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Heartbleed & Passwords

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If you have any passwords on the Internet, whether for email, social media, or buying and selling, you must change them now to protect yourself.

NOTE: Heartbleed is not a virus or a hack, it was a mistake. Of course, the NSA wasn’t above exploiting it, nor did NSA see fit to share the information with its Five Eyes allies, so the Government of Canada was forced to shut down its web presence to make its websites secure. With “allies like this…”

[reblogged from techDITZ]

Heartbleed is a security breach that compromises passwords. Now is the time to change passwords.  --Bob Jonkman

Bleeding HeartsMy favourite spring flowers are called “bleeding hearts,” but this spring the online world is reeling with the discovery of something completely different — an Internet problem that’s been named “Heartbleed.

This is is not a computer virus, it is a mistake someone made in the SSL software code. When such a mistake is made in a novel it would be called a typo, but on the Internet, Heartbleed is a serious security flaw.

For years watchdog organizations like the EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) have been advocating the adoption of internet security feature called SSL/TLS encryption.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), more properly called Transport Layer Security (TLS), has become the default approach for protecting sensitive data flowing over the Internet. SSL uses encryption to provide data confidentiality for connections between users and websites and the web-based services they provide. The vast majority of sensitive web traffic, such as user login screens, e-commerce checkout pages, and online banking, is encrypted using SSL.

Thales e-Security: SSL/TLS Encryption

Over time more and more websites have adopted this security measure as a way to make the Internet a safer place for you and me. That’s why something like three quarters of the Internet uses SSL/TLS encryption today. This is a good thing.

What is Heartbleed?

The security vulnerability known as Heartbleed is a programming error in the SSL code, and it’s a bad thing because it has made every site that uses SSL vulnerable. Although we are only hearing about it now, it has existed since 2011 or 2012.

I first heard about it on Wednesday, April 9th, 2014. Today (April 11th) the Toronto Star reports the Government of Canada is disabling federal government public websites — at taxtime — in a move to protect users. I don’t understand why they didn’t do this the moment the Heartbleed story broke.

This vulnerability went undetected for something like five months (and apparently NSA knew, but didn’t bother to mention it to its Five Eyes allies, like, say, The Government of Canada, because NSA was too busy exploiting the vulnerability for its own purposes.)

Heartbleed vs Websites

A real world comparison might be that using SSL is like a having double lock deadbolts on the door, and “Heartbleed” is what happens when you forget to lock the back door. Ordinary people can’t fix the Heartbleed problem. It can only be repaired (or patched) by the people running SSL websites & servers.

The Internet giants (Facebook, Twitter, Google etc.) were warned first, so they fixed the problem before the vulnerability was announced publicly. Most of them are trying to allay the fears the media has been whipping up about this all week.

But the Internet is also crowded with many smaller sites that smaller organizations and even ordinary people host themselves. The EFF has kindly explained how our SysAdmins can effect the Heartbleed fix:

The Bleeding Hearts Club: Heartbleed Recovery for System Administrators

Correcting the code is not an immediate fix, because each SSL secure website also must have its Security Certificate updated, which will take time with so many websites doing this.

Heartbleed vs People

For you and me, the biggest problem is that our passwords may be compromised.

This is such a big glitch, most of us won’t be attacked today. Our passwords probably won’t be used to crack our accounts right now because so much of the web is affected.

But we can no longer trust that our passwords are secure.

The Apartment Analogy

If the superintendent of an apartment building replaces flimsy locks on the doors of all the rental units with good strong deadbolts, it makes it harder for bad guys to break in.

If someone secretly copies the master key, they can break into apartments.

When clever crooks use the duplicate master key to break into apartments, they are very careful in what they steal. So long as the thefts aren’t noticed, the thieves can keep coming back for more.

No one can tell there is a problem until something is discovered to be missing..

The only defense that the tenants have is to change the locks on the door.


If a website or email platform adopts SSL/TLS security, the website security becomes much more powerful, because it adds encryption which prevents most security breaches.

A bad guy exploits Heartbleed by using it to download passwords etc.

When Internet criminals exploit the Heartbleed error, their intrusion is invisible. There is no way to see how much security information has been downloded, or whose security has been breached.

No one can actually tell who or what is at risk until there is an actual attack.

The only defense that the users have is to change the passwords on their data.




Like the NSA, black hat hackers (or crackers) may have already filled databases of passwords they’ve found the Heartbleed system. . Even if the System Administrator has fixed the Heartbleed problem for their website, it doesn’t change the fact that any bad guy who cracked the website before the fix still has your password. Or passwords.

If three quarters of the people in Toronto left their doors unlocked, only some of those homes would be broken into right away. Because so much of the Internet has been at risk, they might not get you today, but they might tomorrow, or next week.


You can tell a website uses SSL by looking at the URL (or the website address). SSL website URLs don’t start with http:// (like this one). SSL URLs all begin with https://. You used to be able to tell with a glance at your browser bar, but today’s fashion is to hide this part of the URL in the browser bar. Some browsers show you are at an SSL site with a padlock symbol, others display SSL URLs in different coloured text, but if you aren’t sure, you should be able to see which it is by cutting and pasting the URL it into whatever text editor you use.

Not all HTTPS websites were vulnerable to Heartbleed because there are different versions and configurations, but there is no easy way for you and I to tell which SSL sites were vulnerable.

As well as SSL websites, any secure site where you use passwords — email, instant messengers or IRC services may have been compromised.

Nobody Knows For Sure

Google, Amazon, Facebook and Paypal claim their customers are not at risk because they have fixed any Heartbleed problems they had.

But because the Heartbleed vulnerability is invisible, until someone actually breaks into our accounts, we can’t even tell if they have been compromised. Even if the Internet giants have fixed their problems, the only way we users can be sure we are safe is by changing our passwords.

Someone has put together a Heartbleed Test so we can discover which SSL sites we use are vulnerable or fixed. Once we know the website is no longer vulnerable to Heartbleed, we can only be sure of our security after our password is changed.

Tumblr just told me to change my password, which means Tumbler has fixed their Heartbleed problem, and wants to be sure its users accounts are secure. Bravo.

I am in the process of typing the URLs of sites where I have passwords (Facebook, Twitter etc.) into the Heartbleed Test to find out they are secure before I change my passwords.

Heartbleed isn’t a threat to websites like Pinterest (http://www.pinterest.com/), techDITZ (http://techditz.russwurm.org/blogs/) or deviantART (http://www.deviantart.com/) that have not yet made the transition to HTTPS

Password No-Nos

  • Never use the same password more than once.
  • Never use passwords like “Password” or “1234″
  • Never use your mother’s maiden name, the name of a loved one, or a birthday… especially these days when all of our personal data is being harvested by corporations and governments alike. If your parent, partner, child, co-worker, next door neighbor or best friend can guess your password, it isn’t secure.

Good Password Practices

I have plenty of passwords, so I keep them filed in a safe place on my desktop computer. But I learned the importance of having a backup copy somewhere else this past summer when I had a major disk failure and I lost something like a terabyte of data — mostly photos —and my password list!

The only time you have to change your password is when:

  1. it has been breached (or when there is a good probability it has been breached
  2. when the website owner tells you you must. or
  3. when you’ve foolishly shared you password with someone you shouldn’t have.

Bob Jonkman, one of the computer security experts I know, recommends using a password manager, such as KeyPassX. But if you don’t he says:

  • Use a different password on every site or application for which you need a password. That way if one site is compromised it doesn’t affect every other site. Of course, Heartbleed affects every [https] site, so that’s not always true.
  • Make it long. Long passwords are good passwords. 20 characters is good. 16 is probably adequate. 10 is marginal.
  • Choose a phrase that is easy to remember, but difficult to guess. As an example, something like “Itookthebustoworkthismorning” — it’s sufficiently long, easy to type, easy to remember.
  • Don’t bother with $p3c14l characters or numbers; the bad guys have software that makes those substitutions too. Special characters make the password difficult to type and difficult to remember. If you need to type slowly because of special characters then it’s easy for a bad guy to shoulder-surf and see what you’re typing. According to KeepassX the passphrase “Itookthebustoworkthismorning” has 28 characters for 224 bits of entropy; on the other hand, passwords with 28 random characters with upper-case, lower-case, numbers and special characters (created by KeepassX’s password generator) have only 182 bits of entropy.
  • If the site does not offer a password reset option then write down your password, and keep it where you keep your money. If the passphrase is protecting $10 worth of data then keep it in your wallet; if the passphrase is protecting $10,000 worth of data then keep it in a safe. Don’t forget to write down the site or application name, the user ID, and any other credentials you need.

— Bob Jonkman, [kwlug-disc] Heartbleed affected sites

Although Heartbleed is a problem, it is being resolved all over the Internet… all over the world… as you read this.

And SSL encryption is still a good idea, just as house keys are, because personal security is important.

And privacy matters.

XKCD: HeartbleedCredits:

XKCD “Heartbleed” by Randall Munroe is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

April 13, 2014 at 3:24 pm

Posted in Canada

Canada’s Small Political Parties Agree: Bill C-23 Must Not Pass

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Kitchener Multi-Cultural Festival

Kitchener Multi-Cultural Festival

Canadians don’t want a two party federal system — we’re far too diverse.

That’s why we’ve embraced the notion of being a “mosaic” nation,  a stark contrast to the American “melting pot” culture, where everyone is expected to fit into the homogeneous mold.  But my Canada has found unity in diversity — we are a confederation of different peoples and different cultures. It’s no surprise we have so many political parties.

Unfortunately our antiquated electoral system disadvantages both independent candidates and the smaller parties,  making it very difficult for them to represent citizens in Parliament.  For a long time the Green Party of Canada failed to achieve a single voice in parliament — even with the support of almost a million Canadians.  But when governments in power have the ability to change rules and riding boundaries to their own advantage, its no wonder the more powerful parties are able to secure seats in parliament with a many fewer votes.   But persistence can pay off, and we now have two GPC parliamentarians, and we’ve seen what a difference the addition has made.

But the Canadian tragedy is that there are still far too many of us without any representation at all.   but in reality, any electoral system that fails to provide representation to three quarters of the eligible voters can hardly be called a “representative democracy.”

Too many citizens give up on our unfair political system in frustration.  The reasoning goes: why waste our time voting if our votes don’t count?   When almost half of the eligible voters don’t vote, support for the smaller parties waxes and wanes, and fewer votes determine our election outcomes.

But many Canadians are stubborn, too.  That’s why many smaller parties continuously jump through the bureaucratic hoops necessary to retain their official “Registered Party” status.  These small political parties may not be able to have official standing in the House of Commons, but they nonetheless represent a great many of our citizens and residents, many of whom are among the most politically active members of Canadian society. These Canadians work for significant programs, and fight for real solutions to the major problems facing Canadians, including proposals for democratic reform.

flag-wavingThis is why so many Canadians keep on “wasting our votes” by voting for the candidates and parties we want to send to Ottawa. Even when we understand that supporting one of the smaller parties is unlikely to secure us representation in parliament, a great many Canadians continue our dogged support of a wide variety of diverse smaller political parties.  Because we believe that Canada should truly be a democracy, most Canadians believe  all Canadians deserve representation in Parliament.
Even though our badly outdated winner-take-all electoral system makes it nearly impossible for the smaller parties to install MPs in the House of Commons, they can still speak for us.

Add they do speak for us.

On Friday, April 11th, 2014, the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada, the Canadian Action Party, the Christian Heritage Party, the Communist Party of Canada, the Libertarian Party of Canada, the Marijuana Party of Canada, the Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, the Party for Accountability, Competency and Transparency, the Pirate Party of Canada, and the Progressive Canadian Party will be speaking up for the vast majority of Canadians who lack representation in Ottawa.

Press Conference on Parliament Hill

On Friday morning, Canada’s small Registered Political Parties will discuss Bill C-23, The Fair Elections Act, at a Press Conference on Parliament Hill.

This diverse group of political parties will come together to voice their particular concerns and objections and outline their commonly held reasons for opposing Bill C-23.  All these parties are unanimous in their opposition to Bill C-23, and like the many Canadians they represent, they want to see this Unfair Elections Act withdrawn in its entirety.

Unrepresented Canadians and Small Parties without House of Commons seats share the challenge of being heard. This is why citizen journalists, bloggers and even mainstream media (and citizens, too) need to attend this press conference, and share their views on this vitally important topic.

Press Conference
Date: Friday, April 11, 2014
Time: 10:30 am Ottawa Time
Place: Charles Lynch Room, Centre Block, Parliament Hill

For further information contact the party of your choice:

  • Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada, 416-462-9541
  • Canadian Action Party, 519-852-8279
  • Christian Heritage Party, 819-281-6686, 1-888-868-3247
  • Communist Party of Canada, 416-469-2446
  • Libertarian Party of Canada, 613-288-9089
  • Marijuana Party of Canada, 514-507-5188
  • Marxist-Leninist Party of Canada, 416-253-4475
  • Party for Accountability, Competency and Transparency, 416-567-6913
  • Pirate Party of Canada, (877) 978-2023
  • Progressive Canadian Party, 905-853-8949

Although these small parties have yet to overcome the artificial barriers inherent in our unfair First Past The Post electoral system, they do in fact speak for much of the effectively disenfranchised Canadian population.  In a real democracy, all voices must be heard.

That’s is why all Canadians deserve to hear what they have to say.
a horizontal border of red graphic maple leavesNote: Although I am unable to attend, Whoa!Canada is willing to publish submitted event coverage & photos here.

Keep track of the progress of Bill C-23 here.

And call or write your Member of Parliament to tell them just what you think of this mis-named legislation.

Canadian Mouse Tales

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A lot of the people I talk to think the Harper Government is the biggest problem facing Canada. And while I strongly disagree with much of what this government has done, I think that the CPC’s behavior is really just symptom of the real problem: our winner-take-all electoral system.

This is an excellent little story I’d never heard, in a nice little film that I’d never seen.  Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland introduces this allegory told by his grandfather, here set to animation.  It’s well worth a look because it’s just as pertinent today as it was when Tommy Douglas told it.

[Thanks to Larry Wartels for pointing me to "Mouseland."]

Craig Scott in Waterloo, 2011

NDP Democracy Critic, Craig Scott

Proportional Representation

With a little help from us, the political parties that are currently shut out of Parliament will commit to the implementation of meaningful electoral reform.

The Green Party has long been committed to Proportional Representation.

The NDP voted to adopt Proportional Representation at their policy convention.  Even better, the party is demonstrating its active commitment to PR as Craig Scott, the NDP Democracy critic stumps for meaningful electoral reform across Canada. Bravo!  (Too bad Ontario’s NDP hasn’t  worked with the LPO to implement open list MMP in Ontario… apparently both parties would rather gift the province to Mr. Hudack)

"Support Resolution 31" ButtonHaving backed Alternative Vote initially, the Liberal Party seemed entrenched in its dismissal of Proportional Representation. Many Liberals have been working to change LPC party policy.  I helped some of my Liberal friends make a film to support their resolution to reopen the electoral reform issue at their policy convention. And sure enough, their resolution 31 passed. While the Liberal Party has not actually committed to Proportional Representation yet, it has opened the door.

When some votes count more than others, but most don’t count at all, it isn’t democratic.  Many of us have tried to push back against the inequitable system with strategical voting.  The problem is that if we vote strategically instead of voting for the candidate we think will best represent us, we will never elect the candidates we want; this makes a farce out of our “democracy.”

But things are changing.  Canadians are starting to see past the status quo propped up by the bulk of our mainstream media.  That’s why Canadians across the country have been calling and writing their MPs, and delivering petitions to let them know Proportional Representation must be on the national agenda.  Even some Conservative MPs are coming to the realization we need to modernize our First Past The Post system because they are discovering for themselves how frustrating it is not to have your voice heard.

Part of the problem we face is that nearly half of Canada’s eligible voters have become disaffected by the gross inequity inherent in our unfair system.    If all the disaffected voters come back to the polls and vote in the next election — no matter who they vote for — all of our fractional votes would combine into enough votes to turn the tide.

Fair Vote Canada tells us that Ten Canadian Commissions, Assemblies and Reports have recommended proportional representation.

And although I expect Tommy Douglas would be pleased to see the NDP as Canada’s Official Opposition, I think he’d be happier still if Canada adopted Proportional Representation, so that the mice and the cats can finally be represented proportionally.

For information about what you can do to help Canada become a real democracy, contact Fair Vote Canada to find the chapter near you.

Privacy Matters

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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.
The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

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.

protest at MP Peter Braid's office June 13 (cc by laurelrusswurm)

"Conversation Piece" by Lilly Martin Spencer (public domain)

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.


a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Image Credits
The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh
Conversation Piece by Lilly Martin Spencer
are in the public domain

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

March 5, 2014 at 11:07 pm

Posted in Canada

February 11, 2014 ~ Stop Spying CSEC

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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.

— CSE statement re: January 30 CBC story

The Edward Drake Building in Ottawa used to be the head office of the CBC, until government cutbacks made this Ottawa property too costly for Canada’s National Broadcaster to maintain.

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.

Privacy Matters

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 that doesn’t work, watch a movie like “Gorky Park,” “White Nights” or “The Lives of Others.”

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.

Image Credit
Edward Drake Building has been released into the public domain by its author, Vanished User

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

February 11, 2014 at 10:14 pm

Posted in Canada

Fair Elections Act Petitions

with 4 comments

X marks the spotThe 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

Further Reading:

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:

Canada Flag

Fair Elections Act

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“In Canada, our problem isn't people voting more than once, it's people voting less than once.”

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:

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

“Huffington Post, Fair Elections Act: Changes Will Register Robocalls, Raise Spending Caps by Bruce Cheadle.

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.

Image Credit
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

Fair Vote Canada says: Visit Your MP about Proportional Representation

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"Why We Need Proportional Representation: "All power tends to corrupt, and absoluteb power corrupts absolutely." ~ Lord Acton

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.

Written by Laurel L. Russwurm

January 19, 2014 at 1:49 am


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Written by A. Morgan George

January 14, 2014 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Canada

The Foundation Issue

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When you look at what is happening in Canada, it’s easy to to be overwhelmed by all the things that are wrong. In particular, all the things that aren’t working the way we think they work.

At the heart of the problem is the democratic deficit Canada struggles under. My researches over the past several years have made me conclude the only meaningful solution open to Canada is to repair the shaky foundation of our electoral system. Winner-take-all electoral systems like First Past The Post divide Canadians into winners (who elect the government) and losers (without representation). The whole country suffers from the unstable policies that result as the electoral pendulum swings back and forth between parties.

Working hard on set: Sharon Sommerville and John Dreger

Working hard on set: Sharon Sommerville and John Dreger

Most Canadians want the stable policy that would result from more democratic government, but we won’t get that without Proportional Representation. That makes it important for all of Canada’s political parties to commit to meaningful electoral reform so that all Canadians can be represented in parliament.

Some of my Liberal friends hope to help their Party membership change their electoral policy at the next Montreal convention, so I helped them make this small film called “The Foundation.”

p.s.  You can stream or share it from YouTube, but if you want to download it visit the new Libreleft Films page.  Please share it anywhere that may do some good.


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