Wednesday, November 11, 2015

How To Remove a Federally-Appointed Judge in Canada

With the shocking behaviour of Alberta Provincial Court Judge Robin Camp (since appointed to the Federal Court by Peter MacKay in a last gasp list of 2015 judicial appointments before the election), there is much confusion about how to actuallt discipline and/or remove a sitting federally-appointed judge. 

The long-standing traditional of judicial independence that goes back to 1703 means judges are secure from arbitrary dismissal or political interference. That is an important safeguard of both justice and democracy.

But what happens when a judge's behavour questions their fitness to remain on the bench? The following is an extract from my article in Canadian Lawyer Magazine from May, 2015 that discusses the procedure in Canada.

The Canadian Judicial Council was created in 1971 under the Judges Act with “the mandate to promote efficiency, uniformity, and accountability, and to improve the quality of judicial service in the superior courts of Canada.” The most significant part of the CJC’s legislative mandate is to review any complaint or allegation made about any of the more than 1100 federally appointed judges. It created a procedural framework for dealing with complaints. 

The Canadian Judicial Council is chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, who presides over 38 other Council members, who are the chief justices and associate chief justices of Canada’s superior courts, the senior judges of the territorial courts, and the Chief Justice of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada. There are no lay members on the CJC.

Complaints against sitting judges come from a variety of sources. In the age of self-representation, a number come from litigants or the criminally accused, unhappy with their up close and personal encounters with the pointy end of justice. Some come from members of the public unhappy with the actions or comments of judges as reported in the media. Others come from members of the legal profession unhappy with their interactions with the judiciary. Under the statute, requests to review a judge’s conduct can also come from a provincial Attorney General or the federal Minister of Justice. Complaints can be made anonymously. 

The CJC has a published complaints procedure policy. Frivolous or meritless complaints about a judge are weeded out shortly after intake by the Executive Director. These may be complaints about things other than the judge’s conduct, or complaints that do not fall under the CJC’s jurisdiction. Of the 555 complaint letters received by the CJC in 2013-14, some 222 were classified in their Annual Report as “mandate” letters, indicating they were not about matters within the CJC’s jurisdiction or mandate. A further 19 letters received by the CJC were simply deemed “irrational”. 

The CJC received fewer than 25 complaints a year in its first decade, rising steadily to pass 100 per year in 1990-91. For the next decade it averaged 167 complaints a year. That number hasn’t changed dramatically since 2002.

Complaints not rejected at intake are passed to the Chairperson of the CJC, or one of the Vice Chairs, who can close the file as without merit, with or without the input of the judge complained of or his or her Chief Justice. Alternately the Chairperson can refer the complaint onto the next stage, a Review Panel of three or five judges, which can decide to refer a complaint to a full inquiry. It can’t call witnesses or compel the production of documents, but can ask for the assistance of outside counsel. It too can close the file and write a warning letter to the judge about any concerns regarding his or her behaviour but otherwise cannot take any disciplinary action.

If the Review Panel feels the “matter may be serious enough to warrant removal” it will refer a complaint to an Inquiry Committee, which can investigate, and hire its own and independent counsel to assemble and present information. This has only been done 8 times since 1971. The Inquiry Committee normally holds a public hearing, where the judge and the complainant can attend and give evidence about the matter that led to the complaint. The Inquiry Committee prepares a report, which goes to the full Canadian Judicial Council for discussion and decision as to whether it will recommend the removal of the judge by Parliament.

The Canadian Judicial Council has only recommended three times to remove a judge from office since it was created in 1971. In reality, however, as the CJC’s website points out, “Parliament has never had to face such a situation, but sometimes a judge will retire or resign before that step is taken.”

© Stephen Lautens 2015

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Man Who Enjoyed Vimy Ridge

As far as I know, we only have one war hero in the family - my great great uncle Harry Ellwood George. He was my paternal grandmother's uncle. His family were the Georges, who came to Canada in the 1840s from Hessen, Germany. By 1914 they were Canadian enough for Harry to volunteer in Saskatoon for active service to fight against his parents' homeland (having changed their name from "Georg" to the more British-sounding "George").

And serve he did - Hill 60, the Somme, Paschendaele and Vimy, and a lot of places in between. He was wounded, declared dead for a week and rose from private to the rank of Lieutenant before retiring a Captain and dying in the 1950s as a reservist Colonel. He constantly survived the middle of the various meat grinders of The Great War while others weren't so lucky, and as the most senior man left standing he rose through the ranks. No shirker, he picked up a bullet and a piece of shrapnel that left one arm almost useless at war's end. And he was "mentioned in dispatches" for something gallant, although we don't know what.

One quote from his letter home after being in the thick of the fighting at Vimy Ridge gives you a sense of the man:

"Vimy Ridge was the best fight I have been in. Our casualties were light and I really did enjoy it. We made three attacks in the week. It was great to go over the top at them, and there seems to be no thought of danger.”

So there you have it - a relative of mine actually enjoyed the battle of Vimy Ridge.

Through it all he didn't have any animosity towards the Germans. They were just doing their duty trying to kill him as he was trying to kill them. They cheerfully waved at each other over the parapets when a shot went wide to let the enemy know they had missed. He was full of less love for the French villagers, who he saw as sullen, unhelpful and willing to jack up the price of an egg when the buyer was in uniform.

I never knew him, but he came home and readapted quickly to civilian life. Was he tormented by the war that took most of the friends he had signed up with? Who knows? It was before my time, but people who knew him said he remained kind and funny until a heart attack spectacularly took him away while driving, and he and his car went over the side of a bridge.

Here's to you Harry.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Women in Politics

With the ridiculous fuss being raised about Justin Trudeau seeking gender parity in his new cabinet, I remembered I wrote a column back in 2008 about the value of women politicians. It was in the wake of Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier leaving sensitive documents at his girlfriend's house. It was also before Bev Oda and her $16 orange juice and stay at the Savoy proved me wrong...


Vote For Your Local Woman

The resignation of former Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier has been splashed all over the papers, with the predictable denials, half-apologies, accusations of a witch-hunt, frame-up and cover-up.

The whole thing has led me to one sad conclusion – men are not temperamentally suited for politics. Let’s face it, men have never really been good at getting things done. We’ll start a lot of things, but how many do we actually finish?

The part of politics that involves strutting around and making promises we don’t intend to remember let alone keep, that part we’re good at. We’re also good at standing in the Commons or Legislature and insulting other men, and then challenging them to say it outside. Photo-ops, self-congratulatory speeches, we’ve got that covered. In short, any of the peacock-type aspects of politics, men are your man, so to speak.

But if you want anything of substance done, we all know you have to give it to a woman. If it is difficult, dirty and thankless, a woman is your man. And if it’s a question of judgment, my money is on the opposite sex any day of the week.

And back to the topic of sex, I bet we’d have a lot fewer sex scandals in politics if women ran the show. Can you imagine Margaret Thatcher with a boy toy, or Indira Gandhi? Do you think Hillary would have been caught with a frowsy political aide in the Oval office like husband Bill Clinton? Most of the time men have one thing on their mind – two if it is dinnertime. In spite of movies like “Sex in the City”, most women of my acquaintance unfortunately are not consumed 24 hours a day with thoughts of a frisky nature.

Now, I know a woman was involved in the current “Mad Max” scandal, but no one is questioning her judgment. Okay – maybe dating a Conservative cabinet minister doesn’t show the best taste, but secret government documents weren’t the kind of political briefs at the heart of her relationship.

I think women politicians would also be less likely to forget sensitive documents and leave them lying around. Women know where things are and where to find them in any household, and since men are lacking in their domestic duties, it’s unlikely we’ll find any lost items while cleaning.

One thing is for sure, women also have a clearer sense of what is actually needed. I have no doubt that a government run by women would solve more of our social problems in a month than the last ten governments combined. You can bet that the healthcare and education crises would be fixed, and we’d have a national system of daycare by next Thursday at the latest.

Corruption in high places? Not in a female government. Once you take sex and booze out of the equation, I think you’ll find that drops off too. High priced travel junkets? Not going to happen. When was the last time a woman took a selfish vacation when everyone catered to her instead of her ending up in a kitchenette in another country?

The justice system would be cleaned up in a hurry as well. I think most families were like mine – if you had to confess to some minor infraction, you tried to get dad to deal with it before mom found out. No one liked to face the wrath of mom. She could have run on a law and order ticket.

The problem is getting men to vote for someone who is that good for us.

© Stephen Lautens 2008

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Stephen+Steven Show - Election Post Mortem.

The Stephen+Steven show is back with a wrap up of what happened election night and where do we go from here. Plus the Zen of the Liberal campaign, the NDP's collapse and putting spackle on Harper's legacy.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Niqabs, The NDP & Quebec

Even as history is being written, it is being re-written.

We are only a few short days after the federal election and we already have people trying to both make sense of it and rewrite what happened so they make sense in retrospect.

In dodging the blame for the Conservative collapse, Harper's MPs (the surviving ones, anyway) are already distancing themselves from the train wreck that was #elxn42. It is usual to blame the organizers of a losing campaign. Calgary Conservative MP Ron Liepert has talked about troubles at the top. Others are starting to say, after years of cheerfully regurgitating PMO talking points and clapping in the House of Commons like exceptionally well trained seals, that they have had their doubts about Harper's leadership style and direction for the Conservatives for a while.

The NDP is in a hunt for a plausible reason for their electoral collapse. They are not willing to admit that the first thing to realize is that the 2011 results were an anomaly. A bad Liberal campaign where Harper hammered away at them giving the NDP a free ride combined with the emotional reaction to an energetic and dying Jack Layton gave them a once in a lifetime nexus of popularity. They mistakenly believed they had turned the corner to permanent ideological acceptance and love by the Canadian voters. They hadn't, and it's hard for them to accept. The NDP in ascendance is not the new normal, typified by the election literature claiming the NDP only needed a few dozen "extra" seats to form the government, as if the ones they had going into the election were in the bag.

Instead the NDP tumbled from 103 seats and 30.6% of the popular vote in 2011 to 44 seats and 19.7% of the popular vote in 2015, losing some 963,000 votes in the process. In 2011 the NDP had a breakthrough 59 seats in Quebec, reduced to only 16 in 2015. Thirty of these losses were to the Liberals, with a surprising 7 lost to the Conservatives and the rest to the Bloc.

Looking for a reason for this reversal of the orange wave of 2011 after the NDP had a chance to dig in and fortify their hold on these Quebec ridings, a common talking point has emerged since Monday. As Gerry Caplan voiced:

Of course it's also arguable that the NDP made the ultimate sacrifice: In the face of Harper cynically playing the anti-Muslim card, the NDP threw away votes on a matter of principle -- supporting the right to wear a niqab -- and indeed fully paid the penalty for doing so. It cost the party their Quebec base, and with it any reason why the large "Anyone But Harper" crowd across the country should think of supporting the NDP. The noise you heard in the last week of the campaign was of progressive ABH voters flocking in their tens of thousands to the Liberals.
(Italics added)

It sounds noble and high-principled, except for the fact that the Liberals had the exact same policy towards the niqab ban as the NDP. Liberal leader Trudeau voiced his opposition to the ban on many occasions before and after the election campaign. You're not going to leave someone over a position on an issue if the person they go to supports the same position. Still, it's an appealing if unsupportable theory if you are the NDP - you lost votes over supporting a just and noble principle. It has been repeated many times now and some will accept it as gospel as it fits the NDP narrative as being too good for politics. It's just that it isn't true - at least not on the niqab issue and the Liberals. Perhaps in their loss of the 7 Quebec seats to the Conservatives and 9 to the Bloc.

There are lots of other reasons for the crash back to earth of the NDP. Just as they had an orange crush the pendulum has swung the other way with a red tide. The 2011 election for the NDP was not "the new normal" as they would like to believe which makes its return to third party status such a disappointment after travelling from Official Opposition to possible majority, to kingmaker in a minority to largely ignorable. As the NDP moves forward into a dissection of the 2015 election they could find many reasons for their fall - peaking too early, adopting an austerity no-deficit financial platform, a leader who came across as petulant and stodgy, and negative campaigning.

The one thing it was not, at least in Quebec as far as losing ground to the Liberals, was the niqab.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Election Editorial - The Great War for Civilization

I’ve been called a “partisan” on Twitter and elsewhere, and indeed I am. I have a long-held set of beliefs and preferences and I suppose that makes me a partisan. In the fullest disclosure, about 20 years ago I was a very active Liberal. I even ran (once) in the 1995 Ontario provincial election under the Liberal banner and lost in the first sweep of Mike Harris’ neo-con Common Sense Revolution that Ontario is still recovering from.

In my own defence, I mostly disengaged from active politics after that. I let my Liberal Party membership lapse and did my best to avoid the fundraising dinners and election campaigns. I was still an avid observer of politics, just not part of the front-line troops.

Then two things happened. The first was Harper, particularly when he won his majority in 2011 and had free reign to pursue his narrow and mean vision of Canada. I realized Harper’s Conservatives were something completely new and dangerous on the Canadian political landscape. They hated – and that is not too strong a word – most of what the Canada I grew up in stood for. They hated multiculturalism. They hated the Charter of Rights. They hated Canada’s role as a balanced and nuanced international peacekeeper. They hated a state that collected taxes and used them to care for its citizens – especially those the Victorians called “the undeserving poor.” In effect, they hated the last 50 years of Canadian history.

The other thing that happened was Twitter. I had already been writing for years for various newspapers (mostly in the Sun chain) and was an intermittent blogger. Someone suggested I try Twitter and I was hooked. Not only did I get to meet a lot of interesting people, it became my news aggregator, letting me read stories from all over.  It also seemed to suit my own style – short, irreverent and smart-assy. It became a place for people to re-engage in politics as newspapers and media outlets became concentrated in ever-diminishing hands. It is a relentless fact-checker in a world of spin. It also proved to be a fertile place for complete nutjobs, the ill-informed and odious trolls.

Twitter has also grown in relevance since the last election. It is now a source for both investigative and lazy journalists to find breaking stories and pull together threads of emerging ones. A meme can take off and crush a politician in hours, escaping into mainstream media because of its immediacy. I have to say I love Twitter and #cdnpoli.

But back to being a partisan. For years my goal has been simple – point out the many hypocrisies of the Harper Conservatives and their relentless efforts to dismantle the Canada I (and many others) love. As a lawyer and someone very concerned about legal rights, a lot of my writing has been about Harper’s hatred for the courts and the Charter, since they stand consistently between him and his efforts to remake Canada in his own harsh and draconian image. We have never had a government before that has deliberately and joyfully passed laws any second year law student could tell you breaches Canadians’ fundamental rights. Department of Justice lawyers constantly advise the Harper government that their proposed legislation is almost certainly unconstitutional, and their advice is brushed aside as it does not fit the Conservative narrative. Harper also refuses to recognize that Parliament is also subject to the law and specifically subject to the Charter. Like so many demagogues, he believes in the “higher authority” of the “will of the people” (embodied in him with his 39% of the popular vote) that trumps things like fundamental rights. His contempt of the courts and the rule of law is unprecedented, and extremely dangerous in a democracy.

I also love our Parliamentary system, imperfect as it is. I had the honour to work in Ottawa in the early 1980s for a senator and cabinet minister. As a result, I have a soft spot for the Senate, which until it was stuffed with hacks, crooks and the unqualified, actually did important legislative work, particularly in committees. Yes – since 1867 it has been a dumping ground for cronies, but it still serves an important parliamentary function. What it really needs – among other things – is a better appointment process, but it defies reform or abolishment. Like Harper, Mr. Mulcair is not being honest when he says he’ll abolish or starve it out of existence. The first is almost impossible according to the courts under the constitution, and the second is illegal, like starving the Supreme Court of judges and money because you don’t like their decisions.

I got to meet Pierre Trudeau on several occasions. He was a complex man and I was a fan, although I recognize he had significant blind spots. His best work was in his final term, notably the Charter. I remember seeing him often walking across the lawn to the House of Commons chatting with an aide or minister, no bodyguards in sight. He occasionally said “hi.”

I have to say that I initially had several misgivings about Justin Trudeau’s leadership bid. Dispassionately I did wonder if he had what it takes. While in the real world lightening does in fact often strike twice, in the political world it rarely does. Pierre as a father was a mixed political blessing to some, but through friends who were close to Trudeau senior I heard what a loving but not indulgent father he was. In spite of his money, Pierre Trudeau lived fairly modestly (he has been described by those who knew him as a little bit cheap) and never got away from the Jesuit discipline of his youth. He raised his kids that way as well.

This is a good time for a disclaimer: I have never met Justin Trudeau. As a pure outsider it seems to me that Justin grew up with something his father didn’t have. Pierre Trudeau could be charming (when he felt like it), but was not that comfortable with the political glad-handing of people. He got better at it as his career progressed, but he was at heart a loner, and I’ll leave it to biographers to decide if he was shy or arrogant. Justin seems to be genuinely comfortable around people and crowds. Is it an act? I have no idea, but people close to him say it is genuine.  That easy charm has distinguished and buoyed him up in the current nasty campaign compared to Harper’s cold-fish mortician demeanour and Thomas Mulcair’s unblinking avuncular persona.

Harper seriously miscalculated spending the early part of his campaign trying to dismiss Trudeau as “not ready” because of his perceived naivety and youth. What he didn’t realize is that many Canadians were tired of Harper’s bloodlessness, lack of empathy and palpable mean-spiritedness that he brought to everything he did. Showcasing Trudeau’s freshness cast Harper’s own style into deeper contrast. As the campaign wore on, clearly Canadians were ready for a return to a kinder, gentler leadership.

That kinder, gentler leadership for a while belonged to the NDP, but a lot of it was frittered away by what people both inside and outside the NDP saw as sacrificing traditional ground in the quest for votes. The LEAP Manifesto had echoes of the Waffle, trying to remind the NDP of its leftist roots. The tension between ideology and power has always existed within the NDP, and it became more pronounced when it seemed Mulcair had a shot at being the first NDP prime minister. The NDP attacks on the Liberals were relentless, but, while intended to siphon votes off the Liberals next door, ultimately proved off-putting. Mulcair’s own style also showed cracks, especially with some of his petulant asides aimed mostly at Trudeau during the debates.

I have a lot of NDP friends and followers on Twitter (and in real life), and I certainly have a lot more in common with them than my handful of Conservative friends. I’m a resolutely left liberal – often more left than the Liberal Party itself. Nonetheless, I would not find myself comfortable in the NDP for at least three reasons:

1) While I support the great work unions have done, I am not a knee-jerk unionist. Like every human institution, they are sometimes right and sometimes wrong.
2) The NDP’s policy of Quebec separation being possible on a vote of 50% +1 is wrong and dangerous. Hopefully it doesn’t rear it’s ugly head again for a while.
3) While every party has its kooks (I've known a few), they are more plentiful as you approach the extremes of both left and right.

I should also add that I hate folk singing.

The idea that left Liberals can make the switch to the NDP simply doesn’t work for me, even though there are a lot of other individual policy items I could live with. Ideology matters. I don’t know why my NDP friends and Twitter followers don’t understand that ideology matters to others the same way to matters to them. For weeks I have been flooded with tweets promoting Mulcair and NDP policies, which I read with interest. I also get a steady stream of criticism from them of Trudeau and Liberal policies and news. I don’t generally engage in arguments on social media or block anyone because they support the NDP or don’t like the Liberals. At least I don’t generally start arguments, unless it’s a particularly idiotic troll (almost always Conservative) who is just too tempting a target for a metaphorical bop on the nose for pure entertainment value. Conservatives seem to be particularly ill-suited for the witty cut and thrust that makes social media so enjoyable.

I do find if I offer the slightest criticism of the NDP or Mulcair, I do get a torrent of outrage from my normally easygoing NDP friends and followers. There’s a passion and righteousness there that brooks no criticism, and the volume has been turned up as the election draws to a close and the NDP numbers fade.

I have also been critical of the Liberals. Being partisan doesn’t mean you’re brain dead. The 800-pound bear for left liberals is the Liberal Party’s support of bill C-51. I have to admit, like many, it troubles me greatly. I think it is terrible legislation and should be repealed. It was going to pass regardless due to Harper’s majority but I was disappointed with the Liberal support of it. I understand the politics that were originally behind supporting it and disagree. I publicly encouraged the Liberals to back out before the final vote, which would have opened up a new line of attack from the right but would have taken it away from the left (and from within). I thought there was an opportunity for a dignified exit from it, but Trudeau stuck with his support of it, although saying significant limits and safeguards will be added along with other amendments. I hope so, because it is terrible and unnecessary legislation and public support for it has faded since it was introduced in the wake of the Ottawa shooting tragedy.

The problem for many Liberals is, where do you go if you disagree on C-51? The NDP would have you go to them and it has been a main point of attack throughout the campaign, sensing that many on the left of the Liberal Party are unhappy with it. I don’t know how many Liberals (as opposed to voters in general) would switch over this one policy. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel strongly about it, but a party is a big bundle of sticks. Some sticks are more significant than others, but it’s hard to trade the whole bundle over any one stick, especially if the other party has more sticks you don’t agree with. I doubt the NDP would expect its members to switch over a policy disagreement, even a serious one. I don’t know why they think another party’s members would.

This issue notwithstanding, Trudeau’s bundle of sticks have proven to be more popular to the Canadian voters. The real test is always the election itself, as polls have been shown recently to be notoriously unreliable predictors of victory. The excruciatingly long election campaign was a terrible strategic error by Harper. No doubt thinking that he could outspend the other parties two to one and have three times as long to imprint his negative messaging to diminish Trudeau (and Mulcair when they finally got around to him), a long campaign clearly was seen to their advantage.

From the outset I thought a long campaign would hurt Harper. Yes, we were bombarded with smarmy radio ads and outright lies, but Harper also forgot he would have to crawl out of the bunker too and emerge from his carefully choreographed cocoon to face the public and press – something he has not done in years. Even on the campaign trial he wouldn’t go out in public, cordoned off behind a wall of security even in carefully vetted audiences. Publicly, to know Harper is to not love Harper. More exposure reinforces his lack of warmth and people skills and the story became about how carefully managed and scripted he was and how uncomfortable he looked. The Conservatives tried to craft that into a narrative about his “seriousness for a serious job” and having the gravitas of a statesman, but it never really worked outside of the party faithful. Certainly not against the unscripted youthful enthusiasm of Trudeau. Both Harper and later Mulcair tried to belittle him by calling him “Justin”, but it backfired on both.

Canada was tired of being managed, talked down to, lied to, dismissed as inconsequential and having the excitement of a financial institution’s shareholder meeting. Trudeau went off script or expressed himself in ways that outlets like the late and largely unlamented Sun News could easily misrepresent in a sound bite. As an occasional “Liberal Pundit” on Sun News (officially representing no one but myself) I knew to expect a call to come in and take a beating the morning after Trudeau had said something that could be spun a different way. Some of his utterances were indeed too off the cuff and dogged him. They were blown way out of proportion by a Conservative propaganda machine that had already successfully destroyed two Liberal leaders with a campaign of repetitious mockery. “He’s not ready” was supposed to be the killing phrase, and it might have stuck in a shorter campaign when people didn’t have the chance to judge with their own eyes. In spite of the gaffes (or maybe even because of them) Trudeau instead came across as an honest and human contrast to Harper.

I have said from the beginning that Harper relies on only two things: fear and greed. He has played fear for a long time – the fear of criminals, the fear of terrorists, the fear of fifth columnists infiltrating refugees, fear of Russia, fear of the mentally ill, fear of drug users and prostitutes, the fear of “global economic uncertainty” and the fear of what exactly is going on under that niqab. He has tried to turn us into a nation of rabbits, jumping at our shadows, distrustful of the unfamiliar, locking our doors, picking wedges and exploiting divisions in society and setting group against group. It’s cynical, dangerous and destructive, but it is what a politician does when they lack the ability to inspire.

On the greed side, Harper has appealed to the basest desire to jealously keep what we have and not share with others. Low taxes and boutique tax cuts designed only to appeal to voters’ own self-interests at the expense of society and our neighbours. Harper sees Canadian society as a simple dichotomy straight out of Ayn Rand’s crappy and puerile fiction – those who nobly create wealth and those leeches who drag them down while looking for a bigger handout. The Conservatives only value those things that show a profit yet added over $150 billion to our debt with precious little to show for it while bragging ceaselessly about their economic stewardship. The reality is, our economy is in tatters, good jobs are disappearing fast and we are all deeper in personal debt.

I’m disappointed the democratic deficit hardly came up during the election, as for me that has been the biggest and most disturbing feature of the Harper years. He subverted parliament by the unprecedented use of closure, omnibus legislation, a tame Speaker, farcical committees, widespread patronage, the politicization of the bureaucracy, gagging public servants and scientists and shutting off the flow of data that could clearly show his policies and programs were at best useless and at worst harmful. Watchdogs and oversight were ended to make sure he was never embarrassed with accountability. Even so, there was a parade of the worst offenders, like his own Parliamentary Secretary Dean Del Mastro, PMO staffers Nigel Wright and Bruce Carson, Senators Duffy, Wallin and Brazeau, and hand-picked CSIS oversight chief Arthur Porter, who died in a Panamanian jail awaiting extradition for fraud while still a Privy Councilor. These are just the highlights, or rather the low-lights. Harper and his Conservatives have been the Visigoths of Canadian democracy, raping, pillaging and looting it down to its very foundations. The task of rebuilding is monumental.

Canadians are tired of it. They are tired of seeing all the kind, decent things Canada has stood for at home and abroad being made a mockery of by the Conservatives. Most Canadians are tired of Harper relentlessly exploiting fear, suspicion, hate and the bogus low-tax mantra that has never worked anywhere, except for benefit of the 1%.

Canadians are also tired of the negativity, and I think that is somewhere the NDP lost ground during the campaign. Negativity and personal attacks are the stock in trade of the Conservatives, but the NDP decided to go increasingly negative as support for the Liberals grew. I personally thought Trudeau’s strategy of staying smiling and Zen-like was risky. I was wrong. It proved appealing to the electorate in the long run, and the more other campaigns attacked, the more calm and reasonable he appeared. My hat’s off to him and his handlers – I would have said something incredibly intemperate long before now. In fact I have – daily. I have even used the “F” word – fascist. And as a serious student of history I don’t use it lightly. It is historically accurate.

The most important thing for Canada tomorrow is to finally end the dark decade of Harper and his narrow-minded, bigoted, manipulative, corrupt and contemptuous regime. To open the windows and get rid of the stink of one of the worst bunch of grasping and dishonest yokels Canada has seen in power in a long time.

I am voting Liberal. I have since I could first vote in 1978, but this isn’t knee-jerk or being smitten with Justin Trudeau-mania. I support the party of Laurier, Pearson and Pierre Trudeau. Perfect? Hardly. Any political party with a history of power has had its problems and scandals when they have been in power. But I believe in Laurier’s “sunny ways”, Pearson’s vision of peacekeeping and social welfare, Trudeau’s Just Society and its expression in the Charter.

Could I have lived with an NDP government? Sure, but statistically that’s not going to happen. They have heart and they have some great individual candidates and I’d rather see one of them take a seat than a Conservative. I wish them well. If it’s a Liberal minority government I hope the NDP and Liberals seek out common ground after tomorrow to work together and heal this country rather than pick away at differences jockeying for an advantage in the election that will follow this one.  But this is politics and I expect grandstanding, especially as I’m sure the NDP will feel particularly aggrieved as they entered this campaign thinking they had a shot at being the first federal NDP government. Expect bitterness, especially as Mulcair fights to keep his job. It will be interesting and I am still naïve enough to think we may be able to get back to multi-party cooperation when it matters, unless Harper has poisoned that well beyond repair too.

All of the above is predicated on the assumption that the polls are somewhat close to being right, and Harper’s money, fear-mongering and the operation of the so-called “Fair Elections Act” don’t deprive Canadians of real change. It starts with you. Take every piece of ID you own a and get out and vote tomorrow. Bring two friends. Turn the dark page of Canadian history and show Harper the door. Consign him to the dustbin of history and wake Canada up from this long national nightmare.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Podcast - Fear & Loathing: Campaign 2015

Here is the replay of last night's radio podcast where I was the guest on "Fear & Loathing: Campaign 2015". We talk about niqabs, refugees, dog-whistle racism, regular old racism, the prosaic past that never was and the politics of distraction.

Harper History: The Mockumentary

A while back I got a call from the good people at Truth Mashup. The very funny and creative Dan Speerin and Vince Kesavamoorthy asked me if I would do a cameo in a new project - a mockumentary that looks back on the 2015 election from 2025. I've been a fan of theirs for a while. I said yes, of course.

I have an extended part in Episode One, that just came out. Here it is...

Monday, September 28, 2015

New Stephen+Steven Podcast - Week of Sept. 28th

The new Stephen/Steven podcast is up - finally. We talk about candidate flubs, Steven's toilet, raunchy bar events with your Peterborough Conservative candidate and Steven J. Kerzner goes off on Naomi Klein.

This weeks podcast:

The whole archive:

Charity Ball at the National Club

Last week I was host at charity gala at The National Club in Toronto. As past president of that historic institution (founded 1874, thank you very much) I picked the annual charity of choice. I chose Opportunity International, a micro-finance charity that works with women entrepreneurs in the third word helping them break the cycle of poverty by giving them the tools, funds and training to succeed. I have worked with them over the past five or six years, mostly through The Order of Saint Joachim.

The evening set a record for the most money raised by The National Club through its unique "Giving Back" event, thanks to its generous members and guests and a matching donor. The National Club donates all of the food, wine and other overhead for this fundraising dinner so 100% of the proceeds can go to the charity.

The evening raised about $90,000, and together with and the previous fundraising golf tournament held earlier this year together raised approximately $120,000 for Opportunity International, which will provide meaningful support for hundreds of people and their families.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

More Political Podcasts from Stephen+Steven

Thanks everyone for listening over the past few weeks. We have been overwhelmed by the numbers (over 50,000 listeners a week).

Here is last week's podcast - Peeing in mugs, offensive prank calls and other things you apparently learn in Candidate School. Plus, why the 2015 Twitter Election is shaping up unlike any other.

You can also follow us on Facebook here:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Steven & Stephen Show

Just started a new project with Steven Kerzner, also known as the famous Ed the Sock's human alter ego. Steven and I have been circling each other for a couple of years - meeting each other at events, having a laugh over lunch. We've been saying we should do something together. I'm flattered because I'm a big fan and watched him on CITY TV and elsewhere for years. Ed's "Fromage" music video special was always a favourite.

Yesterday we taped our first half hour podcast about politics. Steven and I are both avid political observers and what you get is us just chatting and hopefully having fun and cracking wise. We're going to do it once a week through the election and maybe beyond. Here's our first podcast on why Conservatives aren't funny.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Court Party

The hits have been coming fast and furious with the Duffy trial. Nigel Wright was caught in ever-shrinking circles by sticking to his story in the face of contradictory emails. PMO lawyer Ben Perrin testified that he also knew about the Duffy payment from Wright, and that Ray Novak was also in the room.

While that is about to break for a recess, the trial of Special Advisor to the Prime Minister, Bruce Carson is about to start September 8th. Mr. Carson was convicted of two counts of fraud, one during the 1980s and again in 1990. His 1980 conviction resulted in prison time and his disbarment as a lawyer by the Law Society for two counts of defrauding clients.

Carson worked for the Prime Minister in the PMO from February 2006 to 2008, and then again in 2009, after which he landed softly in a government funded "Canada School of Energy and Environment" in Alberta. Harper - whose security detail and PMO vet the most casual contact with the PM - claims to have not known about Carson's criminal convictions and disbarment. Ahem.

Carson has since been charged with three counts of prohibited lobbying and a single count of influence peddling. His trial finally gets underway in two weeks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Skippy's Phoney Will of the People Referendum

Minister of Undemocratic Reform
(actual size)
Every once in a while (okay – almost every week) something comes along that shows (a) how little understanding the Conservatives have of our core system of government, or (b) how little they care about our core system of government, or (c) all of the above.

The NDP and Liberals have suggested that we should examine and perhaps reform the “First Past The Post” election system we currently have, whereby the candidate with the greatest number of votes – whether it is an actual majority of 51% or not - is elected. This is the system that allows individual candidates to be elected with far less than half of the popular vote depending on how the rest of the vote is split. This is how the Harper Conservatives acquired their last majority with only 39% of the popular vote and winning by an estimated mere 6,000 votes spread over a couple of dozen ridings.

There are several variations on how alternatives to First Past The Post would work, all lumped into “Proportional Representation”. There are systems that use run-offs, ranked ballots and lists. I’m not someone who sees Proportional Representation as a panacea – after all, the Weimar Republic used a proportional representation list system just before you-know-who was elected.

All that aside, yesterday no less a person as Pierre Poilievre - aka “Skippy”, aka The Minister for Ironic Democratic Reform – floated this idea through Toronto Sun Parliamentary Bureau Chief, David Akin in response to Liberal and NDP talk about Proportional Representation:
The current prime minister, Stephen Harper, has no such plans but he does vow this: If any future government wants to get rid of the first-past-the-post system we’ve used since Confederation, it will need the will of the people.

“Our platform would commit to legislation that would ban any government from changing our voting system without holding a referendum to secure the approval of Canadians first,” Employment and Social Development Minister Pierre Poilievre said Monday in a telephone interview from Ottawa. In addition to his duties as employment minister, Poilievre is also Harper's minister for democratic reform.

A referendum as a requirement before Parliament can act? Sorry Skippy, but that is not how we work. In fact, it's unconstitutional. The Supreme Court (remember those guys and gals?) has already been pretty clear about the legal effect of referendums. After all, we’ve had a few.

It may surprise you to know (it is clearly a surprise to Poilievre) that referendums – even ones run by the government - are not binding on our system of government. Even the Quebec referendums were not binding. In the reference to the Supreme Court in 1998 on the constitutional framework and validity of a referendum on separation (known to lawyers as the Reference re Secession of Quebec, [1998] 2 SCR 217, 1998 CanLII 793 (SCC) ) the court was very clear:

“Quebec could not, despite a clear referendum result, purport to invoke a right of self-determination to dictate the terms of a proposed secession to the other parties to the federation. The democratic vote, by however strong a majority, would have no legal effect on its own and could not push aside the principles of federalism and the rule of law, the rights of individuals and minorities, or the operation of democracy in the other provinces or in Canada as a whole. Democratic rights under the Constitution cannot be divorced from constitutional obligations. [para 151 - my italics]”

So the populist “will of the people” baloney that Reform / Conservatives love to invoke through “direct democracy” like a referendum does not trump or shackle our system of government set out in our constitution. It is not even part of it.

Another way to look at it is a government cannot give away its powers and duties to “the people” through a binding referendum. A government may choose to have a referendum (which isn’t really part of our parliamentary system or culture), but it cannot make the results binding on itself or future governments. For that to happen, it would have to be part of our Constitution, which it is not and never has been.

Referendums can have moral and popular influence. That is essentially what the Supreme Court said in the Quebec secession case:

“The continued existence and operation of the Canadian constitutional order could not be indifferent to a clear expression of a clear majority of Quebecers that they no longer wish to remain in Canada. The other provinces and the federal government would have no basis to deny the right of the government of Quebec to pursue secession, should a clear majority of the people of Quebec choose that goal, so long as in doing so, Quebec respects the rights of others. [para. 151]”

Note that the SCC said that a clear majority in a referendum on separation would require the rest of Canada to deal with it through further negotiations, but not that it bound anyone to an outcome. It may be a strong message to the rest of Canada but not a constitutional amendment.

Poilievre has to know that he cannot enshrine referendums in the law. Parliament cannot give away its power and duty to govern to referendums. Future elected governments cannot have their hands tied by requiring referendums to govern or change laws. You can’t pass a law – as Skippy suggests – to give away any of Parliament’s power to “the will of the people” through a referendum on voting, abortion, the death penalty or electing a dog catcher.

But to recognize that you need an understanding of or respect for our system of government, of which he and his master have none.

Monday, May 4, 2015

May the 4th on #cdnpoli

For May the 4th I thought I'd bring together some of my Star Wars themed Photoshop creations made for #cdnpoli.

First, there's Harper's new shuttle, the "Panda 1" -

To be fair, here is Tom Mulcair as "Tom-Tom" the Ewok. Very little Photoshop required ;-)

I miss John Baird (sort of). He would have made a great Princess Leia escaping the Conservative Death Star -

Finally, Harper visited Peter MacKay in hospital when his child was born...

Just remember, "You can't win, Darth. If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine..."

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Birthday Party of One

It's Prime Minister Harper's 56 birthday today, but even that is decidedly odd. It started with a report that blank birthday cards were being sent out to the Party faithful to sign and return to him.

I noticed the same thing last year when wife Laureen posted on Twitter a photo of Harper going though last year's haul of birthday cards. See anything odd? All the cards are the same. I've received duplicate cards once in a while for my birthday, but 200 exactly the same? What are the odds?

If that wasn't enough, to ensure Dear Leader has a happy birthday the Conservatives sent out this email today under Laureen's signature to go to a website and send little Stevie birthday greetings:

But keep it quiet - apparently it's a surprise. The website you are directed to is festive, but one of my more technical friends tells me when you send greetings you are asked to link it to your Facebook account so the app knows who your friends are. Nice. Who needs #C-51?

Several other megalomaniacs in history were photographed accepting the birthday greetings of an adoring population, but I never thought I'd see it in Canada. Quite aside from the cult of personality aspect, the contrived nature of it strikes me as kind of sad, like the kid who invites the class to his birthday party and no one shows up. 

It seems Harper's birthday truly is a "party of one."

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Canada 150 - A Logo To Ponder

The government has ended the competition for a new logo for Canada 150. It's pick is... um... colourful. While the student who designed it collected a cool $5000, she also said the diamonds and colours in her design are not representative of anything in particular. “I just wanted to go with something very simple."

On the Heritage Canada says the four diamonds at the base of the Maple Leaf represent the four provinces that formed Confederation. The nine other diamonds represent the six other provinces and three territories, or something. I guess it's in the eye of the beholder.

What do I see? I see the unholy love child of the NBC peacock and the Klingon Empire.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Harper vs Omar Khadr - You Can't Get What You Don't Argue

The big story isn't that Omar Khadr was granted bail (now under appeal). The story that many missed is that the lawyers for the government opposing his bail application simply did not present opposing evidence or contradict many of Khadr's arguments.

For example, to win on bail pending appeal, the prisoner has to show that his/her   appeal or application for leave to appeal is not frivolous (i.e.: their main case has a chance of success). Khadr's lawyers produced experts in the field of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. They (Professor Glazier and Professor Solis) said that Khadr's position on the merits of the appeal is “correct in law”. The government presented no evidence or expert opinions of their own to contradict it.

As a result the judge found (as she only could with no opposing evidence from the government), that "his appeal is not frivolous. The Respondents [government lawyers] do not suggest otherwise."

Next is whether someone is a flight risk - will they flee the country or not show up for trial. Here is what the bail judge said: "The [government] does not take issue with [Khadr's] position that he will surrender himself as required." So again, no argument from the government that Khadr will flee or not show up.

Likewise regarding one of the other key tests for bail - risk to public safety. Each side is obligated to present evidence that shows release on bail could constitute a risk to the public.

Again, the bail judge summarizes the evidence presented by both sides:

"The Applicant argues he is a low risk to public safety and that his appeal in the United States has faced an indeterminate delay. He submits that that a failure to grant pre-appeal judicial interim release will make his strong appeal nugatory. The Applicant has provided affidavit evidence that he has been entirely cooperative and a model prisoner during his detention by United States and Canadian authorities, that he has strong community support, and is therefore a low risk to public safety. The Respondents do not challenge this affidavit evidence."

Note that the government lawyers "do not challenge this affidavit evidence."

So the government lawyers didn't argue or present any evidence that Khadr (a) didn't have a reasonable chance of winning his main appeal; (b) that Khadr wouldn't show up; or (c) that he was any risk to public safety.

Instead, they tried to argue that Canadian law - including his right to fundamental justice under the Charter of Rights and that most ancient human right in British jurisprudence, habeas corpus - didn't apply to Omar Khadr because of our treaty with the USA. The bail judge spent a lot of time discussing the interplay between international treaties and Canadian domestic law - including our Criminal Code bail provisions, the Charter and pre-Charter habeas corpus rights - and concluded that these rights apply in Canada.(Thank God.)

With all their eggs in this basket, and not bringing any other arguments to the table, the government lost. Harper has already said he'll appeal, but odds are very good he'll lose. It is a tight and well reasoned bail decision. And as the government didn't present any evidence regarding public risk, possible ultimate success or flight risk, it can't reopen them on appeal.

Those who now bitterly complain that Khadr is a danger to the public should remember the Department of Justice lawyers under the direction of Harper never argued that he was a danger and didn't present a shred of evidence at the bail hearing that he was, or that he didn't have a good legal case that he would be ultimately released on appeal as others have in challenging the legal validity of his conviction under the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

None of this goes to what actually happened when he was 15. It merely affirms a legal reality more important than any individual like Khadr - the law has rules that must be followed to the benefit of us all, and the government must always argue and prove its case against any person before they can keep them in jail and throw away the key. That basic principle protects us all, whether it is you, me or someone like Omar Khadr.

Read the full bail decision here:

Thursday, April 23, 2015

They desire a better country

Harper slipped something in the 2015 budget that helps him get his mitts on the apolitical Order of Canada process. In these tough times he still plans to spend $13.4 million to "reform" the way Canadians are inducted into the Order of Canada. He hates anything he can't control in his Conservative Gleichschaltung.

We already saw his Jubilee Medal fiasco, where they handed them out to all and sundry (60,000 of them) with the help of "community groups" in the Conservative government's pocket with the result that all kinds of nutballs got them (including me, but that's another story -

The Order of Canada was set up with an impartial panel that reviews award nominations. It is not a "government award" in the sense that politicians sit down and decide which of their friends and donors get one.

Contrary to the idea that it's just artsy types who get the Order of Canada, you can't walk down Bay Street without seeing every other robber baron and captain of industry pass by with one in their lapel. My cousin just recently was awarded the Order of Canada for his work as a chemist producing new medicinal compounds or molecules, or something I don't understand. Not very artsy.

But that's not enough for Harper. He needs to give them out as yet another political plum for the loyal footsoldiers in their relentless drive to dismantle Canada. They need to go to rubes, ideologues and people high on the party donation lists.

By the way, the motto of the Order is DESIDERANTES MELIOREM PATRIAM (They desire a better country). If Harper gets his mitts on it, that will have to be the first thing to go.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Our Disappearing Charter of Rights... and a little credit.

Here's an odd situation.

Back in February I posted on Twitter one of my Photoshop creations encapsulating the erosion of Charter rights under various legislation brought forward or attempted by the Harper government. I simply started crossing off the sections under attack.

Contrary to my usual practice, I didn't add my Twitter handle (@stephenlautens) to the bottom. For some reason I felt it vaguely disrespectful of the Charter (although not as disrespectful as what the Conservatives have been doing).

It struck a nerve, as it's been retweeted about 1,200 times (thanks Twitter followers) and had more than 104,000 impressions.

I even saw it reprinted and carried as a sign by someone at the anti Bill C-51 protests.

So imagine my surprise when someone "improved it" by adding a title to it, which is fine, but then posted it as a royalty free image on Creative Commons with them as the author. I only found out about it by accident when it appeared in Press Progress and I asked where they got it. They said it came from this Flickr account:

(By the way - I have no idea why when I look at Flickr it is all in German...).

Anyway, I've never minded my political Photoshop work being shared - it's all for a good cause. I do get a little annoyed when someone else takes credit for it and then shares it with the world as their own (with minor modifications). I'm trying to get it properly attributed and pulled back from Creative Commons, but once something is out on the Interwebs it's like trying to get the aerosol cheez back in the can.

Finally, I've updated my image to reflect recent assaults on the Charter. Feel free to share this one - preferably with attribution.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Happy birthday, Charter of Rights

Happy 33rd anniversary of the signing of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms - one of the most significant constitutional documents in our history and a continuing bulwark against relentless and unprecedented attempts to infringe the rights of Canadians by the present Harper government. This week the Conservatives' mandatory minimum sentences law was struck down and another ruling was made against  institutional prayer at municipal council meetings.

I've written elsewhere about how little regard the Conservatives have for the rule of law and the role of the courts in upholding the requirement that laws passed by Parliament conform to the supreme law of Canada - the Constitution and the Charter.

So happy birthday, Charter. You deserve better, and so do we.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Glorious Peoples' Pool Party

Eugene Whelan in 1983 with Michail Gorbachev and
USSR Ambassador Alexander Yakovlev (glasses left)
This age of spying and security has made me think of my own family’s brief brushes with the RCMP. In the pre-CSIS days when the RCMP was still in charge of intelligence my parents had the opportunity to go to Russia (or the Soviet Union, as it was then). In 1974 the Toronto Star decided to send my father to Russia for a month basically to look around and write his column. The whole family had done the grand tour of Europe in 1971 – seven weeks – and it had been a popular feature for my father’s Star readers. The Soviet Union was the next big thing.

The Soviet Union was still a very closed and mysterious place in the 1970s. In September 1972 our two worlds collided with the Canada-USSR Summit Series of international hockey and I suppose opening it a crack made it newsworthy. In any event, the Toronto Star decided a month in the Soviet Union was just the thing for my father and mother. It was still a very closed society. Visas were hard to come by and the Communist government of the Soviet Union was deeply suspicious of foreigners. My father, who loved to travel, thought it would be exciting.

Before going to the Soviet Union my parents had to obtain visas from the USSR embassy in Ottawa. I remember discussions about how to describe his profession. They actually suggested he not put down “columnist” because it sounded like “communist”. Journalists were not all that welcome either. In the end they settled for “writer”.

Wanting to put their best foot forward, the USSR embassy put their press attaché in touch with The Star and my father. He was a very nice man named Viktor Micheev. Very jovial, funny and always arrived with an armful of Soviet picture books showing happy workers, parades in Red Square and fields of grain. I was about 14 years old and loved these exotic books of a world hardly anyone was familiar with at the time.

The Micheevs (Viktor and his wife Agnes) cheerfully tried to prepare my father for his Russian visit. It was his job to show off the Soviet Union in its best light. I remember a dinner in their modest Ottawa apartment with traditional Russian food, followed by more picture books of Soviet tractor factories and even some very dull books by Lenin.

Shortly after that my father received a phone call from the RCMP asking to meet with him. The RCMP officer (who my father always referred to as Sgt. Preston after the 1930s movies) warned my father about the dangers of visiting a communist country. He told him stories of “honeypot” traps, bugged rooms, shadowy tails, and other things out of a James Bond movie that could compromise an unsuspecting Canadian journalist and turn him into a stooge for the USSR. My father thanked him for his concern and assured him he would be on the lookout for any slinky Nathashas with knockout gas trying to take compromising photos.

The trip to Russia itself was uneventful. He was ushered around a country not yet built for tourism, ate bad food, wrote a series of entertaining columns about the Russian people and his experiences and came home, uncompromised by the communist spy apparatus. He did realize that his helpful Intourist guide assigned to him by the government was probably there to not just guide him towards what showed off the USSR in its best light but also report on his activities. Since he was simply there to poke around and enjoy himself, there probably wasn’t much for her to report.

It might have ended there, but my father, who made friends easily, kept up with Viktor Micheev. That was when we started noticing extra clicks on our home phone line whenever we made or received a call. One weekend near Easter my father received a phone call. “He is risen!” a voice said. It was Micheev making an Easter joke, and calling to see if we were around for a visit. His son, a student at Moscow U, was in town and he was showing him Toronto. Of course we had them to dinner. I remember talking to his son Vladimir about Russian history. I mentioned that I had just studied Stalin’s purges and the great engineered Ukrainian famine. “Never happened,” he told me. “All lies.” It was not often (at least in those days) that you got to witness such bald historical denial. I opened a couple of my history books that described the missing couple of million Russians and Ukrainians. More western lies, he told me.

On another occasion, Micheev and a few fellow embassy staff piled into a car and drove to our house in Burlington, typically only letting us know they were coming when they were nearby. Not only was Micheev in the car, but also packed in was a senior staffer named Leo Golubev and Alexander Yakovlev, the Soviet ambassador. They had apparently come for a swim in our pool and a barbeque, which we were happy to oblige. I remember them frolicking in our pool in borrowed bathing suits, splashing each other like kids and practicing cannonballs. Ambassador Yakovlev talked about his war experiences, being a highly decorated sniper in WWII. Micheev told a string of jokes, including some that even as a teenager I recognized as politically risky for a representative of the USSR:

“An American tells a Russian that unlike him, he has great freedom. As an American he can stand in the middle of the street in New York and yell: ‘The President of the USA is an idiot!’ The Russian says it’s the same in the USSR. He also has the freedom to stand in the middle of the street and yell in a loud voice: ‘The President of the USA is an idiot!’”

My father received another visit from “Sgt. Preston” of the RCMP shortly afterwards wondering about all the comings and goings of Soviet diplomats. It was hard to convince them that they were simply coming for a swim and a badly barbequed steak. The clicks on our phone continued for a while, making for some no doubt very boring recordings.

Yakovlev and Pierre Trudeau and their children.
As a postscript, according to his autobiography, as an early reformer Soviet ambassador to Canada Alexander Yakovlev was at the time very much on the outs with the hard line Soviet Central Committee and was marooned in Canada in a sort of exile. He was a very lonely man, cut off from his country and government, and even many of his embassy staff. Eventually the worm turned, and as an early friend of another political outsider named Michail Gorbachev, when Glasnost came Yakovlev was recalled to Moscow to take his place as number three man in Gorbachev’s new perestroika government.

I never forgot Micheev or Yakovlev or the mysterious clicks on the phone. Almost a decade later I was working for a cabinet minister in Ottawa and as part of my work had to apply for a security clearance. I filled in a form and got my clearance for secret documents so I could read the weekly cabinet papers my minister didn’t want to. I suppose that means Sgt. Preston finally decided that our Communist pool parties had not been a threat to national security after all.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Radio Archives - Recent Talk Show Appearances

Here are three of my radio appearances on @CanadianGlen's talk show archived for posterity:

July, 2014: Harper's Conservatives and their problem with (or refusal to) understand the Charter, role of the courts and the legal limits of a parliamentary constitutional democracy. I talk about their terrible record at the Supreme Court of Canada in pushing their ideological legislation without being burdened with concerns about its constitutionality or little things like a fundamental respect for the rule of law.

September, 2014: Harper’s rewriting of Canadian history to conform to his worldview. It's as if the last 60 years of progress and development in Canada never happened. Harper would like us to forget that it did so he can start over.

February, 2015: "Harper & The Tools of the One Party State - pushing the boundaries of democracy, the rule of law, and the fear economy." 'Nuff said.

Each episode is 2 hours, plus a little post-show chat.