Browsing the archives for the Civil Rights category.

Ottawa Citizen Declares Native Protest Horse Manure!

Canadian Politics, Civil Rights, Political Reality

The National Post chose to run a highly inflammatory opinion piece written by Christie Blatchford on Dec 27.  The next day the Ottawa Citizen’s editors decided to run the same article on the front page of their newspaper in a premier headline slot.  Most reputable newspapers reserve the front page for news and choose instead to publish commentary and opinion on the interior pages, usually near the editorial page or in a Comments section of the paper.

What is disturbing about the Ottawa Citizen’s editorial decision is that this offensive opinion piece denigrates the aboriginal spiritual practices of tobacco offerings and smudging ceremonies as “hideous puffery and horse manure”.   Why would the Citizen’s editors try to present such seemingly racist views as news?  Have they lost all journalistic professionalism?

The spiritual indigenous traditions of offering tobacco to show respect, smudging with sweetgrass & sage to purify and renew the spirit, and prayer at a Sacred Fire are no more “horse manure” than the Euro-Canadian traditions of offering gifts at Christmas, taking communion to renew the spirit, or praying at an altar in a Cathedral.  So how can Blatchford’s ridiculous pronouncement even remotely be considered newsworthy?

Incredibly, Blatchford also suggests that there isn’t enough aboriginal culture left to be worth recognizing First Nation treaty rights.   Presumably by Blatchford’s perverse reasoning, Jewish people should have abandoned their culture after the Holocaust, let alone dream of an Israeli nation.

Having abandoned both common sense and logic, Blatchford concludes her piece by insinuating that the peaceful protest by Chief Spence might somehow be perceived as  an act of “intimidation, if not terrorism”.  It would seem that Blatchford is easily frightened by democratic dissent.

This perspective marks a new low in missing the point of a situation.  First of all, the suffering of Canada’s indigenous communities has finally reached a breaking point where people at a grass-roots level simply are not going to take it any longer.  To suggest that their protests are some kind of a side-show requires an Orwellian perspective in which everything is the opposite of what it actually is.

Secondly, hunger strikes, blockades, marches onto Parliament hill appear to lead to madness (by those who fear democratic dissent) only because they are a symptom of a greater underlying madness that those protesters are trying to change.

It is a sign of governmental failure when people take to the streets in protest.  Something is broken in our social contract and the protesters are visibly calling attention to that problem by exercising their democratic freedom of expression.

When a person starts a hunger strike, willing to die rather than let the status quo continue, they are telling us that something is very seriously broken.  When that person is a leader, she is telling us that only the leaders can fix the underlying madness that is causing the problem.

So who is the terrorist?  Is it the Prime Minister for knowingly perpetuating a shameful system of colonial “governance” that promotes chronic poverty, substance abuse, abnormal youth suicide rates, and other suffering within indigenous communities? Or is it the woman sitting in a wigwam asking that Harper takes responsibility as a leader and engage in meaningful dialog to find ways to end these very serious problems?

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Probable Lost Cause

Civil Rights

Random Breath Testing

The Harper government is determined to erode the Charter of Rights protection against unreasonable search.

Their latest assault is found in the discussion paper on drunk driving legislation. 

While many of the proposed changes in the discussion paper are long-overdue, the Dept of Justice is also proposing that police be allowed to search drivers for intoxication at random and without reasonable cause.

Their reasoning for this is that since Australia, New Zealand, and 22 European countries violate their citizen’s right to be protected against unreasonable search, so should Canada.

By that rationale we should also eat shit because a million flys can’t be wrong!

Random vs RIDE

Random breath testing (RBT) is different than the Reduced Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) program that we are all familiar with

In the RIDE program, police stop all cars at a particular checkpoint but only administer breath tests if they subsequently have reasonable cause to do so.  This screeening is consistent with our Charter Rights and has proven to be effective in cutting down on drunk driving.

However, the government is now proposing to search drivers for intoxication without reasonable cause.

The discussion paper suggests that RBT is necessary because relying on the judgement of police is a weakness in the current system of detecting drunk drivers. 

However, if we cannot rely on the good judgement of police today, will we abandon jury trials tomorrow because we cannot rely on the good judgement of jurors?  What about the reliance on the good judgement of judges? 

In fact our entire legal system rests on good judgement in combination with Charter Rights – and that is a good thing.

The Charter recognizes that our Rights need to be balanced against the common good.  Our rights can be overridden if there is a compelling reason to do so.

However, the discussion paper does not meet the burden of proof that there is an overriding reason to violate the Charter right.  There is no evidence that suggests that:

  • a system of random checks is more effective than the current method whereby a police request a breath test on the basis of reasonable cause.  The statistics cited in the annex of the report do not prove that an alternative to RBT cannot obtain the same result as those claimed for RBT, or that a combination of measures (such as reducing allowable alcohol blood levels, more frequent use of RIDE, etc) cannot obtain the same results as RBT. 
  • random breath tests will be a deterrent to drunk drivers. 

Instead of RBT, a better deterrent would be to substantially increase the fines for a first offence and the penalties for subsequent offences beyond the amount proposed in the discussion paper. 

To quote an old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

Slippery Slope

First the airports and now our cars.  Where will this end? Will our homes be next?

If we allow police to search us without reasonable cause, they can enter our homes on a fishing expedition at any time just to check that we are not law-breakers.

The argument that “if you are a law-abiding citizen you have nothing to fear” assumes that miscarriage of justice never happens.  Tell that to Maher Arar, or the many innocent people incarcerated in Canadian jails because of a mistake / incompetence / or malfeasence by police.

Our right to privacy is fundamental.  Please tell the government so by emailing the Justice Department at and objecting to random breath testing.

You have until April 30, 2010 to do so.  After that point, the consultation period ends and so will your right to privacy.

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Ongoing Threat of Terrorism?

Civil Rights

Threat vs Risk

Although we keep hearing about the “ongoing threat of terrorism“, the Canadian political leaders and senior government officials who use this phrase are glossing over the important difference between a “threat” and a “risk”.

  • Threat = An indication of probable danger or loss.
  • Risk = A hazard or probability of a loss.

By definition a threat is a specific menance – there is no such thing as a “general threat” or “ongoing threat”. 

The correct term for a general or ongoing hazard is a risk.

Both a threat and a risk are uncertain – meaning that they may or may not occur and the likelihood of occurence can be understood in terms of probabilities. 

A threat usually has a higher probability since it is based on a clear indication of an imminent possible loss instead of the mere possibility of a loss.

By confusing a threat with a risk, anti-terrorism advocates grey the boundary between a clear indication and a foggy possibility. 

In other words, there is no such thing as a general or ongoing “threat of terrorism”, only a “risk of terrorism”. 

Threat Analysis

Although an ongoing threat of terrorism doesn’t exist, it is possible that a specific “terrorist threat” exists.

Assuming that it is possible to define what a “terrorist”  is (another foggy concept), any specific threat can be analyzed in terms of:

  • capacity of a specific criminal to implement a specific threat,
  • probability that the threat will be implemented based on that capacity, and
  • potential impact to the public if implemented.

Notice that the impact of a threat in a threat analysis is discounted by both the capacity of the criminal to act and the probability that they will act.

By comparison a risk is analyzed in terms of:

  • identification of different types of hazards,
  • probability that each hazard can occur,
  • potential impact of the hazard when it occurs.

Notice that in a risk analysis the impact of each risk is discounted only by the probability that the risk can occur. 

Although a risk analysis has less detail than a threat analysis, the probabilities of risk are much smaller.  Hence more detail would just be lost anyway.

For example, the probability of a terrorist attack on an airplane is less than 1 in 16 Million.

The Enemy Within

In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not grant absolute rights to privacy or even human rights.  These rights are subject to reasonable limits as can be demonstratably justified in a free and democratic society.

Unless we challenge the justification presented every time our civil rights are trampled by so-called “anti-terrorism” activities, we risk the loss of those rights.

Worse yet is the fact that the loss of each right magnifies the impact of losing subsequent rights. 

For example, the UN Human Rights Council warns that the loss of privacy rights leads to the loss of freedom of association and expression, and to miscarriages of justice, failures of due process and wrongful arrest.

Clearing the fog of language and putting the actual risks in perspective is essential to stopping the ongoing abuse of our civil liberties.

The real enemy within our society is our willingness to

  • accept remote risks as imminent threats, and to
  • accept charter violations as the price of protection against improbable “threats”.
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The Real Risk

Civil Rights

Airplane Terrorists

According to the US Dept. of Transportation, there were exactly 96,737,658 scheduled commercial airline flights (domestic & international to the USA) during the 10-year period from Jan 2000 to Dec 2009.  During the same 10-year period (including the attempt made at the start of 2010), there were 6 attempted terrorist attacks on US aviation.  The actual risk of terrorist attack is 6 / 96.7 Million, or 1 in 16,122,943.

According to the US Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), a total of 708.4 Million passenger screeens were performed in 2004, implying that roughly 7 Billion security screens were performed during the same 10-year period.  Not one of those screens ever caught a terrorist.

However a total of 1,708,400,522 “knifes” were seized as a result of performing 708,400,522 passenger scans and 535,020,271 baggage scans during 2004.  That’s 1 in 728, or 0.1%.

It is important to remember that in 2004, TSA determined that a file attached to your toenail clipper was actually a “knife”.    Other “dangerous” items confiscated by the TSA included 11,616,249 lighters (that are now permitted on aircraft).

To capture these “dangerous” items, the TSA unconstitutionally opened 16% of all checked bags, of which there were 85,571,710.   These searches were unconstitutional because they were performed without probable cause.  In other words, if the TSA were treated as a police force, they would not have been able to obtain a search warrant for those searches.

Assuming an average of 2 checked bags per passenger that checks bags, that means that 15.9% of 42.8 Million passengers, or 6.8 Million passengers a year have their constitutional rights violated by an illegal search.  Over a 10-year period, this is roughly 68 Million people.

Although many people believe that TSA stands for “Thousands Standing Around”, the statistics show the real meaning is “Terrorizing by Searching Airlines”.

Comparative Risks

According to the US National Lightning Safety Institute,  the highest risk of being struck by lightning in North America occurs in Wyoming.  That state has a casualty rate of 7.21 per Million, or 1 in 138,696.  (By comparison, the odds of being struck by lightning in Canada is 1 in 428,571.)  You would need to fly on 116 airplanes to have the same risk as a lightning strike in Wyoming.  Let alone actually being a casualty due to the 1:138,696 odds.

According to the State of California Dept of Conservation, the annual risk of experiencing an earthquake in San Fransciso is 1 in 62.5 (80% chance in 50 years).  You would need to fly on 257,967 airplanes to run the same risk.  Funny that such a “high” risk doesn’t seem to bother the 16.4 Million visitors to San Fransisco each year.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the incidence rate of breast cancer is 102 per 100,000 or roughly 1 in 1000.  A woman would need to fly on 16,452 airplanes to be at the same level of risk as she already is from breast cancer.

According to Statistics Canada, the mortality rate due to all causes is 712 per 100,000 or 1 in 140.  In other words you are 115,000 times more likely to die from other causes than you are from an attack on the airplane you are on.

According to the Paling Perspective Scale published by the Risk Communications Institute, a risk level of 1 in 16 Million is an risk that is “Effectively Zero”. 

In fact, according to the Risk Communications Institute,  the risk of being at risk (due all causes of risk) is only 1 in 100,000.

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No Choice At All

Civil Rights

False Choices

The Charter of Rights & Freedoms protects us from unreasonable search.

Yet CATSA is searching Canadians on wholesale basis and since virtually all travellers are innocent, these searches are unreasonable as they lack probable cause. 

The Charter provides that the rights of the minority may be compromised to protect the majority, but in this case the rights of both the minority and the majority are being violated. 

Offering travellers a choice between two types of illegal search is no choice at all.

How You Can Protest

You can email the Transport Minister:  John Baird

You can email the Justice Minister & Attorney General of Canada:  Rob Nicholson

You can write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

You can post to blog sites. Blog postings are generally searchable so they will turn up in Google searches. Most newspapers have blog sites.

You can join a Facebook group such as “Stop TSA Full Body Scans” at

You can complain to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association by calling Graeme Norton, Director, Public Safety Project, 416-363-0321, x. 223. The CCLA has a rather weak policy position currently on this and could use some more backbone.

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Strip-Searching The Charter of Rights

Civil Rights, Virtual Reality

Airport Strip-Searches
One of the goals of this blog is to comment on the duality between our actual and virtual realities. Most of the time our collective virtual society mirrors our real-world beliefs and values.

On today’s Internet we find the full range of human behaviour (including virtualized dating, sex, marriage, and funerals) mirrored from our real world and for the most part our response to it is the same as what we wished we could do in the real world. It is cause for alarm, however, whenever our virtual response differs from our real-world response.

Would you comply if you were asked, prior to boarding an aircraft, to step into a room and remove all your clothes so that a security officer could visually confirm that you had nothing under your clothes but your naked body?

Yet that is exactly what happens during a 1mm virtual scan of your body.  A security officer being in a different room is basically the same as using TV to visually inspect your nakedness. The level of detail in the virtual scan is about as good as your eyesight and comparable to an air-brushed image that removes pimples and other blemishes smaller than 1mm.

Charter of Rights
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly states, para 8, that “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.”.

The definition of “unreasonable” under traditional legal interpretation means that it is unreasonable for you to be searched without probable cause. Under the Charter of Rights, a police officer who had reasonable cause to suspect that you were going to blow up an airplane would be justified to search you via a pat-down or, after arresting you, via a strip search.

The Charter protects us from being searched without any reason to do so. Boarding an aircraft is not a valid reason since all travellers have no intention of blowing up the aircraft.

In fact, given that attempts to blow up an airplane occur less than once a year, all travellers are innocent virtually all of the time. This is hardly probable cause for strip-searching all passengers.

Privacy Commissioner
Why should airport security be given more latitude under the law than a police officer?

Jennifer Stoddard, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, believes that the ends justify the means. In a recent letter to the Ottawa Citizen and posted to her website, she outlined the 4-point test that she applied to this question.

The 4-point test applied by Ms. Stoddard starts with (1) “Is the measure necessary to address a specific risk?”. In other words are the means necessary to achieve the ends?

If so the ends justify the means as long as (2) they work, (3) the loss of privacy is proportional to the identified need (i.e. loss of privacy caused by the means is proportionate to the ends that are to be achieved), and (4) there is no less privacy invasive way of achieving the same end. It is all about the ends justifying the means.

Perhaps the reason why the Privacy Commissioner of Canada does not defend our privacy rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is because she has no mandate to do so.

According to the Privacy Act that defines her office and duties, the Privacy Commissioner is limited to reviewing situatations only pertaining to the privacy of information about an individual and not the individual’s inaliable rights and freedoms. The letter on her website confirms that “… it is neither our duty nor expertise to assess the aviation threat and risk assessments…”

In other words her office has no business making a decision on CATSA’s request to strip search Canadians – whether it is done virtually or otherwise.

Just because the Privacy Commissioner says it’s OK to do so doesn’t change that fact that full body scanning and pat-downs without probable cause is a violation of our Charter Rights.

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Visas or Freedom?

Civil Rights

It would seen that our civil liberties are yet again under attack by Big Brother.

The latest is the “requirement” for greater disclosure of personal information in return for not requiring Canadians to apply for a visa when visting the USA.

Here we go hunting terrorists again.  This constant surveillance must end.  At what point do we become those that we fignt against?

If Canada is reduced to a police state where every person is watched (aka Orwell’s 1984), what have we accomplished in “protecting” ourselves from so-called terrorism? 

The real terror is Big Brother.

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