Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Crime and Punishment

Source: Globe and Mail: The Cost of Conservative Crime Bill for One Year: $458 Million
Source: Vancouver Sun: Judge Deems Harper's Crime Bill 'strain' on System
Source: CBC News: Tory Crime Bills Cracks Down on Drugs, Sex Offences

I've put off discussing the crime bill for awhile now; mainly because some of the issues to discuss about it have been discussed before on this blog.

Before the election, the opposition parties were hammering the Conservatives over the cost of their crime bills, as well as other bills, which were not fully documented in terms of cost. You may remember that the Minority Conservative government was found in contempt of the House of Commons over their refusal to provide this information; which in turn led to an election where Canadians seemed to forget that the government was basically pushed out of office for being untrustworthy.

Crime bills were part of the triumvirate of issues that had not been fulled budgeted to the Commons; fighter jets and corporate tax decisions were other parts. Yet, the one thing we all could agree on, was the fact that these bills were likely going to cost more than the Conservative Government said they were going to.

And now the cost of only one piece of the new Conservative omnibus crime bill has come out at a whopping price tag of $458 million dollars. This tag is associated with the 'Truth in Sentencing' Act; wherein a person waiting to stand trial is given time off their sentence due to time served in remand.

By removing this from the criminal justice system, those convicted of a crime will serve their full sentence...Ideally.

Let's not forget that full sentences aren't really full sentences. After all, someone who commits a crime may get a sentence of ten years; but may become eligible for parole at the four year mark...Meaning that they would still only spend four years in prison out of the ten they were sentenced for.

So, what do I mean by that example?

Effectively, this piece of the omnibus crime bill is useless. It increases prison populations, while ignoring the fact that many of these people will still be eligible for parole at some point in their sentence. As such, this is not even a half-measure. If the Conservatives were serious about tackling crimes and making sure criminals serve their sentence, they would remove the eligibly for parole at the same time, a move they have not yet made.

Now, I'm not advocating that. I'm simply saying that it doesn't make sense for the Conservatives to talk about people serving their sentences when there is still another method for criminals to leave prison before their sentence is fulfilled. There is a condition for increasing the length of time that an inmate must serve in good behaviour to be eligible for parole; BUT they still remain eligible.

I had to dig to find that piece of information, which goes to show just how much the Conservatives are burying that. If only because the process of parole shows what hypocrites they are being in terms of time off for days served. Parole invalidates the need to remove time off sentence for days held in remand; so either both have to go, or neither go, as that is the only thing that makes the difference.

Again, I'm not suggesting that we remove parole from our criminal justice system; but if Conservatives want 'truth in sentencing', then parole has to be taken off the table as well.

Furthermore, that brings us to the issue of prisons themselves. Canada's prisons, in many regions, are already suffering from overcrowding. Our legal system, as well, is suffering from a massive backlog wherein criminals do wait ridiculous amounts of time to be found guilty or innocent by a court of law.

Yet, there is no Conservative plan to address this. Obviously, this could be the prelude to the building of new prisons across Canada. After all, if the population in prisons explode than we will need new facilities to house our criminals. However, the Conservatives push this bill as a means of diminishing crime.

Building new prisons suggests that crime is increasing. If this bill leads to new prisons NEEDING to be built, than it has already failed in reducing crime in Canada.

Add to that the fact that our justice system is backlogged on a massive level. Courts across Canada are taking years to bring offenders to trial, simply because they don't have the resources to move them through the system quicker. Yet there has been no Conservative plan to increase the resources of the court.

Which brings me to the next point: Crime rates are lower across the country. The media has pointed this out, academics have pointed this out, and the opposition parties have pointed this out. Sadly, those are three groups that the Conservatives have shown in the past that they don't listen to.

Even the Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, scoffed at the lower crime rates and suggested that the government wasn't legislating based on figures or facts...though he stopped short of admitting it was blind partisan politics that guided them.

And then there's the blind War on Drugs...Possession of marijuana, and its production, will be increased from seven to fourteen years in prison. Many have laughed at this given that the punishment for possession is now sterner than the punishment for abuse of children. The War on Drugs is a failed left over from the 1980s and 1990s, and its a public policy that needs to be pushed to the wayside.

We made progress over things like In-Site, or safe injection sites, under the previous Liberal Government...But the Harper Government has been combating In-Site and safe injection sites since being elected.

The War on Drugs has failed. Even a UN team, which had sitting politicians and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on it, published a paper which suggested it was better (and more cost effective) for countries to legalize certain drugs than it was to combat their spread. Again, I'll cite Prohibition Era America.

Up until the 1920s, the power of the Mafia and organized crime in the US was pretty minimal. It wasn't until prohibition provided these organizations and individuals with a means of controlling a substance (distribution, production, all of it) that they were able to become the powerful organizations that they were.

The same thing happened with drugs. Look at the Mexican Drug cartel, for example.

When you outlaw something, you're playing right into the hands of those who break the law. Drugs make money, like it or not, and it is something that is not going to go away. Unlike prohibition, we've yet to give our heads a collective shake and realize that people are going to want mind-altering substances regardless of whether or not we think they should have them.

As such, we should be moving in a different direction in regards to drug policy than the one the Harper Government is taking us on.

The other major problem with this bill comes in the form of youth crime. The Conservatives have always been more of a 'stick' than 'carrot' kind of government and party, which is why they have perhaps missed the point again.

Conservatives are once again tearing apart the young offender's act in the name of 'safer streets'. They will punish young offenders more harshly, including removing publication bans of their names and faces; and will effectively establish longer services for young adults.

For a government passing parts of this bill that are all about protecting children and minors, they sure are screwing it up with other parts.

There is a movie I'd like to suggest you all see; it is called Boy A, it's a British movie about a young man who was involved in a crime as a young boy. Because of his age, he spent all of his youth in care facilities and when he was released back into the public he was given a new name and moved to a new town.

About midway into the movie, he rescues a woman when he car goes off a road, and him and his work partner become something of local heroes. However, his face is eventually recognized when it is plastered everywhere and the new life he's built for himself comes crashing down around him.

I won't say more than that about it, as it's a damned good movie and an example of what can happen to young offenders when the right precautions aren't taken. Needless to say, the Harper Government is BREEDING criminals with stiffer penalties, and not just for young offenders.

I've said before on this blog, if someone commits a crime at 14 (an age the Conservatives said isn't even old enough to consent to sex, hence why they raised the age of consent to 16) they need to be given some leeway in regards to what they did. We need to understand why they did it, and how we can prevent other youth from making the same life choices.

We all did stupid things at 14; yet this bill would have that person carry their bad choices with them until the day they die. Finding a job in this economy is tough enough without having a criminal record attached to your name. And even if you do manage to get a pardon; yet another thing the Conservatives are going to make harder, someone may always remember your name and what you did as a child.

As such, releasing this sort of information is going to destroy any chance a youth has at forming a normal life as an adult. Which in turn means one thing and one thing alone: They will have to turn to crime in order to survive. As I said, this bill is only going to breed criminals from youths as opposed to reducing youth crime.

Which brings me to my last point: Prisons are not deterrents to crime, in fact, going to prison makes crime rates worse.

According to this study (LINK) offenders who have served in prison are more likely to repeat their offense in the future, as opposed to someone with the same conviction serving outside of prison.

Let me say that again: Someone who goes to prison for a year, on let's say a breaking and entering charge, is more likely to re-offend than someone with the same charge who is placed in community service, or house arrest (another thing Conservatives are getting rid of with this bill.)

So, as it seems, the Conservatives are doing everything possible to making criminals more abundant than less with this crime bill. Their antiquated approach to the criminal justice system is only going to breed more criminals and leave Canada less safe in the years ahead. As such, this bill does not live up to its name in the slightest.

Effectively, if you want to make Canada safer you need to address the problems that create crime in the first place. That means more funding for education and extra-curricular activities to keep youth off the streets and involved in the community. That means addressing poverty and homelessness. That means sensible drug laws that will remove power and funds from criminal organizations.

The Conservatives have failed to consider any of those types of proposals, if only because they all stand against their ideological viewpoints. But those are the most effective ways to cut crime rates.

Look at European countries, with low levels of poverty and great education systems; their crime rates are much lower than anything we post here. Now, you could say that's a coincidence; but that would be like me saying that the green cup on my desk keeps tigers away...Just because there's no tigers, doesn't mean it doesn't work.

If we want to cut crime, we need to address it at the source. We need to be proactive, not reactive.

But if we do need to react, the least the Conservatives could do is put something on the table that would actually reduce crime, not encourage it.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Come Fly With Me...

Source: CBC News: Challenger Jets' True Cost Revealed
Source: CBC News: MacKay took Military jet to Lobster Fest
Source: CBC News: Challenger Logs Show Low-Security Officials Taking Flights

So, about a week ago we were all aghast when it was revealed that General Walter Natynczyk, Chief of Defence Staff for the Canadian Forces, was jetting about the country using Canada's Challenger jets. One of the major sticking points was his taking the jet to rendezvous with his family in the Caribbean; of course, the flight was defended by the fact that Natynczyk had missed his original flight with his family in order to attend a repatriation ceremony. So, the defence is that he was flown down since he was detained in Canada on official duties as Chief of Defence Staff.

But soon, more and more information started to come out. Natynczyk, and his family, had used the Challenger to fly about the country to attend hockey games and other events. Some have again, defended the action by saying that prior to the games Natynczyk visited military bases in the area. Whether or not that is true, I can't say. I haven't seen any documents that support that statement, but for now we'll leave it as a loose end.

Natynczyk condemned the scrutiny he was under as saying that it seemed like smear campaign...But that was just the tip of the iceberg.

It seems that Natynczyk isn't the only one using military transports as his own personal transport. For security reasons, and likely good ones, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Governor General David Johnston are required to fly by private jet. Personally, I can understand that...For the most part; so we'll let that go.

Harper, however, has compounded the problem by suggesting that the flights do not cost as much as the media is suggesting. Other military members have also stepped forward, and said that the Challenger cost is inflated in media reports...

Now, the CBC has released a very detailed document that breaks down the cost of the Challenger flights. They can related it better than I, so if you missed the source, you can read it: HERE.

Essentially, the CBC has stated that the cost of flying a Challenger jet for one hour costs Canadian taxpayers $12,531. Which already is higher than the $10,000 estimate the media was running with; and much higher than the $2,000 quote some military officials have provided.

And of course, things get worse from here.

We'll start with the no-named officials who have been using the Challenger fleet. The CBC reports that in June the Challengers flew for 165 hours at a cost of $2 million to taxpayers; the shocking, and downright frustrating part, is that 60% of those hours were for officials who do not require extra security or who cannot take regular flights.

Let me repeat that: 60% of the flights meant for officials who cannot safely ride regular flights were being taken by personnel who did not need the extra security.

At the same time, some are trying to defend the cost of the Challengers by saying that 70% of Challenger's existence is spent inside the hanger. As if we're supposed to be comforted by the fact that the Challengers, which military personal say would have their pilots paid regardless of whether or not the planes fly, only spend about 30% of their time in the air.

And that brings us to Peter MacKay. A day ago, MacKay was under fire for using a search and rescue helicopter in Newfoundland to pick him up from a vacation near the Gander River. MacKay has defended the helicopter ride, which cost taxpayers about $32,000, by saying that he was taking part in a search and rescue demonstration and training exercise.

Needless to say, a lot of people are not happy with this answer. As it stands now, it seems that the helicopter was called to pick up the Defence Minister on the day that it came for him. If someone was taking part in a training exercise, wouldn't they have made arrangements ahead of time?

I mean, if you think about it, you'd check ahead and see that this demonstration was taking place. And once you did, if you wanted to be involved in it, you would probably make sure that you were in the region without needing to be picked up by the aircraft.

Effectively, with how tightly controlled a minister's schedule is, it's doubtful that MacKay had made plans in advance to tag along on this exercise. Which furthermore, makes it doubtful that he really wanted to tag along in the first place. Rather, as it stands now, it looks more like he simply wanted the fastest ride out of his vacation spot of choice.

And then the plot thickens...Almost like a bisque. (Bad pun, perhaps?)

The day after MacKay hopped aboard a military helicopter, he got involved in the use of Challenger jets, by hopping aboard one of the jets and heading to a lobster festival in his riding. MacKay is defending the use of the Challenger by suggesting that it was a work trip, not a personal one, and therefore he has right to use the Challenger.

So, with person after person being found abusing these military transports, what exactly does that mean?

Well, it depends on who you ask. Some people will tell you that our politicians should be able to have access to safe and secure transport. While that is true for the Prime Minister, and even the Governor General, it's hard to make the same argument for cabinet ministers. We'd all be outraged if a backbench MP took a Challenger jet to fly across the country, regardless of the reason for their trip, so why do we seem willing to give cabinet members a pass on this issue?

Canada is facing down the barrel of an economic crisis, as is many other parts of the world; which begs the question about what our government should do to scale back funding and make sure that tax dollars are well spent.

Given that Harper, a trained economist; and Jim Flaherty, a career finance minister, have tendered a $90,000 a day contract to an outside firm to help them balance the budget...Obviously, we all need to be concerned about how this government is spending our tax dollars.

One could argue, that it's part of a bigger plan.

If I were a conspiracy theorist, I'd argue that the Conservatives are tempting Canadians to show outrage over certain issues in order to demand that they be scaled back. The Challengers are estimated to cost Canada $33 million a year, which would be a pretty penny saved if the bulk of the jets were cut.

So, is this simply a move by the Harper Conservatives to get Canadians outraged about the Challengers in order to scrap them? It's possible...But there's no proof. Furthermore, Harper and Johnston still require secure travel, so it wouldn't be wise to scrap these jets altogether.

On top of that, Peter MacKay is still the most likely Conservative heir apparent after Harper steps aside...Something like this could be a major dent in his armour, which I doubt he would take willingly. So, it would seem that this isn't some Conservative plot.

What is the point of this post then?

Frankly, it's a harbinger of whats to come over the next four years. The Harper Government was elected to balance the books, that's the key issue they ran on, and they have talked about being good financial managers. Yet, all we've seen is questionable decision after questionable decision when it comes to spending tax dollars.

Whether that's the cost of the Challengers and who is using them; whether it's paying an outside $90,000 a day to do the government's job of balancing the books; whether it's Tony Clement and his spend fest in his riding prior to the G8/G20 meetings, and the 'posturing' of a friend into a job with a city within his riding...

This is just months after the election; what are we going to see a year from now? Three years from now? Come the next election?

Unlike our tax dollars, by electing the Conservatives, Canadians are getting what they paid for.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Style over Substance

Once again, there's a lot of things worth talking about. We have the House coming back into session in Ottawa; the first session without Jack Layton heading the NDP in the House of Commons; and a question period that saw the opposition hound the government over their decisions to focus on 'law and order' bills at a time when the economy still needs a firm hand guiding it.

However, I'm going to keep it local this post.

As Saskatchewan approaches election day, the contrast between the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP is already very clear. It seems every other day, the NDP is coming out with policy developments and announcements while the Saskatchewan Party is staying mostly silent in terms of policy.

In fact, the only policies the Saskatchewan Party have really put forward have been in direct competition to what the NDP has said. For example, the cracked bridge in Prince Albert. The NDP have stated that the Diefenbaker Bridge will be repaired, and that a second bridge may be constructed to reduce the work load of the bridge and traffic congestion.

As such, the Sask Party was quick to play catch up when they announced that the province would absorb most of the repair cost to the Diefenbaker Bridge...No word on whether or not they would create a second bridge.

And yet, I've said that the Sask Party has been 'mostly' silent.

And that's because they are taking the path of least resistance, and least chance of ticking off voters, by sticking to sheer large amounts of advertising.

Rather than release policies, or detail what it is they would do if re-elected, the Sask Party has been focusing on massive ad buys. Look at billboards throughout Saskatchewan; numerous Sask Party signs (either for local candidates, or for Wall himself) can be found in cities and along the highways throughout our province.

Unlike previous billboards for Wall, which tried to tout the Wall Government's financial record (incorrectly, I might add), the new ads have no sort of policy announcement or track record for the government. Rather, it is just a picture of Wall with the Saskatchewan Party slogan.

But billboards are only the tip of the iceberg.

What is more obvious, especially to internet users like myself, are the large amounts of internet ads that have been purchased by the Saskatchewan Party. Numerous websites, ranging from Hotmail to the Internet Movie Database, are plastered with banner ads sporting Wall's image and the Saskatchewan Party colours.

Again, there is no mention of track record or policy; or any reason to support the Saskatchewan Party, just a simple ad that exists as a means of keeping Wall in the public view.

This really must be compared with the NDP's approach to the election campaign thus far. As noted, the NDP is coming out swinging hard with policy ideas and proposals. Furthermore, as previously mentioned on this blog, these policies have been crafted through public consultation with people across party lines throughout Saskatchewan.

As such, the NDP is running on a strong platform of ideas that were crafted by the people of Saskatchewan. Whereas the Saskatchewan Party is, at this point, running on the popularity of its leader.

So, as it is framed right now, the election is a choice between style and substance. It is likely that as the election continues, the Saskatchewan Party will bring out some policy ideas of their own; but by that point, the NDP will have staked out the policy development area of the election (and the Saskatchewan Party will be left to simply oppose NDP policies, or tweak proposed ones, as opposed to crafting their own.)

As it stands now, the NDP is clearly winning on the policy front. But whether or not that will translate into popular support remains to be seen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Thanks for the Help, Now Get Lost.

Source: CBC News: Canada Rejects Majority of Afghan Interpreters' Refugee Claims

After getting a good night's sleep, but waking up fairly early, I found myself browsing the news websites and was greeted by this headline. Now, you have to do some digging on CBC to even find the article. So, since it's fallen so quickly to the wayside, I figured I'd do my part and bring it up here.

I know, I said I was going to try and focus more on Saskatchewan aspects (what with the election coming), but federal politics still remains the easiest to find news sources for. I could easily find sources through party websites for Saskatchewan, but I think it's best to stick to news organizations.

So, what is this article all about?

Essentially, Canada's immigration department has turned their back on Afghan citizens who served as translators for the Canadian Armed Forces in Afghanistan. In fact, according to the CBC, two out of three translators were rejected for immigration based on refugee status.

Through some nitpicking, the department of immigration set requirements for those seeking refugee status; primarily, the condition that the applicant must have served 12 consecutive months of service with the Armed Forces, and that those twelve months exist after October 2007 - July 2011.

Let's examine those dates for a moment, shall we?

Think back to when the US first attacked Afghanistan, in retaliation for their involvement of the 9/11 attacks and the harbouring of Osama Bin Laden. What year was that?

It was, if you recall, 2001. Canada, among with numerous other international allies, joined the US in the war as in 2001. That means, that Canadian troops were involved in Afghanistan since 2001. Which means that six years of translation services are not being covered by the timeline set by the department of immigration.

Granted, they are trying to tie the situation to those who worked within just Kandahar; but I think it is safe to say that translators worked for Canadians throughout Afghanistan, wherever Canadians could be found, not just in Kandahar. As such, the department seems to be intentionally omitting anyone who provided service prior to 2007.

The main question to look at here is should translators be given access to Canada as refugees?

Essentially, the answer is yes. It's no secret that translators have been targeted by Taliban insurgents since the war began, and that many have faced violence and threats of violence because of their co-operation with NATO powers.

With troops slowly withdrawing from Afghanistan, these former translators are going to find themselves in a bad situation; especially, should Afghanistan become what is known as a 'failed state'.

Perhaps I should attempt to explain that concept before moving on. A failed state is more or less what it sounds like. A country which underwent a radical change, in this case from a near theocratic junta to democracy, which failed to maintain itself. Effectively, if democracy fails in Afghanistan (due to either corruption in the system, or a rise in Taliban support and control, or some other situtation), those who helped any one other than the current regime will find themselves targets.

It may be 'defeatism', but there is a possibility of this happen in Afghanistan. As I've said times before, though perhaps not on this blog, no country has ever successfully switched to a democracy without the people of the country supporting it.

Or to compact that, democracy is something that starts from within the country. It cannot be fought for by external powers hoping to switch a nation towards democratic ideals. As such, the people of Afghanistan have to decide that they want democracy and the things that come with it. Only when they accept that, and are willing to fight for it, will they be able to keep a democratic system functioning.

My sense is the people of Afghanistan are generally happy to be rid of the Taliban, but they don't necessarily support having a full democratic regime either. And that is where the problem comes in. Unless they are willing to have a democracy, we can't force one upon them. Which means we are personally responsible for the problems that will be created if Afghanistan becomes a failed state.

Which further extends to the fact that we are responsible for the people who helped us, and who will become further targets by countrymen who see them as traitors. You can say that they knew the risks associated with the job, but they also knew that immigration out of Afghanistan was possible because of taking the job.

This program was created with the purpose of getting those people who helped us out of the country for their safety. Unsurprisingly, a similar American program has performed even worse than the Canadian one, after it handed out zero visas to immigrants.

The facts are this: Like it or not, we are responsible for the situation these translators find themselves in. We have a responsibility to assist those we can, especially when programs are created to help them. As of now, that program is failing.

It's true, there's no way we can remove every translator who helped us and give them a new home in Canada; that's just unfeasible. But to reject two out of every three that come to us for help, is unacceptable. These people risked their lives for us, and will still be in danger when we leave (if circumstances do not improve in Afghanistan).

Is this how we repay those who help us?

Monday, September 12, 2011

General Posting

Source: Globe and Mail: Prairie Farmers Vote to Keep Wheat Board

So, we have a few things to talk about today. I realize that I've spent a bit too much time on the blog looking only at 'Federal' politics, while neglecting my home province of Saskatchewan, and I will try to rectify that today. That said, there is still some things in federal politics that we need to discuss as well.

Let's get the federal stuff talked about, and then let's wrap up with a look at what's going on around Saskatchewan.

Firstly, in the federal arena, Canadian farmers have voted against the government in a Canadian Wheat Board sponsored vote on the future of the agency. The farmers voted a little over 60% in favour of keeping the Wheat Board up and running, while 38% voted to scrap it.

According to the CWB, about 55% of eligible voters took time to vote.

However, this (largely predicted) decision is not having any sway on the governing Conservatives, who still intend the scrap the CWB's monopoly later this year. Gerry Ritz, the Agricultural Minister, dismissed the vote as an 'expensive survey' and went on to explain that the government is committed to giving farmers 'marketing freedom'.

Marketing freedom is another way of saying 'choice'...Which allows me to use this clip:

My apologies if the above video doesn't work, if it doesn't you can find the link HERE.

Now the reason I've included that clip is because it is fairly accurate. The Conservatives have been suggesting that the government needs to step back and allow farmers to have the CHOICE to market their grain any way they like...Provided that choice is not to keep the CWB functioning.

After all, the farmers have voted and said that they would like to keep the system in place. Yet the government maintains that farmers should have a choice of ways to sell their grain. Seems rather hypocritical when you break it down to that point, doesn't it? Where the Conservatives want farmers to have choice in marketing their products, provided that it doesn't have to give them the choice the majority wants.

And wait, it only gets more hypocritical.

As mentioned, Minister Ritz dismissed the CWB vote as an 'expensive survey' and non-binding; despite CWB proponents suggesting that laws regarding changes to the CWB require votes from farming members.

Now, why is this hypocritical? Well, let's think back to the election and the staunch defenders of the democracy the Harper Conservatives proclaimed themselves to be. Where a coalition government was more or less denounced as a basically treason; and where Harper himself conceded that if he lost, he would have to accept the will of the people.

Yet here is the will of farmers in plain daylight, and their voices are dismissed. So yes, more hypocrisy from the Harper Conservatives...And we're in for four more years of it too.

The last federal thing I'd like to talk about is the NDP Leadership race. As of posting, on NDP Party President Brian Topp has declared himself and official candidate for the position. He's also received some endorsements from important NDP figures, such as Ed Broadbent.

Now, I must admit, I do not know a lot about Brian Topp. I've heard things, and read a few columns he's written over the years, but other than that I can't really say whether or not he would be the best leader to guide the NDP over the coming years.

Of course, I look forward to hearing and learning more about him as the months go by; much in the same way I look forward to learning about all the candidates once they're declared.

However, as a simple blogger, there will be no endorsement coming from me...For any candidate. If only because I don't think my blessing would be very news worthy or important, nor would it dramatically change the leadership race. So, when I have decided which candidate to support, you'll hear nothing about it from me here.

Well, that wraps up the Federal stuff.

Now, as anyone in Saskatchewan will know, we are heading towards an election. Come November, thanks to the Saskatchewan Party's fixed election date laws, we will have elected a new slate of candidates to the Legislature to represent us for the next four years.

However, even though the election is still months away, the campaigning has already begun. If you're the Saskatchewan Party, the campaigning began years ago...Since I don't think there's a single billboard in Saskatchewan that hasn't had Brad Wall, or a local candidate, plastered on it for the better part of a few months in the past three years.

And while the Saskatchewan Party has been running attack ads against the NDP, basically since getting elected, the NDP has recently entered the electoral battle but with the announcement of policies.

So, we have the Saskatchewan Party bashing and promoting Brad Wall; while the NDP has released a flurry of policy initiatives that they would implement when they are elected. After all, this is the party that has spent the better part of four years going across the province and organizing policy town hall meetings with members and non-members.

Contrast that to the Saskatchewan Party's last convention, in which policy discussion and voting weren't even on the agenda.

As such, the NDP has been developing policy for four years with vital input and should be coming up with some interesting policies.

After all, we've already seen policies on health care and education come from the NDP camp. And the well received Bright Futures Plan, which aims to ensure future generations benefit from Saskatchewan's resource wealth, has already been touted as a successful policy for the NDP.

I've said this before on the blog, but it bares repeating: The difference between conservatives and progressives is that conservatives live in the now while progressives live in the then.

Conservatives want a better life for themselves and they want it now, regardless of what that means for future generations. Whereas progressives look at the big picture and figure out what today's decisions mean for future generations, not just what it means for themselves.

And that is going to be the biggest difference between the Saskatchewan Party and the NDP. The Sask Party will be focusing on the now while the NDP will focus on what's to come. Frankly, I'd prefer a long term vision over a short sighted on. Granted, there is some bias here given that as a young man, I'll be around to see the future and today's decisions will impact my life later on...

But that said, I think we deserve a Saskatchewan that creates positive benefits for everyone, not just a select few. And that's a message that the NDP is running strongly with, not because it could collect votes, but because it's the truth.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Biggest Threat to Canada?

Source: CBC News: Harper Says 'Islamicism' Biggest Threat to Canada

Alright, enough of a break and time to get this blog back up to 100%...Hopefully.

Now, I contemplated a lot of topics to discuss for this post.

I considered the fact that Saskatchewan's Green Party leader has resigned and advocated voters to stand behind the NDP in Regina...

I considered the fact that Federal Agricultural Minister Garry Ritz has basically said that the government will ignore any vote from farmers on the future of the Canadian Wheat Board, and unilaterally move to dismantle parts of it, even if farmers vote to keep the system as is...

I considered the fact that the Federal Conservatives have asked Elections Canada to probe into allegations that the NDP broke electoral financing laws by having a convention which seemed to have events sponsored by unions... (Though let's face it, the Conservatives preaching electoral financing ethics is like a lion preaching vegetarianism.)

I considered the idea that former Prime Minister Jean Chretien has jumped on board the NDP-Liberal merger talks, and believes that a merger will happen one day between the two parties...

However, I found myself aghast when seeing the CBC news headline above and figured that it would be a good issue to discuss in detail. In an exclusive interview with the CBC, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has suggested that Islamicism is the biggest threat to Canada.

Now, this is a complex issue. I'm going to spend some time picking apart the real issue versus the 'scare tactics' that Harper is using to push his party's controversial crime bills.

Firstly, let's explore the idea of 'Islamicism'.

In our world, we seem to exercise the idea of tolerance and acceptance. Religion is one of those sticky widget issues where these ideas are really put to the test. In Western Culture, we seem to have a no-nonsense zone for religion.

This is clearly seen with Christianity. In Western Culture, speaking out about problems with Christianity are likely to get you tarred and feathered in the arena of public opinion. As such, at times, it seems as if you cannot speak out against Christianity. That faith supersedes public debate.

However, this is not true for other religions. Islam, happens to be one of those religions which is seemingly okay to attack in public debate.

Now, whether this stems from a lack of understanding about the nature of Islam...Or from some form of deep seeded racism, I cannot fully say. Nor would I want to presume why we can openly attack one form of religion, but cannot say a bad word about any other.

Granted, this situation is reversed in some Islamic nations; where Christianity is attacked openly, and no unkind words can be said about Islam. So, all of us are guilty of attacking the other side on this issue.

But, let's try and clear some of this up. Now, I'll admit, I've never read the Koran. I have picked it up once or twice and read a few passages, but I've not read the whole text. So, I could be incorrect in my assumptions about Islam. If so, I do hope that someone with more familiarity will let me know if I've made any mistakes.

Now, my understanding of Islam is that it is actually a very peaceful religion. That the Koran preaches peace and tolerance, much in the same way that the Bible does.

However, there are problems when extremism gets involved.

Much like the Bible, a few verses in the Koran are open to interpretation. As such, some people read the Koran and see a book of peace...While others read it and see justification to attack those who do not believe the words contained within.

But this is not a problem that is solely found with Islam.

Christianity is just as guilty as misinterpretation justifying extremism. From a historical perspective, you have events like the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. From a more recent perspective, you have individuals who shoot abortion doctors.

Or even more recent, the shootings which occurred in Norway. According to the BBC, Anders Behring Breivik self identified as a Christian Fundamentalist and far right wing conservative. Part of the reason Breivik did what he did stemmed from a hatred towards Islam, Muslims, and the influence of the left in his country.

Yet, in all of the media, Breivik was never once identified as a 'Christian Terrorist'. Think for a moment, if he had been a Muslim, would the media have been quick to label him as an 'Islamic Terrorist'?

Now, I know some of you are going to give me grief for mentioning Mr. Breivik, but allow me to attempt to explain. Breivik did something based on his own twisted views of his beliefs. He believed that he was doing the right thing and that he was justified from his beliefs to do what he did.

Islamic terrorists share the same viewpoint. They believe that they are justified by their interpretation of the Koran, and use their religion as a defense to undertake horrific actions.

We don't judge Christianity by the actions of Anders Behring Breivik, so why do we judge Islam by the actions of those that kill in its name?

Here is where we come to the root of the problem: Extremism is extremism, regardless of what other beliefs you hold. When someone takes their beliefs to the extreme, bad results are likely to occur.

It is not Islam that is the problem, nor is Christianity, but it is extremism in any form.

When someone believes that they can justify any action through any belief, it becomes a problem. And that is the real problem that is facing the world today. It is not just ISLAMIC extremism, but ALL extremism.

Look again, to the United States. Particularly look at their political system at the moment. The USA is becoming polarized to a state we've never really seen before. Those on the far-right are organizing and becoming a powerful voice within the Republican Party, and have hijacked it from any chance of moderation.

Again, extremism.

Now, some of you might say this is completely different, but is it really? Look at the attack on US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Ms. Giffords was targeted by an unstable individual with extreme views of their own. Furthermore, it doesn't help that Ms. Giffords was one of several Democratic politicians 'targeted' by crosshairs as districts to take back by Tea Party darling, Sarah Palin.

As such, is it really such a stretch to believe that such iconography could have easily contributed to an unstable and extreme individual targeting the congresswoman?

What I am attempting to say, is that extremism is the biggest threat to the world and to Canada, not 'Islamicism.'

Granted, there seems to be times when the world has seen the actions of extremist Muslims more than those of peaceful faith. But, how often does the Iman who preaches tolerance and community involvement end up on the news; especially when compared to the extremist who attacks and kills people in the name of religion.

The truth of the matter is that we don't often hear of the good works done by moderate Muslims, and are bombarded by the actions of extremists.

Now I think I've sufficiently stated the case that 'Islamicism' is a misnomer and it is extremism, of any form, that we need to fear and do something about. With that out of the way, we can discuss why our illustrious Prime Minister felt the need to declare 'Islamicism' as the greatest threat facing Canada.

At the heart of the debate is Harper's desire to bring back two anti-terrorism clauses that were first brought forward by the Chretien Liberals in the wake of 9/11.

The first allowed police to arrest suspects without a warrant and hold them for three days without placing a single charge. The only requirement to provide such an arrest would be the belief that the individual had committed, or was planning to commit, an act of terrorism.

The second allowed a judge to force a witness into testifying about past associations with suspected terror groups, or any other group really, and any plots by those groups under penalty of jail time.

It is worth noting that these clauses expired, after the opposition parties refused to renew them in 2007, without them ever being implemented. Essentially, Canada had these clauses and never saw them used within the course of six years...Yet Harper believes they're essential to Canadian security and need to be brought back immediately.

The problem with these clauses is the ambiguity. Terrorism is VERY hard to define, even after a course in International Terrorism I can't define terrorism to a single sentence, which makes implementing these laws incredibly difficult. After all, what would count as an act of terrorism?

Would attending a peaceful rally that lead to arrests be terrorism?

Would belonging to a group that advocated social change and used protests, rallies, and other forms of social disobedience be considered terrorism?

Most people would say that terrorism involves the implicit act of violence against civilians for the advancement of political goals. But terrorism is not that clear cut. If it were, could we still charge those who attempted violence but failed to obtain it? The failed shoe-bomber, for example. He had plotted an 'act of terrorism' but failed to succeed or cause any violence.

As such, this seems to preclude committing an act of violence as terrorism. Yet, we still call him a terrorist.

Now, you may say, 'Scott, you're just arguing semantics.' And it's true, I am perhaps spending too much time looking at the definition. But if we give a government that kind of authority, it should be clear what they can and cannot call terrorism. If we give blanket authority, its only a matter of time until that authority is abused.

After all, look at the Harper Government's response to protests at the G8/G20 summit. How many people were arrested and detained in substandard holding areas? How many were detained without charge? How many people, who did nothing but stand in the crowd, were detained simply for being there?

Questions like those should weigh on the mind, and cannot afford to be overlooked. If Harper wants to give authority to the police to battle terrorism, that authority must be clearly defined. As it stands now, it is not.

In closing, Prime Minister Harper is mistaken when he says that Islamicism is the biggest threat facing Canada. Rather, this is simply an 'eye-catching', 'fear mongering' headline that will catch major attention for his anti-terrorism bills. Furthermore, with the anniversary of 9/11 only days away, it serves as a powerful reminder of the harm that extremism can do.

Yet, as mentioned, Harper is quick to point the finger only at Islamic extremism; while ignoring extremists that exist outside of Islam. This type of hypocrisy is staggering, and simply unbecoming of what we should have in a national leader.

As such, I feel the only thing I can do is reinforce the idea that extremism in all forms is the problem. Only when we stamp out extremism, in all forms, will we truly create a safe and functioning society. We're too quick to condemn one side, while ignoring the fact that the same problems exist in structures that we belong to.

I suppose there's nothing left to say, except for this quote, which more or less sums up the problems with only focusing on Islamic extremism:

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye."
-Matthew 7:5 (NIV)