Monday, December 17, 2012

It's A Jubilee!

Well, you could have knocked me down with a feather.

I got an email at the end of last week inviting me to attend a ceremony at the Ontario Legislature today for the awarding of the famous (infamous) Queen's 60th Jubilee Medals. There was no indication on the email or attached invitation who was to receive the medal.

To make a long story short, it turned out to be me, although the first actual confirmation I had was when I checked in at the ceremony reception desk this morning. The clerk looked at me oddly when I asked if I was indeed on the list to receive a medal today, and pointed to my name in the program.

The Jubilee Medal has had a checkered history, with it going to a lot of * ahem * interesting recipients. There are also a number of * ahem * interesting NGO "partners" chosen by the Conservative Government with allotments going to them. Then there are the two women awarded the medal by a Conservative MP who had or were serving time for their anti-abortion protests.

Conservative MPs were publicized using the medal as a reward for campaign workers, contributors and for other partisan political purposes inconsistent with the stated purpose of "awarding outstanding citizens who have achieved excellence and demonstrated a commitment to the growth and prosperity of our country".

When someone said they wanted to nominate me for my various charitable and non-profit work, I frankly told them not to waste their time. I have been more than a little cheeky towards the Harper Government (as anyone reading my tweets or this blog knows), and I figured my nomination had about as much chance getting through the PMO as a Liberal Senate appointment. I've also been cheeky - OK, downright insulting - about the medal itself, because some Conservative MPs have made a mockery of the entire selection process and I've let them know it.

What I didn't count on was that the Government of Ontario had its own allotment of awards they pooled and awarded independently of MPs or MPPs on a much more impartial basis (imagine that).

I have to admit that for a couple of minutes I thought about turning the medal down (OK - a couple of seconds). But then I thought, it might even be more annoying to Harper & Co to know that I sneaked through the partisan cracks and snatched one away that otherwise might have gone to some Conservative campaign manager or someone known for throwing rubber fetuses. Plus, and I'll admit it, it's cool to have a medal. And it is an honour.

So the long and the short of it is, I'm now the recipient of the Jubilee Medal, and I'll wear it proudly every time I write a snarky tweet about the Harper Government.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Phoney War On Christmas

"Lee, this is one Santa that's going out the front door."

December 15, 2012

It seems a media staple to dust off every year a story about the “war on Christmas”.

The annual anti-Christmas story usually goes along the lines of someone tries to keep a nativity scene from being erected on a library lawn or a tree from a city hall lawn, usually in the US. People line up on either side and in the end everyone stomps off muttering “bah, humbug” or the like.

These Christmas kerfuffles make good reading, and inspire no end of alarmist letters to the editor about whether you’ll soon go to jail for wishing anyone a Merry Christmas, but the defenders of Christmas miss two important points.

The first is you’ll be hard pressed to find a city or town in North America that isn’t done up in lights, holly, garlands, tinsel, angels and trees on December 25th. Stores play Christmas carols from November 1st right through to New Years.

Christmas is in no danger of disappearing and Christians are not likely to be forced into the catacombs anytime soon.

The second and bigger point to keep in mind is that Christmas – the holiday if not the religious festival – is enjoyed by people from an astounding variety of cultures and other religions.

I worked in a small office with two Jewish partners. They wouldn’t let me put up a Christmas tree. Why? Because they wanted to put it up themselves.

I had a Christmas tree at home, they argued, so I should let them have the fun of putting it up at the office. By the time they were finished with the tree and angels, the office looked more Christmassy than my living room.

This week I was in our local dollar store getting stocking stuffers for the family. I passed on the canned prunes from Yemen and tins of sardines with Arabic labels and instead went for the easily breakable toys.

Behind the counter the owners had a little shrine to Ganeesh – Hindu god of prosperity and good fortune. That didn’t stop them from wearing Santa hats. “Merry Christmas” they called out to me on my way out past the collection of plastic crèches.

Some will complain the rampant commercialism is ruining it and Jesus wasn’t about selling flat screen TVs at 40% off. Just remember there have been people selling junk to pilgrims and outside of churches for more than a thousand years. We’ve survived.

My Jewish friends take no offence when I offer them a “Merry Christmas” because they know I’ll also wish them a Happy Hanukkah.

Some Christians insist that the “keep the Christ in Christmas” means keeping everyone else out – that somehow sharing it diminishes it. Often the ones who don’t want to share are the same people who say Christmas is under attack.

I have friends who are ministers and priests and make their living as professional Christians. Presumably they know a thing or two about the Christmas season.

Their opinion? Christmas may be for the faithful, but it’s also for sharing with anyone who wants to embrace the spirit of the season.

That spirit is about peace on Earth and goodwill towards all men. It’s about counting your many blessings and being mindful of the needs of those less fortunate. It’s about forgiving past feuds and putting love and kindness in your heart, hopefully not just for a couple of weeks a year but every day.

So don’t worry – Christmas is alive and well, and it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

©  Stephen Lautens 2012

Behind the Paywall

The Calgary Sun started to put online content behind a paywall starting December 4th. I had no idea they were going to do this, but then, I'm just a regular freelancer so I don't have access to the inner workings of the Sun Media empire.

The actual deal is you get 20 free "Sun+" views before you have to pay, but some people find they use them up pretty fast, especially if you click on links on Twitter. You may not even know you're using them when you click.

Being a freelancer in a unique situation at the Calgary Sun (even though I've been a weekly feature for the past 15 years) I'm able to post my own columns here a day after they come out in the Calgary Sun. No paywall - no begging buttons. Just free electrons for you to enjoy.

The Calgary Sun has been archiving my columns on their columnist page so you can browse backwards, but that's is now behind the paywall too. While they were doing the archiving work for me (and missing the occasional one as their Internet elves fell asleep on the job), I was - let's be honest - lazy and let them do it.

No more.

Now I will create my own archive here on my blog. Because the Calgary Sun has what is called "first publication rights" and my column generally appears on Saturday in the actual paper, I'll post here on Sunday as soon as I get a coffee into me (and only if I think the column is any good- I reserve the right to not post if I think it sucks that week).

Thanks for reading,


PS - more free columns here from 1997-2003

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Great Helmsman

Here's a little poster I whipped up to commemorate Chairman Harper's 5 pm on a Friday approval of the sale of Nexen to Chinese State Owned Enterprise CNOOC. Oddly, his Conservative base in Alberta is deafening in their silence following the announcement, where selling off oil assets to foreign nationals is like the Vatican putting the Holy Grail out at a yard sale.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Charlie McCarthyism

From the Hill Times Online - Nov. 29, 2012:

"Conservative MPs have pushed through an unprecedented motion at the Commons Natural Resources Committee calling Liberal leadership front-runner Justin Trudeau for a grilling over political comments he made two years ago alleging a negative Alberta influence over federal, social, and democratic policies through Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government.
The Conservative motion also called Liberal MP David McGuinty (Ottawa South, Ont.) to appear, at a date that has not yet been scheduled, and explain critical comments he made to journalists about the political positions of Alberta MPs and their approach to national government."

My question is, what committee will Stephen Harper appear before to explain this regional howler?

"You have to remember that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada; people who live in ghettos and are not integrated into Western Canadian society." 

Or for that matter, any of the many in this 474-page binder of Harper clunkers prepared by the Conservative Party to be ready to defend some of his more offensive public statements.

Natural Resources (!?!) may be the appropriate committee for this outrageous bit of vintage Conservative McCarthyism, since the committee members' heads are clearly made out of wood.

As Twitterer @myinwit wrote, The Conservatives have effectively created the "House Committee on Un-Albertan Activities".

I'm sure it will be a big hit with the Quebec voters in the next general election.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lest We Forget Harry...

My Remembrance Day column from November 11, 1997 
I always think of my great uncle, Harry Elwood George, on Remembrance Day. 
A few years ago a distant cousin sent me a copy of the letters he sent home from the trenches in World War I. To me, they say more than all the parades and speeches in the world.

Even though Harry George's parents had come to Canada from Germany, Harry joined the Canadian 32nd Battalion in October 1914. 

He was a bugler, but as he soon wrote home, "I'm no longer a bugler as they have no use for them at the front." Harry threw away his Ross rifle and picked up a more reliable Enfield from "the first fellow I saw knocked out."

His letters home speak matter-of-factly about the horrors of war. On August 23, 1915 he wrote from France that "We have had the roughest time yet. Of the 38 in our platoon that went into the trenches, only 18 are left after about one and a half hours."

In 1915 his parents were informed that Uncle Harry had died of wounds. To their surprise, they later received a letter from him that said: "Oh, you may be surprised to hear from me now as, according to what I hear, I'm supposed to be dead." 

Two years later he was at Vimy Ridge. With typical Canadian enthusiasm he wrote: "Vimy Ridge was the best fight I have been in. We made three attacks in the week. It was great to go over the top at them." He emerged from that great bloodbath unscathed.

He spent his 26th birthday in France, having been promoted to lieutenant. A month later, he again went over the top, but this time as an officer. He wrote home: "After all, to be killed in action is not the worst thing that can happen to a man." Harry had already seen things much worse. 

But two months later in a little place called Passchendale he "connected" with a piece of shrapnel. He didn't think anything of it because it only took off a little skin. It was only when he was bandaging a comrade that he realized he had been shot through the arm as well.
It was on that sick leave that he met and got engaged to my great aunt Gertie.

Harry never regained the use of his right hand, but others weren't so lucky. A friend, Harry Wildman "had his right thigh and base of his spine smashed." Percy Chiswell lost and eye and most of an ear. Of another friend, Dolph Campbell, Harry wrote that he "will not be back, but nobody knows what really happened to him." 

And then there was the dead. 

Three of his friends from the bugle band were killed in the first week in the trenches. Of the friends who were with him at the Somme, only two came back. Harry's cousin Lamont Paterson, the best man at his wedding, was killed in his first time over the top on September 1, 1918.

But Uncle Harry survived the war, and was sent home a captain. He was eventually made a colonel. He brought my great aunt Gertie to Canada and had four children.

Although he died in 1952, I feel like I know Harry through these remarkable letters passed down by the family. 

And I realize how lucky I am that there were people like Harry Elwood George who were willing to fight and die for this country, and for people like you and me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Very Scary! Conservative Horror Movie Posters

In honour of Halloween, here's a couple of scary Conservative horror movie posters.  

More to come...

And finally, has anyone else ever pictured Rob Anders dressed up like Anthony Perkins' mother in Psycho? No? Just me? Never mind then...

Monday, October 22, 2012

Even Even More CPC De-Motivational Posters

It comes at you so fast sometimes it's hard to keep on top of the outrage. Time to put together some of my recent Conservative De-Motivational Posters™ from my Twitter posts.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Return of the Killer Legislation

The Return of the Omnibus Bill. Revenge of the Omnibus Bill Part II. Son of Omnibus Bill.

Any way you slice it, it's a horror movie for democracy.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Omar Khadr and "Treason"

A tiny "grass roots" group with a history of taking up anti-Omar Khadr causes has launched a new petition to have Khadr charged with treason.

This suggestion comes up frequently as the "go to" excuse to extend, enlarge and otherwise crank up the punishment already levied on child soldier Omar Khadr.

Occasionally it pays to open a law book or two when suggesting serious criminal charges, and they don't get much more serious than treason. As a lawyer myself, the first thing I do is look up the law to make sure I don't look foolish from the get go. Not so for these so-called citizen advocacy groups.

If they had looked up the actual law of treason in Canada they would have found sections 46 to 50 of the Criminal Code, specifically section 48:

 (1) No proceedings for an offence of treason as defined by paragraph 46(2)(a) shall be commenced more than three years after the time when the offence is alleged to have been committed.
(Canadian Criminal Code section 48

There is a similar statute of limitation against the more serious "high treason", which includes war against Canada and its allies contained in s. 46(1) (see: STEPHEN, James Fitzjames, 1829-1894, A History of the Criminal Law of England, London: MacMillan, 1883, vol. 2, see Chapter XVI, "Time" at pp. 1-2; "Prosecutions for high treason, other than treason by assassinating the sovereign, and for misprision of treason, must be prosecuted within three years (7 & 8 Will. 3, c. 3, ss. 5, 6)"

That's right. If the Canadian government wanted to charge Khadr with treason, it had to do it within 3 years of the offence - that means by 2005 at the latest. No extensions past 3 years from 2002.  

And they didn't. End of story. Petition all you like, it's not the law.

Some enterprising individuals with a feeble grasp of law - both statute law and "natural law" that have governed us for centuries - have suggested that we should just change the law to suit these particular circumstances and then apply them retroactively against Khadr.

No. No. No.

One of the great principles of western and particularly English common law is that you can't retroactively create offences. If it isn't a crime at the time you do it, you can't be charged. If you are not charged within the period, you can't be charged. 

This is the great legal tradition that is the safeguard against tyranny. If the government of the day can create new offences or laws that have retroactive effect, then no one is safe. 

Go back and change the tax rates for the last 5 years so you owe more money? Change the speed limit on highways and give everyone a ticket? Make it a criminal offence to insult the Prime Minister starting the beginning of last year and put all critics in jail?

One of the earmarks of dictatorships is they do retroactively create and apply laws. Hitler did. Some modern tyrannies do. It is a way to silence enemies. No one is safe from the one thing that preserves liberty for all - the rule of law and knowing what the law is today so we know we are not breaking any.

So you can't go back and change a law about treason (assuming anyone would be willing to use this legal tool which is also the last resort of tyrants) or anything else to catch someone after the fact.

You don't even have to go to law school to know this great tradition of British justice - just read your Rumpole of the Bailey. Or rent the videos.

Also inconveniently for the would-be Khadr persecutors, treason outside of Canada only applies to Canadian citizens (Canadian Criminal Code, section 46(3)), something they also continually seek a means to deprive him of. For the record, it also is impossible to strip a native-born Canadian of their citizenship under our and international law, so stop suggesting it.

The rule of law is what preserves our liberty and democracy, and these cheap attempts to bend or break it threatens us all in ways that Omar Khadr never could.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Inspect Your Meat

From the CBC: 

"The recall of meat products from a processing plant in Alberta due to possible E. coli contamination has been expanded to include every province and territory, 40 states in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency said Tuesday it has now recalled more than 1,500 beef products in Canada from the XL Foods meat processing plant in Brooks, Alta."

Of course the Harper cuts to inspectors and reliance on industry self-regulation has nothing to do with this massive E. coli outbreak...


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ye Olde Podcast Shoppe

Just started to create podcasts from my weekly column for those of you who like to keep their hands free. What you do with your hands is your business.

Click here to see - or hear them.

Harper Bumper Stickers Collection

By semi-popular demand, here is my collection of Conservative Bumper Stickers I created for the Twitter tag #HarperBumperStickers. Maybe I'll bring them out as real bumper stickers just before the next election. Enjoy.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Mysterious Islands

The illustration Enbridge presented for the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline and tanker route seems to have left out about 1,000 square kilometres of islands in the Douglas Channel including the narrow channels, islands and rocky outcrops that would make a potential tanker access route a little trickier than open water.

Here's the map as presented and with the missing islands added back in.

"That video is meant to be for illustrative purposes only. It's not meant to be to scale. It's meant to illustrate the pipeline route, not the marine aspects of the operation," said Enbridge spokesman Todd Nogier.

So it's an illustration not meant to be "illustrative". Gotcha.
To help "illustrate" how easy it is to get oil from Alberta to the Pacific Coast, I offer Enbridge the below map with other pesky geographic details fixed (like removing B.C. entirely) "for illustrative purposes only."

Sunday, August 5, 2012

It's So Wrong

This column originally appeared in the Calgary Sun on March 8, 2012

I’m wrong.
There – I said it. I admit it freely.
What am I wrong about? It doesn’t really matter. Take your pick. On any given day I’m wrong about a lot of things, and those are just the ones I know about.
What I’m trying to get at is, why is it so difficult to say that you’re wrong?
Maybe it starts in school where we heap praise on people with right answers and kids with wrong answers are made to feel dumb.
Of course right answers are important, but a wise man once said you can often learn more from a wrong one. And there are a lot of different kinds of right.
We all know someone who has to be right about everything. Sometimes they’re at work, or on the parent-teacher committee with you, the kid’s sports team, or even in your own family. Even when confronted with absolute proof, they will never admit for a second they were wrong.
Marriages have ended because some people would rather be right than together.
While I like to be right as much as the next guy or gal, I gave up any hope of infallibility a long time ago. It doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions. I’ve got those by the truck full and I’m always willing to share. But I keep in mind the family motto my father picked out for us: “Always certain – but sometimes wrong.”
Ever since I gave up trying to be right all the time, I can focus on the real issue – not being wrong most of the time. Oddly, the secret to being right is not being afraid to be wrong.
Wondering if you are wrong opens the door to all kinds of possibilities. Self-doubt is the thing that progress is made out of. If we were always right, we’d never have to look into better ways of doing things. We’d walk past the truth because we wouldn’t have any reason to be on the lookout for it.
Sometimes you end up believing some pretty crazy things, like my friend who keeps emailing me “facts” like “the Mayo Clinic treats cancer with ordinary ketchup”, which I always send back with a link debunking them. Or my American friends who keep sending around easily dispelled stories about their President’s birth certificate or alleged Muslim faith.
Having an open mind doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have a hole in your head. You just need room to let in new ideas or test your own against the evidence. And unless you can admit to the possibility that you might be wrong, that’s not going to happen.
Imagine if our politicians weren’t afraid to admit when they were wrong, or that they hadn’t considered an important piece of information or another point of view. Would we think less of them for saying they were mistaken and changing their mind? I hope not.
There will always be people who want black and white answers in a shades of grey world, or are only interested in things that confirm they were right all along. In every sense of the word, they’ll never learn.
When you do admit that you’re wrong or that you don’t know the answer, people want to help you. They know it’s tough to admit it and most are prepared to forgive and move on. Being able to change your mind is a sign of strength and maturity.
Trust me – I’m 100% right about this. 
(c) Stephen Lautens

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

MacKay History - A Proud Heritage Moment

Harper's Conservatives are spending more than $28 million on the War of 1812 celebrations. With that in mind, you think they could get the basic facts right - like who it was we were fighting.

Peter MacKay spoke as Canada's representative at the French embassy’s celebration of Bastille Day (July 14th). The French were politiely surprised by his speech, since MacKay praised France’s government and the contribution the French made to the War of 1812. 

The Minister said: “Suffice it to say in the 200th commemoration of the War of 1812, had the French not been here fighting side by side, we might be standing here next to each other in a new light.”

Of course the French were not "fighting side by side" with us - we were fighting them, or at least England was. Anyone remember Napoleon? He's who England was fighting when it spilled over here and the US attacked Canada when they thought England had their hands full with the French.

Ever to jump on ridiculous gaffes, Twitter was quick to respond with a new hashtag: #MacKayHistory - telling it like it ought to be, but wasn't. I thought I'd preserve a few of my contributions for posterity ~ 

 The lesson? Books - it's important to read them... Especially if you are a government that claims to have all the answers.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Summer of De-Motivation

Here are a couple of new Conservative De-Motivational Posters fresh off the assembly line.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Beard Attack!

Not content to do badly at a single medium, I decided to branch out and try a little video cabaret. The result - my faux Conservative attack ad showing why you shouldn't trust Mulcair.

Who knows? With my near-mastery of another technology you may soon see me video blogging like some 14 year old xBox gamer.

By the way - the video seems to act like some political Rorschach test. I've actually had messages from Conservatives saying they liked it. Irony much?

YouTube Poster Slideshow!

I've also collected some of my Conservative De-Motivational posters and set them to ominous music on YouTube. No more tedious flipping through individual poster images by hand. What is this, the Dark Ages?

Here's Part 1 - I'll post the other 30 or so when I get around to it. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Death of Evidence - The Poster!

Here's a new Conservative De-motivational poster I made just for the good people at You know, it's important to support smart people...

And another just because we all like dinosaurs...