Category: National Institutions

Forging a Nation in Fort McMurray

Our national epic tells us that Canada was forged as a nation at Vimy Ridge. Surging up the hill and holding it against the Germans in World War I showed that Canadian soldiers could fight better than the rest. In an imperial world, when we were fighting for Britain and the King, we embraced Vimy  to symbolize our emergence from colony to nation. It was a valid symbol for the 20th century.

The devastation in Fort McMurray and the response to it, both locally and across the nation, suggests new iconography for the 21st century. Newspaper images are of raging fires looming over roads and buildings, helicopters flying in red skies among clouds of smoke, burned out homes in Beacon Hill, convoys of cars threading their way down Highway 63 to Edmonton and south from the northern work camps. More than 80,000 people evacuated, 2400 structures destroyed. 

Saturday’s Globe and Mail had a two-page special with maps showing the origin of MWF-009 (its technical name) and how it had spread day by day during “A Week of Hell.” The statistics in Monday’s Globe are stark: 1,610 square kilometres burning by Sunday; 36 separate fires, 3 out of control; 1500 firefighters in the province; 36,000 people registered for Red Cross help.

The headlines scream “Catastrophic,” “A national disaster unlike any other,” “Alberta declares state of emergency,” “Feeling Fort Mac’s Pain,” “Trudeau will offer ‘total support’ to the province,” “Albertans rush to aid fire evacuees.” “Fort McMurray residents ‘will rebuild.’” Total strangers open their homes, garages and trailers as a temporary refuge. Volunteers tend to pets, provide tons of supplies, cook community meals, offer places to park. Firefighters, fire-fighting equipment, water bombers, and helicopters from across the province and across the country flood in to fight “The Beast” (as the fire is now called). The federal government offers to double all contributions to the Canadian Red Cross for Alberta fire relief. The Alberta government does the same. By Sunday, the Red Cross fund has swelled to $54 million.

Among the donors are the people of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, themselves devastated by an exploding railroad car in 2013. Their local MP and mayor emphasize that, “Three years ago it was our population that was struck down by tragedy, and all of Canada mobilized itself for us. Now, it’s our turn to support this community.” And so it is: Canadians have always rallied to support their fellow Canadians in times of trial. During ice storms in Montreal or Toronto, flooding in Calgary and in Winnipeg, forest fires in Slave Lake and in Kelowna, the resilience of Canadians has been tested and never found wanting.

That a firestorm has destroyed the heart of the Alberta oil sands affects us all. The locals who have carved a modern community out of the boreal forest in the far north are living everyone’s worst nightmare. New immigrants who settled in Fort McMurray find themselves in yet another “war zone,” this time against the forces of Nature. Oil production in the area has ground to a halt, raising worldwide oil prices, and throwing shell-shocked oil workers from Vancouver Island to Cape Breton out of work. The personal, psychological and economic cost of the devastation is as yet unknown.

It strikes me that this is the Canadian condition. We live with these disasters, and with the potential for similar disasters, because Nature in our country is large, powerful and close at hand. It is the motif of our existence. When locals remain resolute and determined to rebuild, and when the rest of us rally to help, we are forging ties between our regions and creating a stronger nation with all the effort. In the 21st Century, Fort McMurray and all it represents could well become our new Vimy Ridge. I can think of no better symbol for the challenges of the century which lie ahead.

Donations of cash (the most useful response at this stage) can be made on the Canadian Red Cross “Alberta Fire” webpage. Individuals can make a $5 donation by texting RED CROSS to 30333. To all our family, friends and everyone else in Alberta, please know that we are with you and have got your back.

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Identifying Canada’s Special Forces

When the Toronto Star arrived on my front porch last Friday morning, I was shocked to find a front page picture of two Canadian Special Forces officers identified by their names and photographed full-face in all their gear. The photo showed them in the company of Canadian Chief of Defence Staff, Jonathan Vance, who was visiting Canada’s special operations forces in the field in northern Iraq. The headline trumpeted that the Toronto Star and CTV News were given “unprecedented access” to Canada’s elite special operations forces training peshmerga soldiers on the ground. The story continued with yet another full-frontal picture of another special forces soldier (this one, unnamed) on guard duty.

What’s going on here? Wasn’t there a scandal not so long ago when former Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the troops in Iraq and a Canadian special forces officer was photographed by the video team covering his trip? Wasn’t Harper excoriated for his apparently careless breach of Canadian military policy that prohibited media photography and identification of our special forces soldiers out of concern for their safety? In the current asymmetrical war against ISIS, Daesh and other terrorist groups at home and abroad, isn’t the safety of our special operations forces a continuing concern?

I was so upset that I immediately banged off a Letter to the Editor of the Toronto Star, as follows: “There are three full-face pictures of Canadian special forces in this morning’s Toronto Star. Isn’t it Canadian military policy to prohibit photographs of special officers to protect their identity and their safety? Has Chief of Defence Staff Vance, who appears in the front-page photo, changed the policy? Is this at the direction of the new government, which needs some positive press about the changing mission in Iraq? If there was a good reason for the no-photographs rule in the past, how are such full face photos justified now? Is the safety of Canada’s special forces to be sacrificed to the expediency of ’embedding the press with our special forces?’”

The Toronto Star did not publish my letter. But later in the day, I checked the internet version of the same Toronto Star article and found that the two special forces personnel had been cropped out of the photo with CDS Vance. I checked the CTV internet coverage of the same event and found no photos or identification of the special forces soldiers they quoted.

Saturday morning, the same story continued as a front-page story in the Toronto Star. This time, the headline was “On the ground with our ‘Warrior Diplomats’” and the article featured a head shot of Major-General Mike Rouleau, who commands Canada’s special operations forces in northern Iraq. The story continued on page A23 with a picture of a “Canadian special ops soldier in northern Iraq teach[ing] peshmerga soldiers how to help casualties after a mortar attack.” It was a photo of the same soldier as on the previous day, but this time, the photo is shot from the side and his face is obscured by his helmet and sunglasses. Several special ops soldiers were quoted describing their work with the caveat in parentheses: “(The soldiers asked to be identified by their rank only).”

Is the writer of the story, Star Ottawa Bureau Chief Bruce Campion-Smith, implying that the non-identification of the soldiers was at the initiative of the personnel and not an army policy? Has the old non-identification policy changed or not? If not, the Toronto Star ought to explain what occurred on Friday and make sure that it never happens again. If it has changed, CDS Vance or Minister of Defence Harjit Sajjan should tell the public why the change is appropriate.

I have no problem with the Canadian military, and the Canadian government, permitting the media to report about the work of our Canadian special forces in the field. It is important work, well-regarded by our allies, and Canadian citizens should know about it. As was the case in Afghanistan, embedding reporters with the troops increases respect for the work of our military and encourages support for their (‘our’) efforts abroad.

But we have to recognize our responsibilities to our troops abroad, and to their families at home. In the Second World War there was a saying well-known to military and civilians alike: “Loose Lips Sink Ships.” In the current climate, the slogan could well be “Careless Cameras Lose Lives.” Lapses matter.

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You Be The Judge: Of Mike Duffy’s Residency and Housing Claims

To qualify as a Senator for PEI, Mike Duffy had to own property in the province and be “resident in the Province for which he is appointed.” This was a constitutional requirement for the job. Not a resident? No appointment.

As a Senator representing PEI, he received $80,000. over four years in per diem housing claims for costs incurred while in the National Capital Region (NCR) performing his duties as a Senator.

Since “resident” was not defined in the Constitutional Act, nor in any Senate Rules, and was defined differently in different statutes for different purposes, the question became: what does “resident” mean for the purpose of a Senate appointment?

Mike Duffy had owned and lived in a house in Kanata-Ottawa (part of the NCR) since the 1970s. Born and raised in Prince Edward Island, he had bought a cottage in Cavendish, PEI in 1998. He and his wife spent several months every year living in the cottage, typically from the end of April until the end of October. It was not winterized and, in times of major snowfalls, was inaccessible. The plan was to renovate the cottage so that, when he retired, he and his wife could reside there full-time.

Mike Duffy was alert to questions about his residency. He met with the Prime Minister twice in December 2008 before accepting the appointment. He testified that he asked Prime Minister Harper to appoint him as a senator for one of the vacant seats in Ontario. Harper insisted that the only appointment on offer was as a Senator from PEI.

When Duffy asked him about the disputed “residency” issue, Harper advised him “that accepting the appointment as a PEI Senator simply ‘accelerated’ or ‘speeded up’ making the PEI residence the permanent and primary residence. The Prime Minister advised Duffy that, upon appointment as a Senator from PEI, the effect would be “this is now your primary residence. This is… where you live and this is what you represent, the area you represent in the Senate of Canada.” “Upon his appointment, his PEI residence would become the permanent one just as Mr. Duffy and his wife had intended for a decade.” (paras 137-138 Judgment)

The advice of the Prime Minister was reinforced by that of Senate Law Clerk, Mark Audcent, who also said that, as of his appointment, Duffy’s address in PEI became “of prime constitutional importance” going forward. (paras 139, 142, 190-192 Judgment) When the legality of his appointment was questioned in a newspaper article on December 24th, Duffy contacted Kory Teneycke of the PMO about the article and was advised that his PEI residence fully satisfied the constitutional residence requirement. (para 145 Judgment)

On January 6, 2009, he met with Senate Leader and member of the Harper Cabinet, Marjorie LeBreton, and was assured by her that the PEI residence fully qualified, that there was no minimum time requirement to be spent in the residence, and that the newspaper article was “politics” and should be ignored. That same day, he received a written memo from the Senate Leader and her constitutional advisor, Mr. McCreery confirming that his PEI residence qualified him as a PEI resident “… even if he had lived in Ottawa 99% of the time.” (para 146 Judgment)

On January 7, 2009, Senator-to-be Duffy approached Senator Tkachuk, the vice-chair and senior Tory on the Senate Internal Economy Committee and regarded as the ‘guru’ on Senate rules and procedures. He explained about the newspaper article, his owning a residence in PEI and another in Ottawa, and questioned whether he should claim the housing allowance for the NCR property. Senator Tkachuk informed him, without hesitation that, as Senator from PEI, he had the expenses of two houses (property taxes, insurance, hydro) and that he should most definitely claim the NCR housing allowance as a PEI Senator, exactly as other PEI Senators did… that the claims were entirely within the Senate rules, and appropriate… that he must claim per diems, as failure to do so would only raise questions. This advice was consistent with Senator Tkachuk’s reported public comments on December 3, 2012 that “Duffy’s expenses are entirely within the rules;” “many Senators who own houses in Ottawa make similar claims for housing expenses,” and then after staying in Ottawa “all winter long… they go home for the summer.” “Your primary residence is what you say your primary residence is.” (paras 151,152 Judgment)

Having been so advised, Senator Duffy signed his “Primary Residence Declaration” honestly, sincerely and reasonably believing that it was within the rules and consistent with the advice he had received from all the authoritative sources. The Declaration contains the following words: I, the Honourable… member of the Senate for the province of… declare that my primary residence is more than 100 kilometres from Parliament Hill and that I therefore incur additional living expenses while I am in the National Capital Region to carry out my parliamentary functions… the address of my primary residence in the province or territory that I represent is the following… . (paras 147-148 Judgment)

Over the next four years, Senator Duffy and his wife spent $98,292.49 to upgrade and renovate the PEI residence, including winterizing the home, and dealing with foundation and access issues. He did not sell the Kanata house because he would have needed to rent alternative accommodation or to pay for a hotel while in the city. As suggested by Mr. Bayne, “his reasonable decision to retain the Kanata residence as his ‘NCR’ residence does not detract from the fact that the PEI address was now, from his appointment… his primary residence in the Province he represented… .” (para 154 Judgment)

The Crown called none of the people Senator Duffy consulted (Prime Minister Harper, Ray Novak who was present, Kory Teneycke, Senator LeBreton, her constitutional advisor Mr. McCreery, or Senator Tkachuk) to try to refute any of Senator Duffy’s evidence.

A later “travel policy” adopted by the Senate, commencing in April 2013 and applicable in the 2013-2014 fiscal year, required that “primary residence declarations” were to be accompanied with additional criteria of primary residence, the production of a driver’s licence, health card and proof of location of filing one’s income tax return. “As Mr. Bayne submits, the ex post facto addition/imposition of these… indicators of primary residence is cogent, explicit evidence that they were not previously required.” (para 208 Judgment)

Justice Vaillancourt found Senator Duffy not guilty of fraud and breach of trust relating to his residency and housing claims.

If you had been on a jury hearing these charges, what would you have found? If you had been offered a Senate seat in Mike Duffy’s circumstances, would you have accepted the position? If you were told your “primary residence” post-appointment was in PEI, would you have claimed the same NCR housing expenses as did other Senators representing PEI? 

For Prime Minister Harper’s response, see the comments of his lawyer Robert Staley in “This was not Harper vs. Duffy” in this morning’s National Post.

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The Heart of the Mike Duffy Judgment

So, Mike Duffy was acquitted on all 31 charges. The CBC has posted a link to the full text of Justice Vaillancourt’s decision. On my legal blog, Re-View from the Bench, I have posted a link to the CanLII decision on the official Ontario Court of Justice website. I have also prepared an unofficial Index to Justice Vaillancourt’s decision which may help you access what most interests you. This is a lengthy, complex decision that merits close attention.

At the end of the trial, Justice Vaillancourt asked for written submissions from counsel. Many judges do the same thing when the evidence has been heard in a chopped-up trial over many months. This trial started on April 7th last year, and concluded for judgment on February 23rd this year, a total of 60 days of sittings over 11 months.

Justice Vaillancourt’s 308-page, single-spaced judgment, released last Thursday, sets out in detail the evidence and arguments of counsel, both generally and with respect to each set of charges. He found it convenient to summarize what he heard and read, using counsel’s submissions at length. His response to those submissions, interspersed throughout the text and found in his introduction and conclusions, is concise and to the point. That we have available to us all the evidence that the Court considered, and the arguments put forth by counsel, allows us to understand why he made the findings he did. That is the purpose of the duty on judges to give reasons for their decisions.

There are several keys to this decision. The first is Justice Vaillancourt’s finding that Senator Duffy was “an overall credible witness.” (para 69) The second is his finding that, with respect to his residency and housing claims, “Senator Duffy honestly and reasonably believed and relied on the advice he received regarding his appointment and he acted upon it” (para 214). There was no definition of the meaning of “primary residence” in the Senate Administration Rules at the time, and what Duffy did was common practice among the senators. That being the case, there was no proof that these claims were fraudulent or in breach of his trust as a Senator.

This is the essential background for the part of the decision which has most galvanized public attention: the judge’s findings about the three charges of bribery, fraud on the government, and breach of trust relating to Senator Duffy’s accepting $90,172.24 originating from Prime Minister Harper’s Chief of Staff, Nigel Wright. Beginning at paragraph 889, you can read all the details of the evidence heard and the submissions made on these charges. It is a fascinating exposé, blow-by-blow, of what actually happened two years ago when “the Duffy scandal” first broke and the PMO went into crisis mode to contain it.

The Crown theory was that Senator Duffy committed the offences because his complaint that he didn’t have the money to pay the disputed residency and housing claims was essentially a request for payment of those claims, and because he accepted the money. The Defence theory was that the PMO knew they were asking (“basically forcing”) him to pay money he probably didn’t owe, but that they needed him to buy into the “mistake and repay strategy” to calm the political storm created by “the Duffy problem” that wouldn’t go away.

Justice Vaillancourt agreed with Mr. Bayne for the defence. He was satisfied from all the evidence (including the emails, the evidence of the crown witnesses, and of Senator Duffy) that the PMO concocted a “mistake and repay scenario” for their own political purposes. When Senator Duffy resisted and wanted to put his position before the independent Senate audit going on at the time, they used “a two-pronged approach” (the first, threats and intimidation; the second, an appeal to “do the right thing”) to force him into line. Vaillancourt found that Duffy’s taking the money was not a true acceptance, was not done voluntarily, and conferred on him no real benefit. 

It is highly unusual for a judge to use the flamboyant language used by Justice Vaillancourt to describe “the inner workings of the PMO: “ruthless efficiency;” “The political, covert, relentless unfolding of events… mind boggling and shocking;” “The precision and planning would make any military commander proud;” “in the context of a democratic society, the plotting… unacceptable;” “ordering senior members of the Senate around as if they were mere pawns on a chessboard;” and his implicit finding that “Senator Duffy was just another piece on the chessboard when it came to Mr. Wright’s $90,172.24 cheque.” The great bulk of the decision is couched in the heavy, sedate language of lawyers. His Honour is writing for the litigants and for the public at large. He cannot be criticized if he used language that would break up the monotony of a detailed decision and help the public understand, and really appreciate in a visceral way, what he found and why. 

I am planning a series of posts on the Mike Duffy decision. The topics will include: the issues with respect to Mike Duffy’s residency and housing claims, Mike Duffy’s travel expenses, Mike Duffy’s personal service expenses, the distinction between criminal and administrative review, and Mike Duffy’s trial as political theatre. This has been a fascinating episode in Canadian political and legal history. Stay tuned.

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Voter Suppression?

The Official Advance Polls for the 2015 federal election opened at noon today. As I wrote previously, this election campaign has gone on far too long and I wanted to cast my vote and forget about it. My experience was an interesting and totally novel one.

In the old days (way back when) municipal, provincial and federal elections were held at the local school. Typically, a large room near the front door was set aside for several polls. The rooms were spacious, airy, and perfectly comfortable. Tables with the election official and the party scrutineers would be set up at each polling station around the room, to process the voters. Voters formed a line and, with the help of assistants, approached the appropriate tables as they cleared. As each voter gave their name, accompanied by their voter information card or other identification, the official found it on the voters list, provided a ballot, and the voter went behind a screen to vote. It was a congenial process, civilized and comfortable.

That was not my experience today. Two advance polls were located in a stuffy little room on the main floor of a local church partially renovated for commercial and residential uses. Voters entered the building into a narrow corridor and were first directed to a table where officials checked their voter’s card, their identification and the list. Then they were directed to stand at the end of a line of voters waiting to enter the little room where the two polls were located.

I arrived at the voting station at 12:15, shortly after it first opened. Already, the line up of voters pre-screened for voting extended into the narthex of the church. Several older folk, including myself, were permitted to sit in the few chairs jammed along the edge of the corridor. It was hot, stuffy, and already congested, as we waited patiently to be admitted into the actual room where voting took place. An assistant guarded that door, letting three voters per poll in at a time. Although people were generally congenial, the process was cumbersome and uncomfortable. Clearly the venue was far too small for those waiting to vote and all the officials.

When it came my turn, I presented my card and identification to the two officials at the polling desk as I had been instructed to do. One turned over the pages of the voters list, found my name, and expressed concern. My name was already crossed off, not by pen or pencil as would have been the case if it had been done by a live official, but apparently there was a computer-generated line through my name. You can imagine my surprise! The official indicated that the line through my name meant either that I had voted already, or that I had requested that my name be removed from the list. Clearly not the case. What is this? How come I was struck from the list? Was there now a ban on bloggers voting?

The returning officer had a problem. He took my voter info card and went to check the list at the identification table where I had already been cleared. He asked me to accompany him. On that list, there was no line through my name. He could give no explanation for why my name had been struck from one list and not the other. Nor for why my name had been struck from one list at all. He produced a form for me to fill out, attesting to how long I have lived in the riding (since 1977), and requesting that my name be added to the list. They gave me my ballot, I voted and that was that.

Moral of the story: This was the first hour of the first day of the advance polls. My companion and I required nearly 40 minutes to vote. And there was a problem. I would be interested in knowing if other people have problems voting. And how long it takes you to vote. And whether all voting stations are so cramped and crowded. Be warned.

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Turning the Page on a Dreadful Federal Election

This dreary and unduly lengthy election campaign has turned dark and dangerous. That the Prime Minister of Canada is stoking the flames of xenophobia (with his anti-niqab antics, two-tiered citizenship, and a snitch line against “barbaric practices”) has made me so down-hearted that I can barely sleep at night. It has literally made me sick, and sick at heart, a feeling I share with so many of my friends and associates.

I thought Canada was beyond that. In the past, the state and our prominent public institutions (including our churches, universities, hospitals, and workplaces) felt no embarrassment practicing overt discrimination against particular groups or railing against the perceived evils of vulnerable minorities. Once it was the Catholics, the Irish, the Italians and the Greeks, then the Chinese, the Jews, the Japanese, blacks, gays, the Doukhobors, the Sikhs, and the Roma. Once it was women, period, then married women. Now it is women who wear the niqab, a religious practice of Wahhabism, that sect of Sunni Islam promoted by the Saudi Arabians, our trading partners, to whom Stephen Harper is more than happy to sell the military vehicles we produce.

I had thought that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, enshrined as part of our Constitution in 1982, and universally recognized as the best in the world, represented our common values: a society where freedom, equality, diversity and multiculturalism would flourish and be protected under the law. Instead, we have an incumbent prime minister whose track record has been to enact one law after another, one policy after another, obviously in breach of the Charter. When the Supreme Court of Canada ultimately overturns his unconstitutional laws, he maligns the courts as “unrepresentative of the people.” I ask you, who is representative of the people? A prime minister who seeks re-election promoting divisiveness and fear? Or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which all the other leaders know in their bones cannot, and should not, be perverted for partisan advantage?

That is my last word on this federal election campaign. I am voting in the advance poll on Friday and then closing my ears and eyes to all the superfluous advertising until election day. Maybe we should all do the same.

For all the sound and fury of the federal election, ordinary life in Toronto goes on in peace and harmony. The return of school brought the Toronto International Film Festival and thousands of people into the streets and the theatres, catching glimpses of the stars, and watching free movies under the stars. I saw many films at TIFF this year, which I will write about in the weeks ahead. Late summer also brought the last of the neighbourhood festivals. One sunny weekend in late September, the Roncesvalles Polish Festival, a fall extravaganza, just east of High Park, competed for fair-goers with the Ukrainian Festival further west in Bloor West Village. The following weekend, Word on the Street drew thousands of authors, booksellers and readers lingering over the stalls and stalls of books on offer. Who says people don’t read anymore? Last Saturday night, it was Nuit Blanche, an all-night extravaganza of art installations all over the city. My younger friends were out on the town on what could well be described as an effete, super sophisticated, artistic pub crawl. It’s no wonder people love Toronto. There is so much going on, and so little time to take it all in. All a much-needed diversion from the current Canadian political scene.

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#Maysin

If you missed Elizabeth May’s simultaneous commentary on the Globe and Mail “leaders” debate last night, read it for yourself on Elizabeth May’s Twitter account and on #GlobeDebate Twitter hashtag.

The current schedule of English-speaking leaders debates is a sham, symbolic of all that is wrong in the political culture of Canada today. Three leaders (all men) agreed to terms of debate which excluded the fourth.  She, who personifies the importance of the environment to the economy, who is perhaps the most articulate of the bunch, and the only woman.

How could they do that? How can we not call them to account? Why have they all put their personal partisan interests ahead of public access to our politicians?

Thursday night’s “leaders debate” is only the latest example of how the Harper government has manipulated the media to limit their own access to the public. These leaders debates are no different from muzzling scientists, controlling public servants from the PMO, and whipping Parliamentarians to pass deliberately misnamed laws that fly in the face of all the evidence. Harper is a control freak, and the media is complicit, grateful for whatever crumbs he throws their way.

Mulcair and Trudeau, vying for our votes in the name of “change,” have become enablers in the same game. Is this the new norm? Is this the standard we expect of our politicians?

Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau apparently see nothing wrong with a debate that excludes Elizabeth May. Tom Mulcair has also refused to debate when Stephen Harper does not take part. A debate organized for months on “women’s issues” (note the label, as if “women’s issues” have no effect on men), is cancelled as a result. And “the National Leaders Debate” broadcast by the major media networks for decades, with an established audience of over ten million, and scheduled for October, is, apparently, not going to happen.

Actions speak louder than words. Who is standing up for principle? For public access to our politicians? Elizabeth May?

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of “information suppression.” I am tired of politicians telling me whom I can and cannot see and hear, and what subjects “they” will or will not discuss.

If you want my vote, let’s see some principles in action.

Take the The National Leaders Debate organized by the “consortium.” Notice the Harperite “consortium” label, designed to excoriate the producers rather than address the needs of the public. It is still tentatively scheduled for October. It is a prime example of gamesmanship ahead of the public interest. “Prime Minister” Harper has refused to participate. Wannabe PM Thomas Mulcair refuses to attend if Harper is not there. Ridiculous! Politicians are supposed to be servants of the public, not the other way around.

If Harper won’t attend, so be it. Manipulation and control are his mantras and this is totally consistent with the most pernicious qualities of his persona and his government. If he doesn’t attend, all the better. The public needs to see the existing opposition debating together. They have more in common with each other than they have with the incumbent prime minister. A minority government, an accord (as in Ontario in the mid-’80s), or a coalition between the existing opposition parties are real post-election possibilities. Voters need to know that this result is a viable democratic alternative (not an aberration, as Harper would say), and that it need not lead to weakness and instability. Besides, isn’t Mulcair wanting proportional representation? A new voting system will need new skills, including the capacity to negotiate solutions between different parties for common interests. Where better to foreshadow that perspective than in a leaders’ debate without the current prime minister?

In a “positive” debate, leaders could score debating points by highlighting common interests and demonstrating their leadership in negotiating to solutions. Wouldn’t that be refreshing? And a real change in Ottawa?

See two prior posts on the same subject:

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Real Change? How about Principles ahead of Partisanship?

So, are you going to watch the second Leaders Debate tonight? It begins at 8:00 p.m. EDT (6:00 p.m. MT) and will continue for two hours. You can see it on CPAC. As the Globe promo says, “you can find the CPAC channel in your area at www.cpac.ca.Or you can “livestream the debate on globeandmail.com, on GM apps, and on YouTube – The Globe’s channel as well as the YouTube Canada Election 2015 Hub.” Welcome to new age “access to politicians,” everybody.

But if the cheap cable channel and the new technology is too uncomfortable, don’t worry. Again, according to the promo, “The Globe and Mail is… offering a live feed of the debate to any broadcaster who wishes to air it on their own channel.” Maybe one of the other networks will pick it up. Has anyone heard one way or the other?

Sponsored by the Globe and Mail, focused on “the economy,” this debate is supposed to be one of those “new format” debates that would bring greater diversity and democracy to our Canadian federal election campaign.

Quite the contrary. The current schedule of English-speaking leaders debates is a sham, symbolic of all that is wrong in the political culture of Canada today. Three leaders (all men) agreed to terms which excluded the fourth. All three, Harper, Trudeau and Mulcair, agreed that the one English-speaking federal leader who personifies the environment which is essential to our economy, the one who is perhaps the most articulate of the bunch, and the only one who is a woman, could/should/would not take part in a national “leaders” debate on the economy.

How could they do that in this day and age? How can we not call them to account? Why have they all put their personal partisan interests ahead of public access to our politicians?

We have come to expect that our current Prime Minister, who should personify “Canadian values,” always stages his access to the public. Limited public appearances. Vetted audiences. Non-attendance at all-candidates meetings. “Talking points” instead of spontaneity. Press conferences held rarely. Questions curtailed, and preferably pre-approved. Partisan practice ahead of public access. It is one of the most pernicious anti-democratic characteristics of the current government.

The schedule of “leaders debates” is only the latest example of how the Harper government has manipulated the media to limit their own access to the public. And the media have bought into it, taking whatever crumbs they can get. 

Mulcair and Trudeau, vying for our vote in the name of “change,” have become enablers in the same game. Is this the new norm? Is this the standard we expect of our politicians?

Actions speak louder than words. Who is standing up for principle? For public access to our politicians? Elizabeth May? Forced off stage by common agreement among our wannabe PM’s, she has had the wit to organize her participation in the debate using her Twitter account. Hers is a brilliant response to a sad situation. Check out her simultaneous commentary on http://twitter.com/ElizabethMay. I understand that you don’t need a Twitter account to get access to her comments. I, for one, will watch the debate on my computer and follow May’s comments on my iPad.

Tom Mulcair and Justin Trudeau apparently see nothing wrong with a debate that excludes Elizabeth May. Tom Mulcair has also refused to debate when Stephen Harper does not take part. A debate organized for months on “women’s issues” (note the label, as if “women’s issues” have no effect on men), is cancelled as a result. And “the National Leaders Debate” organized by the major media networks for decades, with an established audience of over ten million, and scheduled for October, is apparently not going to happen.

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of “information suppression.” These leaders debates are no different from muzzling scientists, controlling public servants from the PMO, and whipping Parliamentarians to pass deliberately misnamed laws that fly in the face of all the evidence.

I am tired of politicians telling me whom I can and cannot see, and what subjects “they” will or will not discuss. Why is “the economy” okay? And “women’s issues” not sufficiently important to warrant public debate? Is it because the track record of the Harper government on women’s issues is abysmal and, since Harper refuses to discuss it, Mulcair won’t either? Ridiculous! Politicians are supposed to be servants of the people, not the other way around.

If you want my vote, let’s see some principles in action.

***** If you are as tired of partisan “information suppression” as I am, please share this post using email or social media sharing buttons just below.

The Toronto Star has just announced that the women’s coalition, We’re Up for Debate, has obtained pre-recorded interviews about women’s issues from Mulcair, Trudeau, May and Duceppe, but not Harper. The interviews will be screened, debated by experts and televised live from the Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto on Monday September 21st at 6:30 p.m. Free tickets are available from We’re Up for Debate. It’s not a “national leaders debate” on women’s issues, but it is a grassroots response to unprincipled political actions.

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CBC’s Live Blog on the Mike Duffy Trial

Nigel Wright’s testimony in the Duffy trial this week has raised yet again the question of cameras in Canadian courts. As Peter Mansbridge says, if the Supreme Court of Canada can televise its hearings, why are trials of national interest such as the Mike Duffy trial, now continuing in the Ottawa Court of Justice, not accessible to the public on television? I have set out some of the history, and the issues surrounding cameras in courtrooms, in an earlier post which I commend to you.

In the meantime, the media and politicos and, apparently, even the participating lawyers are following with avid interest the CBC’s Live Blog of the Mike Duffy Trial, now on Day 39. My sister-in-law in Campbell River has followed since Day 1. She loves the short blow-by-blow, the more elaborate explanations, the video interludes, and the comments posted by followers. Like others who have left comments on the blog, she appreciates this very rare access to a historic court proceeding. It’s CBC innovating on a new platform and doing so very well. A great role for the CBC.

Kady O’Malley was the reporter who carried the ball in June. This week, Rosemary Barton has tweeted the blow-by-blow, with the hashtag #duffy, and Jason Ho has added more expansive explanations of the details. Other reporters have sketched in the context, posted pictures, and added video content of the scene outside the courtroom and across the country. Although wi-fi is sometimes sketchy and the reporters sometimes have trouble keeping up with the pace and form of the questions, they are doing yeoman service. Together, they give followers a pretty good idea of what is happening, what is said, and how.

Setting up the Live Blog on my iPad has been particularly useful. The blog updates all day while I work on another computer. Sometimes, I follow what is happening in real-time. Sometimes, I catch up later. Although second-hand, that we can be present at such a proceeding with at least this semblance of modern technology is pretty exciting. It gives us access to the raw data from which we can assess later reports of what occurred. 

Equally, if not more important, the blog for Day 38 gives links to the documents which the lawyers have put in as exhibits for discussion with Mr. Wright. There are documents put in by the crown on Wednesday and by the defence yesterday. These are priceless archives of emails and other materials not readily available to the public. Now they are open to professionals for analysis, and to anyone else for personal perusal.

I would venture to say that never have Canadians had access to documents which so clearly show, email by email, how a Prime Minister’s Office operates. Apart from the interaction between the PMO and Mike Duffy, they offer a window into the inner workings of the PMO, its relationships with the Conservative party, with the Commons and the Senate. Stephen Harper may seek secrecy and control, but the Mike Duffy trial has blown that aspiration wide open. Undoubtedly, we will learn more about the significance of those documents in the court proceedings to follow, and in the election campaign.

On the face of it, yesterday’s cross-examination of Nigel Wright, together with the documents, shows that many people still close to the Prime Minister were aware of what was going on and of the “media lines” devised to deceive the public about the facts. That’s not what the Prime Minister told the public. But then no one ever said that the current government puts much weight on the truth.

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A Mid-Summer Review of Current Issues

Senate Abolition or Reform

Now all three major political parties have a position on the Senate. The NDP wants to take the steps necessary for abolition. The Liberals want an improved quality of “eminent” Senators chosen by an independent body. Stephen Harper has declared that he will continue his now official policy of not appointing any more senators, “to save money” and “to pressure the provinces into coming to the table for reform.” Talk of a future referendum on abolition or reform of the Senate is now widespread. For what it’s worth, I think Harper’s policy of non-appointing senators is unconstitutional and would likely be overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada if it were put to the court on a reference. In my view, it is yet another example of Harper’s persistent putting himself and his policies above the law. Given his track record of unilateralism on every issue, what credibility has he got as a “leader with the provinces” in seeking a consensus for real reform? 

Canada Post Community Mailboxes

Last spring, the City of Hamilton passed a by-law requiring Canada Post to get a permit from the City for the location of their proposed community post boxes, and to pay a permit fee of $200 per box. The City went to the Ontario Superior Court seeking an injunction against Canada Post from installing any further boxes until the court decided the issue. Canada Post challenged the constitutional authority of the municipality to pass their by-law. The issue was: who had the right to control the location of mailboxes used to carry out the federally mandated postal delivery? Justice Alan Whitten found that was within the core power of the federal government, as given to Canada Post, and that Hamilton’s by-law was “inapplicable and inoperative.” The City of Hamilton has now appealed. I will report on the appeal decision once it is heard. 

In the meantime, Canada Post has announced that door-to-door mail delivery would continue in “the core” of downtown Toronto (the heart of the business community). That “core” will end at Bathurst Street and not extend west into my neighbourhood. Toronto councillors took the matter to the Canadian Federation of Municipalities in June for a national response. Now that the practical implications of ending door-to-door mail delivery have become more clear, the one-size-fits-all policy of Canada Post has become a hot-button political issue.

The “Politicization” of Federal Judicial Appointments?

Sean Fine’s fine in-depth analysis of the federal government’s judicial appointment process published in the Globe and Mail on July 25th, entitled “Stephen Harper’s Courts,” and the follow up articles which have appeared through the week, should be required reading for all citizens interested in the justice system. The federal appointment process has always been of concern but, according to Fine, the Harper government has made it worse. The increasing concern about “politics supplanting merit” is a response to the recent appointments of Justices Bradley Miller and Grant Huscroft to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Both are proponents of “Originalism,” the right-wing American legal theory of constitutional analysis championed on the American Supreme Court by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and outside the mainstream of Canadian legal jurisprudence. The surprise appointment last week of Alberta Justice Russell Brown to the Supreme Court of Canada has added to the concern. He has called himself “a conservative libertarian” and has but two years of judicial experience. The Globe and Mail headline today tells it all: [Justice Minister Peter] “MacKay declines to explain court pick.” Wasn’t it Stephen Harper who once campaigned on the need for Parliamentary review of Supreme Court appointments? That was then; this is now.

My First “Official Publication”

I was delighted to open the Globe and Mail this morning and find published a Letter to the Editor I’d written. A comment on “Judge’s Powers,” it follows up on an analysis of the Carter decision which I wrote in a March post, on Re-view from the Bench, relating to speedy Supreme Court decisions. You can read the letter yourself on the Globe and Mail Letters to the Editor webpage for July 30th. Thanks to Malcolm Metcalfe for providing me with the link. Not a bad way to recharge my batteries after a lengthy lay-off.

Hope everyone is enjoying a good summer.

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Lessons from the Irish Referendum for Canada

It strikes me that Canadians have much to learn from the Irish about how and when to use referenda. Apart from the Quebec referenda, our experience with referenda, as illustrated by the history of referenda in British Columbia, has been totally pragmatic, political and unprincipled. Under legislation unique among Canadian provinces, voters in British Columbia have voted in five referenda since 1991; on a recall and initiative process (1991), on treaty negotiations (2002), on electoral reform (2005 and 2009) and on the Harmonized Sales Tax (2011). Citizens themselves initiated the latter referendum, and forced the provincial government to back away from adopting the Harmonized Sales Tax and to stick with the Provincial Sales Tax as it had promised to do in the prior re-election campaign.

The current Metro Vancouver Transportation and Transit referendum is, in law, only “a plebiscite.” That means it is held at the behest of the provincial government “for advice only.” and is not binding. Christy Clark’s Liberal government made a pre-election promise that she would not allow new municipal “revenue tools” to fund transit for the Greater Vancouver Area except with the approval of local taxpayers. She set the timetable and the conditions for conducting the plebiscite and will use the result (whatever it might be) to justify her own position. That “referendum” ends May 29th, and we will learn the results. Whatever the outcome, there are many (including myself) who think that this transit plebiscite is primarily a political ploy to absolve the provincial government from taking responsibility for decisions their office requires that they make. In my view, using the referendum/plebiscite tool for this purpose is a cop-out.

There is one context, however, where a national referendum in Canada may be appropriate. The Supreme Court of Canada in the Reference re Senate Reform (2014 SCC 32, 2014-04-25) has indicated that the Senate is part and parcel of our Constitution and cannot be changed or abolished except as provided by our own Constitution. Abolition of the Senate requires the consent of the Senate, the House of Commons, and the legislative assemblies of all Canadian provinces. Reform of the Senate, including consultative elections and senatorial term limits, requires consent of the Senate, the House of Commons and the legislative assemblies of at least seven provinces representing half of the population of all the provinces.

If there is an increasing consensus that the Senate should be abolished, or at least reformed, would it not be possible to convene a constitutional convention, draft an appropriate proposal (with a fall-back reform alternative), and put it to a national referendum? Wouldn’t it be refreshing for politicians of all stripes to rise to the occasion and decide, on a principled basis, the future of the Senate? Is it too much to expect all the political parties at both the provincial and the federal levels, in both the Commons and the Senate, to agree that they would vote as determined by the majority of each province in a referendum?  

Focusing solely on the Senate, and on a question (or questions) to be put to the public, would make a constitutional convention manageable. If abolition is not successful, maybe reforms can be achieved. At least, a referendum would focus the discussion and maybe, as has been the case in Ireland, once the referendum were held, put the issue to rest. Perhaps, in the upcoming federal election, we should consider which of the leaders, and which of the parties, would best inspire and lead such a constitutional convention. Lingering issues which seem insolvable can be addressed with the political will to do so. Ireland has done it for divorce and now for marriage equality. Surely Canadians have the political maturity to address our own constitutional issues.

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Canada Post Creating City Clutter

There is a revolution brewing, and rightfully so. Two years ago, Canada Post decided to cease all home delivery of mail, phased in over the next few years. Their decision was out of the blue, without any public discussion, with no apparent government input, and without any consideration of alternatives. It was an autocratic decision from on high to curtail all home delivery of mail in favour of community post boxes. “One size fits all,” says the post office. Everybody else in Canada is happy with “community post boxes,” why should the cities get any different level of service?

Now that Canada Post is beginning to roll out their program, the implications of what they are doing are becoming very clear. Initially, the objections were based on the need to accommodate the aged and the disabled, those for whom collecting mail down the street or around the corner would be a hardship. The post office said they “would try to accommodate them.” How? Who qualifies for accommodation? Who decides what accommodation? Will there be an appeal of an adverse decision? How quickly will the post office respond if one breaks a leg? The administration of adequate “accommodation” could be mind-boggling. Or non-existent, which is much more likely.

Then there was the “litter” issue, the inevitable debris which the community boxes will attract. TTC bus shelters are already repositories of refuse. Who is going to clean that up? Those city street cleaners who walk around with their bags, or ride around on their electric carts? How much will that cost? The existing state of TTC bus shelters is hardly encouraging. Is the Post Office going to employ janitors to monitor the public presentability of their community post boxes? To clean them of graffiti and clear the snow in winter?

The real issue is the nature of the “community post boxes” themselves and the Post Office’s apparent position that they have the legal right to put up boxes wherever they choose. Thomas Walkom, in today’s Toronto Star, hit the nail on the head. He quotes Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, who has called for a moratorium on community mailboxes because “the planned community mailboxes would simply take up too much space.” He writes of a report done for the City of Montreal which “calculates that if all the community mailboxes required to service Montreal were laid end to end, they would stretch for 25 kilometres.” Apparently, the City of Montreal and three other Quebec councils are joining a legal action opposing the “community mailbox” decision.

Walkom also described how Hamilton has passed a bylaw that specifies the location of community mailboxes and charges a $200 licensing fee for each superbox. Canada Post has refused to abide by the bylaw and is now arguing in the Ontario Superior Court that the City of Hamilton has no legal authority to pass any such bylaw. No wonder Councillor Janet Davis of the City of Toronto has requested a staff report on the implications of Canada Post’s policy on the city. And that other city councils across the province and the country are upset with Canada Post.

I considered this issue as it applies to my city block. I live in downtown Toronto on a residential street west of Bathurst and south of Harbord. My street was developed first in the 1880s and then in 1904-1905. The houses are typically three stories tall, a mix of detached, semi-detached, and small three-story apartment buildings, on lots which are generally 18 to 25 feet wide. Many of the houses have been divided into flats, three per house generally, some more; some are rooming houses with who knows how many individual units. Ours is a typical downtown neighbourhood street with deep lots and narrow front footage. Municipal planning policies are encouraging even more density.

I walked down the one block of my street and counted 47 separate dwellings. To provide for all the separate flats, apartments, and rented rooms on the street, there would need to be at least double or triple that number of individual boxes at the “block superbox.” And that would accommodate only the current usage. The high cost of housing in Toronto encourages new owners to add a second or third unit to existing single family premises. The number of units on the street is constantly changing. The original configuration of the community box may well be outdated before it is even installed. How does the post office plan to keep up with the increasing density of the street?

And where is this “block superbox” to be located? Both sides of the north corner are sidewalks adjacent to a busy street which already has a dedicated bike lane on it, and is a bus route. Placing a post box on that corner would block visibility. The rest of the block includes small private gardens (treasured because they are so small), and sidewalks under a canopy of city trees. The only empty spot on the entire block is the verge of the parkette where there is a memorial stone honouring the namesake of the park and several trees. So now are we to have a wall of metal boxes blocking the vista between the parkette and the street? Not only on this block, but on every other block in entire neighbourhood? Hardly an aesthetic contribution to the neighbourhood. I don’t know about you, but if our very limited public space were taken up with an aluminum “block superbox,” I would consider it reminiscent of Stalinist Russia.

Canadians who live outside the big cities may not be sympathetic with our plight. My sister lives in Dawson City, Yukon, a community of 1400. There, everyone has a mailbox at the town post office. Picking up the mail is part of the daily ritual and the post office is a social center for the community. That’s how it has always been; that’s how it always will be. Similarly, my son and his family live in Whitby, in a recently-built suburban housing development. When they bought their home, they did so with the knowledge that the community mail box was right around the corner, built into the planning of the new community.

Neither scenario applies to the old city of Toronto. And if Canada Post thinks they can impose their “one size fits all” agenda on everyone willy-nilly, they’d better think again. In Toronto, that’s not how things are done. Here, the expectation is that all government bodies, agencies, businesses or organizations, anyone wanting to use city property for their own purposes must apply to the city, and get their approvals. If they want buy-in from the locals, they’d better go out and get input from the community in advance. Why should Canada Post be any different?

Snail mail may be increasingly obsolete, but it is not entirely dead. Better to have less frequent delivery than have the city cluttered with “Stalinist superboxes.” Isn’t the federal government responsible for Canada Post? Where is Stephen Harper on this issue? How come Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair are not calling him to account? And if local governments do not have the authority to pass bylaws which can apply to Canada Post, then Kathleen Wynne’s majority government at Queen’s Park should see that they do.

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Will the Mike Duffy Trial Taint Stephen Harper’s Brand?

What is most remarkable about Stephen Harper as Prime Minister has been the tenacity of his brand. Apparently made of Teflon. Two recent books, Mark Bourrie’s Kill the Messengers: Stephen Harper’s Assault on Your Right to Know (Harper Collins 2015), and Michael Harris’s Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada’s Radical Makeover (Viking, 2014) catalogue his track record. On a litany of issues, over the entire term of his office, he has stirred hornets’ nests of opposition.

Criticism that would be expected from the Official Opposition, has come from independent Officers of Parliament, from brave civil servants who have given up their positions for their principles, and from a host of knowledgeable people (dare I say “experts”?) across the country: scientists, economists, veterans, health care professionals, lawyers, chiefs of police, planners, even members of the business community. Controlling, consistently partisan, he has used his majority to impose many laws for non-problems which are dysfunctional, fly in the face of the evidence, and are often blatantly unconstitutional. Former Progressive Conservatives have shaken their heads in despair at how his anti-intellectual populism, his contempt for Parliament and the Supreme Court, and his pandering to the “old country” politics of some new Canadians has hijacked Canadian conservatism. And now he vilifies a young woman wearing her niqab at a citizenship ceremony apparently to ally himself with xenophobic Quebecers who championed their shameful “Charter of Values.” For all that, he is considered a “brilliant politician,” who caters to his base, rides out the storms, and appears set for re-election.

Now we have the trial of Senator Mike Duffy, on 31 counts of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery relating to residency expense claims, expense claims unrelated to Senate business, awarding of consulting contracts, and accepting $90,000 from Prime Minister Harper’s Chief of Staff Nigel Wright. Commentators differ on what effect this trial will have on the upcoming federal election. Clearly, it is the talk of the town in Ottawa, and among “the chattering classes” and political junkies across the country. They will dine on the morsels of meat which the media gleans each day from hours of evidence which may seem irrelevant to some. But the average person on the street? Some commentators say that the trial is no more than a rehash of an old story which burned itself out last year, and there is nothing new to add. The average voter, they say, is cynical about politics and politicians, has already written off Duffy as just another “pig at the trough,” and “doesn’t care” how it relates, if at all, to Prime Minister Harper. And besides, the Prime Minister will divert attention from the trial with his upcoming budget, the publicly funded “infomercials” about his promised tax breaks “to families,” and fears of terrorism in our midst.

But is this true? There are certain key facts about this case:

1) Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed Mike Duffy to the Canadian Senate in December 2008 to fill a vacant seat representing Prince Edward Island.

2) At that time, Mike Duffy had lived in Ottawa for over 20 years. His connection to P.E.I. was that the island was his place of birth and he owned a cottage there. On the first day of trial, Mark Holmes, the Crown Attorney prosecuting the case, appeared to concede that Duffy probably didn’t qualify for the position.

3) When issues were raised about Duffy’s claiming certain expenses relating to his residence, there were ongoing discussions between Duffy, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Conservative party. Ultimately, Nigel Wright, the Chief of Staff for Prime Minister Harper used $90,000 from his personal funds for Duffy to repay his disputed expenses.

Duffy’s defence is that he had no intent to commit the crimes with which he has been charged. Whatever Duffy did, he says he did at the behest of the Prime Minister’s Office and consistent with the practices then prevailing in the Senate. Whether he is ultimately convicted or not, his relationship with the Harper government is crucial. 

The irony of this case is juicy, indeed. Stephen Harper was elected to office on a platform to promote transparency and accountability in government. He has won kudos from his base for his “tough on crime” “law and order” agenda. He went to the Supreme Court of Canada on a reference asserting (wrongly) that his federal government alone could change the Senate. Yet here he is, the elephant in the room, as his personal appointee to the Senate exposes the bending of the rules, the partisan role of senators, the relationship between senators and the PMO, and the utter lack of accountability which appears to prevail. It’s a unique scandal, but it strikes at the heart of the Harper government and what it is supposed to stand for. Is this the last straw which tarnishes the Teflon? Will the Duffy trial, as Michael Den Tandt says in the National Post, be “Harper’s Waterloo”? The trial continues April 7th – May 12th and June 1st – 19th. We’ll see. 

Christie Blatchford, who is following the trial in detail, ended the first week of the trial “a little optimistic.” For all the sleazy detail of how the Senate runs, she praised retired Senate law clerk, Mark Audcent, the first witness, for his concluding “lesson in honour,” reminding the court of the standards of integrity, accountability, transparency and service which the public expects. Check out her video

***** I have posted a brief legal observation on the Mike Duffy trial in Re-view from the Bench.

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Why the Supreme Court’s Carter Decision was so speedy

The Supreme Court of Canada released their decision in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General) in record time. Read my analysis of why in Carter #2: A Template for Future Charter Litigation, posted on reviewfromthebench.ca.

If you are an Effervescent Bubble reader who wants email notice of new posts about legal issues, the courts and the legal system, please visit my legal blog and, in the sidebar on the right hand side, take the steps to “follow” that blog. Thank you.

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Canadian Armed Forces Celebrate International Women’s Day

On the bench and in retirement, I ceased to become an activist. Apart from the work done by the charities I support, I have lost track of the mainstream women’s movement and of the progress (or not) of women in sectors other than the law profession and the judiciary. I am aware that sexual assault and domestic violence are still with us. Grandmothers carry the ball after the devastation of AIDS in Africa. And women’s issues have broadened to the demand for equality and diversity.

International Women’s Day serves a very useful purpose. Set aside as March 8th since 1911, it is intended to celebrate the achievements of women and promote further equality. On Thursday night, I attended a Women’s Day celebration sponsored by the 4th Canadian Division/Joint Task Force Central of the Canadian Armed Forces, which has its headquarters at the Downsview military base in Toronto. The event was held at the Canadian Forces College, located at Yonge Boulevard and Wilson Avenue in Armour Heights.

It was my first exposure in a long time to current developments in the women’s movement and I left invigorated, rejuvenated, and optimistic about the future of women in Canada and elsewhere. As the generations have passed, “feminism” has not died. It has morphed into a different expression, in different contexts and, with men on board, it has gone mainstream.

In this one joyous and highly energetic event, I learned so much. I learned that Canada is among the world’s leaders at integrating women into the Canadian military. Although it’s not the total story, google “Canadian Armed Forces – historical milestones of women.” I learned about the Canadian Women’s Foundation which has invested over $40 million in charitable support to over 1200 community programs and to every women’s shelter across Canada since it was founded in 1991. I learned about the G(irls) 20 Summit in Mexico City in 2012. It tracks the G20 summit of world leaders and provides them with input on how to promote economic opportunities for women around the world. All that new knowledge, from one event: mind-blowing.

Equally important, we heard from women who have “broken through” the barriers and are sharing their experience with others.

Claire Charness, a fourth-year student at Wilfred Laurier University, was Canada’s delegate to the 2012 G(irls) 20 Summit. Three years ago, Claire would have been petrified to speak in public. Having attended the summit, she has found her voice. She spoke about how personal empowerment, gaining confidence, and figuring out one’s own leadership style can make things happen. With these tools, networking and modern technology, small actions can create meaningful change and have an unexpected ripple effect. She now writes on issues affecting women and youth for the online journal Swigg Talk. If Claire is an example of today’s youthful leaders, we can be confident that the torch is in very good hands.

Angela Mondou is Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering (CFSATE) at Borden, Ontario, President of Canada Company, the national non-partisan charitable organization founded in 2006 to support Canadian military and their families, and a noted national speaker on leadership, marketing and career strategies. She served in the Canadian Forces as a Logistics Officer and, as a Captain, did tours of duty in the First Gulf War and in United Nations missions in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Her theme was the need for women to take charge of their own careers, to ask for what they want, take risks, push the envelope to the next level into positions where failure is not an option and into the grey area where you may need to fake it until you make it. The more often you exercise the fear muscle, the stronger it gets and you move ahead. Her book, “Hit the Ground Leading!” is available by writing to angela@iceleadership.com.

Examples from her own career? When the military would not let women be trained as pilots, she took flying lessons on her own and soon became licensed to fly Cessnas. Working in Europe, she agitated for a posting in the “war zone” of the old Yugoslavia and found herself the only woman among 2,200 men in the field. When she retired from the military, she went on to senior positions in marketing for Nortel Networks and then for RIM-Blackberry. She described her efforts to get the Blackberry onto Oprah Winfrey. What should have been easy threw up all sorts of hurdles, including pushback from her own people. But she did it. And Blackberry thrived.

Sass Jordan, a singer and songwriter of hits such as “I Want to Believe,” and “Make you a Believer,” was appointed Honorary Colonel of 417 Combat Support Squadron, Cold Lake, Alberta, in September 2012. She has appeared on Broadway and on television, toured with her music, sang in the SARS relief concert in Toronto and entertained Canadian troops at Station Alert in the high Arctic. The secret of her success? Seeing people as people, focus, guts, defining your goal, being aware that you are not the only one on this planet. She has found that “being one person with an intention makes a huge difference in the world.” She loves story telling, and finds singing a form of story-telling which she can share with others. She knew she had “made it” when her songs showed up being sung at hockey games, and appearing on the back of a ketchup package at McDonald’s. She soon had everyone in the room joining in her song.

With such energy, enthusiasm and experience to draw on, there can be no doubt that women will thrive in the future. As they do so, the rest of the community will thrive with them.

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