There are good reasons to safeguard our privacy.
Privacy is important for creativity . . . for learning . . . for innovation.
For most of us, it’s hard to create something with someone looking over your shoulder. For many of us, it is hard to learn when we feel we are being watched. It’s even difficult to invent something new. All of these things are true because we can’t create, learn or innovate without taking a risk, whether it’s the risk of being judged, the risk of appearing stupid or the risk of being wrong.
Privacy is important for free speech.
Without the right to privacy people can’t safely discuss controversial topics — much less change the world — without exposing ourselves to repercussions. If we aren’t free to think what we want, if what we say can cost us our livelihood, or even our freedom, most of us will keep silent.
Privacy is important for intimacy.
Human beings need to be able to share our innermost thoughts with friends and loved ones.
Most important of all, privacy is important for our personal security.
We want to protect our possessions, but it is even more important to protect ourselves and our families.
That’s why we have curtains on our windows. And locks on the doors of our homes. It’s why we seal our mail. And lock our phones. It’s why we use passwords online.
Our privacy Canadians is supposed to be protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But we now know governments and law enforcement agencies are using technology to spy on citizens. Without warrants.
Canada’s CSEC is part of NSA’s Five Eyes spy network. They’re not spying on bad guys, they are spying on us.
One seat shy of a majority government after the 2011 Election, returning Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty enticed the undefeatable Conservative Elizabeth Witmer into resigning her provincial parliament seat and triggering a by-election. Instead of gaining the extra seat needed to regain his majority, the Kitchener-Waterloo riding went handily to Catherine Fife. During the campaign, Fife asked citizens to deny the Liberals another majority. That was the first time in my life I heard any Canadian politician publicly take issue with the fallacy that majority rule under our winner-take-all system is somehow a good thing.
After nearly a decade of a mind numbing Liberal Majority, Ontario voters were more than happy to hand the NDP’s Catherine Fife a resounding win in a riding that had been staunchly blue since Mike Harris devastated the province with his so-called “common sense revolution.”
Barely into the term, Dalton McGuinty stepped down from his position as leader of the Liberal Party and Premier of Ontario. Governing in a minority government is not at all like running the majority governments to which he was accustomed. He was succeeded by Kathleen Wynn, who became Ontario’s first female Premier.
In the year since, Premier Wynne took the job, the Liberal Party has lost a total of 5 seats. From my perspective, that’s a very good thing, because it widens the gap between minority and majority government quite nicely. Minority governments are the closest to democracy you ever get in a winner-take-all system. For years Canadian political propaganda has maintained the fallacy that majority government is a good thing, but voters are starting to appreciate we’ve been sold a bill of goods. The reality is that it’s not a good thing — for us.
“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Rhetoric vs Reality
They tell us our First Past The Post electoral system is a representative democracy… but is it?
We get to cast a vote, but some of our votes are worth more than others, because some votes elect an MPP, but most of them don’t. Who represents the majority of Ontarians that don’t elect anyone? Most of us have no representation in the Provincial Legislature.
They tell us majority government is efficient, and it is because it’s effectively a dictatorship. A majority of seats translates to 100% of the power, which means the majority government can pass any law it likes. The only thing that can stop it is public opinion.
At the Federal level we’ve been lately reminded just how undemocratic a majority government can be. The Harper Government bundles together large numbers of disparate laws in so-called “Omnibus Bills.” These massive documents are fast tracked though Parliament at such dizzying speed many of the MPs who vote for them haven’t actually even read them all the way through. This is not a democratic process, it just gives the appearance of being one. As a writer, I can’t believe any law that goes through our legislative process intact and becomes Law without so much as a change in punctuation can possibly have received proper scrutiny.
But that is why it’s efficient — because it is undemocratic.
Democracy requires hard work and negotiation, cooperation and consensus. People have to actually listen to each other. And it’s not easy to balance everyone’s needs and represent the whole constituency; getting there takes time and effort. Democracy is not efficient.
They tell us majority governments make for stability, but that simply isn’t true. While the Majority Party can make any law it likes, when it gets voted out the New Majority Party can change everything back to the way it wants things. Far from being stable, this creates a policy pendulum swinging back and forth.
Although Ontario is wonderfully multicultural, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario is not. Although two major Ontario political parties are led by women, there are far too few women sitting in the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. Like most Canadian winner take-all legislatures, the seats in the provincial legislature are predominantly filled by old white men. Which leaves a great many citizens feeling excluded.
Unrepresentative government is unaccountable government. When a government doesn’t represent all of its citizens, it’s the public good that suffers.
An inequitable electoral system makes for an unaccountable government. When all of our votes don’t count, and those that do don’t count equally, only a few citizens have the power to vote them out. And that’s not fair. Or democratic.
what happens next?
There will be a new provincial election in the next year or two.
Tim Hudak, the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, has made it abundantly clear he won’t be happy unless he gets a majority. Consensus doesn’t seem to be a word appearing in his vocabulary. In the past, Ontario has been governed alternately by Conservative and Liberal Parties. Mr, Hudak doesn’t believe there is a need to work with other parties because he’s certain his turn is coming.
Is it? Or is it time to break the pattern of unhealthy electoral mood swings?
Kathleen Wynne assumed the Liberal Leadership because, unlike Mr. McGuinty, she understands government by consensus is a good thing. Andrea Horwath’s NDP is well aware of the inequity inherent in first past the post electoral systems. That’s certainly why NDP policy supports electoral reform to Proportional Representation.
There is a way to make a meaningful change to how Ontario is governed. A way to upgrade our inequitable 19th Century electoral system to a stable proportional system that would elect a government to represent all Ontarians.
Proportional Representation is both fair and democratic. And there is no time like the present for Ms Wynne and Ms. Horwath to come together and give Ontario a solid proportional system fit for the 21st Century. It can’t come too soon.
Cathering Fife, Kitchener-Waterloo NDP MPP photograph by laurelrusswurm released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License
Kathleen Wynn photographed by Joseph Morris amd released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) License
Tim Hudak Ontario Progressive Conservative Party Leader, photograph by laurelrusswurm released under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) License
Andrea Horwath, Ontario New democratic Party Leader, photographed by Ontario NDP and released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License
Today many websites around the world joined together to protest the NSA’s practice of spying on the online activities of innocent people in the United States and around the world. The American NSA (National Security Agency) is joined in these activities by its Five Eyes partners, England’s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters), Australia’a ASD (Australian Signals Directorate), New Zealand’s (GCSD (Government Communications Security Bureau), and Canada’s own CSEC (Communications Security Establishment Canada).
Instead of using the one provided by www.thedaywefightback.org, I decided to create my own Canadian graphic using a darkened photo of CSEC’s current headquarters, rather than the NSA’s.
Being Canadian, my own protest is not directed at NSA; that is an agency of the Government of the United States. The USA has little motivation to pay any heed at all to non-Americans. On the other hand, The Government of Canada and CSEC are supposed to be working for Canadians; they should have reason to listen to the voices of Canadians.
Most of those Canadians aware of the existence of Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC) prior to the Snowden revelations believed our premier spy agency existed to spy for us, not on us. In spite of evidence provided by Edward Snowden and responsibly reported by Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, CSEC protests it’s innocence.
Join me in signing Open Media’s Protect Our Privacy petition.
Even better: contact your member of parliament (see “Find Your Member of Parliament” in the sidebar) and letting him or her know we would be better served if the billions squandered spying on innocent Canadians was invested in something worthwhile instead, like:
- replenishing the CPP, or
- fully funding Library and Archives Canada, or
- providing adequate education and health care to First Nations peoples, or
- creating a postal service that actually delivers mail,
- ensuring Canadian veterans get a fair shake, or
- investing in green energy, or
- improving health care, or
- making a university education available to all qualified Canadians.
I’ll bet you can think of a dozen places you would rather see Canadian tax dollars being spent.
The CSE Commissioner has never found CSE to have acted unlawfully. In fact, he has specifically noted CSE’s culture of lawful compliance and genuine concern for protecting the privacy of Canadians.
With no such budgetary restraints of its own, CSEC took over the luxury digs. While a case can be made that CBC needs impressive offices in an industry where image is everything, it is hard to explain why a Government Industry operating in the shadows should need opulent digs. As it turns out even this spacious architecturally significant Ottawa building was not enough for Canada’s spy agency.
CSEC is spending 1.2 billion to construct the most expensive Canadian government building ever. And although Canadian taxpayers are footing the bill, most will never be allowed to set foot in it.
Canada’s cryptologic agency is part of the 5 Eyes spy consortium that shares intelligence.
CSE is mandated to collect foreign signals intelligence to protect Canada and Canadians, and by law, only directs its foreign intelligence activities at foreign entities.
In order to fulfill this key foreign intelligence role for the country, CSE is legally authorized to collect and analyze metadata. In simple terms, metadata is technical information used to route communications, and not the contents of a communication.”
— CSE statement re: January 30 CBC story
CSEC’s claims (like the other Five Eyes claims) that it limits itself to metadata rings hollow. Reporter Glenn Greenwald makes a convincing case that metadata collection is even more invasive than having the our email read.
For years now, our Canadian Government has been working hard to make such spying on citizens legal by passing “lawful access” legislation, which would make it legal for government to spy on innocent citizens without having to convince a judge that there is a good reason to invade citizen privacy.
After 9/11 the Liberal Government first introduced “lawful access” legislation which failed to pass. The second try at legalizing unfettered citizen surveillance was made by the Conservative government, but was one of the laws lost to premature prorogation.
The third attempt is the one we started hearing about; because it was misleadingly titled Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, yet it neglected to even mention children or internet predators anywhere except in its title. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews infamously told an opposition MP that he could “either stand with us or with the child pornographers” during a debate.
Despite promises not to revisit the issue, the Harper Government’s new Justice Minister Peter MacKay has introduced yet another incarnation, “Bill C-13, The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act,” which will effectively allow unprecedented digital surveillance. Which would look very much like the things are being revealed through Edward Snowden’s leaked documents. If Bill C-13 becomes law, our spy agencies would be legally allowed to spy on Canadians who happened to use airport WiFi, or read our email, collect our metadata. There would be no legal means for citizens to protest being watched 24/7.
I have spent my entire life being grateful that my maternal grandparents fled the Russian Revolution and emigrated to Canada. This saved me from growing up in the Soviet Union, where citizens didn’t have civil rights. Where the government decided where you went to school, or if you did; and what work you do, and where you lived. Where people were correct in assuming they were being listened to when they spoke on the telephone. Or even when they didn’t.
Even if the education you receive led to the career you always wanted, not being able to say what you think, or even think aloud, without risking instant relocation to Siberia, makes such a system hard to take.
If you don’t think its such a bad idea, try to imagine what it would be like to spend every minute of every day with your mother. No matter how much you love your mom, no matter how good your relationship, chances are good there are things you won’t want to say out loud, or emails you won’t be comfortable writing if you know she is going to read it.
Now think about doing the same thing, but this time instead of your mother, you are now going to spend every minute of every day of the rest of your life with the most annoying person you have ever known. Maybe it’s the whiny little kid who followed you around in the third grade and wanted to be included in everything you did. Or maybe it’s the bully who jumped out of the bushes every day and stole your lunch money.
If all of our digital communications are subject to surveillance after such a law eliminates oversight, the civil liberties promised by the Canadian Charter of Rights And Freedoms won’t be worth the paper its printed on.
If Bill C-13 Lawful Access legislation should become law, Canadians will find ourselves tripping over the government in our bedrooms after all.
Edward Drake Building has been released into the public domain by its author, Vanished User
The Harper Government is rushing the so called “Fair Elections Act” 242-page Omnibus Bill through the House of Commons at breakneck speed. The sweeping changes this ill advised draft legislation seeks to implement are raising alarms among Canadians about the future of Canadian democracy.
You can read the full text of Bill C-23 here.
So far there are two petitions in opposition to the ill advised “Fair Election Act” the Harper Government is rushing through the House of Commons.
The first is being mounted by the online advocacy group Leadnow, who are particularly concerned with the aspects of the bill which will serve to disenfranchise many Canadians, including First Nations peoples, Canadian young people, and the growing ranks of the Canadian poor.
PETITION: Stop US Style Voter Suppression From Becoming Canadian Law
The second petition is from The Council of Canadians, who are particularly concerned with the undemocratic changes this law would make to our electoral system.
PETITION: Investigate and prevent electoral fraud with a truly fair Elections Act
My previous article looked at the “Fair Elections Act” but there are so many things wrong with C-23 there have been a flurry of articles already:
- SLAW: “Why the Conservatives’ “Fair Elections Act” Could Be Unconstitutional” by Adam Goldenberg
- CBC: “Election reform bill an affront to democracy, Marc Mayrand says” By Susana Mas
- Andrew Coyne: “What problems are the Conservatives really trying to solve with bizarre Fair Elections Act?”
- Globe and Mail Editorial: “Why the hurry to pass the Fair Elections Act?”
- The ChronicleHerald: “McILVEEN: New Fair Election Act: not exactly as advertised”
- Huffington Post: “Fair Elections Act Will Prevent Young And Low-Income Canadians From Voting, NDP Charge” by Althia Raj
- Huffington Post: “Not Much Fairness in the “Fair Elections Act” by Brent Rathgeber
- Ottawa Citizen: “The Fair Elections Act hinders whistle-blowing” by Stephen Shrybman
- Macleans: “The Fair Elections Act” by Aaron Wherry
- Ottawa Citizen: “Conservatives’ Fair Elections Act eliminates the referee, Marc Mayrand says ~ Chief Electoral Officer also worried legislation will make it harder for some people to vote”
- Democracy Under Fire: “The (UN)Fair Elections Act”
- UFCW “The “Fair” Elections Act?”
- “Fair Election act? —>Voter Suppression act of 2014.“
- Elizabeth May “A real ‘Fair Elections Act’ would start with getting rid of First Past the Post”
- “Five things you need to know about the Fair Elections Act”
- “Creekside: The Fair Elections Act”
- “Conservative Fair Elections Act – Completely Un-Fair to Young People”
- Reddit: “Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand denounces Conservatives’ Fair Elections Act”
- Foundation for Democratic Advancement: “CPC Bill C-23 “Fair Elections Act”
- The Fair Elections Act benefits the Conservatives, and hurts everyone else.
Elections Canada is the independent, non-partisan agency responsible for conducting federal elections and referendums. Once appointed by the House of Commons, the Chief Electoral Officer reports directly to Parliament and serves until retirement at age 65 or until he or she resigns. She can only be removed from the position by the Governor General of Canada for cause in a process requiring a joint motion and majority vote in both the House of Commons and the Senate.
Elections Canada is charged with running fair elections. It provides the public with information about our election system, ensures eligible voters are registered and can vote, registers political parties, monitors election spending and helping adjust federal riding boundaries, and enforces election legislation.
Well, that’s what it did until now.
Yesterday, February 4th, 2014, was a bad day for Canada, when the Harper Government unveiled Bill C-23, the so-called “Fair Elections Act.”
Appointed in 2007, our current Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand was unanimously approved by the House of Commons in 2007. [post script: every single Member of Parliament in every party, including Mr. Harper during the last Harper Government minority, supported the choice of Mark Mayrand. ] Throughout Mayrand’s term of office, there have been what seems an never ending list of electoral scandals, ranging from creative financing all the way up to the Robocalls. Here are a few of the highlights:
- In and Out scandal
- U of Guelph ballots valid: Elections Canada
- Jim Harris: Harper Conquers Canada, One Robocall at a Time
Conservative Minister for Democratic Reform Pierre Poilievre was quoted as saying, “The referee should not be wearing a team jersey,” a clear indication the Harper Government feels Elections Canada has been unfairly targeting Conservatives.
And while Prime Minister Harper can’t remove Marc Mayrand from his job, it seems he can remove half of Elections Canada. It certainly looks like revenge to me. My own opinion is that Elections Canada’s has been treating the Harper Government with kid gloves.
“The reason I doubt anything the Conservatives say on electoral matters is they have a proven track record of consistently cheating in elections,” NDP Leader Tom Mulcair said outside the Commons
This law aims to crack down on voter fraud by making it harder for Canadians to vote. There are many good reasons for citizens eligible to vote to lack sufficient credentials. Not everyone has photo ID. Wallets are stolen, people who have just moved often lack proof of residence. In the past, such situations could be overcome by having a voter with the correct credentials vouch for you. It is estimated that this change will prevent thousands of Canadians from voting. This change will hit the young and the homeless hardest.
There have been suggestions that this Law will create an independent Electoral Commissioner, but in reality, the Independent Commissioner exists already; they are simply moving him. [post script: The current system protects the Election Commissioner and the process of policing the Elections Act from partisan interference. Placing the Commissioner of Elections under the authority of the Public Prosecutor, who is himself a political party appointee, would appear to remove such protection. If I am correct, this law will effectively remove any accountability in Canadian electoral law.]
The idea is supposed to be to hold those responsible for electoral fraud accountable. But how are they planning to find these frauds? Well, it seems political parties engaging in Robocalls will be required to register and submit their scripts to the CRTC. This is voluntary registration is supposed to protect citizens from being deliberately disenfranchised by fraudulent robocalls that send them to non-existent polling stations.
If someone wants to commit robocall fraud, are they really going to turn themselves in to the CRTC ahead of time? I think not.
The Green Party’s Democratic Reform Critic, Bruce Hyer, said,
If the Conservatives were serious about electoral reform, we would be talking about ending First Past the Post and introducing Proportional Representation, reforming our unelected and unaccountable Senate, and ending the practice of having party leaders sign off on candidates’ nomination forms. Unlike Michael Chong’s important Reform Act, this is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
Elizabeth May by Mike Gifford released under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license
Plain Text: “In Canada, our problem isn’t people voting more than once, it’s people voting less than once.” ` Elizabeth May
This lovely photograph of young Winston Churchill is in the Public Domain
In Plain text:
“Having to choose, as we shall have to choose if we are to redress the constitutional injustice between the Alternative Vote, the Second Ballot and Proportional Representation in the cities, I have no doubt whatever that the last is incomparably the fairest, the most scientific and, on the whole, the best in the public interest.”
— Winston Churchill, 2nd June, 1931
If we want Canada to be governed democratically, we need to adopt Proportional Representation. Our inequitable winner-take-all electoral system (that predates confederation) gives 100% of the power to the “winners”, and leaves a majority of Canadians the “losers” ~ citizens without meaningful representation in parliament.
Fair Vote Canada is a grass roots multi-partisan organisation that advocates meaningful electoral reform to Proportional Representation. Right now Canadian MPs are in their home ridings, so this is an excellent time to visit their constituency office and suggest they support Proportional Representation.
If you sign up for the Fair Vote initiative they’ll send you a package including background information, suggestions of what to say and do in your meeting, and information to leave with your MP.
This isn’t a single party issue; Proportional Representation would benefit all Canadians. Some Conservative MPs are listening with interest. Our current electoral system is so badly broken that one Alberta Conservative MP reportedly told a constituent:
In Alberta, the Conservatives could run a poster on a tree,
and the tree would win.
That pretty much sums up why we need Proportional Representation so badly. The votes of all Canadians should count.