she lacks a penis, then we still need feminism.

Another Hotstove is ready

We had another good discussion on the Hotstove last night. Damian Penny replaced me as the 'Hotstove Virgin'. Welcome Damian, it was good to talk to you.

Please have a listen and leave any questions or comments you might have.

Thanks to our host Greg Staples and James Bow for another good one.