Fair Elections Act Petitions

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.

PETITIONS

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:

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When Conservative Isn’t

Canadian flag twisting in the wind (cc by laurelrusswurm)

$90,000 “expenses”

Conservative Senator Mike Duffy’s idea of “expenses” is a little different than mine.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s internal economy committee wants to have another look at Duffy’s expense claims amid growing questions about his conduct, including new revelations that he filed claims for Senate business while campaigning for the Conservatives in the last federal election.

“Documents revealed that Duffy billed taxpayers for being on official Senate business while he was campaigning for the Conservatives during the 2011 federal election. If it is confirmed that Duffy attended eight campaign events and submitted Senate expenses, he could be in trouble for double-billing.”

Damning findings removed from Sen. Mike Duffy’s audit report: documents

Wasn’t Prime Minister Stephen Harper going to reform the Senate?

$90,000 “gift”

Nigel Wright Resigns As Stephen Harper’s Chief Of Staff (TWITTER REACTS)

One might think “Harvard-educated Bay Street lawyer and banker” Nigel Wright would know better than to write a cheque to cover Senator Mike Duffy’s exense irregularities.

“It goes without saying that a cheque for such a large amount is far from a customary standard of hospitality, nor a normal expression of courtesy,” [MP Charlie] Angus wrote in a letter.

“The NDP MP also suggested that Duffy, Wright, or both may have breached section 16 of the Parliament of Canada Act which prohibits a senator from receiving compensation for any services rendered.”

Mike Duffy Resignation: Senator Leaves Caucus, Will Sit As Independent

I’m always surprised when government tells us “throwing money at” education and health care are a bad idea. Properly funding social programs makes a lot more sense to me than covering up bad behaviour. I guess we just have different priorities.

$321,000 “expenses”

[Pamela] Wallin, a former journalist who now represents Saskatchewan in the Senate, has claimed about $321,000 in travel expenses since September 2010 that are the subject of an audit by an outside firm.

Senator Pamela Wallin leaves Conservative caucus: Wallin to sit as an Independent during audit process

Consequences?

Senators Duffy and Wallin both claim to have withdrawn from the Conservative caucus, but both plan to stay on as “independent” senators.

Uh huh… Does anyone actually believe they will suddenly stop supporting Conservative interests? Seriously?

$170,000 “expenses”

Another Conservative Government appointee, Daniel Caron, the head of Library and Archives Canada has also resigned over $170,000 of dubious expenses.

Since LAC is the official government repository of Canadian heritage,this one bothers me in particular.

Coping with a $10-million federal budget cut, Caron oversaw major staff downsizing to the department, reduced funding to scores of tiny archives across Canada, halted most acquisitions of historical artifacts, closed the National Archival Development Program, and stopped a system of inter-library loans through which Canadians could access material from its vast collections.

Library head Daniel Caron resigns as $170,000 in expenses found

When you consider that what Mr. Caron considers personal expenses would support as many as ten or fifteen families on social assistance for a year, it calls into question the word “conservative.”

Accountability

The National Post gets this one right: Andrew Coyne: Fear of audits led Conservatives to cover for Mike Duffy

Canada badly needs meaningful electoral reform. If we had a democratic system that actually represented Canadians ~ Proportional Representation ~ our government representatives and appointees could be held accountable.

What a difference that would make.

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Democracy Theatre

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In the National Post, Andrew Coyne asks:

“The economy is in good shape, so why is support for the Conservatives slumping?”

I’m making Mother’s Day cards right now so I don’t have time to read the article, but even having only read the blurb, I find myself disagreeing with Andrew Coyne’s conclusion.

The Tories have not gone out of their way to alienate anyone. They are simply doing the job they were elected to do.

The Harper governmenr is doing an excellent job of serving the only constituents they represent. Their party is legally empowered to govern in this way because our inequitable winner-take-all electoral system gives all of the power to the party that secures more seats than any other. 

Ours is not a democratic system. 

The problem with a winner-take-all system like ours is that a majority government is a dictatorship.

 flag smallThe rest of us don’t count any more than our votes do.

That is the reality built into Canada’s winner-take-all electoral system.

Only the elite whose votes elect the government secure representation in government.

The electoral reform Andrew Coyne supports is called “Alternative Vote” ~ although various spin doctors have rebranded it “Preferential Voting” (Liberal Party) or “IRV” (RaBIT). Some people like this alternate winner-take-all electoral system because they believe it will game the system so their party will get the dictatorial power currently enjoyed by the ruling party.

No matter how good the intentions, no matter how benevolent, a dictatorship is not democratic. Every time I hear people slamming Canadians for our low voter turnout it makes my blood boil. It isn’t that Canadians don’t care, it’s that each generation has learned that our elections are as meaningless as the elections in any banana republic.

When most votes don’t count, what you’re left with is really only democracy theatre.

I don’t think we can afford to pay the price demanded by anyone’s defacto dictatorship.

On this Mother’s Day, I reflect on why I write this blog: as a mother, I believe all of our kids deserve to live in a real democracy. But that will only happen with meaningful electoral reform to Proportional Representation.

All Canadians should be represented by our government. 

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Byron Sonne and… Copyright?

Byron Sonne’s trial resumed today. Without being there, I can only rely on the reports of others.  I wasn’t going to write anything about this today, but I couldn’t believe the National Post’s attempt to spin the story with a headline:

Accused G20 plotter Byron Sonne had training manual for activists,’ court hears

Free Byron

The word “plotter” does not appear once in the Criminal Code of Canada  so there is little doubt in my mind that the use of such a pejorative word is a clear indication of the newspaper publisher’s bias.

What was most disturbing to me is that the gist of the article seemed to be that Byron “had uploaded a document called Security Culture: A Handbook for Activists. ” Curious, the first thing I did was type the title in a google search.   In seconds Google presented me with “51,900 results.”  So naturally I clicked on the first one and downloaded the linked PDF file.

Security Culture:
a handbook for activists

Your Rights

1. YOU DON’T HAVE TO TALK TO THE POLICE OR
INVESTIGATORS. You do not have to talk to them on
the street, if you’ve been arrested, or even if you’re in
jail. Do not talk about illegal actions with fellow “in-
mates” in holding as they may be plants.

2. YOU DON’T HAVE TO LET CSIS OR THE POLICE
INTO YOUR HOME OR OFFICE UNLESS THEY
HAVE A SEARCH OR ARREST WARRANT. Demand
to see the warrant. It must specificallydescribe the
place to be searched and things to be seized. It must
be authorized by a judge and should bear a signature.

3. IF THE POLICE DO PRESENT A WARRANT, YOU
DO NOT HAVE TO TELL THEM ANYTHING OTHER
THAN YOU NAME, ADDRESS AND BIRTH DATE.
Carefully observe the officers; you’re in your own
home you’re not required to stay in one room. You
should take written notes of what they do, their
names, badge numbers, and what agency they’re
from. Have friends who are present act as witnesses.
It’s risky to let cops roam around alone in your place.

4. IF THE POLICE TRY TO QUESTION YOU OR TRY
TO ENTER YOUR HOME WITHOUT A WARRANT,
JUST SAY NO. The police are very skilled at getting
information from people, so attempting to outwit them
is very risky. You can never tell how a seemingly
harmless bit of information can hurt you or someone
else.

Security Culture:
a handbook for activists, Third edition – prepared November 2001

Call me crazy, but I read the same sort of thing on Boing Boing not so long ago. And yesterday I found a video produced by The Centre for Police Accountability (C4PA) where Toronto lawyer Davin Charney explains much the same thing.

These are all explanations of our Canadian civil rights — rights that are supposed to be guaranteed to all citizens under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The thing that bothers me most about the National Post article is the implication that this is a dangerous document. That there is something unsavory about citizens knowing what our right are. Now that scares me.

“If we don’t assert our rights there’s really no point in having rights.”

Davin Charney, Know Your Rights: Do you have to show ID to the police?

The other thing I’ve read are today’s trial notes taken by Byron’s friend Christopher Olah. Reading this is far more illuminating than the “professional” reporting in the National Post.

The police evidence is that Byron uploaded a file called “Security Culture: a handbook for activists,” but as it turns out, no one actually downloaded this (or any of the other files?) Byron is said to have uploaded to torrent sites.

Yet it is ridiculously easy to change a digital file name. Any can save a document and call it anything.

Even had this been a dangerous file, if the police didn’t actually download it, the only thing this “evidence” shows is that Byron uploaded digital files with these names. There is no evidence that the files actually contained the named documents — they could as easily contain love poetry for all anyone knows.

Which means that this “evidence” is supposition, not fact. But it gets worse…

Copyright?

copyright symbol over a red maple leaf

Apparently the prosecution offered the explanation that they could not download the document because doing so  would be copyright infringement.

Um.  Where did they get that idea?

I looked very closely at the Security Culture: a handbook for activists PDF document I just downloaded and nowhere is there anything resembling a copyright declaration.  There is no copyright ©.

This “handbook” is clearly a collaborative effort that various people and organizations have worked on over time.  If anyone involved in the creation of the thing  had given any thought to copyright, it would likely have been to give it a creative commons license, or even more probably released it directly into the public domain.  That’s what you do when you want to disseminate something widely.  Copyright prevents sharing.

But really, even if the document was in fact “protected” by copyright, this is one of the lamest excuses I have ever heard.

When the police bust criminals, they must gather evidence.  If they apprehend alleged drug dealers, they collect illegal drugs they find. If the police arrest suspected gun runners, they take possession of the guns.  And these are both examples of breaches of criminal law. But for sections 42 and 43 of the Copyright Act (which deal primarily with commercial copyright infringement), the Copyright Act is still primarily civil law.  There are fair dealing exemptions under Canadian law that allow copying of copyright material.  It is absurd to think that downloading material that may be covered by copyright in the course of evidence gathering is going to be considered infringement, any more than gathering up baggies of cocaine at a crack house are considered criminal “possession.” This is evidence gathering.

Torrents are not Illegal

The other thing that strikes me is the implication that uploading material to torrent sites is illegal. Nothing could be further from the truth.   Bit Torrent is a way of allowing very efficient use of internet bandwidth to share files.   There is all sorts of legal sharing done via torrent sites, from movies (Sita Sings The Blues or Die Beauty), to free software (Ubuntu, Open Office, Firefox) to eBooks (Project Gutenberg and Project Gutenberg Canada) and our very own Pirate Party of Canada, which established its very own “Pirate Tracker” to legally distribute freely licensed independent Canadian music via torrents.


[*note: edited 20 March, 2012 for factual clarification …thanks Russell!]

Fighting for Our Freedom

Maybe it’s because of movies I’ve seen, or possibly because of my interest in history, or both, but Remembrance Day has always been important to me.

When I was a kid I borrowed the vinyl LP “Billy Bishop Goes To War” from the local public library. More than once.
This masterpiece of Canadian theatre has everything that a good war story ought to have. Humour. Drama. A valient hero. Politics. And tragedy. Later I bought my own copy, which I played for my child on Remembrance Day.

One of the most haunting songs I’ve ever heard is Chris DeBurgh’s “This Song For You.”

And the best war movies I’ve seen were William Wyler’s The Best Years of Our Lives, Hal Ashby’s Coming Home , and, best of all, Peter Weir’s Gallipoli

All are powerful works of art, each carrying the clear message that wars should be avoided.

On past Remembrance Days I’ve written about copyright in The Eleventh Minute, the Eleventh Hour, the Eleventh Day and the tragic monument at the University of Toronto: In Flanders Fields….

If ye break faith with us who die
“ If ye break faith with us who die ” — In Flanders Fields, John McCrae

Sadly, the wrongs that I wrote about have not yet been righted. Earlier this week my friend Satipera shared this powerful article from the UK which looks closely at the wearing of the poppy Robert Fisk: Do those who flaunt the poppy on their lapels know that they mock the war dead?

I very much doubt that a single Canadian politician anywhere in the world will be without a poppy today. Yet who, more than they, hold the responsibility for the continued sacrifice of a new crop of young Canadians soldiers engaged in a war because … ?

“Since 2001, 158 Canadians have died in Afghanistan and another 6,700 are collecting disability payments from Veterans Affairs, about 130 of them under the age of 25. ”

— Tamsin McMahon ~ National Post: “Canada’s newest veterans having trouble accepting the label

A poppy with a "free Byron" center

Canada has been involved in an almost invisible war for nearly a decade. It is barely spoken of, but young Canadians fight and die and I can’t tell you why. I suspect they can’t, either. Unlike the glamorous Great War, or the Second World War, the only citizens who are really involved and affected are the Canadians whose children are overseas, fighting and dying. Has a decade of this fixed anything? Has anything good come of this war? A war that Canada is supposed to be withdrawing from by the end of this year. Will we really withdraw?

I can’t begin to count the times in my life that I’ve heard it said that our soldiers fought for our freedom. But there is much less freedom now than there was when I was young.

The erosion of civil rights that the blood of our soldiers was to have bought for us was never more clear than in the events around last year’s G20 Summit in Toronto.

Today, Canadians across the country are organizing and participating in the “Occupy” movement.

And Byron Sonne is on trial in Toronto.  He’s fighting for his freedom, and ours.

Where did our freedom go?

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Image credits

Airfield to Salute” photograph by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Aramis X. Ramirez
Wikipedia: KANDAHAR, Afghanistan–Troops deployed to International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Regional Command South gathered on the flightline of Kandahar Air Field to salute fallen Canadian servicemember Sapper Sean David Greenfield on February 1, 2009. Greenfield, who was deployed as part of the 24 Field Engineers Squadron out of Petawawa, Ontario, was killed in action in the Zhari District of Kandahar Province on Jan. 31, 2009 ISAF photo by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Aramis X. Ramirez (RELEASED). ~ This file is a work of a sailor or employee of the U.S. Navy, taken or made during the course of the person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.

freebyron poppy cc by laurelrusswurm