Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Avaaz Petition

The following is a petition from to try to reduce the usurious fees Western Union charges for money transfers to some of the world's poorest nations:

This holiday season, Josh, a Kenyan student in the Netherlands, scraped together a year's worth of savings and sent it home to support 10 struggling family members. Shockingly, the giant money transfer company Western Union skimmed off 20% of the cash meant for Josh's family in fees.

Josh’s story is painfully retold every day, the world over, on a staggering scale -- an estimated $44.3 billion worldwide was lost in transfer fees last year! The World Bank recommends that transaction costs not exceed 5% of the total, but Western Union has never faced serious pressure to lower its crippling charges. If we unite in a global outcry now, we can expose its predatory practices when its carefully crafted, family-friendly image is most vulnerable: the giving season.

Josh's generosity -- and that of millions of workers around the world -- shouldn't go to waste! Let's call on Western Union to lower its fees to 5% for the poorest countries, and when the petition reaches 250,000 we’ll deliver it to the company’s image-sensitive board of directors. Sign now and then forward this petition to family and friends.

Does This Pass The Critical Thinker's Smell Test?

“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” So said Doctor Pangloss in what is probably Voltaire's best-known satirical work, Candide. And perhaps it is understandable that I briefly thought that The Hamilton Spectator had decided to devote part of its op-ed page to French literature upon seeing the title, 'All in all, things are getting a whole lot better' (Dec.30).

Written by David Seymour, described as a senior analyst for the Frontier Centre, a conservative/libertarian organization whose website boasts the article's original title, 'Cheer Up- The World Is A Wonderful Place,' the article extols the tremendous advances the world has made in a number of fields, including economic growth (hasn't Ebay enriched all of our lives immeasurably?) sanitation and longevity. At the same time Seymour hints at something deeply pathological about those who do not see the glass as half-full, dismissing them as 'the glum,' 'the moaners, and 'merchants of doom.'

To the reader with critical-thinking skills, perhaps most risible is Seymour's assertions “that everyone is getting wealthier and the environment is generally improving ...” and that “ freer and wealthier countries are better environmental custodians. “

Hmm... In his worldview, the writer has conveniently omitted that pesky problem of climate change which almost all balanced studies suggest will ultimately engulf low-lying lands in catastrophic flooding, make many parts of the world much more vulnerable to drought and consequent starvation, and cost world economies many many billions of dollars. Indeed, although no single year's volatile weather can be attributed to climate change, one cannot help but begin to see a pattern emerging in hotter summers worldwide, record snowfalls and freezes in Europe, and massive disruptions in travel throughout the world.

Indeed, I suspect that few would argue that it is the industrialized, free and wealthy countries who are responsible for the massive buildup of greenhouse gases at the root of these changes, the same nations that are proving quite intractable in their refusal to lower their emission rates in order to slow down the rate of earth's degradation.

And yet, according to Mr. Seymour, things just keep getting better for our species.

Would I prefer to live in an earlier time, before the advances of which the writer speaks? Of course not. But let's not kid ourselves that a world offering us greater longevity, sanitation, opportunity and technological marvels is one separate from the world of poverty, child labour, human exploitation, starvation, disease and early death that are constant realities for a significant percentage of our fellow human beings.

But let's face it. There is something beguilingly attractive about Seymour's premise that we can enjoy and exploit the world, guilt-free, because after all, things are so much better now than they were in ages past. Indeed, that nettlesome small warning voice in our heads can finally be put to rest – as long as we are also willing to cast out any sense of morality and concern for those less fortunate who have to pay a very heavy price for our indulgences.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ottawa Police Parody

The following video is making the news spoofing, as it does, the timid reaction and political pandering of management in light of the Tracy Bonds strip search. Reminds me of the sorts of pranks we would pull on management at every opportunity:

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Very Graphic Video on the Dangers of Drinking and Driving

This kind of graphic video from Australia depicting the dangers of drinking and driving perhaps has a place on our North American networks:

For Those Who Appreciate Satire

I just cribbed this from someone else's website. Enjoy, and remember that it is done in the spirit of satire:

A Timely Word About Kiva

Like me, I suspect many in the blogosphere are deeply cynical about governments both domestic and foreign. We tend, for example, to despair of governments' capacity to bring about meaningful change when it receives or gives foreign aid. The recent imbroglio over the termination of CIDA support for KAIROS is but one example of many that come to mind. The slow nature of the reconstruction efforts in Haiti is another.

In this season of giving, many turn their thoughts to philanthropy that benefits people in other parts of the world. For those seeking such an opportunity, I would like to suggest an entity that has a tremendous track record and one which I volunteer with. That entity is Kiva.

A fine example of an NGO doing tremendous work in the developing world, Kiva uses a particular model of microfinance that will appeal to many. For as little as $25, a person can lend to an entrepreneur from an extensive list of people seeking to better their lives and the lives of their families through a slow and gradual development and expansion of their businesses.

One of the exciting aspects of Kiva is that all of the money lent goes to the recipient through a finance organization in the target country. Each financial entity, before becoming a partner with Kiva, is carefully vetted, with Kiva performing all of the due diligence to determine its viability and adherence to philanthropic lending policy. Once the loan is repaid, the lender has the option of either receiving back the money or re-lending. (I should warn you that the lending can become addictive!)

Kiva receives nothing from the loan, depending extensively on both donations and a large network of volunteers to do most its work, including the translation and editing of loan descriptions.

So if you a seeking a worthy cause that requires only a small commitment of funds, I heartily recommend and endorse Kiva.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Young British Student Speaks

I love this young man's passion. It seems to me that his words, based on police reaction to the student demonstrations in Britain, are equally applicable to what many experienced during the G20 police repression of protesters.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An Internet Scam Warning

I imagine that all Internet users at one time or another have experienced a browser popup claiming that they have won one of the many technological baubles that seem to dominate our culture, be it an IPad, Ipod, or whatever. Recently I decided to click on a claim that I had won an Ipad, just to see where it would take me. My advice is simple: resist the urge.

It initially seemed innocent enough, a rather challenging IQ test (the kind of test I generally resist taking, lest they confirm my worst cognitive fears). After taking it, I had to enter my cellphone number to receive the results. What followed were two more questions, on the cellphone, to which I did not respond.

We then went away for a week to Cuba, having left the cellphone behind since it doesn't work there. Upon my return, I was appalled to find that I had insufficient balance left on the prepaid to make a call. Upon investigating the balance online, I saw that I had received several more messages from the Internet company that had provided the IQ test, each with a charge of $2.

I called my cellphone provider to ask it to block the messages and to restore the funds to my account. While they did the latter with alacrity, they said that I was listed as subscribing to a service from, and provided me with a number to call to halt the emails. The number is 1-866-257-4586.

All is now restored and the messages have stopped, but what I most object to is the fact that there was nothing obvious that I saw on the site stating that by providing my cellphone number, I was in fact entering into a contract with

Personally, I would like to see some kind of CRTC regulation governing such misleading and unethical practices.

Just a word to the wise from someone who should have known better.

Friday, November 19, 2010

We've Finally Cut the Cord

It is with some sadness that I announce the termination of our subscription to The Globe and Mail, a paper that we have subscribed to continuously since our return to Ontario in 1988. Prior to that, in the 70's my wife was a Globe reader.

This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision, since we wanted to give every chance to the 'new and improved' Globe. Unfortunately, our vision of a good paper sharply diverges from John Stackhouse's, in that it has become obvious to us that the paper is trying to ensure its long-term viability by appealing to a younger and more politically conservative demographic. The most recent inkling of the latter came with the dismissal of long-time columnist Rick Salutin, who had a unique and original perspective on the people and events that make the news. With his dismissal came the elevation of Neil Reynolds, whose libertarian views seem tiresomely repetitive and predictable - he clearly lacks the wide-ranging intellect of Mr. Salutin.

In terms of the Arts and the Life section, the fact that most of the topics are of little interest to my wife and me seems to confirm the shift to a younger demographic. Personally, I think the Globe's strategy is a mistake, given that it is we baby boomers who have the most disposable income. It also ignores the fact that young people today tend to get most of their news from the Internet in general and social media in particular.

On a final note, I think we also recognize that as we get older, we inevitably have less and less influence on the world around us. That is, I suppose, the natural progression of things, and while I hardly begrudge younger generations the opportunity to exert their own influence on things, I wish, in the case of the new Globe and Mail, a better balance had been struck.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Student Assessment

My daughter, a graduate student, was recently relaying an experience with a student who was trying to get her to raise the mark on an essay she had evaluated. The story brought back memories of my teaching days, so I wrote the following for her, and thought I would share it on my blog, since many of the observations are equally applicable to the experience of high school teachers:

A Retired Educator's Guide to Essay-Markers Dealing with Importunate Students (i.e., those who try to wheedle marks they don't deserve)

The first thing to remember is that the importunate come in all shapes and sizes, from the most vocal to the quietest student. They share a common characteristic in that they all want elevated marks for a host of reasons, and, assuming that the marker has been diligent in the original assessment of their work, are almost uniformly undeserving of such consideration.

These are some of the wheedlers' most common strategies:

1. They may insist that this is the lowest mark they have ever received in any course, and reminisce fondly about their high school glory days, when they allege never having “received a mark below 85%. ”

2. Importunate students may try to enlist your sympathies by talking about how important a higher mark is to their future plans, be it grad school, medical school, or law school. This can be a remarkably successful ploy, given that the marker of the work in question is usually a grad student as well.

3. Should this stratagem not yield the desired effect, the more tenacious may begin to embark upon a form of psychological warfare, the goal being to undermine the assessor's self-confidence or self-esteem, as in the following scenarios:

a) The wheedler may suggest that you are being unnaturally obdurate in your refusal to raise the mark, thereby implying a dark defect of personality or character, an inability to relate to the goals and aspirations of a fellow human being.

b) The whiner may attempt to undermine your judgement and/or intellect by implying that you have failed to understand the remarkable insights he/she has offered in an essay that would be obvious to most people but is perhaps just 'beyond you.'

c) The even more aggressive student may take issue with specific comments you have made on his/her paper, although this approach is less frequently utilized since it would require him/her to actually have taken the time to read your comments rather than simply look at the mark.

How to Deal with Importunate Students:

First, a note of caution: one should always be prepared to listen to student objections, because even though it might be a rare occurrence, occasionally they may actually raise some valid issues. The more diligent the marker is, however, the less likely this is to happen. But one always wants to be certain not to fall into the trap of arrogance by making blanket statements such as “All marks are final.”

Probably the easiest and best way to deal with wheedlers is to tell them that they can always appeal the mark to the professor, but warn them that they will have to present specific academic reasons for their appeal; in other words, they have to offer specific arguments, based on their actual essay, for a mark reconsideration. Ergo, the common strategies of the wheedler listed in the first part of this document cannot be used. The fact that most of them will have no legitimate reason for the mark to be raised means that they are most unlikely to launch an appeal.

Should the professor wind up awarding the person a higher mark, do not allow the decision to undermine your self-confidence. Frequently such decisions are made for political or career reasons, or simply as a matter of expediency and have nothing to do with your judgement.

If you are determined to deal with the matter yourself, you can make a similar stipulation, but my feeling is that since the professor doesn't have to mark a classroom of papers, he/she should at least have to read the occasional one and deal with some of the messier aspects of academia.

Please feel free to distribute this document to whomever you think might benefit from it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Solution from Ebay

My last two posts outlined the situation I had with Ebay regarding an allegely unpaid item. I am happy to report that the problem has been solved. Below is the email I received this morning from them:

Thank you for contacting eBay concerning the Unpaid Item strike you

Our records indicate that this is the first Unpaid Item strike you have
appealed. Based on your effort to contact us, and the information you
have provided, we have removed the Strike from your file.

To assist you as well, we are providing the following information
regarding our Unpaid Item policy. Should you have any concern not
addressed in this response, please contact the appropriate department
through the Trust and Safety web form, located at the end of this email.

Since any future strikes could negatively affect your account, please
take a moment to review our Unpaid Item overview, and our Unpaid Item
Appeal information page, at the following web addresses:

If you have a problem communicating with a seller through email, you can
request your trading partner's contact information (including a phone
number) through the following web address:

If you have sent payment for the item in question and have not received
it, please review our Fraud Protection Program for a list of options to
consider at the following web address:

To help ensure success in future transactions we would like to provide
you with a few suggestions:

1. Carefully review each listing description. If you have any questions
about an item, be sure to use the "ask a seller a question" feature
before placing a bid.

2. Please review the shipping details and item description to make sure
you are eligible to bid on the item according to seller's terms. If you
live outside the seller's stated shipping area or the seller requests
that bidders with negative feedback not bid (and you have negative
feedback) do not place a bid.

3. If you have computer or connection problems, please remember that you
can access your eBay account through any computer with Internet access.
Your bids can be monitored through your "My eBay" page. To log into "My
eBay," simply click the "My eBay" link located at the top of any eBay
page. Then enter your User ID and password on the following page and
click the "Sign In" button.

If you have additional concerns, please contact us through the Trust and
Safety Webform below:

We appreciate the time you took to resolve this matter and wish you all
the best with your future eBay transactions.


eBay Customer Support

Friday, October 29, 2010

Ebay - Part 2

Despite the fact that I really don't care if Ebay freezes my account or removes me from their books, (there are many e-merchants to do business with on the Internet), I continue to be nettled by what I see as unfair practices on its part. Compounding my irritation is the frustration of being unable to communicate my objections to its corporate arrogance to an actual person.

I realized yesterday that there is little likelihood of an Ebay representative actually reading my reply to the company's email demanding payment for the scale they allege that I bought. I therefore tried to post something to them through a complaint form on their website. After filling out all of the required fields, I tried to send it but got the message that all required fields had to be completed. I tried to do it a second time with the same result.

The conclusion I draw from all of this is that Ebay, in its digital arrogance, really is not interested in hearing from anyone. They seem to expect unquestioning compliance from their members.

While that may work with some, it forks no lightning with me. As a result, after reading Ellen Roseman's column in today's Star about how to use Twitter to get redress, I started an account and posted my first Tweet, not bad for a someone of my generation! The efficacy of the post is yet to be seen, but Roseman suggests it can be quite effective, given that a company's name is bound to be noticed in a Tweet. Since I don't really understand the mechanism involved in that, I will take her at her word and see what happens.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Warning About Ebay

I recently contemplated purchasing a scale, one recommended by Consumer Reports, from the Ebay store, as it seemed to be unavailable in Canada. However, after reviewing the details, I decided not to complete the purchase, as the shipping costs, about $32 U.S., were almost equal to the product's cost. I assumed, since I hadn't gotten to the parts that are common in e-commerce business practices, the review of the purchase, the payment method, and final confirmation, that I was under no obligation to complete the transaction. At the time, I could see nothing on the site to actually formally cancel the order.

What follows is the email I received from Ebay. After that, I post my response to that email:

Hi lorne,

eBay opened an unpaid item case for Taylor 7506 Lithium Digital Bath Scale w/ Glass Platfor, because wholesalepointinc either hasn't recorded your payment or didn't receive it yet.

The seller needs to receive your payment no later than Sunday, Oct 31, 2010 16:18:45 EDT.If the seller doesn't receive your payment, an unpaid item will be recorded on your account and your account privileges may be limited or suspended. Remember, when you place a winning bid or click the Buy It Now button in a listing, you've committed to paying for that item. Learn more about our policy.

If you forgot to pay, please pay now so that we can close this case and the seller can ship the item to you.

If you paid for the item already or have questions, please contact the seller.

If you have proof that you paid for the item, don't worry. You can appeal to remove the unpaid item after the case closes.

Taylor 7506 Lithium Digital Bath Scale w/ Glass Platfor
Item # 400154613774
End time: 20-Oct-10 16:28:51 EDT
Seller: wholesalepointinc
Case opened: Wednesday, Oct 27, 2010 16:18:45 EDT

My Reply:

I take strong exception to the threat implied in this email. Since this was to be my first transaction with Ebay, I assumed the procedure followed by most e-merchants would attend, i.e., that there would have been a review of the purchase with all the details, followed by a confirmation of the order, with payment information, before the purchase was irrevocable. The reason I decided to cancel the order was the realization, not clear until I had the full details on the screen, that the shipping costs were highly inflated and almost equal to the price of the product I had intended to purchase.

If you are serious about keeping the item on my account as unpaid, then please remove me entirely form your database, as I will no longer even think about using your services again. As well, I will make certain I inform my friends and colleagues of your inflexible and misleading practices.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Share The Proof

I received this in my email today. I think the short video speaks for itself.

Share the Proof from ONE Campaign on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

For the Love of Elephants

The other night, on David Suzuki's The Nature of Things, I watching a fascinating documentary, about 45 minutes in length, called For the Love of Elephants. Now available online at the C.B.C website, it is a film that I urge everyone to take a look at.

The documentary revolves around a sanctuary outside of Nairobi, Kenya called The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust that takes in orphaned baby elephants who have usually lost their mothers through poaching. The more I watch documentaries about animals, the more I wonder about what really distinguishes us from them, other than the ability to speak. For example, like us, elephants grieve when confronting loss, young ones have a strong urge to play, and they are quite attached to matriarchs. Like ours, elephant culture has a strong need to be part of a group. Indeed, without such support, young elephants usually do not survive.

The other compelling aspect of the show is the tremendous love that so obviously exists between the keepers and the elephants. As is evident in the documentary, the job of the keepers requires long-term commitment, their ultimate goal being reintroducing the orphaned elephants into the wild years hence.

For the Love of Elephants is aptly named as it becomes obvious that the love the keepers show the elephants is a love that is ultimately reciprocated. I hope you will check it out.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Do You Know Where Your Charity Dollars Are Going?

I doubt there are many amongst us who have not experienced the following: You are sitting down for a mid-evening meal, or perhaps settling in to watch an hour of television when the phone rings. At the other end of the line is someone calling on behalf of a charity, either one you currently patronize or one seeking your support. You do one of three things: you either agree to increase your support, say you can't give more, or agree to sponsor the new charity.

It may surprise you to know that in some cases, the person you have just dealt with is not necessarily a volunteer calling on behalf of the charity, but rather an employee of a professional fundraising company that will be receiving anywhere from 35 to 80% of your donation.

These startling facts were presented on last night's edition of C.B.C.'s The National in a report by Diana Swain. The value of the report lies not in discouraging us from contributing to worthwhile causes, but rather in allowing us to make better-informed decisions as to where to allot our philanthropic dollars.

The full report, with links to a searchable database breaking down the expenditures of registered charities, can be found on the C.B.C. website

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Perennial Problem of Student Cheating

One of the many reasons I am happy to be retired is that I no longer have to spend time tracking down sources in cases of suspected cheating. In my time, it happened periodically, and, as I used to tell my students, I was a pitbull when it came to academic dishonesty. If I suspected it, I would spend however long it took to track it down.

As my career was winding down, academic dishonesty was becoming just another of the many issues that had become 'political', in the sense that administration would have liked to wish the problem away, as parental anger over a student getting zero for cheating often caused them headaches.

A recent story from the Toronto Star is well worth reading, as it examines the problems being confronted at the university level, where cheating seems to have become widespread and relatively sophisticated. I am reproducing the story below:

Student cheaters have plenty of tricks up their sleeves
September 11, 2010


One panic-stricken student bought an essay for a course, only to leave the credit card bill among the pages when she handed it in.

Another student in an economics exam attracted a bit too much attention by whispering questions up his sleeve, where a forbidden cellphone taped to his arm was transmitting answers from a friend off-site.

Then there were the cheating lovers – literally; two female students unaware they were dating the same sly male classmate who sweet-talked both into writing tests and papers under his name. When love turned sour and the two University of Toronto undergrads discovered the scam, not only did they turn on their ex – they turned him in.

“In the end he faced 67 different charges of academic misconduct and was expelled,” recalled Professor Edith Hillan, the U of T’s vice-provost of faculty and academic life. “It was one of the more egregious examples of academic misconduct we’ve seen.”
As classes start Monday, Canada’s largest university is stepping up its campaign against cheating.

Dramatic displays of dishonesty are on the rise at the U of T, where the highest academic court – which hears only the most severe cases – received 38 new complaints in 2008-9, up from 21 the year before. The surge may partly reflect a larger trend cited recently in the report “Liars, Fraudsters and Cheats” by the Canadian Council on Learning, which found nearly three in four students in this country say they have cheated at least once, thanks to the cut-and-paste wizardry of the web and the trend to file-sharing almost everything.

But the U of T also is becoming more proactive against those who play dirty.
Leading the charge against cheating is the university’s leafy Mississauga campus, where a new full-time honesty watchdog began three summers ago to give instructors in all 15 departments a compulsory crash course in how to discourage, detect and deal with everything from plagiarism to paying for papers.

In the three years since academic affairs officer Lucy Gaspini began the training, campus charges have more than doubled to 388 in 2009-10 from 182 in 2006-7.

“It’s partly because instructors are being more vigilant, but I’m afraid it’s also because students are feeling more pressure to do really, really well now that almost everyone seems to go on to university and there’s real competition to get an edge,” said Gaspini. “We see cases of cheating even in fourth year because they’re battling to get into grad school.”

Often students who are caught tell Gaspini they just forgot to cite their sources; it was midnight, three essays were due and there was the Internet at their fingertips. Some plead too many deadlines and not enough time, the pressure of part-time jobs and financial worries. Others believed shortcuts were the only way to ensure a particular mark they needed.

“If they’d just invest the time doing the work and studying that they do on all these other tactics, they’d be fine,” said Gaspini. She met this fall for the first time with international students to talk about the perils of plagiarism, warning against such popular tricks as using a Morse code-style system of pen clicks to share answers on a multiple-choice test.

“We have a case now where students clicked their pens a certain number of times to indicate the question number, and then clicked again to indicate whether the answer was a, b, c or d,” said Gaspini. “Even if you’re the one giving the answer, you’re providing unauthorized aid to someone else and you’re guilty of academic dishonesty.”
Mississauga’s student council joined the awareness campaign last week by producing student tipsheets about cheating which it tucked into Frosh kits, and plans its first plagiarism workshop for students this fall.

“A lot more grey areas are coming up now. When I sold a text book last year I made a little extra money by throwing in my course notes but what if the person who bought them used them the wrong way?” wondered Grayce Yuen, the student union’s vice-president of university affairs and a co-author of the pamphlet. “I’d be more cautious next time.”

Yet it’s not all grey, stressed Gaspini in a recent workshop for some 10 instructors from the historical studies department. She warned about such tricks as printing notes on the inside of a water-bottle label, or the rim of a ball cap, or even between a student’s fingers.

“One instructor photocopied a student’s hand as evidence of crib notes before they could be washed off,” said Gaspini. Others have been rumoured to jot notes on parts of their bodies too intimate for an instructor to check.

Professor Sarianna Metso recalled marking one essay which footnoted a scholar she knew personally – saying something that simply didn’t sound like him.

“I was surprised, so I pulled my copy of his book off my own shelf and turned to the page cited on the footnote, which didn’t have that passage at all. It turns out all the footnotes were fiction,” she said. “The quotes were just made up off-the-cuff.
“But if you knowingly let an offence pass through your fingers (without discipline), you yourself have committed an academic offence,” she said. “You’re not doing anyone a favour, and the student just thinks they can do it again in another class without penalty.”

Cheating horror stories at U of T

• A tutorial assistant charged three students $1,500 each to slip them the answer sheet when he escorted them to the washroom during the exam. Ruling: suspended for five years.
• A student plagiarized an essay, then forged a doctor’s letter saying he was too sick to hand in a second essay on time. He then plagiarized it and handed it in late, followed by a third plagiarized essay. Ruling: recommended for expulsion.
• After agreeing to write an essay for $120 for a classmate, a student then plagiarized the essay so his customer failed the course. When she tried to get a refund, an ensuing fistfight brought the essay-writer to the attention of the university, which learned he had been selling essays for years. Ruling: suspended for five years.
• One student plagiarized an essay from a website for a course called Philosophy of Language, in the same term as she plagiarized an essay for another course. Essay topic? Artificial Intelligence. Ruling: suspended for three years.
• One student submitted an essay written originally by a professor at Purdue University whose name, sadly, she failed to include on her essay bibliography. Ruling: suspended for two years.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Politics of Student Part-Time Work - Part One

Having taught high school for 30 years, one of the issues of interest that I carried over into retirement is whether or not students should work part-time. While students have always worked for any number of reasons, ranging from saving for post-secondary education to purchasing things their parents either wouldn't or couldn't buy for them, over the years it was my perception that the number of hours young people were devoting to their jobs rose significantly. A recent article in the Globe and Mail addressed the problem, and some interesting and startling conclusions were reached.

Jorgen Hansen, an associate professor of economics at Montreal’s Concordia University, used data from Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition Survey, a survey that follows cohorts of students over a number of years. His conclusion: working part-time hurts grades. The more you work part-time, the greater the harm to grades.

According to Wendy Patton, a dean of the faculty of education at Queensland University at Brisbane, Australia, the upper limit should be 12 hours per week. Other studies showed a deterioration in academic performance commensurate with the number of hours worked.

From my own personal experience, it was not unusual to have some students, usually seniors, working almost the equivalent of full-time jobs, and, of course, their grades, homework completion rates, and assignments all suffered. Plaintively, they would tell me they had to work to save for university; my usual response was that if they continued to put in those kinds of hours, they likely wouldn't be going to university anyway, as they wouldn't have the marks. Such harsh observations generally, of course, fell on deaf ears.

And this is where we come to the political aspect of the equation. For a number of reasons that I will outline in my next post, I strongly believe that government has a role to play in regulating how many hours high school students can work.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Article on Critical Thinking

Allan Levine, a history professor from Manitoba, has written an excellent article on critical thinking in today's Globe. An excerpt from the article offers a clear and concise explanation of the concept, and what its goals are:

“Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way,” explains Linda Elder, an educational psychologist and president of the Foundation for Critical Thinking. “People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably and empathically. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason.”

Illustrating its importance by examining the current controversy surrounding the building of a mosque a few blocks from the twin towers' terrorist attack, Levine demonstrates that those lofty goals are well-worth striving for throughout our lives, even if complete attainment eludes us.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Criticizing the Harper Government Can be Harmful to Career Prospects

I was going to write a post exploring the casualty list of those whose criticisms of specific Harper Government policies have resulted in dismissals, demotions, or resignations, but the Globe and Mail has already done it this morning in its online Political Notebook.

The latest victim is RCMP Marty Cheliak, whose vigorous support of the long gun registry has earned him much praise and recognition amongst police forces across the country but apparently incurred the ire of Harper, who dearly wants to eliminate it, no doubt another sop to his hardcore constituency. While the Government denies any role in the matter, citing it as an RCMP decision, his removal as head of the Canadian Firearms Program, nine months after his appointment, does not pass the smell test and appears to be part of the growing pattern of intolerance of criticism that Mr. Harper is known for.

The official reason for Cheliak's removal? He is not bilingual. Funny, that didn't seem to be an issue until now.

Message received loud and clear, Mr. Harper.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ontario To Allow Mixed Martial Arts

My son just sent me a link to a story that says the Ontario McGuinty Government has changed its mind and will allow MMA fighting beginning next year. According to Consumer Services Minister Sophia Aggelonitis, regulating MMA is the best way to keep the fighters safe.

Hmm... not to mention the revenue the government will accrue from it and the online gambling it is about to get into as well.

Oh well, bloodsports and gambling may be two effective ways to assuage people should they grow vexed over their increasingly high utility and gasoline bills thanks to the HST, despite the fact that the latter will be applied to these latest questionable and diversionary McGuinty policy decisions.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Do We Assess Information?

The other day I had an interesting and spirited discussion with a colleague at the food bank where I volunteer. Initially the conversation revolved around the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the possible loss of the team with City Council's decision to proceed with the West Harbour as the site of the new stadium over the objections of team owner Bob Young.

The discussion then progressed to how we evaluate the information we receive. My position, using two illustrations, was and is as follows: Because whatever personal expertise we may possess is usually very limited in scope, it becomes incumbent upon us to be very much influenced by experts in any given field.

Take, for example, the Conservative Government's decision to abandon the mandatory long census form. To be quite honest, the topic of the census, until the controversy erupted, was of no interest to me. The subject of statistics is like a foreign language to me, and seemingly of no pertinence to my life. However, after the almost universal condemnation of the Harper decision by a wealth of experts, critical thinking demands that I accept as true that it is a very bad decision that should be reversed.

We then went on to talk about, and disagree upon, climate change. Her position was that she wants to decide the truth for herself, through research on the Internet. That may well be a sound approach if she has enough time and the ability to evaluate the sources of her information, something that is very hard for a lay person to do on issues with a high degree of technical information.

Nonetheless, I have already accepted the truth of climate change, not just because of the worldwide evidence of something happening at an unprecedented rate of change, but also because, again, the overwhelming majority of experts in the field say that it is essentially indisputable. I italicized the word experts because a favorite ploy of climate change deniers is to have people whose credentials lie elsewhere to call into question the analyses of the real experts, thus sowing doubt amongst the lay people.

In fact, that is the tack regularly employed by Globe and Mail writer Neil Reynolds who, in his last column on climate change, cited the opinion of some environmental economists to support his thesis, and in a previous piece used the 'expertise' of a Nobel Prize-wining physicist.

Bringing these issues into sharp relief is writer Antony black, who had a column in today's Hamilton Spectator. I urge those of you interested in critical thinking to take a few moments to read it, as the evidence he presents to undermine the climate change deniers is quite interesting. I urge those of you interested in critical thinking to take a few moments to read it, as the evidence he presents to undermine the climate change deniers is quite interesting.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Morally and Financially Bankrupt Provincial Government

Some days, it is almost more than I can do to muster even a modicum of faith in our political system. Confronted as we are on an almost daily basis with evidence of corruption, betrayal of the public trust, and reminders that we, the voters, count only at election time, it is difficult to affix any credibility to the utterances of our 'representatives'. Currently, my ire is particularly directed at the Ontario Provincial Liberals, led by Dalton McGuinty.

My acute disaffection with the Premier began in late June, during the G20 summit. It was only after the summit was over that the Premier revealed that the so-called five-meter fence law allowing police to demand that people show their identities and the contents of their knapsacks did not actually exist. This, despite the fact that Bill Blair, the Toronto Police Chief, was trumpeting its importance since the day before the Summit actually began, and Dalton McGuinty was enthusiastically agreeing with him in the press that such extraordinary measures were necessary to provide an adequate level of security for the delegates.

After it was all over, McGuinty simply said that they “could have done a better job in communication” and facilely dismissed the idea of a public inquiry, despite the fact that he had obviously colluded with the police to deprive citizens of their Charter Rights guaranteeing freedom of movement and association.

My disaffection with him has deepened given the events that transpired over the weekend regarding the site for the Pan Am stadium in Hamilton, which I have already written about.

And now comes the announcement that the Provincial Government is going to move into the lucrative field of on-line gambling, whereby they hope to realize a minimum of $400 million dollars annually, choosing to ignore, despite whatever public-relations gestures that will be forthcoming, the gambling addiction of many Ontarians and willfully exploiting that weakness to enrich government coffers.

So now, in a province that is almost financially bankrupt, we have seen, in at least three different ways, its declaration of moral bankruptcy.

One can only hope that voters will take notice and remember during the next election campaign.

Munir Sheikh''s Suggestion

Munir Sheikh, the former head of Statistics Canada whose integrity demanded that he resign rather than be a party to the dismantling of meaningful data through the elimination of the mandatory long census form, has an article on the op-ed page of today's Globe and Mail.

The article's well-reasoned nature guarantees that it will be ignored by the Harper Government.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Difference between the Conservative and Liberal Mind

About three years ago, a scientific study was undertaken to examine some of the differences between the conservative and the liberal mind. One of the conclusions emerging from the study was that liberal people tend to be able to handle ambiguity and nuance better than conservative people, processing new information that might challenge some of their beliefs, incorporating that information and even altering their thinking on a subject as a result. Conservative minds, on the other hand, tend to adhere to beliefs and convictions despite evidence that call them into question.

I can't help but wonder if that might be at play in many of Conservative Government's policy decisions. For example, despite the fact that the abolition of the mandatory long form census is opposed by almost everyone, Stockwell Day insists he has only heard three complaints about it.

Many people insist that the Government's intractability stems from an ideologically-driven agenda, but I think it is legitimate to wonder whether an inability to incorporate new and contrary information might also be at work here.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Is There a Federal Prison in Your Future?

Contemplating any petty crime or vandalism in the near future? I would strongly suggest that you abandon such anti-social considerations, especially given the Globe and Mail's amplification of Treasure Board President Stockwell Day's comments during yesterday's puzzling press conference.

You may recall his assertion that statistics showing significant declines in crime rates are misleading, given the number of crimes that go unreported. While it is a little hard for me to get my head around the concept of statistics for unreported transgressions, (almost as difficult as understanding the justification for spending $9 billion for new prisons to contain this phantom explosion of crime), in today's paper Day explains that voluntary surveys establish these crimes as fact. There seem to be only two problems with his explanation: the last survey of this nature was done in 2004, and in comparing it to the previous one done in 1999, there was no increase of unreported violent crime, only a small rise in unreported vandalism and petty theft.

With the upcoming multi-billion dollar expenditure for new federal prisons, the Conservatives are sending a very clear and powerful message: steal your neighbour's hedgeclippers or take a spray can to a wall, and you'll feel the full weight of the law.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A New Blog

Because most of what I have been posting of late has been political in nature, I have started a new blog entitled Politics and Its Discontents. While I will cross-post for the time being, it is my intention to reserve this blog for educational matters only.

I hope you will check out my new site.

The Need for Critical Thinking

While Prime Minister Harper has kept a decidedly low profile this summer, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day did surface long enough for a press conference in Ottawa today to talk about 'how well' the government's Economic Action Plan is working for Canadians. Unfortunately for him, reporters had other things on their mind, including questions about the elimination of the mandatory long census form and his assertion that crime statistics are misleading, that there are many crimes that Candians are not reporting. For a change, it sounds like journalists were thinking critically and asking the hard questions that challenge the blithe claims that politicians are only too happy to make

You can read the full story here.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Recommendation for Another James Travers' Column

I'm sure everyone has heard that the key to cooking a frog is to slowly raise the water temperature so that it doesn't jump out of the pot. In his column today, James Travers suggests that is the key to understanding how the Harper Government has largely succeeded in taking the country in a direction it really is not philosophically in tune with: incremental conservatism over a sustained period of time. Click here to read the article.

Friday, July 30, 2010

More Commentary on The Census

If you got the opportunity to read the James Travers article I recommended in my last post, the details of a poll commissioned by the Globe might interest you. The results show that 75% of the prominent economists surveyed oppose the elimination of the compulsory long census form. The specifics can be found by clicking here.

James Travers' Thoughts on Recent Conservative Missteps

The Toronto Star's James Travers has written an interesting analysis on recent mistakes made by the ideologically-driven Harper Conservatives that have driven down their poll numbers. Please click here to read it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jacmel, Haiti, Six Months Later

There is a lovely photo essay on the Globe and Mail website that I invite you to look at. If you have the time, read each of the captions accompanying the photos. Reading them almost guarantees you the pleasure of a broad smile when you get to the last photo. Let me know if I am wrong.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

John Ibbitson on Munir Sheikh's Integrity

I wrote the other day on my admiration for the courage and integrity of Munir Sheikh, the former head of Statistics Canada who resigned to protect the organization's integrity and reputation after Industry Minister Tony Clement spoke falsely when he clained that StatsCan had essentially given its blessing to the change to a voluntary completion of the long census form. In the following article, the Globe's John Ibbitson writes in detail on that decision:

Munir Sheikh shows us what integrity
and leadership look like

John Ibbitson

Munir Sheikh’s testimony before the Commons industry committee reminded us of something that too many forget: He did not resign as deputy minister responsible for Statistics Canada for the wrong reason; he resigned for the right reason.

Journalism sometimes distorts through conflation. So while the initial stories concerning Mr. Sheikh’s departure correctly explained what caused the first deputy minister to resign on a question of principle, as days passed, a crucial distinction became blurred.

The impression gained ground that Mr. Sheikh quit because the Conservative government decided to scrap the mandatory long-form version of the 2011 census, replacing it with a voluntary survey. That’s not true.

It is true that Mr. Sheikh advised the government that scrapping the mandatory census would lead to less accurate results.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper took that advice, rejected it and ordered a voluntary survey. As a public servant, Mr. Sheikh was obliged to carry out that instruction. If cabinet wants to undermine the integrity of the census, then that’s the right of cabinet. It is the professional duty of the public service to carry out the directions of the government of the day, whatever its members might think of those directions.

Mr. Sheikh only resigned when Industry Minister Tony Clement claimed something he should never have claimed. In a July 16 story on The Globe and Mail’s front page, Mr. Clement stated in an interview that Statistics Canada had assured him a voluntary survey, sent to a larger group of people, would yield satisfactory results.

“I asked [Statistics Canada] specifically, ‘Are you confident you can do your job?'” he told Steven Chase. “They said ‘If you do these extra things: the extra advertising and the extra sample size, then yes, we can do our job.' “

That could not be true: if people who are poorer or less educated are not filling out a census because they don’t understand its importance, increasing the number of people receiving the form won’t help one whit. Either Mr. Sheikh did not give that assurance, or he gave it knowing it to be false. Rather than permit the latter impression to take hold, damaging both his integrity and that of Statistics Canada, he resigned.

“The fact that in the media and in the public that there was this perception that Statistics Canada was supporting a decision that no statistician would, it really casts doubt on the integrity of that agency, and I as head of that agency cannot survive in that job,” Mr. Sheikh told the committee.

It is one thing to quit your job because you don’t agree with the boss. It is something quite different to quit your job rather than see the integrity of the people you lead compromised. There aren’t many of us who would do such a thing. But Munir Sheikh would, and did.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Michael Valpy's View on the Census Fiasco

The Globe's Michael Valpy has an interesting article in today's paper on reasons behind the census decision of the Harper Government, a decision condemned by almost everyone thus far. It is well-worth reading:

Harper’s census push months in the making

Scrapping the mandatory long form stems from libertarian convictions, insiders say

Michael Valpy

From Monday's Globe and Mail Published on Monday, Jul. 26, 2010 3:00AM EDT Last updated on Monday, Jul. 26, 2010 10:56AM EDT

Prime Minister Stephen Harper decided at the end of December to scrap the mandatory long-form census despite being told by Statistics Canada officials that important data would likely be lost or impaired as a result.

He considered going further by making the whole census voluntary, people familiar with what transpired have revealed. On the long census form, he overrode objections from his own officials in the Privy Council Office and senior finance department staff, although Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said on the weekend that he thinks census data can be collected voluntarily without being compromised.

The government announced at the end of June that the long form would be voluntary in the 2011 census.

Opposition MPs will get their first chance to question Industry Minister Tony Clement, the minister responsible for Statscan, and former chief statistician Munir Sheikh, who has quit in protest against the change, when they appear before a parliamentary panel on Tuesday.

Mr. Harper’s decision has baffled political analysts familiar with his thinking – people including political scientist Tom Flanagan, who played a key role in Mr. Harper becoming prime minister – but not University of Calgary economist Frank Atkins, his graduate thesis supervisor.

While careful to stress he is not putting words in the Prime Minister’s mouth, Prof. Atkins suggested Mr. Harper acted from a deep philosophical conviction – a libertarian view of the mandatory long-form census, which has been in use since 1971, as a Big Brother manifestation of the intrusive state.

Mr. Harper has indicated previously that he has philosophical problems with Statscan.

At a cabinet meeting at least 18 months ago, then-foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier – who has assumed a lead role in defending the government’s long-form decision – proposed major cuts to Statscan based on ideological libertarianism. The Prime Minister was reported to be supportive (while then-clerk of the Privy Council Kevin Lynch was not).

Said Prof. Atkins: “I would agree with this census decision from a libertarian point of view. People like me look on this as the thin edge of the wedge, sort of ‘Big Brother’s around the corner,’ if you’re forcing people to reveal knowledge even though the knowledge isn’t going to be attached to them.”

That accords with the Prime Minister’s Office statement: “The government made this decision because we do not believe Canadians should be forced, under threat of fines, jail, or both, to disclose extensive private and personal information.”

In fact, there are two faces to the controversy: the compulsory collection of information and the purposes for which the data may be used.

Academics and others have categorized what pollster Allan Gregg last week called “a classic culture war cleavage” as a clash between the role of knowledge, evidence and reason and the role of intuition, “common sense” and “decency.” In this view, the elimination of the mandatory long form is seen by Mr. Harper’s philosophical critics as an expression of the current small-c conservative ideological tendency to value belief and conviction over “data” and rationality.

Former Reform Party leader Preston Manning points out that conservatives see a battle as well: against the ideology of “social engineering” in the data-and-rationality camp.

In Harper’s Team, his book on Mr. Harper’s journey to power, Mr. Flanagan wrote that winning elections and controlling the government as much as possible is the most effective way of shifting the public philosophy.

“If you control the government, you choose judges, appoint the senior civil service, fund or de-fund advocacy groups, and do many other things that gradually influence the climate of opinion,” he said.

Writing in the online publication The Mark, University of Ottawa political scientist Paul Saurette said: “This is a remarkable statement. [Mr.] Flanagan is suggesting that … electoral victory is important primarily as a tool in the service of a much greater and longer-term ideological goal: the transformation of the broad public philosophy of Canada and the cultivation of an enduring set of conservative values and philosophical principles in Canadians.

“Once one appreciates that this perspective is quite likely shared by some of the key decision-makers in the current government, the policy shift towards a voluntary long census makes a lot more sense.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Munir Sheikh

Although it is highly unlikely Munir Sheikh will ever read this brief blog post, I would like to take a moment to express my admiration for a man who, in tendering his resignation as the head of Statistics Canada over the Harper Government's scrapping of the compulsory long census form, made what must have been the most difficult professional decision of his life. By deciding that the price to be paid for continuing in a job he must have relished, a job that represented the pinnacle of a 42-year career, Mr. Sheikh has shown that both personal and professional integrity are still alive in the world today.

In a country and a world where such public displays are lamentably rare, his example shines a piercing light on what is possible when human beings decide to act with honour and dignity for the greater good rather than the usual self-interest that defines so many of us.

May his principled choice provide inspiration for others in times to come.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Furor Over the Census

I will be the first to admit that higher mathematics, including statistical analysis, is not my forte. However, the almost universal condemnation the Harper Government has received for its decision to scrap compulsory completion of the long census form by 20% of the population has convinced me of the vital role it plays in, among other things, social and economic planning, both of which are essential to Canada's well-being. The matter is of such import that the head of Statistics Canada, Chief Statistician Munir Sheikh, in a lamentably rare demonstration of public integrity, has resigned over the issue. Indeed, the entire census debacle has led me to consider a number of things, not the least of which are a citizen's responsibilities within a democracy.

In an obvious nod to the Tories' reactionary power base, Industry Minister Tony Clement claims justification for ending the compulsory aspect of the long census form by asserting it is too intrusive upon people's privacy, yet another instance of government interference in citizens' lives. In fact, he claims that both Statistics Canada and the Government have fielded many complaints from people about this intrusion. Ironically, statistics do not support his claim, as both the Government and Statistics Canada have received only about three complaints each.

Nonetheless, even if it had received a large volume of complaints, would the Government have been justified in eliminating it? It is this question that got me pondering both the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

The majority of us, I assume, are aware of our rights under The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (especially in light of the fact that several of them were willfully violated by both the Government and the police during the recent G20 in Toronto). However, how often do we consider the obligations citizenship entails, along with the fact that we generally discharge those obligations faithfully, whether we like them or not?

Take, for example, jury duty. I have never known anyone who goes to the mailbox hoping to receive a summons for duty along with its potential to disrupt the normal flow of daily life, sometimes even for months at a time, with little or no financial compensation. Yet in spite of its intrusiveness, we accept it as one of our responsibilities under the law, one that helps to ensure a fair trial for the accused.

Similarly, despite a seemingly almost universal belief that taxes are too high, most of us, again in recognition of their importance in maintaining a society reflective of our values, pay them instead of attempting to defraud the government.

As well, whether they be municipal bylaws requiring us to clean up after our dogs or maintain our property to certain standards, traffic laws that forbid the running of red lights, provincial or federal laws prescribing penalties for criminal acts against property and people, the vast majority of us obey and support these intrusions, in no small measure because, once again, we appreciate their vital role in civil society, where the inclinations of the few do not trump the needs and values of the many.

So to live in society, by definition, requires reasonable limitations on personal freedoms; those limitations, in turn, entail a measure of government intrusion into our lives. However, by pandering to the worst instincts of a minority of the population, the Harper Government is once more undermining values that Canadians hold dear, thereby once again demonstrating its contempt for true democracy and the people it was elected to serve, yet two more reasons that the Conservatives are, in my opinion, unfit to continue to hold public office.

Monday, July 19, 2010

More Disturbing Video of Police Violation of Charter Rights

As most people probably know, on June 26 in Toronto, the police attacked and arrested many protesters at Queen's Park, the site designated as an official G20 protest zone. Although the following video is largely unedited, watching only a few minutes of it provides ample evidence of the need for a full public inquiry, something Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty continues to insist is unnecessary. The evidence on the video represents just one more reason he has lost my vote.

Reader Commentary on The Globe and Mail Website

Although I subscribe to The Globe and Mail, I find myself checking its website several times a day, both for updates and content that is only available online. Despite its shortcomings, it really is the newspaper of record for me.

That being said, I have been profoundly disappointed with the 'semi-moderation' of their reader comment boards. It seems that almost anything can be posted, and it is only by alerting the moderator to some truly objectionable comments that they may be removed.

While the first few comments on any given story may contain some insightful observations, it never takes very long for the reactionary crowd, almost all of whom hide behind pseudonyms, to post their vile, often racist and completely nonconstructive comments, leading to an inevitable spiral downward into name-calling, labelling, and ad hominems.

While I almost never bother to read the comments anymore, I did yesterday. A story had run about Nelson Mandela's 92nd birthday; because he is a man I revere, I posted my own thoughts about him and what he represents, partly to offset the minority comments about him being a terrorist and communist, etc. One poster, whose comments were later removed, expressed the birthday wish that he “rot in hell.” I'm sure I wasn't the only one to alert the moderator about his offensiveness.

Why the Globe doesn't tighten up its comments policy is beyond me. To allow the drivel that these people post diminishes any chance of meaningful discussion and debases the paper itself. In my mind, a good start would be to require registration under one's actual name, with verification required before posting is allowed. After all, anonymous letters are not printed in the paper, and requiring actual identification of the poster would deter many of these cowardly hate-spewers.

To do nothing will only contribute to the spread of even more invective, thereby limiting the possibilities of civilized and constructive discourse.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

More on G20 Charter Violations

Today, several cities are planning rallies calling for any independent inquiry into police and government behaviour during the G20 Summit. Take a look at this video for yet another reason this is worth caring about.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Failure on the Part of the Liberal Party of Canada

That I am not a supporter of the Harper Conservatives does not blind me to the many deficiencies of the Ignatief-led Liberals. When they had the chance to stop the Conservative omnibus budget bill, which contains myriad provisions wholly unrelated to budget matters (loosening up of environmental regulations and assessments, selling off AEC, privatizing parts of the Post Office service, etc.), the Liberals ensured they had insufficient members in the House so that they could vote against the bill without triggering an election, a budget being a confidence measure.

It then went on to the Senate, which putative Liberal Leader aspirant Bob Rae described as "the best place to amend the bill." Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably, when the final vote came in the Senate yesterday, guess what, again there was an inadequate number of Liberal Senators in the Red Chamber to block the bill.

Could this have anything to do with last week's threat by Conservative Senator and former Conservative Party campaign chairman Doug Findley's threat that an election would ensue if the Senate didn't pass the entire bill intact?

Below is the full story from this morning's online Globe:

Senators skip town after Liberals fail budget-bill test

Gloria Galloway

1. School's out for summer. It took a long night and many words of despair from both Liberals and independents but the Senate passed a contentious omnibus budget bill Monday that contains measures its detractors say have little to do with the budget.

Bill C-9 is now law after opposition attempts to amend it were defeated by a vote of 48 to 42. It received royal assent late Monday night and the senators have been released to begin their summer vacations.

The Liberals and three of the four Senators who are not aligned with either major party opposed the bill, saying the minority Conservative government was burying measures within the 900 pages that it could not have pushed through the House of Commons as stand-alone items. Liberals in the House had allowed the bill to pass to avoid an election.

The legislation provides, among other things, for the sell-off of the power division of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the privatization of part of Canada Post and a major restructuring of environmental assessments.

Late Monday afternoon, the Conservatives moved to close debate on the issue and listened quietly as Liberals and independents rose to oppose it. Several hours later, the Tories managed to defeat amendments from the Senate finance committee, which would have hived off the controversial portions. And, finally, late in the evening, the bill was passed.

The Liberals say they tried to get enough of their members in their seats to stop the bill. Senator Terry Mercer of Nova Scotia, who has been laid up with a bad back and was not expected to make it to Ottawa for the vote, was in the chamber. But seven of his Liberal colleagues did not show up.

So, even though there were five Conservatives missing (independent Senator Jean-Claude Rivest voted with the Tories to pass the bill), the Liberals could not muster the forces to defeat it or change it.

But James Cowan, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, spoke out against it.

“Selling off AECL, watering down environmental assessments, changing the authorities of the post office – these are significant policy issues that should be brought individually before Parliament so that interested Canadians can make their views known, and then Parliament can decide on their merit,” Mr. Cowan told the Red Chamber.

“Honourable senators, good public policy is not made this way. If these provisions did not belong in a budget bill before, then they certainly do not belong there now.”

Monday, July 12, 2010

What Will the Federal Conservatives Decide?

Whether or not the House of Commons public safety committee examines the issues arising from the Charter Rights violations during the G20 Summit is in the hands of the Conservatives, as pointed out in the accompanying story. According to NDP MP Don Davies, who has pushed for an investigation, Conservative committee members aren't opposed, but aren't happy at the prospect of having to return to Ottawa for hearings.

Given that each year, our elected representatives seem to spend less and less time conducting Parliamentary business (my guess would be about 7 months this year, what with proroguing and a protracted summer recess), their carping rings a bit hollow.

MPs tackle summit security;

Gloria Galloway

1. Human rights at home. The question, NDP MP Don Davies says, is how to properly handle dissent and public assembly in Canada.

Mr. Davies, with the consent of the Liberals and the Bloc, has forced a meeting Monday of the Commons public safety committee to study the security and human-rights issues around last month’s G20 summit in Toronto.

Canada has fallen into an unhealthy pattern over the last 10 years of international political events, Mr. Davies argues. “There is increasingly substantial security and outbreaks of violence” as well as an escalation in interference with lawful protest, he told The Globe.

“I want us to move to a place where we can let people peacefully assemble.”
But it will be up to the Conservatives on the public safety committee to determine if the study Mr. Davies wants to conduct will go ahead.

The government could suggest to Tory committee chair Garry Breitkreuz that he call in sick. In that case a member of the opposition parties would have to take over Mr. Breitkreuz’s duties and, if the Conservatives provide a substitute for their absent member, they would gain a majority vote at the meeting.

Mr. Davies said Conservative committee members have indicated they do not oppose a study of the issues surrounding the summit. But, he said, they were not happy about the timing – this is the second time this month the members of the public safety committee have been recalled from their ridings for a special hearing.

So the first hour of the meeting will be devoted to the issue of whether there should be a meeting in the first place. If the answer is yes, Mr. Davies has lined up Nathalie Des Rosiers, the general counsel of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association as a first witness.

Mr. Davies said he hopes the committee will commence the study while the events are still fresh in the minds of witnesses. He envisions multiple meetings and hopes to call witnesses including Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, RCMP Commission William Elliott and a representative of Ontario’s Liberal government.

Mr. Davies told the Hill Times that some prosecutors have suggested making it illegal for demonstrators to wear balaclavas — a tactic used by the Black Bloc demonstrators as they committed acts of vandalism in the streets of Toronto.
"I'm not suggesting that, I'm not proposing that, but we should be analysing these things, with a view to see how can we as a society, a modern democracy, be a model to the world," Mr. Davies told the newspaper.

Meanwhile, the union that represents many of the journalists who covered the event, including those at The Globe and Mail, has written to the committee to demand an independent federal inquiry of police actions at the summit.

“The inquiry should go beyond that initiated by the Toronto Police Services Board earlier this week,” the Southern Ontario Newspaper Guild said in its letter.

“After all, this was a federally-coordinated police response so it only makes sense that the investigation be at the federal level. Otherwise, questions will be met with the classic ‘not my department’ response and the public will never get to the truth and crucial lessons will never be learned.”

Saturday, July 10, 2010

How Long Can McGuinty and Harper Ignore the People?

Given the fact that the Toronto Police Board and the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman are each going to launch probes, however narrow, into the violation of Charter Rights at the G20 Summit, the following story about an impending mass rally today at Queen's Park demanding a public inquiry into the fiasco leads one to wonder how long Messieurs McGuinty and Harper can ignore the legitimate concerns of the people. The key, it seems to me, is to keep the issue in the spotlight as long as possible.

Thousands expected at G20 public inquiry rally

Demonstration at the Ontario Legislature to protest police crackdown during the summit

Toronto — The Canadian Press Published on Saturday, Jul. 10, 2010 11:33AM EDT Last updated on Saturday, Jul. 10, 2010 11:38AM EDT

Two weeks after police cracked down on G20 demonstrations in Toronto, protesters will march again.

Thousands are expected to gather at the Ontario Legislature this afternoon to demand an independent public inquiry into security costs and police actions during the G20 summit.
Provincial New Democrat Party leader Andrea Horwath is expected to speak at the rally, which begins at 1 p.m.

Demonstrators are expected to march through the downtown core.

Almost 1,000 people were arrested during the summit weekend, after a group of vandals broke away from protesters, smashing windows and burning police cars.
Demonstrations are also expected in Halifax, Kingston and Montreal.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Some Heartening News

The Globe and Mail reports that the Office of the Ombudsman, led by Andre Marin, is launching an investigation into the 'secret powers' granted to police for the G20 Summit. A tenacious and thorough individual, we can only hope that Marin is able to get to the bottom of the McGuinty Government's role in the entire shameful episode:

Ontario ombudsman to investigate secret G20 law

Probe to look at origin and communication of the sweeping changes to civil liberties in downtown Toronto, passed ahead of June summit

Karen Howlett
Toronto — Globe and Mail Update Published on Friday, Jul. 09, 2010 10:45AM EDT Last updated on Friday, Jul. 09, 2010 11:39AM EDT

Ombudsman André Marin announced on Friday that his office is launching an investigation into sweeping new powers for police secretly approved by the McGuinty government.

The controversial rules allowed police to question and potentially arrest anyone near the security zone for the G20 summit in Toronto who refused to produce identification or be searched.

Mr. Marin said his office will probe the origin and subsequent communication of the sweeping changes to civil liberties in downtown Toronto, passed by the province prior to the June 26-27 G20 summit.

His office has received 22 complaints relating to the G20, including several alleging that a lack of transparency and public communication about the regulation led to an atmosphere of secrecy and confusion and contributed to violations of civil liberties.

“The complaints we’ve received so far raise serious concerns about this regulation and the way it was communicated, and I think there is a very strong public interest in finding out exactly what happened and how that affected the rest of the events of the G20 weekend,” Mr. Marin said in a news release.

In his first comments to the media this week about the regulation, Premier Dalton McGuinty acknowledged that his government could have done a better job to clear up confusion surrounding it.

His government has come under criticism from civil liberties experts and opposition members for failing to tell people that their rights had changed.
New Democratic Party justice critic has said: “This law was not only passed in secret, it was kept secret.”

The law was approved June 2 through an order-in-council, with no debate in the legislature. The regulatory amendment was quietly posted June 16 on the government's e-laws website. It came to light only after a York University student was held for five hours on June 25 for refusing to show identification near the security fence.
Mr. Marin said his office expects to complete its investigation within 90 days.

He is inviting anyone who has a complaint or relevant information to call 1-800-263-1830 during business hours or complete an online complaint form at .

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Adam Radwanski is Still Working the G20 Charter Rights' Violation File

It is reassuring to know that The Globe and Mail's Adam Radwanski is continuing to pursue the very troubling questions that remain regarding the violation of Charter Rights during the G20 Summit in Toronto. Below I am reproducing one of his online columns that demonstrate his ongoing concern about these issues and why they matter. I have put in bold a few of his more salient points:

Why the 'five metres' mattered

Although it got a more positive response than I'd expected, a few people have asked me why I spent so much time last week covering the "five-metre" law that didn't really exist. After all, it wasn't what was used in most of the dubious arrests during the G20, which happened much further away from the security perimeter.

In her Saturday column, Christie Blatchford more or less summed up that line of thinking (though I have no idea if it was even remotely directed at me): Toronto Star lingo, since “the sweeping powers” granted the police via the “secret” law saw them, according to Toronto Chief Bill Blair, arrest exactly one (1) person under the temporary regulation to the Public Works Protection Act, isn’t the angst-ridden, hyperbolic debate rendered, as someone brighter than me remarked recently, nothing but an intellectual exercise?

It would quite one thing if the 1,000 folks who were detained on G20 weekend were detained under the temporary regulation. The discussion would be meaningful.
But when it’s all said and done, it will turn out that most of those detained were arrested for breach of the peace or to prevent a breach of the peace, which is an arrest authority, not a criminal charge.

In my view, it’s a vile authority too, generally speaking easily misused by police, and it may have been misused here as well.

But the point is, it wasn’t under the new secret sweeping power, which was only partly secret and not very sweeping. It was under long-established common-law police authorities, such as arresting people for breach of the peace or to prevent a breach of the peace that has yet to take place, that most people were picked up.

You want to be angry about something, be angry about that.

Minor quibbles aside (it seems likely to me that at least two people were arrested under the new law), this seems as good an opportunity as any to explain why holding the province to account over the Public Works Protection Act is more than just an "intellectual exercise."

Admittedly, it happens to be the post-G20 angle I'm best-positioned to cover. Provincial politics is my beat, and this - unlike most of the other things that happened both inside and outside the perimeter - is where Dalton McGuinty's government played a role, and deserves to be held to account. That's especially important because, as I explained toward the end of one of my columns last week, the Liberals' lax handling of the police file has not been restricted to the G20.

But beyond that, it seems to me that the abdication of provincial responsibility in announcing and interpreting the temporary law speaks to a broader phenomenon: the choice of governments, through both their actions and inactions, to give police gratuitous leeway in securing these kinds of international summits.

I wrote about this in the week leading up to the summit, and my former colleagues on the editorial board followed up on it last week. I'll spare you a full rehash of those arguments, and leave it at this: When given a chance early last decade to set out parameters for what police can and can't do to ensure the security of events like the G20, the federal government instead wrote legislation that basically told the police to do whatever they want.

So the message from governments to police, even before the saga over the provincial regulation, was that politicians preferred a no-questions-asked approach to security. Then McGuinty's Liberals took it to new extremes - leaving it to the police to announce a temporary law that could lead to arrests, then failing to publicly correct them when they misinterpreted and misrepresented that law.

As it happened, the province got lucky. If more of the action had been closer to the perimeter, the consequences would have been much greater.

But to some degree, the Liberals' blind faith in the police - including the Premier's unqualified support for Chief Bill Blair in the middle of the controversy - had to reinforce the sense that they had free rein to do as they saw fit, whatever part of downtown Toronto they happened to be in.

Was it the most important story out of the G20? Almost certainly not. But these things didn't all happen in isolation. And if there's any hope that our governments will take more responsibility for the liberties/security balance before the next big international event rolls around, it's necessary to underscore how little responsibility they took this time.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Demagoguery is Alive and Well in the Ontario 'Progressive' Conservative Party

As a guest columnist in the Toronto Sun, using demagogic rhetoric reminiscent of his mentor, former Premier Mike Harris, Ontario Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak amply demonstrates why he and his party are not ready to form the next government in Ontario. I have bolded certain parts of the following to underscore his inflammatory appeal to the extreme right wing of his party's supporters as he conveniently casts aside any consideration of Charter Rights, as if those rights should be available only to those with whom he agrees. Indeed, the perceptive reader will notice that not once does he address the violence perpetrated on peaceful protesters unjustly arrested and incarcerated, instead concentrating only on those who committed crimes, their actions somehow justifying everything the police did.

His final paragraph, you may notice, is rich in irony, likely unintentional.

Don’t blame cops for G20 mayhem

It wasn’t frontline police officers who smashed storefront windows and torched police cars

By Tim Hudak, Guest Columnist

The downtown core of Toronto was turned into a conflict zone by a group of lawless hooligans a little more than a week ago.

These reckless thugs were not in Toronto to protest a legitimate political cause. Instead they are part of a circuit of criminals who travel to international summits with one goal in mind — to destroy property, incite mayhem and terrorize law-abiding citizens.

Sadly, in the wake of the violence, a number of usual-suspect special interest groups are attempting to pin blame, not on the hooligans, but instead on our police services or the federal government.

But it wasn’t frontline police officers who spent a weekend smashing in storefront windows, and it wasn’t federal government officials who torched police cars.
Instead these were the acts of violent anarchists, with a long history of using “peaceful” protest marches at international summits as cover for reckless acts of extreme violence.

That is why I oppose the orchestrated attempt by these activists to demonize our police services in the wake of the G20 violence. I proudly stand behind the men and women of our police services that were faced with a daunting and difficult task of protecting the public against these professional vandals and hooligans.

After a week of silence on the G20, I hope Dalton McGuinty will join me in clearly supporting our men and women in uniform.

McGuinty should also have the courage to finally explain why his government passed a secret law to expand police powers during the G20 summit. I believe the public would have understood the necessity of these new powers to contain the violent thugs, but that does not mean McGuinty had the right to hide these new powers from the public.

We all know Ontario’s police officers have two fundamental responsibilities:
First, they are expected to preserve order and protect law-abiding families and businesses from criminal activity.

Second, they are expected to bring those responsible for criminal acts to justice.
It is on this second responsibility that we should now focus our attention.

We must make sure the thugs and hooligans who trashed downtown Toronto are held accountable for their crimes. The right to speak must never be confused with the right to vandalize property that tarnishes the reputation of our city and province.

The McGuinty government must do everything in its power to ensure the criminals behind this violence are caught, tried to the fullest extent of the law and held personally financially responsible for the cost of the damage they have caused.
In addition, the authorities should co-operate with any resident or business that wishes to pursue a civil action against the individuals and groups responsible for this violence.

In the meantime, the senior levels of government should establish a fund to compensate small business owners for property damages and the interruption of business caused by repairing the damages.

The hooligans behind the G20 violence gave our city a black eye on the world stage. We must not let special interest sideshows distract our attention from holding these criminals accountable for the harm they caused.

Now is the time for us to reclaim the reputation of our city and make it clear to the world that in Toronto, law-abiding citizens get protected, criminals get punished, and justice always gets done.

— Hudak is Ontario PC
Party Leader

A Brief Explanation

Although anyone who happens to read my blog on a regular basis might be wondering if I have somehow lost my balance in that all recent posts have revolved around either news stories, my own commentary or that of others regarding the violation of Charter Rights during the G20, I feel the need to offer a small explanation and justification.

First, I have an almost lifelong interest in politics, especially local, provincial, and national. The entire G20 Summit, whether we are talking about the gathering of heads of state or the actions on the street, were political in nature, in that they affect us on both a micro and macro level.

Secondly, the abuse of authority is something that has preoccupied me since my days as both an elementary and secondary student within the Catholic school system, years during which I and many others were both psychologically and physically abused by nuns, priests, and lay teachers. But that topic deserves its own series of posts, which I may get to one of these days.

The third reason for my seeming obsession with the G20 fiasco is that how we define ourselves as Canadians is in no small part contingent upon the freedoms that we enjoy and far too often take for granted. While all of them are essential rights of citizenship, several of them were curtailed and, I would submit, unconstitutionally violated during the G20 in Toronto: freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of the press.

One of the things I find especially troubling is the fact that many people, while enjoying their freedom of expression, have weighed in on these violations as if their inappropriateness is dependent upon whether or not we agree with the protesters. Several have said that peaceful protesters should have stayed away, that law-abiding citizens move when a police officer tell them to move, etc. Such comments seem to indicate a fundamental lack of understanding of the concept of civil rights. Whether or not we agree with a cause has nothing to do with permitting the expression of that cause, as long as it is done within the boundaries of the law.

And that to me is the crux of the matter: there is ample evidence emerging that countless people committing no crimes were swept up in often violent mass arrests. This fact is not something to be facilely dismissed by anyone, whether you are a Premier, a police chief, a journalist or a private citizen, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum. To do so is to further diminish those rights, leaving them open to the possibility of even worse abuse in the future.

So as long as questions remain and answers are withheld, I will be writing about this topic frequently. As well, I shall continue to reproduce stories from newspapers that I think are relevant, largely because most of those stories tend to be archived after seven days and thus no longer readily available.

Enough said for now.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A Shocking Story From the G20

I just found a shocking story of a 57-year-old Thorold amputee who suffered incredible abuse at the hands of police while sitting at Queens Park on June 26th with his daughter and two other young people.

Click here to read about it.

Public Pressure is Paying Off

Public pressure seems to be getting some results, judging by the decision of the Toronto Police Services Board to call for an independent inquiry into police abuse of authority during the G20 Summit in Toronto. This marks a reversal from last week, when the head of the board said no inquiry was needed, echoing the sentiments of both Police Chief Bill Blair and Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Here is the story from today's Globe and Mail:

Independent review of Toronto Police G20 conduct moves ahead

Turnabout comes just days after chair denied the need for civilian probe; Will look at ‘oversight, governance and policy’ on summit security

Anna Mehler Paperny

Globe and Mail Update Published on Tuesday, Jul. 06, 2010 9:58AM EDT Last updated on Tuesday, Jul. 06, 2010 10:03AM EDT

In an about-face, Toronto police are moving to establish an independent civilian review of police conduct during the G20.

Alok Mukherjee, chair of the civilian body that oversees the police, put the motion forward just days after he said he sees no need for an external review despite strident calls to the contrary.

The review, which would scrutinize issues related to police “oversight, governance and policy” during and leading up to the summit weekend, when police arrested more than 1,000 people – only 263 of whom were charged with anything other than breach of peace.

Both police chief Bill Blair and Toronto Mayor David Miller defended police actions last week; in an interview with The Globe, Mr. Mukherjee said last week there was no need for an independent review after the force announced it was conducting its own inspection.

But he added that police may have made a mistake by failing to tell the public they'd misinterpreted added powers given police by the province.

Tuesday's move is a “prompt response” to reactions to G20 policing, Mr. Mukherjee told the police services board.

“This is a fairly complex issue we're trying to deal with,” he said. “It was a federal event and it presents some interesting issues of oversight and governance. This is just the first step in that process.”