Monday, June 29, 2009

Chose Your Words Carefully...

Source: CBC: Secret Police Wiretaps Fly Under the Radar

In my last blog post, I made a passing mention to the Bush Administration's use of illegal wiretaps and how a proposed Conservative motion under review at the moment, could lead the way to the same types of actions undertaken here in Canada. Well, imagine my surprise when I read this news article today, not to mention the sense of shock I felt when I remembered my own reference to this type of action.

Now, for those of you who don't wish to go through the source article, I will simply mention the key points brought across by it. Under section 184.4 of the Canadian Criminal Code, police are authorized to initiate wiretapping of a subject without the need of a warrant. Between 2000 and 2008, section 184.4 was used at least 267 times by the RCMP and other police departments throughout the nation.

Unlike regular wiretaps, which require judge approval and are reported to the House of Commons, emergency wiretaps do not need a record kept of them or any mention of their use necessary outside of a criminal proceeding. Effectively, the office/department that orders the wiretap does not need to keep track of what information the wiretap produces, nor do they need to report its use.

In their purest nature, emergency wiretaps seem to be a way to prevent physical harm from falling upon anyone. Their nature allows police to close a narrow time gap, by bypassing lengthy paperwork and judge approval, to protect and save someone from harm. However, as the CBC reports, some of these wiretaps seemed to have been used when there was no risk of personal harm to anyone; as evidenced by Ontario Police who decided to use the wiretap to spy on Mohawk protesters before a planned blockade.

Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence against these types of wiretaps is a British Columbia court decision that struck down this part of the Criminal Code as being against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by violating a person's right to avoid unreasonable search and seizure. As for Ottawa, the only proposed change is that unwarranted wiretaps should now be reported to the House of Commons, but only when they produce charges.

In my last post, I said that the rise of new rules that clear the way for any type of law that allows the government to act unilaterally without the courts, especially in regards to the granting of warrants, removes the presumption of innocence from an individual by naturally assuming guilt. Again, this is the case. By allowing police to wiretap an individual in hopes of gaining credible evidence against them, without a warrant, the rule of law assumes guilt.

Presumption of innocence may not sound like a big deal to most people; after all, we all assume that if the RCMP or another police service is wiretapping someone, there must be enough to already assume some modicum of guilt against that person. But this is not always the case; all I have to do is talk about cases where someone was wrongfully accused of a crime, although their may be guilt placed against them, it is unfounded and these types of actions only further violate an innocent person's rights.

You can call me naive, or idealistic, but the main role of the RCMP and other police services is to uphold the law, first and foremost. By having any kind of 'emergency' power, police services are going against this fundamental principle that they have sworn to uphold.

In closing, I think it is important that all of us as Canadians take a close look at the types of powers we are giving to those we trust to protect us. I quoted Ben Franklin in my last post, on the issue of security and liberty, and I feel that the quote still stands. We must ensure that those we have entrusted to protect us are actually protecting us, and doing so within the confines of the law they have on their side.

If we fail to demand the upholding of the law for all Canadians, then it is only a matter of time until the laws we've expected to protect us, quite simply, turn against us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Won't Somebody Think of the Children?!

Article Source: CTV: Tories Seek Greater Access to Web Activity
Article Source: CBC: ISPs Must Help Police Snoop on Internet Under New Bill

Imagine my surprise this morning when I woke up and saw this listed on the CTV and CBC news websites. Thanks to the Harper Government, a bill is being introduced in the House of Commons that will make Internet Service Providers (ISPs) co-operate more with police investigations, as well as allow police to access internet communications without the need for a warrent.

Before I can really tell anyone why is this a bad idea, it's important to understand what is being proposed:
*Taken from CTV Source:
  • enable police to access information on an Internet subscriber, such as name, street address and email address, without having to get a search warrant.
  • force Internet service providers to freeze data on their hard drives to prevent subscribers under investigation from deleting potentially important evidence.
  • require Telecom companies to invest in technology that allows for the interception of Internet communications.
  • allow police to remotely activate tracking devices already embedded in cellphones and certain cars, to help with investigations.
  • allow police to obtain data about where Internet communications are coming from and going to.
  • make it a crime to arrange with a second person over the Internet the sexual exploitation of a child.
Now how many of those sound actively reasonable to anyone reading this? None of them, really, with the possible exception of the last one. Let's take a closer look at what exactly this bill is allowing.

At any point, without a warrent, the police will be able to use your ISP to get your name, address, and e-mail address. Furthermore, this would also allow the police to actively enable a cell phone's GPS unit, commonly used by 911 operators to help locate a person in trouble, to instead keep a watch on your movements.

If you're expected of a computer related crime, the ISP now has the responsibility to backup to their own server the activities of their customers. That means that even if you delete something off of your hard drive, it will still remain in the ISP's hard drive.

But perhaps the kicker is the investment of communication interception technology. That means practically every e-mail, every instant message, every text message you send over a wireless or wired device would/can be monitored and intercepted by this technology and at some point in the future, could be accessed by a police officer without a warrent against you.

Is anyone else seeing the problem here? A few days ago, I had a conversation with a good friend of mine on classic literature. He was telling me about how he wanted to re-read Huxley's 'Brave New World' and read Orwell's '1984'. He then mentioned a third book, from an academic perspective, that postulated that the 'Big Brother Society' was not as close to reality as Huxley's vision of the future.

Well, thanks to bills like that, that hypothesis might very well be moot.

Affixed at the end of this bill is the illegalization to arrange sexual exploitation of a child over the internet. This actually, is the bill's only merit. As such, I guarantee you that the Conservatives will play up this angle and downplay the others; suggesting that this bill is a means of protecting Canadian children from exploitation, and that those who vote against it do not care about Canadian families.

After all, who can forget the election where the Harper team published fliers that said Paul Martin, then Liberal Leader, supported child pornography? I think it's safe to say the Conservatives will say anything to paint the other team as anti-family and anti-protectionist of children...And I fear we're going to see the same thing with this bill.

While the last thing the bill alludes to makes sense, it is not worth enshrining into law with all the other things affixed to it. I would like to give you all a lesson now about the nature of the legal system.

The idea of Canadian law establishes the fundamental principle that you are innocent until proven guilty. Warrents are the means of helping to establish this guilt; but warrents mean there must be evidence of a wrong-doing in order to secure a warrent in the first place. By telling police and others that a warrent must be put out in order to search a person or their residence for signs of guilt, there must be a level of guilt established before hand.

By removing the necessity of a warrent to access incredibly personal information, and to also be able to track someone through modern technology, removes the presumption of innocence and insteads suggests that the person is guilty and deserves to be watched.

The other problem comes in the form of privacy: When a warrent is passed down through the courts, it is usually presented to the person in question. Effectively, it lets them know that their belongings are going to be searched for evidence of a crime. By removing the need for a warrent, a person will never know whether or not they are being investigated or not.

When you live in a society where you do not know whether you are being monitored or not, you are not living in neither a free or safe society. Ben Franklin once said that those who sacrifice a little bit of liberty for the sake of security will lose both and gain neither. This is indeed the case here.

The problem is, the Harper Government is going to say that they are doing this for the children. They play the single benefit of the bill until the strings of the issue are close to breaking, while downplaying the cost of 'protecting the children'.

While I feel I have said my peace on this issue, there is one more thing I must say: A common argument in favour of these kinds of provisions is that those who speak out against it are those who are committing wrong-doings on the internet; that if you're not doing anything illegal, then this bill shouldn't bother you.

To those people, I must say any loss of social and personal liberty bothers me. If we break the idea of net neutrality, what happens next? Will the Harper Government follow the Bush Administration and begin wire-tapping without a warrent? And would you still say, oh, I don't do anything illegal over the phone, so I'm ok?

What we are talking about is a fundamental invasion of privacy, one that opens the doors to other invasions all in the name of security. I shutter when I think to the future of Canada under a Harper Government, knowing that the landscape and the people will no longer be the same.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Saskatchewan's Glowing Future...

Source: CBC: Medical Isotopes on Saskatchewan's Radar
Source: CBC: More Negative Voices at Latest Uranium Hearing

Well, I woke up today and decided to check the news, a daily routine of mine. While scanning the Saskatchewan based headlines, I found two stories that seem strangely related to me. On a day when Stephen Harper releases an economic update, the NDP and the Bloc flat out declare their non-support, and Michael Ignatieff muses whether or not to prop them up, I figured a Saskatchewan based post was more important; especially given the issue.

Since the Saskatchewan Party, under the leadership of Brad Wall, was elected they have been toying with the idea of a nuclear powered Saskatchewan. After all we are one of the leading producers of uranium in the world, so in those regards it would make sense for us to refine and produce nuclear energy within the province...So they say.

First, I'd like to address the problem of nuclear energy on a fundamental level before going into the political aspects. I feel I should say that I am not an environmentalist, I am not a nuclear physicist, nor am I anything that would qualify me as academic status to talk about nuclear power in any great intellectual way. I am, however, an informed citizen who has looked into the idea and have formed my own opinions as such.

The problem, as most people will tell you, about nuclear power stems from nuclear waste. In most cases, the waste is often sealed inside canisters and the canisters and then buried or housed in a massive facility that is designed to accommodate them. This is the solution we've come up with to deal with nuclear waste; simply ignore it and tuck it away. The problem with this is, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will agree, is that it is not a permanent solution.

As of October 2007, the IAEA released a report that explores the current scientific possibilities of such contained waste, despite these facilities, finding its way back into the soil and as such into ground water and becoming a health hazard for humans and animals. When the IAEA publishes a report that annouces the fesibility of such an issue, it's important to listen to it.

So, with the problem of nuclear waste, nuclear power seems less and less viable as it presents problems with what to do. The second most common problem falls on the idea of water supply. It is my understanding that to keep a reactor cool and working properly, massive amounts of water are required. The currently proposed locations for nuclear power plants, near rivers and lakes outside of Prince Albert, pose a problem in regards to supply and demand.

Those water sources currently feed a lot of drinking water to nearby communities, Saskatoon included. If these sources are suddenly divered for a nuclear power plant, what happens to the water levels in these communities? Will we have to suffer through water restriction laws that limit such things as watering a lawn or other wasteful water habits just to compensate? I haven't heard a word from the Wall Government on such issues, and it would be interesting to know what their plan to compensate for this water shortage will be.

Now that I've addressed the issues behind the problems of nuclear power, it is time to address the two news sources that I've quoted above. In a week when we've had a Federal Cabinet Minister talk about the isotope crisis as 'sexy', we now have to deal with a Premier who sees dollar signs over the opening of nuclear power plants.

Brad Wall stated openly that Saskatchewan could very well look into producing medical isotopes here in Saskatchewan once nuclear power plants are open. It's estimated that a reactor producing these isotopes could bring as much as $9 million dollars into the province per year, which no doubt is an alluring siren's song to pretty much anyone.

The problem, however, is that Wall's own nuclear bulldog, Dan Perrins, has questioned the fesibility of such a project in Saskatchewan. Given that we don't have any nuclear reactors at all, and are only discussing building them, it would be complicated to build a reactor solely for the purpose of nuclear isotope production. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the reactor would need to exist within three hours of a place capable of further processing of the isotopes.

Effectively, the plant would need to be close to a large enough city centre with the means to further refine and process nuclear isotopes. Which dictates that the plant would likely have to be built near Saskatoon or Regina, given that the Universities in these cities would likely agree to and have the means to carry out such further processing in the name of academic and scientific advancement.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking: If Brad Wall's own people are saying this is highly unlikely given the cost versus the return, why mention it? I'm glad you asked.

Nuclear opposition in the province is growing, as seen in the public forums that Brad Wall's government has contracted to get public opinion on the idea of nuclear energy in the province. More and more opposition is starting to show itself in the public, a problem that could amount of the Wall Government abandoning their nuclear ambitions.

Even Dan Perrins, who is the chairman of the meetings, is at a loss on how to change public opinion. His only suggestion is that the public is lacking information about nuclear power and that they need to be more informed by the government. Effectively, this means that he is dismissing concerns by saying the people concerned about nuclear waste, increased risks of cancer, water loss, and other problems are simply lacking the education or proper information about nuclear power. If this is true, then Mr. Perrins is more than welcome to release the information he has that makes him an expert and a supporter of nuclear energy.

Now we come to the speculative part of my concerns. Shortly before Christmas last year, I had a chance to speak with a friend's uncle, who is a SaskPower employee and a stauch conservative supporter. I won't release any names, not that it matters, but I shall impart what I was told. He was supporter of nuclear energy, explaining to use poor political science majors that Saskatchewan's energy grid was ineffective and would be tapped out soon enough.

Despite our objections, and suggestions of alternative energies mixed with a dash of common sense and tax incentives, he refused to budge and simply repeat the we could only survive as a province with nuclear power. It had escaped me at the time, but I remember it now and shall mention it here: Does anyone know how much power we export?

Saskatchewan, like other Canadian provinces, makes a quick buck by selling excess power from our grid to American States that are finding themselves strapped for power. It is estimated that California is going to become one of these states, largely thanks to water shortages and other problems, and that they are going to need outside assistance to keep their power flowing.

Enter Brad Wall. In addition to apparently wanting money for medical isotopes, I do believe that Premier Wall believes he can make money off of selling power to the Americans. We take the risk of a meltdown, we deal with the nuclear waste, we deal with the water shortages; and in exchange we get a little amount of money and Brad Wall can come to us and say he's turning a profit in difficult financial times...Proof of his 'good leadership.'

So, it stands to reason: If Saskatchewan is currently exporting excess energy, we need to put ourselves first and our Provincial Government needs to put the province first by ending these exports to ensure we can power our own province. If, given current power grids this does not completely solve the problem, we can suppliment the grid through self-installed solar panels and wind turbines that help ease the strain on the grid itself.

There are other solutions to explore before rushing to build a nuclear power plant; solutions that don't involve us taking the risks for someone else, all in the name and hope of making a quick buck.

*Although that is the closing of this post, for any readers in Saskatoon I would like to remind you all that Dan Perrins and his public forum will be coming to see us next week on Monday, June 15th, 2009. The meeting will be held at the Saskatoon Travelodge, 106 Circle Drive West at 7:00pm in the evening. I'm hoping to be there, but if I am not, hopefully a few of you can make it out and let your voices be heard.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

You Can Admit You Made a Mistake

CTV: Harper and Raitt Stand Defiant in Political Storm
CBC: PM Dismisses Fury Over Raitt's Isotopes Comments as 'Cheap Politics'

First things first, I realize I haven't updated this in a very long time. I will put the blame on school, which is now done. As such, I feel the things I write here may have a little more impact to them given that they are written by someone who possess a political science degree.

As I start thinking about the Conservative Government of Stephen Harper, I can't help but think that his legacy as a Prime Minister will be defined by Chalk River. Yet again, the Chalk River reactor has reared its head into Canadian News stories as yet another isotope shortage hits both Canada and the international community.

And much like the last time, there is controversy over bureaucratic actions. Unlike last time, no one has been fired from their post...There has been a resignation, related but not quite, and the demands for a resignation but no actual action on that front.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, allow me to clarify: Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt has found herself in the middle of a perfect storm of the political variety. Her name first popped up when it was revealed that she had left confidential documents in regards to her ministry at a news station for a little over a week, with no inquiry into whether or not they were still there. Eventually, one of Raitt's staffers took the blame for the gaff and promptly resigned. Raitt offered up her resignation as well over the incident, but the Prime Minister refused to accept it.

Before moving on, some speculation over these documents is required. Most people commonly agree that it was political strategy documents that were left at the news station; mainly referring to the Harper Government's plan to sell Canadians and others on the sale/privatization of the Chalk River facility, in hopes of shoring up a good name for CANDU Reactors. So, what exactly does that mean?

If that was what the documents were about, then it would suggest that they were talking points to be used during interviews and such to calm fears and concerns over the sale of one of the largest producers of nuclear isotopes designed for medicine. It would also seem to suggest that the reason for doing so is to play up the reputation and potential future sale of CANDU Reactors.

The problem with this is that the CANDU Reactors already have a fairly good word of mouth behind them, even if they are nuclear reactors, and the sale of Chalk River doesn't really seem to have a chance of increasing this reputation. So, if we exclude that, the documents don't really play into the problem at hand with the Natural Resources Minister.

Where the problem does come in, is a recently released audio tape in which the Minister is heard bemoaning a colleague and fellow Minister (Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq), and saying that the issue of the isotope shortage is a 'sexy' issue that could further her own political career. I'm betting right about now is where the PM wishes he had accepted Raitt's resignation the first time.

So, now that there is blood in the water the opposition parties are calling for more...And rightly so. Raitt's actions are not the first time a Conservative Minister created a public relations gaff, in fact, the Conservative Party seems to be become adept at creating them. For those who doubt this, please see: Gerry 'Death by a Thousand Cold Cuts' Ritz, Tom 'There's A's and B's' Lukiwski, Pierre 'It's a Common Political Term' Poilievre, and pretty much anything John Baird says.

In fact, the comment made by Pierre Poilievre, which he never did apologize for, seem to be all but forgotten as another Conservative manages to stick their foot in their mouth. Perhaps this is Harper's new strategy; just keep passing the blame down the line until an unimportant backbencher says something stupid and gets stuck with the fallout.

The fact of the matter is, the Harper Conservatives have gotten away with impunity over comments that seems more and more ridiculous than the last. It is for that very important reason that Minister Raitt must do two things:
1.) She must apologize for her comments over the isotope shortage
2.) She must resign her cabinet portfolio, if not her seat in the House

Yet again, borrowing from George Bush, Harper is refusing himself and his ministers to admit to any wrong doing. If they just deny, condemn and ignore they think the issue will go away. However, after all the cases listed above this is no longer an option for the Harper Conservatives. If they want to regain any credibility, if they even had any to begin with, they must learn a fundamental lesson most of us learned around the age of five: You have to admit to your mistakes and apologize for them.

Effectively, as I said when I opened this post, if you asked me what issue the Harper Government is going to be remember most for; their constant mishandling in regards to everything Chalk River is definitely a contender.