Browsing the archives for the Political Reality category.

Has the Ottawa Citizen Become a Blogspaper?

Economic Reality, Financial Crisis, Political Reality, South March Highlands, Virtual Reality

Today, Jan 12 2013,  there is no news article to be found anywhere on today’s front page of the Ottawa Citizen’s print edition.  The only article is a columnist’s opinion piece.

The Ottawa Citizen, which has recently been steadily displacing news with opinion on its front page, appears to have taken another step in a transition from being a reputable newspaper to being primarily a compendium of opinion articles – in effect a blogspaper.  Actual reporting of news appears to have become a scare commodity on the front page where opinion-based articles written by columnists appear to be increasingly crowding-out fact-based news.

The reason for this is probably economic as more and more people rely on Internet news sources than print sources.  I’ve been told by former Citizen reporters that fewer than half the reporters that worked at the Citizen in 2005 remain due to rounds of budget cutbacks.  Many of the columnists employed by the Citizen are syndicated across more than one newspaper to reduce costs.

The need to protect non-subscription revenue – i.e. advertising – appears to explain why news reporting over the past few years at the Citizen seemed to become skewed, by what appears to be selective editing, in favour of the interests of its largest sources of ad revenue: new home sales, real estate, car sales, and city notices.

Selective editing is invisible to those not intimately familiar with an issue being “reported”.  It wasn’t until I participated in the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands that I personally realized the extent of news that simply was not being reported in the Citizen.

  • For example, on more than one occasion I or someone else in the Coalition would be interviewed by a reporter, only to see the Coalition’s perspective omitted or under-represented in the subsequent article.
  • Other media (TV, radio) would report our perspective in a more balanced way, but compared to the print space allocated to support a developer’s or the City of Ottawa’s perspective, it appeared that an editorial slant was silently at work.
  • From discussions with spokespeople for other environmental groups in Ottawa, it appears that selective editing is widespread.  One can only wonder if it will naturally lead to selective reporting by reporters who will see the futility in reporting more than will ever be printed.

I also see the same signs of lack of depth & balance in the reporting of the Idle No More movement that I also have first-hand knowledge of.  For example, prior to running sensational headlines about the audit at Attawapiskat, did the Citizen bother to investigate the other side to the story?

  • How many qualified accountants even exist within a 1000-mile radius of a tiny, isolated, northern community in which few have any opportunity for post-secondary education?  Attawapiskat has an on-reserve population of less than 1,600 people and 1/3 of them are under the age of 19.  Most of its 1000 adults are unemployed, living in crowded, substandard, housing with no running water.
  • As for education, the state of deteriorating buildings caused the elementary school to be closed in 2000 and replaced by crowded portables which hardly promote a positive educational experience in the average -30 C weather during the school year. The space in those portables is only 50% of the standard that is supposed to be funded by the Federal Government.
  • So is it surprising that record-keeping is not to the standard expected by Certified Public Accountants?  There isn’t even a doctor in Attawapiskat, so why would anyone expect to find a professional accountant in a warm and comfy office diligently recording receipts?  The real story is that the Chief’s husband upgraded his accounting skills in a best-effort to try to improve financial accountability and, according to the audit, this resulted in fewer audit concerns.  Much has been made of the daily rate charged for this service, but has anyone inquired into how many days he billed?
  • More to the point, is there actually any evidence of misappropriation of funds?  Or is it possible that it was more expedient for the Citizen to run a story that required less investigative journalism?

The Federal government, who does not advertise much in the Citizen, appears to be the main target for investigative news which provides the illusion of continued balanced reporting to many.   But with fewer reporters on payroll, how long will even this continue?

Today may be remembered as a day of infamy for journalism as no news content at all was reported on the front page.  Headlines and a columnist’s article do not make much of a newspaper – especially for the advertising enriched weekend edition.

There once was a time when the Ottawa Citizen won awards for the high-quality of its investigative journalism.  Sadly those days appear to be gone, and so now I personally rely on the Globe and Mail for old-fashioned, real “news”.  Most bloggers like me are not trained journalists.  Some of us, like some of the columnists in the Citizen, try to present facts along with opinion but our primary service is to share our fair comment on the news – not report the news.

As the Internet inevitably eviscerates the Fourth Estate and replaces it with the Fifth Estate, I for one will miss its professionalism.  Meanwhile I still subscribe to the Citizen because my wife enjoys its extensive funny papers.

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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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Prorogued or Paid?

Canadian Politics, Legislative Gaps

Dalton McGuinty’s decision to use his minority position to prorogue (i.e. suspend) Ontario’s legislature is the latest in a series of disturbing tactics by Canadian politicians that threaten our democracy.

The act of proroguing a legislature supposed to be used to end one session of a parliament so that another can be started under a new legislative agenda.

  • The new session starts with a Speech to the Throne that outlines the legislation that a government plans to bring forward during that session.
  • The session normally ends when the government has met its stated legislative objectives and needs to table a new agenda.
  • Prorogation is used to provide the time required to prepare the new agenda.

Prorogation is not intended to be used to abrogate democracy.  Both McGuinty and Stephen Harper have used loopholes in the prorogation procedure to escape public enquiry that might lead to a vote of non-confidence in their minority governments.

Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right.

The date of the next session of parliament / legislature should be announced when the previous session is prorogued.  The amount of time between sessions should be reasonable (60 to 90 days) so that a new legislative agenda can be prepared.

Unfortunately the Ontario Legislative Assembly Act does not require the date for the new session to be announced at the time of prorogation, and allows the Assembly to be suspended for up to a year.

The Ontario government doesn’t pay teachers for not teaching during the summer, or doctors who don’t see patients, so why do we pay our elected representatives for not representing us?

It’s time we closed these gaps in our democracy by amending the Legislative Assembly Act:

  • Members of the Assembly should be paid only when the Assembly is in session or is prorogued for less than 90 days.
  • The Lieutenant Governor should be required to proclaim the date of the next session at the time of proroguing the current session of the legislature.
  • In the event that a minority government requests prorogation before completing all of their objectives as declared in their most recent Speech to the Throne, the Lieutenant Governor should be required to ask the other leaders in the Assembly if they can form a government which can carry out its objectives.  Only if no other leader can form a government should premature prorogation be granted to a minority leader.

If every legislature and parliament in Canada made similar amendments, the likes of McGuinty or Harper would think twice about using prorogation to escape the democratic process.

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Ontario’s Broken EA Process

Canadian Politics, Legislative Gaps

No Checks and Balances

If the Harper government has their way, the limited responsibility of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) will be downloaded onto the provinces.  In the current budget, the federal government has already done that for all projects funded under the pork barrel commonly known as the Infrastructure Fund.

In Ontario, this means that environmental responsibility will be downloaded onto an environmental assessment (EA) process that the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario  (ECO) has outright declared as “broken”.

Ontario’s environmental protection process is broken in so many ways that a full discussion of these problems is well beyond the scope of this blog.  Instead, we will focus on arguably the most crucial issue – the almost total lack of checks and balances in the EA process.

The Ontario Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) sets out a decision-making process to be used by government ministries, municipalities, and the private sector that is intended to promote sound environmental planning.

The EAA establishes a minimum process for EAs and further defines that Classes of projects that routinely occur (such as municipal roads), can be defined by the Ministry of Environment (MoE) along with a Class EA process that such projects are to follow.

For example, the MoE decided long ago that the Class EA process for municipal projects is defined by the Municipal Class EA (MCEA) process and that the responsibility for the MCEA process was to be downloaded onto the Municipal Engineers Association of Ontario.  This is a professional association of the civil engineers who build municipal roads and infrastructure – having no expertise in ecological or natural environment matters.

Furthermore, since everyone expects that municipalities and provinical government ministries and agencies will act responsibly, the EAA  defines that Class EA projects are to be “proponent-driven”.

This puts class projects into a different league than those done by the private sector.  There are no checks on the Class process followed by a proponent, nor are there counter-balances that can be used to enforce compliance even if process irregularities are reported.  Meanwhile private sector proponents have to implement a process monitored by the MoE, creating a Do As I Say and Not As I Do situation.

This also means that provincial authorities such as the MoE and Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) have actually no authority to tell municipalities how to conduct an EA.  At best, they provide an advisory role to municipalities and, except for their role in granting various permits that may be required for a project, have no authority to tell a municipality to shape up.

For example, the MoE cannot tell the City of Ottawa that the Terry Fox Project is overdue for public consultation and is unable to compell the City to review a decade’s worth of changes to the project with the residents who will be affected by it.

The MCEA process relies entirely on the City determining, on its own, that sufficient changes to project scope or context have occured to warrant the effort of preparing an EA Addendum (which effectively restarts the EA process).

No Public Comment

Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights (EBR) doesn’t help matters because, under Section 32, ministreies do not have to provide an opportunity for public comment for permits issued to implement a project that has been approved by the EAA.

This means that once an MCEA project is approved by the filing of a Notice of Completion for the EA that was done, there is only a narrow 30-day window in which it can be challenged.

Even though the project may not be implemented for years afterward, or may even be changed in scope subsequently, there is no opporuntity for further public intervention in the process.

Meanwhile a municipality can make significant changes, apply for permits, and obtain approvals for those changes all without public review and comment.  Depending on the permit application involved, there may be a limited window for comments on the application, but this is spotty and relies on public monitoring of little-known registries where these permit applications are posted.

Take the example of permits to take water.  Private-sector proposals to take water from wells, streams or lakes are posted on the Ontario Environmental Registry for public comment in case there may be concerns about significant environmental impact.  If the public continues to have concerns once a permit to take water is issued, the EBR provides the right to request an appeal.  An independent tribunal applies strict criteria to decide whether or not to grant the appeal, hears the case if an appeal is granted, or facilitates a settlement.

But if a municipality wants to take water, it is only required to go through an EAA process and no EBR notice is required.  Hence a change to a project involving the routing of a storm or sanitary sewer can be done silently after the 30-day Notice of Completion window has expired.

The public misses important opportunities to provide input on municipal water-taking approvals even though water quality and quantity issues have been of concern for many Ontarians since the Walkerton incident.

Enter The Clowns

The net result is that:

  • municipalities can and do assert that they are compliant with the EA process when often they are not.  In fact, they can make a total mockery of the process and get away with it.
  • the municipal EA process is effectively regulated by a non-governmental body having no public accountability.
  • there is no ecological natural “environment” expertise mandated in the EA process at all.
  • there are no checks on the process and even if there were, there are no balancing forces to assure the outcome intended by the EAA.
  • there is no tribunal that the public can appeal to when a municipality violates their trust.  Their only recourse is an expensive application to the court system where they will face an opponent funded by their own tax-dollars!

Is this how we want to protect our environment?

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Harper Owes Us Minimum EA Standards

Canadian Politics, Legislative Gaps

The changes to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA)  proposed by Harper will withdraw or limit the Federal government Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency from mandating or participating in a wide range of Environmental Assessments (EA).

Since the federal government will not require EAs on a broader range of projects, this creates a vacume of responsibility that effectively hands over more responsibility to the provinces for assuring that EAs are actually done.

While we should question the wisdom of a federal retreat on EAs, we must absolutely insist that if the government wants to retreat, then they must ensure that a higher minimum standard is in place to be enforced by other levels or branches of government.

There are many holes in the current set of provincial standards as is well evidenced by the current Terry Fox Road fiasco in Ottawa.

For example, current code of conduct for EAs:

  1. Do not require species impact assessment to be performed when species-at-risk are threatened by a proponent of a project.
  2. Do not identify hard minimium criteria for when mitigation alternatives must be considered by a proponent.
  3. Do not require that effectiveness assessment be performed for proposed mitigation measures when the are intended to protect endangered species.
  4. Do not require a proponent to specifically address the issues raised by public consultation – they only require that public consultation occurs.
  5. Do not provide a minimum standard of practice to be used when evaluating alternatives. For example, there is no requirement to prioritize criteria nor is there a required code of practice for evaluating alternatives.
  6. Do not identify hard criteria to guide the selection of scope for an EA. Existing guidance varies by province and uses woolly terms such as “project complexity” which is to be interpreted solely by the proponent.
  7. Do not require minimum criteria to ensure provincial oversight of the EA process. The Class EA process in Ontario, for example, is a proponent-driven process with little involvement from provincial authorities to ensure that it is properly completed.
  8. Do not identify hard criteria for determining when an EA Addendum is required due to changing project circumstances. As an example, the City of Ottawa took the position that it did not need to file an EA Addendum even though it’s project planned to divert the only tributary that drains a sub-watershed.
  9. Do not require proponents to publish and entertain feedback on planned environmental measures.
  10. Do not provide a basis for appeal after completion of the EA process when new information arises that contradicts the assumptions made during an EA. For example, a poorly executed study may fail to identify species-at-risk during the EA process. Subsequent discovery should be basis for appeal.

There are many, many other improvents that can be made to the EA process. If Harper wants to retreat, then he should strike a royal commission to assemble minimum standards to be left in his wake.

Please post your own suggestions for minimum EA standards.

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Why Engineering Standards For Evironmental Studies Are Needed

Canadian Politics, Legislative Gaps

Ecology Ottawa conducted an analysis of political contributions made by housing developers to Ottawa City Councillors during the last municipal election.

In total, over $121,300 was contributed to winning candidates (the study did not examine contributions to losing candidates).  Top of the list was Gord Hunter who received over 49% of funding for his political campaign from developers.

Not surprising considering that Mr. Hunter is a member of the City’s Planning & Environment Committee.  Other members of the PEC that received substantial contributions are Bob Monet (32%) and Michel Bellemare (25%).

Fortunately the Chair and Vice-Chair of the committee had the integrity to decline such donations.  However, there is nothing other than personal integrity preventing them from doing so.

The municipal planning & environment committee is the only oversight that municipal environmental studies have.  The City of Ottawa has an indepedant Environmetal Advisory Committee, however, their mandate does not include quality assurance of environmental studies.

As far as the provincial Ministry of Environment is concerned, Class Environmental Assessments are conducted on a self-assessment basis.  These are the vast majority of environmental studies and the  province only requires that they be done and that they address prescribed content  – not that they be done properly!

For example the province only requires that proponents of Class Environmental Assessments consider alternatives and document their decision making process – not that they follow any specific decision making process, or even test that they have a sound process for evaluating decisions!  This is the loophole that allowed the City of Ottawa to ignore it’s own planning criteria in evaluating alternatives for the Terry Fox Road Expansion.

Another example is that the province does not provide clear-cut criteria for measuring the impact of a proposed project.  For example, the Terry Fox Road Expansion which threatens 3 endangered species (because it cuts across a Provincially Significant wetland)  is subject to the same process as the Hazeldean Road Expansion which poses no threat to endangered species (because it occurs in a semi-urban area).

So without minimum standards governing engineering practice to be followed when conducting Class EAs, there are no checks and balances in the process – other than the checks written by developers!

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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 ID-consultation-FA@justice.gc.ca 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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Green Party passes NDP?

Canadian Politics

Nationwide

A new EKOS poll shows that Canadian support for the Green Party is significantly higher in all regions except for Alberta, where it is holding steady.

The EKOS poll asked Canadians “If a Federal election were held tomorrow, who would you vote for?”.

Nationally, 13.4% of Canadians would vote Green, up 2.2 points. In British Columbia, Green support has jumped 6.2 points to a high of 18.5 and a similar jump of 5.1 points appears in Atlantic Canada.

Ekos January 2010 Poll

Canada (MoE 2.4)

Conservatives: 33.1 (-2.8)
Liberals: 27.8 (+1.1)
NDP: 16.0 (-1.0)
Green: 13.4 (+2.2)
Bloc Quebecois*: 9.8 (+0.6)
Undecided: 14.7


The EKOS poll would have you believe that the Green Party has now surpassed the NDP in both Ontario and Quebec.  A review of the statistics shows (sadly) that this conclusion is premature.

Provincial Details

British Columbia (MoE 7.32)
Conservatives: 34.2 (-0.8)
NDP: 25.9 (-2.9)
Liberals:  21.4 (-2.2)
Green: 18.5 (+6.2)

Note that with a margin of error of 7.32, the Green Party could place as high as 2nd in BC standings, but more than likely in 3rd place as only 1/2 of the MoE is needed to overtake the Liberals.

Alberta (MoE 8.95)
Conservatives: 61.7 (+1.0)
Liberals: 15.0 (+1.1)
Green: 13.2 (-1.9)
NDP: 10.0 (-0.4)

With a MoE of nearly 9, the Green Party could also place 2nd in Alberta on the high side and drop to a 2% last place on the low side.  Again only 1/2 MoE is necessary to take 2nd place.

Saskatchewan/Manitoba (MoE 11.55)
Conservatives: 48.6 (-4.5)
NDP: 27.3 (+6.8)
Liberals: 12.4 (-5.2)
Green: 11.7 (+2.9)

The MoE is almost the same as the entire Green score.  Both the Greens and Liberals are barely statistically significant in the mid-west.  Is this the Oil Sand’s effect skewing the Saskatchewan results?

Ontario (MoE 3.91)
Liberals: 36.0 (+2.5)
Conservatives: 35.4 (-3.6)
Green: 14.3 (+1.6)
NDP: 14.2 (-0.6)

The MoE of close to 4 indicates that the Greens & NDP are tied for 3rd in Ontario as are the Liberals and Conservatives for 1st.

Quebec (MoE 4.85)
Bloc Quebecois: 38.2 (+1.4)
Liberals: 27.5 (+2.9)
Conservatives: 14.6 (-2.7)
Green: 10.2 (+1.5)
NDP: 9.6 (-3.2)

Statistically, the Greens, Conservatives, and NDP are tied for 3rd in Quebec.

Atlantic Canada (10.82)
Conservatives: 32.6 (-2.6)
Liberals: 28.4 (-2.8)
NDP: 27.2 (+0.3)
Green: 11.8 (+5.1)

With a MoE of close to 11 the Green Party is not statistically relevant in Atlantic Canada and there is a 3-way horse race for 1st.

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Ontario Just Killed Contracting

Canadian Politics, Economic Reality

The surprise changes made to the Ontario Employment Standards Act has effectively killed the contracting option for unemployed professional or white collar staff.

Under the new changes to this law, there is no such thing as a “contractor” unless an individual works for his or her own independent consulting company.  Anyone reselling the services of another is deemed to be an employment agency and the contractor is deemed to be an employee of that agency.

This means that the “agency” must provide the “employee” with severance even if they have not been on assignment when the “employment” ends and holiday pay even if the contractor does not work on a statutory holiday!! The “agency” cannot protect themselves by charging a finders fee in the event that the client ultimately hires the contractor.  So who in their right mind would ever contract out work to an Ontario resident?

In the past, The Lanigan Group and a great many other small consulting businesses would subcontract out overflow work that they could not handle with their staff.  Often this work would go to subcontractors who more often than not were temporarily unemployed professionals.  These assignments would often help bridge that professional until they could find a full time job.  In fact, according to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, fully 22% of all “self-employed” persons in Ontario pursued contract work because they were in-between full time jobs.

However, the Ontario government, in their zeal to “protect” temporary employees, has now made it prohibitive for small consulting businesses to continue that practice.  Now overflow work will either be directed outside of Ontario to contractors, or to another incorporated consulting company.

Over 60% of small businesses in Ontario are sole proprietors who are unincorporated.  In fact there are 21% more unincorporated sole proprietors than paid employees in Ontario.  As a result of this new law, NONE of them have any hope of obtaining contract assignments unless they are fortunate enough to find their own contracts.

It’s difficult to see how these changes to the law help reduce the high unemployment rate in the tech sector in Ontario.  Perhaps if the Ontario government had actually taken the time to consult with industry before killing the practice of technology contracting, the economy might actually have recovered next year for those in the tech sector.

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Lien on Nortel Patents

Political Reality, Virtual Reality

Just as a plumber can place a construction lien on a house when they are not fully paid for their labour, Nortel’s current and past employees should have the right to place a lien on the intellectual property they created but are not being fully paid for via pension and severance obligations.

Under common law, a lien is a form of security interest granted over an item of property to secure the payment of a debt or performance of some other obligation.

At the time of employment, Nortel created a contractual obligation to pay it’s employees salary and pension in return for transfer of ownership of all intellectual property, including patents, created by its employees.

Nortel, in bankruptcy, has breached that contract and Nortel’s past and current employees should be entitled to collectively place an equitable lien on the patent portfolio to assure payment.

If our current federal and provincial governments were not asleep at the switch concerning Nortel’s demise, they would be enshrining this protective right for white collar workers into statute in the same way that the Construction Lien Act protects blue collar workers.

Instead our elected representatives have their heads stuck in dark places while US and European jurisdictions pick apart all of Nortel’s assets to protect their native workers.

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The day the music on hold died

Canadian Politics, Economic Reality, Virtual Reality

Helping Nortel

Today Nortel became another casualty of the deepening financial crisis by filing for creditor protection.  Amazingly the Canadian federal government, fresh from extending billions of dollars of credit to the auto industry of the past, managed to scrounge up all of $30 M in credit financing for the digital industry.

What a joke.  $250 Million for GM vs $30 M for Nortel.  GM with all of 19,000 employees in Canada is smaller than today’s Nortel that weighs in with 26,000 employees (mostly in Canada) – let alone the Nortel of yesteryear that once employed 95,000 with over 20,000 in Ottawa alone. 

Perhaps the fact that our federal finance minister is the member of parliament representing the GM employees in Oshawa has something to do with the smell of conflict of interest in this.

Meanwhile, McGuinty’s Ontario government is actually bragging about how they turned down Nortel’s application for financing under the NGOF pork barrel.  But McGuinty can find easily find $8 M to create 133 jobs at some outfit called Cyclone Manufacturing – is this a way to ensure that Ontario is a global leader in anything?

When, Nortel, the largest and one of the oldest companies in Canada is in trouble, our politicians don’t give a shite.  As recently as 2001, Nortel alone was 1/3 of the entire value of the TSX.  If job creation was actually important to our provincial government, a reasonable person might expect them to consider helping companies that actually have proven that they can employ Canadians in high tax-paying jobs.

Nortel’s Legacy

The impact of Nortel on the global economy across the 115 year history of the company is impossible to count. 

Every time you pick up a touch tone phone, use digital communications of any kind, experience broadband Internet access enabled by optical technology, or DSL, or high speed wireless – you are using technology invented by Nortel.

Every time you access your bank or brokerage account online, or use your mobile phone, you are riding on one or more protocols designed by Nortel. 

The first corporate email system in the world was built by Bell Northern Research.  So was the first use of digital packet communications, high-speed fibre optic rings, etc.  These are the very foundations of the Internet.

Nortel’s impact on the tech sector extends far beyond communications.  Engineers at Bell Northern Research contributed enabling technology to the electronic design community, distributed computing, advanced man-machine interfaces such as speech recognition, visualization graphics, dignital signal processing, etc. 

Nortel’s patent portfolio extends across Wireline, Wireless, Datacom, Enterprise and Optical technologies and services.  As of December 31, 2007, Nortel had approximately 3,650 US patents and approximately 1,650 patents in other countries. In fact Nortel has consistently ranked in the top 70 in terms of number of granted U.S. patents since 1998. 

Nortel has received patents covering standards-essential, standards-related and other fundamental and core solutions, including patents directed to CDMA, UMTS, 3GPP, 3GPP2, GSM, OFDM/MIMO, LTE, ATM, MPLS, GMPLS, Ethernet, IEEE 802.3, NAT, VoIP, SONET, RPR, GFP, DOCSIS, IMS, Call-Waiting Caller ID and many other areas.  The term “standards-essential” means that the technology would not be viable without the contribution of Nortel’s engineers.

My own career at Nortel was relatively brief, but in the less than 10 years that I was there I personally witnessed meetings where Nortel’s engineers educated IBM, HP, Intel, Cadence, Mentor Graphics, Microsoft, and a hundred other companies on advanced technology.  The spin off impact of those meetings alone on the tech industry was incalcuable.  Intel actually modified silicon designs, HP introduced new products, and Cadence & Mentor acquired new technology to rev up their revenues.  These were non-patent related discussions.

Nortel was the largest spender on R&D in Canada through both direct investment in its own labs and through leveraged investment in university interaction.  Literally thousands of doctoral degrees in Canada were made possible though collaborative research with Nortel over the years.  Even the scaled back Nortel of today spends more than 1/3 of its salaries on R&D jobs for Canadians.

Yet McGuinty is proud of denying Nortel’s call of distress?  Shame on him.

Broken Backs

We get what we vote for.  Our politicians both federally and provincially have demonstrated that they would rather prop up the resource sucking industries of the past than enable a modern Canadian economy of the future.

The fact that the digital economy can create more numerous, more interesting, and higher paying jobs for Canadians compared to the back-breaking and mind-numbing jobs of the resource and manufacturing sectors is completely lost on our politicians. 

Perhaps it is because we elect lawyers and not engineers to parliament?

Is the real problem with Canadian voters who sleepwalk their way to the polls if they bother to vote at all? Do Canadian parents not care about the quality of jobs that will be available for their children? 

Why do we tolerate this ineptitude from our politicians?

Yes Nortel’s management laid the seeds for its destruction.  John Roth in particular is to blame, as is his successor Frank Dunn who is now facing charges for misleading shareholders and gross stupidity. 

Nonetheless, allowing Nortel to die is the wrong policy decision for both the Canadian economy and the high technology sector of Canadian industry.  Write your MPP and MP and give them a shake!

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