An afternoon with Michael Harris

I’ve heard it said that journalist Michael Harris* is one of the few Canadian journalists actually doing the job.

Last month Fair Vote Canada’s Waterloo Region Chapter and the awesome indie book seller Words Worth Books brought the iPolitics journalist and author of Party of One: Stephen Harper And Canada’s Radical Makeover to Waterloo Region for a talk about democracy in Canada.

Michael Harris consider's Jason Kenny's logic:  My goodness, Jason Kenny out there beating the

One of the topics Harris touched on in his talk at the Registry Theatre in Kitchener was the mainstream media.  He suggested there is a greater concern for protecting access to the government than reporting on it.

Although Michael has had a long and impressive career, I’d only begun reading his political commentary and reportage fairly recently. Like many Canadians, once I began to realize how unrepresentative Canadian government actually is, having been one of Canadians unrepresented on Parliament for my entire life, I’d pretty much given up on politics in frustration.

But that all changed when I began to learn about Proportional Representation.  Once I discovered there was a way Canada’s democratic deficit might finally be addressed, I started paying attention again.  Sadly, it seems I left it a little late.

But not Michael Harris.  He’s been in the political trenches for years, not just reporting on miscarriages of justice but writing books that work to fix the the things that are broken.  Michael’s clear eyed ability to get to the heart of things is a big part of why he does such a great job of illuminating the murky corners of the Canadian political system.   Not only does he provide valuable insight, he’s got a lot of “war stories” and flair for telling them.

I was able to record Michael’s talk, and today Michael Harris at the Registry Theatre is edited and online.  Those who were there and want to hear it again and those who weren’t able to attend on the day are in for a treat– enjoy.

Thanks so much, Michael.


*not to be confused with former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, or current Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Michael Harris
a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves
Image Credit: Michael Harris on Bill C-51 by Laurel Russwurm is released under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) License. You’ll find more images in the Flickr Album

Bill C-51 Needs to be Scrapped, Not Amended

Privacy Is Not A Crime - Protest Sign Remix No Canadian Police Force asked for the expanded powers in Bill C-51.

Not local police.  Not Provincial Police.

Not RCMP.

Not even CSIS.

In fact, Canadian Law enforcement “already has many powers to target terrorism and terrorist activities in Canada.”

So why did the federal government put forth Bill C-51?

Oversight vs Auditing

In 2012 Eva Plunkett, the Inspector General of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service retired.  The role of the Inspector General was the CSIS Watchdog, and provided the only independent oversight for the CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service).

Rather than replacing her with a new Inspector General, the Harper Government took the unusual step of dismantling the position of Inspector General of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.  This was quietly accomplished with the controversial Omnibus Budget Bill C-38.

Division 15 of Part 4 amends the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act to
(a) remove the office of the Inspector General;
(b) require the Security Intelligence Review Committee to submit to the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness a certificate on the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s annual report; and
(c) increase the information on the Service’s activities to be provided by that Committee to that Minister.”

— Omnibus Budget Bill C-38.

Black Mark Budget Demonstration, Waterloo, Ontario

The Harper Government has taken the position that SIRC (the Security Intelligence Review Committee) provides oversight, but in fact, SIRC does not ensure CSIS does not stray over the line into illegal behaviour (such as actions which would infringe on the civil rights Canadians are guaranteed by The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

While SIRC does perform an important function, the reality is that it is a committee of part timers with limited resources that only finds out what CSIS has done after it has done it.  If then.  While CSIS itself has become a massive bureaucracy, apparently the most lavishly funded of all government agencies; SIRC only has the resources to investigate a small fraction of CSIS actions.   Rather than providing sufficient oversight, SIRC doesn’t provide oversight at all, it simply audits and recommends CSIS improvements after the fact.

SIRC is a public forum for people to complain. It’s also a forum to make the public aware of problems,” Plunkett said. “The [Inspector General’s] office was, get in there and identify the problems and point them out to the minister and say, ‘You have to fix this before it becomes an issue for the public.’

“There’s no minister that’s going to be able to know everything about everything. And I can guarantee you that no director (of CSIS) will point out the flaws.”

— Eva Plunkett, retired Inspector General, CBC: CSIS watchdog to be cut in budget

Legality

 Yes, we know that this government is extremely thin-skinned. But the inspector-general for CSIS isn’t an office that criticizes government. It critiques CSIS behaviour on behalf of the government. Its role is to ensure that the government doesn’t get blindsided by shady behaviour on the part of its intelligence agents.

Or, in the words of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, spoken in 2010, “The inspector-general performs an important review function that supports me in my role as minister and ensures that CSIS is operating within the law and complying with current policies.”

— Colin Kenny, Globe and Mail: “Dismantling the CSIS inspector-general’s office is dumb”

So why would the government eliminate the Office of the Inspector General?So why did the federal government put forth Bill C-51?

Even before the Office of Inspector General was eliminated, despite limited resources for both the IG’s oversight and SIRC’s review, the IG raised serious questions about CSIS activity.

The inspector general’s key function was to produce an annual certificate stating whether CSIS had strayed outside the law, contravened ministerial direction or exercised its powers unreasonably. In her final certificate, Plunkett found CSIS continued to flout policy and made a serious number of reporting errors. She warned that CSIS’s reputation and effectiveness would suffer if the problems weren’t addressed.”

— CBC: CSIS watchdog to be cut in budget

Following the abolition of the Office of Inspector General, it’s website was taken down, so only IG certificates up to 2010 are posted online by way of the Centre for International Policy Studies archive of CSIS Inspector General Certificate Reports.  Plunkett’s final certificate does not appear to be online.

Colin Kenny, the former Chair of the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence argued that instead of eliminating the IG, Canada would be much better served by significantly expanding its scope:

If Mr. Toews had wanted to do something useful, he would have expanded the concept of inspector-general of CSIS to other federal intelligence-gatherers, of which there are roughly a dozen, including the RCMP. Most of these intelligence operations are inadequately scrutinized. Setting up an inspector-general-type of agency to oversee all of them would have been a great move. It would have reassured the public that while this government is serious about law and order, it is also serious about maintaining the legality and integrity of the federal institutions involved in law and order. Instead, it is neutering its only oversight structure that works well.”

— Colin Kenny, Globe and Mail: “Dismantling the CSIS inspector-general’s office is dumb”

The word "Court" intertwined in the fascia above the side entrance to Toronto's Old City Hall from the day

Since then, there have been serious questions raised about the appalling lack of oversight over Canadian intelligence services.

Eroding the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The breaches of civil rights around the Toronto G20 were my wake up call.  An unreasonable quantity of Canadian tax dollars were employed in a widespread supression of Canadian civil rights, resulting in mass arrests, none of which justified such repression.  The case of Byron Sonne, a young man whose Charter Rights were breached from the beginning demonstrates the ease with which law can and will be abused.

Even though Mr. Sonne was acquitted, an intelligence agency witness said Mr. Sonne will always be a “person of interest.”

Not because there was probable cause.  Not because there was evidence.

The reason Mr. Sonne will spend the remainder of his life under surveillance is solely because, after almost two years of trying, they were unable to break the encryption on one of Mr. Sonne’s impounded computers.  Canada’s intelligence apparatus exhibits a frightening sense of entitlement exhibited after having been allowed to act as if mass surveillance on all Canadians all the time is within its mandate.

In contravention of the Charter.

Legal Candour

In 2013 Judge Richard Mosley Canadian found that CSIS deliberately breached its “duty of candour” to the courts by withholding information to get warrants with “a deliberate decision to keep the court in the dark about the scope and extent of the foreign collection efforts that would flow from the court’s issuance of a warrant.” [Toronto Star: Spy Agency Withheld Information from Court to Get Warrants, Judge Says]

In spite of this, the Harper Government fast tracked Bill C-51s sister bill, Bill C-44: An Act to amend the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and other Acts .

It is imperative that the Canadian public trust that CSIS is not acting in a lawless manner. And while improving how SIRC functions, or adding Parliamentary review, could regain or maintain that trust, a more cost-sensitive approach could involve statutory reporting. Regardless, something must be done to ensure that CSIS’ actions remain fully accountable to the public, especially given the new powers the Service may soon enjoy. Doing anything less would irresponsibly expand the state’s surveillance capabilities and threaten to dilute the public’s trust in its intelligence and security service.”

— Christopher Parsons, CSIS’s New Powers Demand New Accountability Mechanisms

WiFi Surveillance

"WIFI Internet Access Here" sign at The Working CentreThe Edward Snowden revelations have shown our intelligence agencies have exhibited serious legal deficiencies.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was shown to have been breached through mass surveillance of WiFi:

The thought that everything you’re doing is being monitored when there’s no need for it, when there’s no reason to believe you’ve done anything wrong, it completely goes against everything we’ve built our criminal justice system on,” said Borg in a telephone interview with Metro in March. “If you think that we’re just spying on everyone, well maybe it takes away that platform of being able to discuss social issues because you’re scared of what the repercussions might be and I think that’s very worrisome.”

— Charmaine Borg, Opposition Digital Issues Critic Metro: Canadians ‘should be outraged’ by WiFi spy allegations: Borg

Who is Watching The Watchers?

Christopher Parsons discusses the ramifications of these intelligence agency actions in depth in Accountability and Government Surveillance.  Before any new laws expanding the powers of the Canadian intelligence apparatus at the expense of Canadian civil rights, Mr. Parsons poses some questions that need to be addressed:

In turning to CSIS, we see that the Service has a highly specific understanding of what laws compel it to disclose information about its practices and collection of Canadians’ personal information. The Service failed to provide a rationale to MP Borg as to why, specifically, questions placed on the Parliamentary Order Paper are insufficient to compel a meaningful response: to whom, specifically, would CSIS provide this information? And under what laws? If the Service is unaccountable to Parliamentarians then who, specifically, does it hold itself genuinely accountable to?”

— Christopher Parsons, Accountability and Government Surveillance.

Michael Geist, the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law wrote,

The deliberate attempt to mislead the key oversight body by omitting relevant information should anger more than just Mosley, who clearly felt that he was duped by CSIS. In response, the government should commission an independent review thttps://www.christopher-parsons.com/accountability-and-government-surveillance/o examine current oversight mechanisms, identify shortcomings on both oversight and the law, and recommend potential reforms to salvage a system that is under increasing public scrutiny and criticism.”

— CSIS should be subject of independent investigation: Geist

CBC reported New Snowden docs show U.S. spied during G20 in Toronto, the Globe and Mail reported, Ottawa allowed U.S. to spy on G20 summit in Toronto, Snowden leak reveals.

The Intercept reported on the tactics and tools developed within the Five Eyes Framework that can be (are ?) used by our intelligence services in “disruption”:

The aspywarepparent involvement of CSE in using the deception tactics suggests it is operating in the same area as a secretive British unit known as JTRIG, a division of the country’s eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. Last year, The Intercept published documents from Snowden showing that the JTRIG unit uses a range of effects operations to manipulate information online, such as by rigging the outcome of online polls, sending out fake messages on Facebook across entire countries, and posting negative information about targets online to damage their reputations.”

— The Intercept: Documents Reveal Canada’s Secret Hacking Tactics

Do Canadians want government agencies to employ such powers against citizens?  Particularly without meaningful oversight?

Absent proper oversight or scrutiny, Canadians would ordinarily have been unaware of much our intelligence agencies can do and have done.  Which is why we owe a great debt to Edward Snowden.

The worrisome bit is that the intelligence breaches that have become public are very probably only the tip of the iceberg.

There is more than enough credible information floating around the internet to indicate the Charter has been breached over and over again by CSIS/CSEC/RCMP/FiveEyes.   Even before they pass Bill C-51 I am apalled at what the Harper Government has allowed to happen on its watch.

When we talk about this in the context of Canada and why it’s relevant to your particular conversations today, we’ve got the C-51 bill being bandied about. I’m not going to weigh in on whether this is a good bill or a bad bill, because that’s a conversation for Canadians to have. But something that we can see when we look at all of the conversations happening around the world today is that Canadian intelligence has one of the weakest oversight frameworks out of any western intelligence agency in the world. And when they’re trying to expand their powers, it’s pretty amazing that we have the Canadian government trying to block the testimony of former prime ministers who’ve had access to classified information, who understand the value of these programs, and who are warning the public broadly and saying this is something we really need to talk about, this is something we really need to debate, this is something we really need to be careful about.”

— Edward Snowden, The Tyee: Edward Snowden’s Warning to Canada

Ed Snowden and Laurel RusswurmWhile Mr. Snowden doesn’t presume to decide whether the proposed Bill C-51 is good or bad law for Canada, as a Canadian I feel qualified to say that Bill C-51 is indeed a bad law.  As one of the Canadians obliged to live in a regime of legally approved mass surveillance even more extensive than what George Orwell envisioned in Nineteen Eight-Four, I do presume to say Bill C-51 is wrong.

I am not a legal scholar, I’m just an ordinary Canadian.

We are fortunate to live in the Internet age and have access to so much important information.  Information that can be found in all the links I have shared here.  Information like the analysis offered by legal scholars Craig Forcese and Kent Roach.

As a writer, the threats to free speech that comes with mass surveillance chills me to the bone.

As a citizen, the suppression of dissent Bill C-51 allows will emulate secret police activities practised by repressive regimes throughout history.

As a parent, the idea of leaving future generations a Canada so much worse than the one in which I was born is simply unacceptable.

What is a DISRUPTION WARRANT ? In a secret hearing a judge will grant CSIS blanket permission to violate the Charter Rights of targetted Canadians.   The “Disruption” can mean (but is not limited to) • undercover infiltration of a group • psychological manipulation of group members • planting evidence • destroying evidence • falsification of information online to • deliberately destroy the reputations of targeted Canadian citizens.   The Government will need no evidence of criminal activity, merely the argument a Canadian Citizen MAY pose a danger. The judge won’t even know what form the “disruption” will take. Canadians will not know they have been targeted so they will have no defense or appeal. .   Bill C-51 will allow CSIS agents to engage in these activities with less oversight than than any other “Five Eyes” nation.   Can you trust a government that does such things?   Bill C-51 will make a mockery of our “free country.”

What Canada really needs is law that implements reasonable oversight of CSIS, CSEC, and the RCMP.  A law that ensures Canadians continue to enjoy the protection of the Canadian Charter.  Oversight to protect Canadians from the kind of Charter breaches and prosecutorial overreach Mr. Sonne was subjected to.  The fundamental flaws in C-51 need more than the cosmetic amendments the Harper Government says it will be putting forward.

Bill C-51 needs to be scrapped.

The preservation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is imperative.

Rick Mercer elaborated on Pulitzer Prize winning Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s suggestion that Canadians are in more danger of being harmed by bathroom accidents than by terrorists.    Leadnow advised Canadians to #RejectFear and tell the Harper Government to stop Bill C-51 because in Canada, we’re way more likely to be killed by a moose than by a terror plot.

Privacy is essential to civil rights.  That’s why it is protected bt the Charter.  And the reason personal privacy is such an important human right is because privacy is necessary for our protection.  The greatest danger posed to citizens is posed by government, because government has access to the resources of the entire country.  And without civil rights, we have no defence against government.

So why did the federal government put forth Bill C-51?

From the information that has come out, I suspect many of the worst excesses in Bill C-51 that we qare warned against are already the norm in our intelligence agencies.  Such practices are inevitable because there really isn’t anyone watching the watchers.  Bill C-51 seeks to make these excesses legal, which will strip us all of any legal recourse or self defence.  And that just isn’t right.

Not in a democracy.

Not in a free country.

Not in Canada.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Image Credit
Photos by Laurel L. Russwurm

“Privacy is Not A Crime” is a remix of a protest sign seen at the Kitchener-Waterloo Day of Action Against bill C-51

Liberal Leader Gets Bill C-51 Wrong

In spite of the fact the Harper Government fast tracked Bill C-51, the Parliamentary Committee won’t re-convene until next week. When you consider the Harper Government’s vow to have this legislation rushed through so it can be passed by the end of the month, this is a dramatic demonstration of how little scrutiny the Harper Government is willing to accord Bill C-51. The same can’t be said for the rest of us, because Bill C-51 is actually getting a great deal of scrutiny outside the Parliament Buildings. There are a lot of terrible things in this draft legislation, but as a writer I am especially concerned about it’s assault on Free Speech.   Ordinarily I only blog about Canadian Politics sporadically, but this week I hope to post daily.   Previous posts include: David Weber warns Bill C-51 will lead to a Police State #RejectTerror #StopBillC51 the film I’ll be seeing tonight, The Secret Trial 5 ~ Screening Tour,  Learned at the KW Stop C-51 Day of Action, and Thursday’s Stop Bill C-51 the Musical.  Better late than never, here is #5.


Not long ago I joined the local Liberal Party in hopes of making a difference for the 2015 federal election.  Over the years I’ve got to know some LPC folks through events like the Electoral Reform debate local MP Candidate Bardish Chagger hosted a few years back.

I made a point of notifying the local Liberal Candidate Nominees and Candidates about last week’s National Day of Action.  A week ago today a great many concerned citizens across Canada held more than 70 events to protest the fatally flawed Bill C-51 the Harper Government has been trying to sell as an “anti terrorism” measure.

Mr. Trudeau's idea of a National Day of ActionI was aware of Justin Trudeau’s promised support of Bill C-51 but expected the Liberals to come anyway, maybe to hear the other side so they might make informed choices when the time came to vote, or at least to take the opportunity to explain the Liberal stance to an audience of people who will certainly vote in the next election.   So you can imagine my surprise when not a single LPC Candidate showed up at the Kitchener rally.  Worse, I heard a rumour that the Liberal Party had ordered its candidates to avoid the Day of Action.   I was stunned.   I was going to bring the matter up with the local Electoral District Association before making a decision about whether to remain a Party member.

And then I got another ridiculous email from the LPC inviting me to a “Day of Action.”   I had previously explained the absurdity of calling a party fund raising or volunteer training or t-shirt designing gathering for the Liberal Youth Movement a “Day of Action” and yet here they are doing it again.

Particularly after ordering Party members to avoid a real Day of Action.

Since the local Liberal Candidates are not allowed to explain the LPC position on Bill C-51, I realized I had to find out just why Mr. Trudeau believes supporting it is a good thing.

Liberals: newly minted Kitchener Centre MP Candidate Bardish Chagger moderates an LPC panel on Electoral Reform.

Apparently, Justin Trudeau’s primary reasons for supporting C-51 are:

  • Expanded powers related to preventive arrest which make it easier for police to detain someone, and to hold them in custody without a charge or a warrant for longer
  • Strengthening of the no-fly list
  • Increased information sharing between government departments and agencies

“[These] are significant improvements that will keep Canadians safer,” he told the crowd.

Liberals Are Supporting Bill C-51 So Tories Can’t Make ‘Political Hay,’ Trudeau Says

Preventative Arrest

That means Canadians would be liable for arrest because we might do something.  Think about that, now. What does that mean, exactly?  Not because you have done a criminal act, and not because you planned to engage in a criminal act.   The laws we have now give law enforcement ample provision to prosecute anyone for crimes committed, and even for crimes that have only been planned, as we know from the prosecution of the VIA Terrorist Plot.  Canadian law allows such prosecutions because, when there is a real crime, there is real evidence.  Under Bill C-51 you could go to jail  because someone thinks you might do something.

I expect most people have been misjudged at least once in our lives.  Imagine if someone in law enforcement decided you were a potential terrorist because you attended a Day of Action.

Very few of us have been personally connected with criminal activity; even fewer have had any actual contact with terrorists. So let’s think about this one in more human terms.

Let’s say you are married, and you and your spouse go to a party. As often happens, the two of you end up in different corners socializing with different people. It’s a good party, you’ve had fun, but when you get home you discover your spouse is angry and wants a divorce — because you might have an affair with someone you had an animated conversation with at the party.

Or say you’re in your final year of university. It’s been a tough year, you’ve had to take on a part time job to make ends meet. So your studies have been extra difficult, and your work isn’t up to your usual standards. When it’s time to take the final exam, your professor doesn’t believe you are capable of passing the exam, so she refuses to allow you to take the exam since she thinks you might cheat.

Or maybe you’re going through a messy divorce. Imagine how you might feel if, instead of the shared custody you had been working toward, the judge awards sole custody of your children to the other parent and you are now limited to state supervised visitation twice a month. Because the judge thinks you might take off with the child.

This law won’t make Canadians safer, it will strip us of our Charter Rights.  It is unconstitutional.

If you want an idea how these things might play out, you should watch the powerful documentary “The Secret Trial 5.”

The No Fly List

I have to wonder if the No Fly list is constitutional in and of itself.   If all it takes is an allegation to abrogate our Charter rights, the Charter doesn’t offer us much protection at all.   People used to be innocent until proven guilty.

Increased information sharing between government departments and agencies

Such irresponsible flagrant invasion of privacy is certainly unconstitutional.

I understand Mr. Trudeau might wish to get out from under his famous father’s shadow, but throwing the Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms under the bus is not the way to do this.

Imagine a World With No Privacy....

Stop Bill C-51 the Musical

In spite of the fact the Harper Government fast tracked Bill C-51, the Parliamentary Committee won’t re-convene until next week.  When you consider the Harper Government’s vow to have this legislation rushed through so it can be passed by the end of the month, this is a dramatic demonstration of how little scrutiny the Harper Government is willing to accord Bill C-51.

The same can’t be said for the rest of us, because Bill C-51 is actually getting a great deal of scrutiny outside the Parliament Buildings.

There are a lot of terrible things in this draft legislation, but as a writer I am especially concerned about it’s assault on Free Speech.   Ordinarily I only blog about Canadian Politics sporadically, but this week I hope to post daily.   Previous posts include: David Weber warns Bill C-51 will lead to a Police State #RejectTerror #StopBillC51 the film I’ll be seeing tonight, The Secret Trial 5 ~ Screening Tour, and yesterday’s Learned at the KW Stop C-51 Day of Action


Okay, well, I have to admit  there isn’t really a musical… not yet, anyway.   Maybe that will be James Gordon’s next project?

But in the mean time, concerned Canadians across this land have begun to engage in the making of Stop Bill C-51 protest songs.

Here are a couple of my favorites:

The Raging Grannies

SolidariGLEE


This one is not a musical.

I hope to put together a series of small films made from the video snippets I recorded at the KW Stop Bill C51 Day of Action.  Here is the first:

Security Certificates: KW Stop Bill C51 Day of Action

Please share!

Learned at the KW Stop C-51 Day of Action

In spite of the fact the Harper Government fast tracked Bill C-51, the Parliamentary Committee won’t re-convene until next week.  When you consider the Harper Government’s vow to have this legislation rushed through so it can be passed by the end of the month, this is a dramatic demonstration of how little scrutiny the Harper Government is willing to accord Bill C-51.

The same can’t be said for the rest of us, because Bill C-51 is actually getting a great deal of scrutiny outside the Parliament Buildings.

There are a lot of terrible things in this draft legislation, but as a writer I am especially concerned about it’s assault on Free Speech.   Ordinarily I only blog about Canadian Politics sporadically, but this week I hope to post daily.   I began Monday with David Weber warns Bill C-51 will lead to a Police State #RejectTerror #StopBillC51 and yesterday I posted about the film I’ll be seeing tomorrow night, The Secret Trial 5 ~ Screening Tour.  Today I want to talk a little about how the news media has let us all down.


Telling the KW Stop Bill C-51 Rally about COMERS vs Bank of Canada
Speaker at the Kitchener-Waterloo Day of Action Against Bill C-51

The Watchdog Press Is Dead

For a long time I’ve known the mainstream “news media” we trust to keep us abreast of the things have dropped the ball. Even though we are most definitely in the information age, newspapers, radio and tv news are not telling us what we we need to know if we are to be thee informed citizenry of a free country.  Because the mainstream news media is not a public service, but the property of corporate entities. Lou Grant was fictional, and in today’s world, Woodward and Bernstein wouldn’t have brought down a presidency, they would have landed in Guantanamo Bay.

In Canada the largest commercial advertiser, the single biggest consumer of advertising in the country is the Canadian Government.

So it is understandable that newspapers and tv networks don’t want to alienate their biggest client. Then too, these media outlets are at the mercy of corporate advertisers — who have their own agenda.  With a big enough bankroll of advertising dollars might make it possible to influence news programming and/or editorial styles.  In addition to the substantial influences exerted both by business and government, the main stream media also happen to be owned by corporate entities with their own agendas. So it isn’t surprising that the “news” what we see on mainstream television, hear on mainstream radio and read in mainstream newspapers comes wrapped in bias. And since these mainstream outlets compete for advertising dollars, the “news” must entertain to try to attract the largest audience.

Our silver bullet to ward off government control of our news media was supposed to be Canada’s independent arms-length national broadcaster, the CBC. Unfortunately CBC has not proven itself immune from government intervention. On the Harper Government’s watch I understand the CBC Board of Directors is dominated by Conservatives. Making things even worse, the Canadian government’s failure to fully fund what should be a public service has made the CBC vulnerable to advertisers in the same way the “commercial” news media is. So although there are occasional blips of CBC independence, it isn’t  really surprising CBC has failed to defend itself or stand up to the powerful forces arrayed against it.

All of which means that even the biggest Canadian news junkies are not actually very informed by the mainstream media.

The Internet is providing alternatives to the mainstream, but even though we are seeing the rise of citizen journalism with both reportage and opinions via blogs and podcasts and social media, even though alternative news outlets like websites like Rabble, the Tyee, Media Co-Op, Canadaland, Huffington Post Canada, Yahoo News etc. are growing their audiences, they are still overshadowed by the powerful mainstream media dinosaurs who still walk the land.

StopBillC51 at Kitchener City Hall

Comer vs Bank of Canada

All of this explains why most Canadians, like me, have never heard of Comer. The first I heard of this very important issue was when a young man got up on the stage at Kitchener City Hall and said a few words to the crowd about how Canadians Sued The Bank Of Canada & Won. Mainstream Media & Government Blacks Out Story

As someone who feels mathematically challenged I am still trying to get my mind around what this means, but at minimum it is something that Canadians should be hearing about. You can find out more at the COMER website.

Even though the mainstream media has apparently chosen (or been told) to ignore this issue, there has been new media coverage.   I am certainly no economist, but there does seem to be information out there.  So far I have just scratched the surface, so I have not read much of the information available; nor have I watched all the videos in the playlist.  It will take time to get a handle on this.

Still Report #356: Good News From Canada

New World Next Week: Canadian Sue the Bank of Canada

The Secret Trial 5 ~ Screening Tour

The Parliamentary Committee on Bill C-51 won’t re-convene until next week.  When you consider the Harper Government’s vow to have this legislation rushed through so it can be passed by the end of the month, this is a dramatic demonstration of how little scrutiny the Harper Government is willing to accord Bill C-51.

The same can’t be said for the rest of us, because Bill C-51 is actually getting a great deal of scrutiny outside the Parliament Buildings.

There are a lot of terrible things in this draft legislation, but as a writer I am especially concerned about its assault on Free Speech.   Ordinarily I only blog about Canadian Politics sporadically, but this week I hope to post daily.   I began yesterday with David Weber warns Bill C-51 will lead to a Police State #RejectTerror #StopBillC51

But today I want to say a few words about our Day of Action.

The Kitchener-Waterloo Day of Action Against Bill C-51 wasn’t just a rally, it wasn’t just a protest,  and it wasn’t just a group of disturbed citizens demonstrating our opposition to Bill C-51 to the Harper Government.   What it was was a community meeting.  The event at Kitchener City Hall proved to be both interactive and a valuable learning experience.

Only 2 speakers were officially scheduled to make short speeches, and from there on out it was opened up to anyone who wanted to speak via an open mic.  It is winter in Canada, and the event organizers understood that Canadians (especially with small children) wouldn’t want to be outside for long, so the whole thing was optimistically intended to go for an hour.

But it went for two.

There was certainly a good bit of audience churn… not everyone arrived at the start and not all those who did stuck it out for the duration.

And I learned some things.  One thing I learned was about this independent feature length Documentary called “The Secret Trial 5.”  I had never even heard of the project, and the only reason I have now is because a brave young woman got up on stage in front of hundreds of people at Kitchener City Hall and told us about it.  The thing is, this young woman (the one in the picture, whose name I don’t even know) isn’t even one of the filmmakers.  The reason she knows about the movie is because her friend did research for it.  She didn’t claim to be an expert, but she was clearly moved by the project, and she thinks, as I do, that Canadians need to see this film.

The Secret Trial 5

The Secret Trial 5 looks at the “Security Certificates” the Canadian Government started using in the wake of 9/11.

While most of us have heard these words, “Security Certificates,” if you’re like me, you never really understood what these are, exactly. Although I haven’t yet seen the film, I have watched the trailer.  This was powerful enough to ensure I will be one of the people at the Screening at the Original Princess in Waterloo on Thursday night.

Bill C-51 is starting to wake Canadians up to the fact the Canadian Charter of Right and Freedoms is in jeopardy.  The Charter is part of the Canadian Constitution, and it forms the legal basis for Canadian civil rights in Canadian Law.  The Charter is also the foundation of the democratic freedom that ensures Canada is a free county.

To me the single most important message of this film is that the rights in our Charter are standing on quicksand, and may have already been breached.   Bill C-51 will just finish them off.

There will be a screening in Waterloo on Thursday night.  As part of the program I understand the film makers will there to host a Q & A and discuss the serious issues their film broaches with the audience.  You can get a jump on things by reading the interview Documentary director Amar Wala on ‘The Secret Trial 5’, Bill C51, and the stigma of terror suspicion.

I realize this is short notice, so you might be busy that night, or maybe you can’t get to Waterloo, or they might be sold out, or the venue itself might not be doable since its an old building that isn’t accessible.  But all is not lost.  I expect there will be other screenings in other places, but the film is also conveniently available for screening or download online.

The Secret Trial 5 Screening Tour – KITCHENER / WATERLOO – Filmmakers in Attendance

Thursday at 6:30pm

Princess Cinemas, Original Theatre, 6 Princess Street West, Waterloo, ON

To make sure you get a seat, order your tickets in advance http://secrettrial5-waterloo.eventbrite.com/?aff=efbevent

https://www.facebook.com/events/948195911892117/


My Photos from the National Day of Action to Stop Bill C-51 ~ March 14th, 2015 can be found in my Flickr Album

NOTE: My Original Mini Poster for the Screening had the date wrong; it has now been corrected.

Bill C-60 vs. CBC, Culture and Press Freedom

In Canada we can write or call our Member of Parliament (MP) to let them know when they are making a mistake.  I expect the legislation drafted as Bill C-60: Economic Action Plan 2013 Act, No. 1 — An Act to implement certain provisions of the budget tabled in Parliament on March 21, 2013 and other measures has other problems threaded throughout its 128 pages but the mistake that concerns me is the bit about Crown Corporations in general, and in particular, the CBC.

To make it easy for Canadians, Friends of Canadian Broadcasting set up an online form letter. I’m one of the 71,393 Canadians (so far) to use their form letter to tell Prime Minister Stephen Harper and my own MP, Harold Albrecht, not to threaten the CBC’s autonomy by passing Bill C-60.

I haven’t heard back from the Prime Minister’s Office, but today I heard from my own MP, Harold Albrecht.

Dear Laurel,

The MP attending a High School Commencement ceremony
Harold Albrecht, MP

Thank you for contacting my office to express your concerns regarding Bill C-60 and the CBC. I appreciate your input on this matter.

Crown Corporations, such as the CBC, receive appropriations from Parliament, and our Government would like to see consistency in wage and benefits among all Crown Corporations and the civil service. This means that any individual doing the same type of work at the CBC should be receiving the same amount of money if they were doing the same job in any other Crown Corporation or Federal Department.

This is what Bill C-60 is seeking to secure. This mandate will make certain that we have the correct instruments in place to protect taxpayer dollars at the bargaining table if it is necessary. We have a responsibility and commitment to spend taxpayer dollars wisely and will work closely with Crown corporations to ensure this happens.

I would like to ensure you that the measures in Bill C-60 do not affect the funding or the independent operation of the CBC, or any other Crown Corporations.

I thank you again for contacting my office to express your concerns. Please do not hesitate to contact my office with any future concerns or inquiries.

Sincerely,

Harold Albrecht, MP
Kitchener-Conestoga

While I am sure Harold is sincere, his government has missed a couple of key points, so I decided to help matters along by writing him back to clear a few things up.

Harold Albrecht, MP
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Harold,

Thank you for your response. While I do understand your position, it fails to take into account two very important considerations.

The first is Canadian CultureCBC simply is not the same as any other Crown Corporation because it is tasked with delivering Canadian culture to Canadians.

The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board has no equivalent to Mr. Dressup.

Nor is a Camera Operator a Letter Carrier. A Letter Carrier follows a set of rules laid down from above, while a Camera Operator has achieved a level of technical expertise which is used in conjunction with a certain degree of creativity.

Although I have not myself worked at CBC, I have written television drama professionally, and I very much hope that there is no job like that at the Bank of Canada.

Canadian commitment to the CBC (and the NFB) has helped grow our cultural heritage. No one is suggesting that CBC is perfect, but direct government intervention to micromanage it is not the way to go.

The second crucial consideration is the other reason CBC was established, to ensure all Canadians have access to Canadian News — which does not simply mean a regional version of American News.

Public broadcasting is important to ensure Corporate agendas don’t trump the public good, which is why Canada is not the only nation in the world delivering public broadcasting to its citizens. Even the United States – the world leader in commercial broadcasting – has independent Public Broadcasting.

For the better part of the first two years I was writing the Stop Usage Based Billing blog, the only national mainstream media outlet in Canada that reported on our peculiarly Canadian UBB issue was CBC.  Unlike its self interested commercial competitors (which worked to keep the issue away from Canadians), CBC’s mandate is not just the the bottom line, but to keep Canadians informed.

While it is appropriate for the Federal Government to disburse funds to CBC, if government dictates how the money will be spent, journalistic independence will be lost and news will become propaganda.  If the news media is controlled by government, there can be no free press.

You must appreciate that while your government has a responsibility to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, this can be done without compromising press freedom. The Broadcasting Act gave CBC total autonomy in staffing decisions to ensure a free press, which is a necessary component of democracy.

Your assurance that the measures in Bill C-60 will not affect the funding or the independent operation of the CBC, or any other Crown Corporations, rings hollow in light of your government’s rejection of the Peggy Nash motion asking the finance committee to study the measure. If we are to have accountable democratic government, legislation requires sufficient scrutiny.

Laurel's Press Freedom Day avatar picture
on Press Freedom Day

Bill C-60 will do remarkable damage both to Canadian culture and Press Freedom.  For these reasons, as well as others echoed across the news media and the Internet, I ask you, as my duly elected Member of Parliament, to please vote “no” to Bill C-60.

Regards,
Laurel L. Russwurm

I didn’t go into the inappropriateness of Omnibus Bills in a democracy ~ this one contains so much disparate material that Peggy Nash wanted it split into six parts.

Since I’m not an expert on Crown Corporations, I limited myself to addressing the CBC issues.

Maybe I should have suggested it would be wise to consider why these Crown Corporations were established as independent entities in the first place.  The CBC is not a branch of the Civil Service, nor should it be.

a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

Further Reading:
Bill C-60: An attack on CBC’s autonomy by Karl Nerenberg on Rabble

Will Bill C-60 influence Bank of Canada’s independence? Flaherty should explain by Kevin Carmichael, Globe and Mail

Canadian Press: Journalists urge fight against Bill C-60

Ottawa kicks the CBC, a wounded critter on a short leash by John Doyle, Globe and Mail

This Magazine: WTF Wednesday: CBC under attack…again