Friday, February 29, 2008

The mysteries of politics

Okay. I'm the first to admit I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawe. But, really, just what is the rationale for a PM seeking a majority in the federal Parliament to unmuzzle one of the choir of castrati ministers to go out and do this:

Michael Tutton

HALIFAX–Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty launched a post-budget blitz today by lecturing provinces on the need to lower taxes and taking a swipe at Premier Dalton McGuinty for making Ontario "the last place" in Canada to start a business.

In a speech to the Halifax Chamber of Commerce, Flaherty challenged provinces to help him create a Canadian "brand" for business taxes by reducing their take of corporate profits.

"I've challenged the provinces to drive down their business tax rates to 10 per cent by 2012," he said during his speech.

Flaherty said by combining that with a 15 per cent federal rate, he would "brand our country globally as a 25 per cent business tax jurisdiction."

My, my, my!

I always believed "Shawinigate" was a real scandal and Jean Chretien was a crook. In fact, I had quite liked Chretien before this story came along and made him look -- to me -- like a typical little chiseler.
But now this story pops up. And my, my, isn't it interesting? Shawinigate was all over the front pages. I believed Andrew McIntosh was cheated out of a National Newspaper Award. He owned this story, which ran day after day after day and seemed like such an exemplary piece of investigative reporting (but the NNA people gave him one the next year for a now-forgotten story about sleazy dealings by long-forgotten Tory leadership candidate Tom Long.)
Back in those days, the National Post was breaking new ground as the most reckless political newspaper in Canada. Whether it was Bob Fife's front-page blockbusters built on anonymous "sources" that never stood the test of time, the tax-cut and brain-drain agenda pushing on the front page (what ever happened to the brain-drain?), the deliberate misrepresentation of the "billion dollar boondoggle" in the Department of Human Resources Development (a fake "scandal" that destroyed the career of Jane Stewart, an excellent minister) or Shawinigate, the Post shook things up on the Hill.
But my, my, my. The Shawinigate memo was a fake? That's a story I never saw on the front page. Someone tries to destroy a sitting prime minister with fake documents and no one at the Post (or the Globe) sees this as news? It's not on the front page? It's bigger news than the original story.
But look what the Post and Globe have done. They've gone to court to protect the person who tried to frame Chretien, just as the Ottawa Citizen went to court to protect the person, likely a Canadian intelligence officer of some type, to destroy Mahar Arar by leaking bogus documents to Juliette O'Neill.
Now the attempted framing of Chretien is being touted as a Freedom of the Press issue. My take: if a source gives you fake documents to try to destroy a Prime Minister or smear a guy who's being tortured in a third-world jail, you owe them no protection whatsoever. In fact, you have a civic obligation to report a crime and a journalistic duty to write what you know.
With this kind of outrageous manipulation of public opinion, and with this type of playing fast and loose with truth (remember "truth", fellas), small wonder the public hates journalists.

National Post ordered to hand over document at heart of 'Shawinigate' (CRAFT-Post-Appeal)
Source: The Canadian Press
Feb 29, 2008 13:45

TORONTO - Enforcing the law must at times outweigh the need to protect an anonymous source, Ontario's highest court said Friday as it ordered the National Post to surrender documents at the heart of conflict-of-interest allegations against former prime minister Jean Chretien.

The Ontario Court of Appeal overturned an earlier decision quashing an RCMP search warrant issued against the daily newspaper and reporter Andrew McIntosh, who in 2001 was sent what appeared to be a 1997 loan document from the Business Development Bank of Canada.

The document outlined a $615,000 mortgage to the Grand-Mere Inn, located in Chretien's home riding of St-Maurice, Que.

A footnote in the document said the inn owed Chretien's family company $23,040 in 1997, at the same time Chretien was lobbying the bank president to grant the inn a loan.

Police eventually concluded the document was a forgery, and set about obtaining both the document and the envelope that contained it in order to investigate its origins and ultimately prosecute the alleged forger.

In 2004, however, Ontario Superior Court Justice Mary Lou Benotto quashed the search warrant and assistance order issued to the Post on the grounds that it would break McIntosh's pledge to protect the identity of his source and violate the media's ``constitutionally entrenched right'' to gather and disseminate information.

``In this case, the eroding of the ability of the press to perform its role in society cannot be outweighed by the Crown's investigation,'' Benotto ruled.

The three-judge Appeals Court panel, however, disagreed.

``The document and the envelope are not merely pieces of evidence tending to show that a crime has been committed - they are the very actus reus (guilty act) of the alleged crime,'' they wrote in a 23-page decision.

``Without the document and the envelope and the ability to conduct forensic testing of them there can be no further investigation, no ability to get at the truth.''

Intervenors in the case, including the CBC and the Globe and Mail, had argued that ordering the documents be handed over would result in a chill between reporters and sources and impair the ability of the media to properly do its job.

If the allegations of forgery were true, the documents would be the central piece of evidence in an ``especially grave and heinous crime,'' the Appeals Court concluded - ``a criminal conspiracy to force a duly elected prime minister from office.''

In such cases, the newspaper's right to protect their anonymous source _ particularly one who might be involved in such a crime _ is trumped by the responsibility of police to enforce the laws of the land, the panel wrote.

``Although, in pursuit of their constitutional right to gather and disseminate the news, journalists are entitled to protect their sources, that entitlement loses much of its force when journalists use it to protect the identity of a potential criminal or to conceal possible evidence of a crime.''


© 2008 The Canadian Press

h/t Kinsella

October 1970

The standard view of the imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970 is Pierre Trudeau was using a sledgehammer -- the army -- to crush an ant -- the FLQ.
But maybe there was more to it.
William Tetley, a law professor at McGill, was in Robert Bourassa's cabinet in 1970. He believes Claude Ryan worked to establish a "provisional government" in Quebec during the FLQ crisis.
The timeline is interesting. In the excerpts from his book, The October Crisis, 1970: An Insider's View (McGill-Queens, 2006), Tetley says Ryan, along with senior members of his staff at LeDevoir, met after the kidnapping of James Cross (and before Pierre Laporte was abducted) to plan some sort of regime of "worthies" that would take over from Robert Bourassa, who was seen to be young, weak and inexperienced. The regime would have been centred on Montreal's city hall. Rene Levesque, Jacques Parizeau and senior Liberals were approached. Here are some of the pertinent passages from Tetley's book:
The proof lies in several pieces of evidence. First, on is October 25, 1970, the night of his election victory, Jean Drapeau referred to attempts to put in place a "provisional government." The next day, Peter C. Newman, editor of the Toronto Star, wrote an unsigned article, which claimed that there had been a plot to replace the government of Robert Bourassa- - an article that was later attributed to Star journalist Dennis Braithwaite - and on 27 October the journalist Pierre-C. O'Neil wrote in La Presse of attempts to create a "provisional government" or a "government of public safety." That same day, in a press release, Robert Bourassa referred to the concept of a parallel government: "Premier Robert Bourassa formally denied, yesterday, being influenced in some way by the hypothesis `so illusory as a supposed project of parallel government' in his decision to request the federal government for the application of the War Measures Act."

Then, on 30 October 1970, Ryan, in answer to growing rumours and public commentary, finally admitted, in an editorial in Le Devoir, that he had actually discussed the issue of a provisional government on Sunday, 11 October 1970, with the four senior members of his staff, whom he had especially called to the Le Devoir offices for that purpose. There he had presented three alternatives: i) Bourassa taking a hard line;) Bourassa being unable to act, which would require "the creation of a provisional government team made up of the worthiest elements of the several provincial parties, reinforced by a few political personalities from various circles" …
Rvan went on to state that, emboldened by this meeting, and "it having been agreed that [he] should consult certain persons privately and confidentially," he immediately telephoned Lucien Saulnier, chairman of the Cit. of Montreal's Executive Committee, that afternoon (11 October 1970). The two men then had a conversation that was "purely private, consultative and confidential." Saulnier apparently turned Ryan down but spoke to Mayor Jean Drapeau, who referred to the matter on municipal election night, 25 October 1970.

My own research shows Pierre Trudeau was asked by reporters several times during the October Crisis about plans for a "provisional government". Suspending civil liberties and sending troops into Quebec to deal with a handful of very amateur terrorists -- and the government not only knew the true size of the threat but even knew the personal identities of the kidnappers by Oct. 16, 1970 -- makes no sense.
Now Bourassa and Drapeau's request for troops and the War Measures Act is quite understandable, as is Trudeau's quick response. Sending the army in to make a clear statement that the federal government was prepared to protect the constitutional authority of the federal and provincial government from Claude Ryan and his fellow "worthiests" makes all the sense in the world.
So, too, do the words "apprehended insurrection".

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Coming Friday

Did Pierre Trudeau send the army into Quebec in 1970 to put down the FLQ or did he do it to quash plans of a coup by Claude Ryan and other Quebec "worthies" who believed Robert Bourassa was too weak to deal with the FLQ?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Eight weird things about me

Thanks to Warren for the tag. Tonight, when I'm back from Montreal, I'll find five lucky folks to pass it on to.
Eight non-important quirk-habit-things about me:

1. I really do have webbed toes, a 1 in 100,000 mutation that I inherited from my Donnelly ancestors.
2. I'm a direct descendant of "filles de roi" Marie Bellehache. I was personally offended when Mordecai Richler said they were all a bunch of deported hookers.
3. I believe dogs can talk and that I can communicate with them.
4. I hate the sound of my own voice when I hear it from a recording. I especially dislike the way I sound when I laugh.
5. I have a bizarre bounce in my walk and no one has ever been able to explain to me why. (Maybe see #1?)
6. I met my wife while I was folding laundry.
7. My great-uncle Herb Cain is the only NHL scoring champ who is not in the Hall of Fame
8. When I was a teenager I had a very tame pet duck

Paul Wells
Skippy Stalin
Fossil Frank
Kady O'Malley
Jay Currie

Monday, February 25, 2008

Raspberry Tim

First, it was Prime Minister Harper demanding my friend Hill veteran and government spending expert Tim Naumetz ask him a question in a press conference back in the early days of the Harper-Press Gallery stand-off. It was the unveiling of the new Accountability Act, with about fifty journalists and the Prime Minister jammed into a tiny meeting room. Tim hadn't put his name on the Press Gallery questioners list. I was with him that day. We simply didn't see the list and the gaggle of TV types keeping it. So Tim, sitting next to me, put up his hand to ask a question. Harper lunged. Julie van Dusen and the rest of the gallery TV types hissed. Tim didn't know what to do. Harper -- Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper -- kept saying "Tim, ask the question. Tim ask the question!" while behind and beside us were people growling and griding their fangs. Tim didn't ask the question.
Today, it's the Tories misquoting Tim. I was with him this afternoon in the old press room, the Hot Room, when the exchange took place. The question is about the patronage appointment of third-rate journalist and failed Tory candidate Marc Patrone to the CRTC, the body that determines what we get to see in TV and hear on the radio. Tim turned as red as Anne Hathaway's Oscar dress. Now, Tim didn't say the Tories are doing a swell job on patronage, but, hey, who can you complain to?

Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, I know that the problem in the House of Commons is that we have people like the NDP who just will not stop attacking people in the media.

Mark Patrone is a first rate Canadian with long experience in broadcasting. He is an example of the capable members that we keep appointing, people who serve their communities as well and who are eminently qualified for the positions they take on. We should be proud of their willingness to commit to help Canadians in that fashion.

As for the NDP members, if they wanted that appointments commission in place they did not have to work so hard to keep it from happening.

Mr. Charlie Angus (Timmins—James Bay, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I have never heard such a tear-jerking defence of pork barrel.
Let us go back to what Justice Gomery said. He slammed the government for its excuses on killing the public appointments commission. He said that this key aspect of accountability has fallen into a black hole of Conservative indifference.

If we are going to have responsible government in this country we have to drain the swamps of cronyism. Instead we have the government using taxpayers' dollars to give out untendered contracts to party pals. It is using the public appointments process as a massive job creation program for failed Tories.

Why has the government broken this key promise to the Canadian people that it would end cronyism?

Hon. Peter Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform, CPC): Mr. Speaker, on that theme that I was developing a bit earlier I know it is important for us to look to those folks in the media for whom the NDP have a low regard but we in some cases have a high regard and I go to no more than Tim Naumetz of the Ottawa Citizen, who, looking at our appointments, said the following:

That is what our government is delivering: first-rate, qualified appointments, regardless of their background.

Here's Tim's actual story:

Full Text (943 words)
(Copyright The Ottawa Citizen 2007)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has named the Conservative party's former auditor to the board of the Royal Canadian Mint, a onetime domain for friends of the Liberal party that is slowly changing colour along with a host of government agencies and boards under the Tories.

The appointment of retired Deloitte & Touche LLP auditor Carman Joynt is seen by some opposition critics as a reward for service to the party, coming as it did with a half-dozen obvious patronage rewards in a one-day flood of 106 cabinet orders earlier this month.

But it also reflects the mixed approach Mr. Harper has adopted while filling hundreds and hundreds of vacancies on government boards, agencies and tribunals since becoming prime minister in 2006.

Many of those coming in have blatant political connections, but just as many, perhaps more, are going to eminently qualified Canadians.

Even one of the most vocal Liberals on the topic, Montreal MP Marlene Jennings, admits that if the candidate is qualified, political stripe shouldn't count.

Of course, she quickly adds, that was an argument the Liberals consistently employed during their last 13-year stint in office. With a note of irony, she adds the opposition invariably dismissed the defence.

"The issue would not be obviously their political ties if, in fact, they are well qualified for the position," she said. "That was one of the points we attempted to make when the Reform and the Alliance and then the Conservatives would try and smear appointments: that it's not because somebody had been involved politically that that would automatically disqualify them if they're competent in their field."

Mr. Joynt says he was not involved politically, arguing that as the Conservative party's auditor at Deloitte & Touche, he had to stay above the partisan fray to remain independent.

He added that following his retirement from Deloitte & Touche in Ottawa a year ago, he simply put word out "on the street" that he was interested in performing a public service.

"I just told a whole bunch of people and I got a call from the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) saying, could I come and see them. So I went to see them and they said, would I be interested in a board position, and I said 'Yes, I would'," said Mr. Joynt.

As a retired partner after 32 years at the accounting firm, he says he didn't do it for the $400 per diem he will receive on board business. "If I wanted to make some money, I wouldn't go to the mint."

Asked whether it had crossed his mind that acceptance of a government posting from the Conservatives might compromise the image of independence, Mr. Joynt replied: "Not at all."

In the same round of appointments listing Mr. Joynt, Mr. Harper also awarded a government post to the former chief executive officer of Deloitte & Touche, which has been the auditor for the Conservative party and previous Progressive Conservative party since Canada's first federal election-finance law was passed in 1974. Former CEO Thomas Cryer, though, with a distinguished history of public and voluntary service, can only be classified as one of Mr. Harper's eminent choices, notwithstanding the connection his former firm had to the Conservative party.

At least half the appointments Mr. Harper made in the same round have similar blue-ribbon credentials, including Benoit Bouchard, a former cabinet minister for Brian Mulroney who was widely respected on Parliament Hill in the 1980s and also received a government appointment from former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien. Along with eight other distinguished Canadians, Mr. Bouchard became a member of the government's advisory committee on the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg.

Many of Mr. Harper's appointments -- all are ultimately approved by his office, followed with a cabinet rubber stamp -- were extensions of postings originally awarded by the previous Liberal government, including seven to the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Ms. Jennings argues the reappointments ironically confirm the wisdom of the initial Liberal choices.

Others, however, were recipients of the same kind of traditional patronage Mr. Harper once vowed to end with a new public appointments commission to vet all government appointments. Fuming over the rejection of his preferred candidate to head the commission, Calgary energy executive Gwyn Morgan, Mr. Harper shelved the plan. Subsequently, the appointment of Conservatives appeared to increase.

Claude Bennett, the former provincial Tory cabinet minister from Ottawa, became a mint director. But Mr. Harper also reappointed Ghislain Harvey, a former Liberal member of the Quebec legislature first named to the mint board by Mr. Chretien.

In the latest batch of appointments, Leroy Legere, the Nova Scotia Conservative minister of labour at the time of the Westray mine disaster, became chairman of the employment insurance board of referees for the district of Yarmouth. Paul Demers, a former provincial Tory candidate in Sudbury, also became an employment insurance referee.

Brian Marotta of Welland, Ont., became a member of the Canada Pension Plan review tribunal for the region of St. Catharines, but was reluctant in a telephone interview to explain how or why he got the post.

"I didn't work on the election, I did not work on any campaign, I didn't organize anything," he said. "That's all I'm prepared to say."

Duff Conacher, the Democracy Watch critic of what he calls Mr. Harper's failure to implement ethical safeguards once promised in the Conservative Accountability Act, says it does not matter that the prime minister is mixing acceptable, even laudatory, appointments with outright patronage.

"He's being cautious because there have been four news stories about patronage appointments," says Mr. Conacher. "He knows people are watching."

Credit: The Ottawa Citizen

The man eating shark

will eat neither woman nor child...

Lawyers' kids to get straight teeth, new pools

One of my oldest memories involves a trip to the old Riverdale Zoo in Toronto. The whole family had gone to Mass. My mom, dad, sister Pauline and me, along with my grandparents Ernie and Bernie, went to the zoo on a lovely summer morning. My grandfather bought a bag of peanuts. Back in those days, guys used to sell them from funky-smelling heated carts that also carried popcorn and candy apples. Anyone who visited the Royal Ontario Museum before about 1985 would remember these guys.
My grandfather carried the peanuts around the zoo. When he got to the monkey cage -- animals were kept in big Dumbo Circus-style cages in the Good Old Days -- my grandfather held a peanut toward one of the monkeys. Out came the little soft monkey hands to grab the peanut. Ernie pulled the peanut back. The monkey started screaming and jumping around. My grandfather thought this was funny as hell. When the monkey calmed down a bit, my grandfather offered the peanut again. The monkey reached for it. Ernie pulled it back. The monkey flipped out.
The monkey eventually calmed down. When he did, my grandfather offered the peanut again. The monkey reached for it. My grandfather pulled the peanut back.
The monkey grabbed a big handful of monkey shit and, with the speed and precision of Cal Ripken whipped it all over my grandfather.
Not quite sure why I'm recalling this today.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

President McCain thanks you

I used to adore Ralph Nader until I met him. The guy turned out to be a stuffed shirt and a fool. He takes no blame for foisting George W. Bush on the US in 2000, even though he bled enough support from Al Gore to cost him the electoral votes he needed to overcome the Bush family's crooked work in Florida. Now, he will pull the far-left vote that the Democrats would need to beat McCain, who is a far smarter and better man than George W. Bush.
Oh, how I wait for a post-boomer world, one in which all the retreads and sanctimonious fools of the 1960s have gone to Glory.

On Hate Crimes and Such

Today Warren Kinsella says people had better get used to hate crimes because folks like Mark Steyn and Keith Martin, PEN and the Canadian Association of Journalists want to get rid of Sec. 13 (1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which may, effectively, give a government agency the power to censor the press. (That's if the CHRC case filed by several law students against Maclean's magazine is upheld).
Now, after some problems with the Prince O' Darkness, I must admit I enjoy Warren's writings and believe his heart is in the right place. But he uses this story as an example of how Canada has back-slid. Read the story carefully. No one in it suggests people should get away with writing racist crap on a campaign sign. In fact, the police spokesman quotes says the cops are treating it as a hate crime, an offence under the Criminal Code (in there with public mischief and vandalism, which are also gainst the law). In fact, this case shows the law works. The offended parties need not go to the Human Rights Commission. The cops will do their job.

The "asshole" factor in politics

Canadians are doomed to have assholes for leaders. Yes, it took 10 years of post-secondary education to come up with this theory. Think about it: all four federal party leaders are complete assholes. Can you imagine spending a week in a cottage with any of them? Would you want any of them as a business partner? As a date?
Brian Mulroney was an asshole and a crook. John Turner was a lush who was very much an asshole when he was drunk. Kim Campbell was an asshole airhead. Paul Martin, Joe Clark, Pierre Trudeau? Fill in the blank: -------. I could go on.
Jean Chretien was not a complete asshole per se, but compared to Madame Chretien, he was a bit of a goof. I met Madame a few times and I would have voted for her any day.
Steven Harper? Complete asshole. Ill-mannered little twit who definitely can't punch above his weight. Not nearly as much of an asshole as Stockwell Day and not anywhere in the same league of assholes as Preston Manning, but still a miserable, bad-temepered and vindictive little shit who started off as a computer geek before taking up "anger as politics".
Dalton McGuinty? Asshole. (What is it about people with bully-bait names like Stockwell, Preston and Dalton that attract them to politics? Intesting factoid: Dalton was named after his dad. So was Preston. Preston's real name is Ernest, just like his pa.)
Dalton replaced Ernie Eves (bad name, social-climbing asshole), who replaced Mike Harris (mean-assed asshole) who replaced Bob Rae (unprincipled asshole) who replaced David Peterson (not quite a complete ashole) who replaced Frank Miller (used car salesman hick asshole) who replaced Bill Davis (maipulative small-town Rotarian asshole). You think these guys are idiots? Take a look at the asshole factor in politics in the Maritimes, Quebec and the West.
Seriously. Do we elect assholes because we can't trust smart, socially-able people to run things? Do we think we'll be hornswoggled by people who have the brains to be manager of a suburban Home Depot? Do people who have anything going for them simply dodge politics?
Or are we just electing people who are just like us? Are we, when it comes down to it, a nation of chumps, fools and assholes with the simple good luck of being born on top of a huge stash of oil, gold, diamonds, trees and water?

Why Harper should have engineered an election now

My prediction

In one year:

* people will talk only about the economy, which will be in the tank. Canadians have never re-elected a federal government in or after a recession. Ever.
* a clapped-out economy and inflation will lead to labour problems in Quebec and a revival of the Bloc
* we will be nowhere near "winning" the war in Afghanistan and that will be obvious to everyone.
* Bob Rae will be in Parliament, making for an interesting Liberal front bench
* Steven Harper won't be any more popular than he is now
* people will be intrigued by the McCain, Obama or Clinton presidency and dismayed by Canada's sad-assed political offerings
* the Green Party and NDP will be finished as a force in Canadian politics simply because people will be bored with them
* Harper's old Reform base will be disappointed, angry and ugly and will talk about setting up yet another splinter party

Thirteen years ago...

Bill Clinton was in town, Hillary was skating on the Rideau Canal, it was terribly cold, and my wife was in labour.
Welcome to the world of teenagers, Maia!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

We're all chumps...

Rachel Marsden makes a good pointhere: With all this talk about the Internet being the next big thing in politics, why is no one spending campaign money on it? Where are the campaign ads on the big American blogs? With over $1 billion being spent on this year's presidential election, why aren't sites like Captain's Quarters, Little Gree Footballs, Huffington Post, and Rachel's getting festooned with great big expensive ads? Where are the ads on the Liberal, Tory and NDP blogs in Canada?
Maybe it's the old "why buy the cow..." thing?

Life With Steyn

Geez, I dunno.
I've had three white kids and I've never had an abortion. I named them "Mark", "The Hammer" and "Steyn" after my hero. (We call the middle child "Hammy" most of the time, except when he makes a mess and his mom gets mad).
I don't believe Muhammed was a prophet. Nor, for that matter, do I believe Moses, Jesus, Ayn Rand or Al Gore have any special connection to the Almighty.
Since the age of 18, I've spent my life working, earning every dime I've got by pounding spikes on the railway, fighting forest fires, slinging beer, making two-by-fours, writing articles and sawing fossils out of rocks in limestone quarries. I got through university mostly by doing one fucking course after another -- fall, winter and summer, for twenty years until, finally, I have the qualifications to be a prof. I've seen a tornado, peoples' guts, and serial killers up close. I've also spent four years reading everything left behind by Canada's press censors in World War II.
And I've had people try to shut me down: a notorious online SLAPP suit artist; a serial killer who forced the Ottawa Citizen to knuckle under by threatening to sue them for damage to his reputation; various scumbags who have sued me or threatened to sue me for things I've written in magazines and newspapers. The last time around, just this fall, some jerk sued me and my magazine simply because he didn't like seeing his name in a story. Our lawyers knocked the lawsuit out of the park in one one-hour hearing. We were awarded "costs" of $3000 which have not been paid. Our legal bills are $14,000.
So I do know what Levant and Maclean's are going through, and, as I've said over and over, I believe it's an abuse of process. In Levant's case, I'd feel a little more sympathetic if the guy wasn't a libel SLAPP suit artiste. In Maclean's case, the Human Rights Commission complaint seems completely out of line.
Pearl Adiadis, a human righst lawyer, wrote this piece in the Montreal Gazette. She suggests an HRC conviction -- and I use this word carefully -- would have less consequence than a criminal conviction. In this, she is dead wrong. Being on the losing end of an HRC decision would be lethal to the career of any Canadian journalist and would be a big hit to any publication. Mark Steyn would survive. He's published in places where they don't take Canada's Human Rights Commissions too seriously. Levant would be politically dead. Maclean's credibility would be hobbled. The editors of the magazine would have an HRC conviction thrown in their faces for the rest of their careers.
Yes, I do understand the stakes, and I hope the HRCs toss the complaints. I also hope the legislation is changed to prevent these abuses of process.
But I need no pestering from anonymous posters about "appeasement" of Islamofascists. I stick to my guns. Let them say what they want. Let them get up and wave their hooks and denounce the West, Christians, Jews, the New England Patriots and the Smart Car. Let them publish what they like. And if they lift a finger to actually do something, charge them, jail them, and, if they're not citizens, deport them.
Levant and Steyn did not advocate "doing" anything to anyone. Levant, in some people's minds, did something rude. It may be a crime in Saudi Arabia to do what Levant did but we are not in Saudi Arabia. Steyn's opponents want the HRC to ignore the professional discretion of journalists -- Maclean's editors -- to decide what they will or won't publish in their pages and on their cover. If someone blocked the complainants from buying five pages in Maclean's or starting their own magazine (or blog or web site) in response, they'd have a case. (By the way, if anyone does start a magazine to compete with Maclean's, give me a call. I'm in the book.)
I have suggestions for those who object to changing the Human Rights Acts to protect free speech rights: award costs to the losers in these cases; require hearings to be held in public; allow punitive damages to be awarded against those who abuse the process.
As for lumping Steyn and Levant with Zundel and Ahenekew: they fit on the list. They may not like to be there, but Steyn and Levant, like Zundel and Ahenekew, Fox News and al Jazeera, have been on the wrong end of Canadian governmental speech limitation actions. Maybe it's not the list the rest of us want to be on, but there ya go.
I do know that there's an awful lot of ugliness on the "blogosphere" and I get the very distinct impression that "freedom of speech" exists for the nutters only for themselves and not for crazy Imams and Maude Barlow. Claims of "freedom of speech", like patriotism, are refuges for scoundrels. The posters talk a good fight about freedom of speech, but it's all talk. Maybe they'd like to help my magazine pay off that $14,000 legal bill? Or perhaps they'd like to sign their own name and end up explaining to their spouses and kids, and their lawyer, why they're on the wrong end of a SLAPP suit by one of our country's tiresome web writers (your pick).
Levant should have known somehow the shit would hit the fan if he published the cartoons. I've seen Levant on Parliament Hill and I know he looks for trouble. (I must credit Warren Kinsella for his great line about Levant begging to be crucified, then complaining about the view). Maclean's probably never saw their HRC case coming. Hopefully, if they had, they wouldn't have done anything different. But now that these two cases have been filed and the lawyers' meters are ticking (remember that $14,000 we paid for some paperwork and a one-hour hearing?), self-censorship in Canada is even more entrenched.

I notice that Kate at Small Dead Animals is featuring a blog post that trashes the idea that a freelance journalist arrested in Afghanistan for contacting the Taliban deserves any protection. ''Free speech'' is one thing, protection of journalists is another. That seems to be the party line over there. It's come up when Harper has tried to undermine the 200-year-old concept that journalists have a right to effectively cover Parliament.

Well, how 'bout that?
One of my commenters points out the fabulous Kinsella remark about Ezra and crucifixion, that wonderfully John Lennonesque quote about crosses and views, was pinched from Enjoy Every Sandwich. Quite the blog. I just spent 4o minutes on the "journalists are scum" thread laughing my ass off.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nice, quiet day at home

Back, for a day, to the lifestyle of a magazine writer: interviews in the morning, a two-hour lunch with editors, a nice, slow afternoon writing and talking to people.
I can't do this tomorrow. I'd feel too guilty. I have a bunch of lectures to write and a pile of stuff to mark.
But I think I can make it through the rest of today without too much regret.

I've been thinking a lot about the Human Rights publication cases. I disagree with using the HRCs as a way of disciplining the press (for reasons I've made clear below). Canada's libel laws are the toughest in the world. Our hate crimes laws are far more than we need to dampen down any wanna-be Nazis -- and I agree with Jonathan Kay of the National Post that neo-Nazis are a non-threat. I've gone head to head with Zundel (talking to him after he was banned from holding a press conference on Parliament Hill) and found him to be a goon and a fool who is famous because of his prosecutions. I've also been able to thank my friend Keith Martin for having the courage to be the MP to move a motion to drop Sec. 13 of the Human Rights Act. I'm a firm believer of requiring the committing of an "overt act" before the state comes down on an individual. Talk, whether it's a bunch of skinheads, Trotskyites, Zundelites, Orangemen or Orleanists sitting around shooting the shit, is cheap and of no worry to anyone. When that talk turns into actions like vandalism, assault, mail box bombing or whatever, we have laws to deal with that. I'm a firm believer in keeping martyrdom to a minimum.

I am, however, concerned about all the snakes that have crawled out from under so many rocks. I wish the complaints to the HRCs had been brought by groups other than Muslims so that the anti-Muslim haters, many of whom cross the line of racism posting comments at weren't so involved in the fight. Talk of "vermin" and "extermination" has overtones that I want nothing to do with.

These are, by and large, the same people who wanted David Ahenikew stifled for his senile and stupid remarks about Jews. They are also the people who successfully demanded the CRTC -- certainly as undemocratic and arbitrary a body as any HRC -- keep al Jazeera out of Canada while decrying the same worthless body's decision to effectively ban Fox News.

I believe in pushing free speech as far as possible -- for Ahenikew, for Zundel, for Levant, Steyn, for all of them. I doubt any of them feel the same way about each other. Did Levant offer pro bono work to Ahenekew when he was charged and convicted for saying something drawn out of him by a reporter? Did Steyn stand up for al Jazeera, noting, as I did, that it might be good for a laugh and probably poses no threat whatever to the Canadian state and society? (Though I must thank Steyn for his moment of support when our mutual friend Kinsella launched a SLAPP suit against me, and wonder where Levant was back then). And there's my problem with all this. I know I might feel differently if I had strong religious views or felt discriminated against because of my color. But I live in a society where secular middle-aged short, fat, bald white male Irish Catholics are utterly fair game (as per every St. Patrick's Day) so I suppose I have developed a thick skin.

Anyway, I'm still mulling this stuff over. I'll write more later.

Update: If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake

I see Steyn, whose work I enjoy, and whose book I bought, has linked to me. I hope he knocks the HRC complaint out of the park. I suppose my appreciation of him is not returned and he can mock the fact that I call myself a "magazine writer". OK. But to Mark and his readers, I say this: are you becoming a mirror image of the thing that you say is a threat to our civilization? Unlike Steyn, I've actually studied censorship and fascism. My PhD thesis is on wartime censorship. I'd like to remind Steyn that it wasn't just the Nazis who undermined Weimar. It was the fight between the Communists and the Fascists that drowned out all reasonable and democratic discussion. The weak and fledgling German republic couldn't take the punishment. That's what I see here: Islamic fascism and the reaction to it attempting to polarize society and hollow out the core. And that's what worries me most.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Books and stuff

I received an e-mail Friday from the good people at KeyPorter Books telling me Chapters-Indigo had ordered another 5,000 copies of my book True Canadian Stories of the Great Lakes. My love-hate thing with Chapters is back in love mode.
Therein lies an interesting story. I wrote a book, Ninety Fathoms Down, for Dundurn, a small publisher in Toronto that treats newcomers quite well. Tony Hawke, the publisher I worked with, is a gem. His wife Leidevey edited the book ruthlessly. She, too, won my heart. Marion, my wife, did the maps. Ninety Fathoms Down came out at Christmas, 1995, when my wife and I were two months away from welcoming our first kid. We were broke, Dundurn had no money for a book tour, and the book was left on its own. Which it did, selling out its 2500-copy print run, despite a $20 cover price for what was, effectively, a big paperback.
Life went on. I wrote some more books and stuff.
Then, in 2003, the people at the University of Michigan Press told KeyPorter they'd be interested in a Great Lakes history book. That generated Many a Midnight Ship in 2004. And about the same time, Chapters-Indigo asked KeyPorter for a deal for a mass printing of an adapted, full-length version of Ninety Fathoms Down. Dundurn graciously signed all the rights back to me and I signed an advance and royalty deal with KeyPorter, which produced the book under the Prospero imprint.
Now, after getting through all the back story, here's the part that's interesting. The "new" book, True Canadian Stories of the Great Lakes, lists for $9.99. It's part of a series of books that include Max Haines' crime stories and some war history. People think this is a good deal and have bought a lot of these books. Yet True Canadian Stories is not a remaindered book. When a book is remaindered, the author gets no money and the publisher usually doesn't recoup the cost of printing. The bookseller makes a few bucks, but the object of the exercise is to get rid of overstocked books and get customers in the door of the big book dealers and ramainder palaces like Toronto's World's Biggest Bookstore.
TCSGL makes money for Chapters. It makes money for KeyPorter. It makes money for me. Not enough to change my life, but no one makes a living in this country solely by writing books. No one.
Today, I went into Coles on Sparks Street. In the window, they had a display of my old book on the Parliament Buildings, which is remaindered. I walked past them knowing I'd make nothing more from them. I bought David McCullough's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1776 in paperback for $21 plus GST. I finally get to read this book, which I couldn't afford when it came out as a hardcover three or four years ago.
I can guarantee you 1776's paperback print run is far larger than the cumulative 10,000 for TCSGL. Yet it's more than double the price. So when you feel like your being screwed when you buy a paperback, you are. And if you think people would buy and read more Canadian books and books in general if the prices weren't so high, I can tell you from experience they will -- by at least a factor of five.

Ottawa Watch

I discovered today that is redirected to a web site of political "news" published by one of this town's many, many lobbying firms. Hmmm... should have nailed down that fname. Lord knows where leads to. I dread clicking the link. Maybe later.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Snow blind

Hide the sharp stuff. Winter's gone on too long, but spring seems so far away.
And if you think there is much more of winter this year, you're right, at least in eastern Canada and the US northeast. If I find some good stats, I'll link to them. However, I do keep pretty good track of snow cover in the areas where my friends and I hunt trilobite fossils.

Along the north shore of Lake Ontario, where we always have at least one thaw in the winter that removes the snow and allows for some collecting, the region has been covered by more than 10" of snow. Ottawa and central Ontario have about twice the amount of snow on the ground as normal. The Montreal region also has about double the normal snow cover. In the Eastern townships, the snow level is about 1.5 times the norm (which swings wildly anyway because of the sporadic storms that hit the region from Lake Ontario and the sea. The northern St. Lawrence River area has well over a meter of snow on the ground.
You can really see a difference in southwestern Ontario and northern Ohio, where snow arrived in December, melted somewhat after Christmas, and had returned, unbroken, since the early new year. Snow covers places in the "sun parlor" region of Leamington ion depths and longevity that are quite abnormal. The snow cover extends south of Columbus, Ohio, well into Pennsylvania, and over all of New York except the lower Hudson Valley.
So, for now, the bugs are very safe.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Award-losing gerbilism?

My ex-column in the now-defunct Ottawa City Journal has been nominated for a weekly newspaper award. I'm honoured, and I do hope I win it. But I also would like to see some bright kid on a real, live weekly who actually does that stuff for a living get a career boost, so I won't cry if I lose.
Here's a link to the award site.
I don't know if they still have my name spelled wrong. As my boss said the other day, "too bad it's not for copy editing".

UPDATE: They have fixed the spelling of my name. Shucks.

Well, here we go again

Yup. Back blogging.
I simply couldn't justify blogging while my thesis wasn't finished. I missed out on a promotion last fall because it wasn't done and I kicked myself in the ass for weeks for the time I'd wasted typing opinion when I should have been writing history.
But the thesis is, effectively, finished. There are a million nips and tucks, but it will be handed in well before next fall's tenure-track job season. And I'm excited about it.
I found what I believe is important new stuff about:
* the way Mackenzie King handled the press.
* the way the Japanese-Canadian press was treated during the war.
* a blown attempt by the RCMP to hide the fact they'd "turned" a Nazi spy into a double agent.
* interesting material about the way Canadians viewed American servicemen stationed in Canada, especially black soldiers.
* the incredible recklessness and outright fascist sympathies of the mainstream Quebecois press and suppressed anti-Semitic material by Jean Drapeau.

I think this will make a good book.

So I'm back and I'm blogging. There are a lot of things I'd like to talk about.
First, I got the chance to thank my friend Liberal MP Keith Martin the other day for his work on trying to drop Sec. 13 from the Human Rights Act. The Human Rights Act will do a great job of protecting people from real discrimination in the workplace, housing, dealing with government, etc. without this section. The law should not empower Human Rights Commissions to attempt to censor the press, nor should it allow HRCs to anticipate the future effects of publications.
We have hate-crime laws in Canada and they are enforced. If you publish real hate literature, you are charged by the police and you can go to jail. In the Ezra Levant case, the police would not lay charges because republishing the Muhammed cartoons was not considered hate speech.
It is blasphemy in Muslim law, but blasphemy is not a crime in Canada for very good reasons that were hashed out in Parliament years ago. Quite simply, God will sort that out some day. And if writing or caricature goes farther than that, into real encouragement of discrimination, hatred or violence, the Criminal Code provisions are very clear.
We have the most repressive libel laws in the Western world.
Our governments and government-funded agencies, including schools, universities, police forces, and the public service, have zero-tolerance policies regarding racism and have strong mechanisms of enforcement.
Therefore, much as I think publishing material that offends the religious sensibilities of others is rude, I don't believe its criminal. Nor do I believe that reprinting chunks of controversial books should be considered a crime in this country. Mark Steyn's book may be right. It may be wrong. It is, however, part of the discourse on the future of the West and no one has the right to censor it or Maclean's for excerpting it.
Which brings me back to the beginning. I just spent four years studying wartime censorship. The censors and the Liberal government believed:
* political opinion should not be censored.
* facts of military value to the enemy should be censored.
* people had the right to know the specifics of censorship: what should be censored and what should not.
Those were very simple and reasonable principles which were applied at a time when German submarines prowled the St. Lawrence River and lurked off Halifax, when 500,000 Canadians were in uniform and several thousand were held as prisoners of the Nazis and the Japanese, often in hellish conditions. I have a lot of respect for the King government now. It was brave. It upheld democratic ideals even in the years (1940-1944) when it was not at all obvious we were going to win the war and when the Conscription issue nearly tore the country apart. That's the true test of a democratic government: whether, when the going gets tough, it is still willing to believe in, and depend on, democratic values like a free press.
So, how do today's governments measure up?
In my view, in the wake of terrorism laws that make a joke out of Magna Carta -- and are doing more to undermine social cohesion and Western values than any cartoons or magazine articles -- not so well.