Nine Things We Learnt This Week

1. Margaret Thatcher, rehabilitated?

Scourge of the Left, in an Aquascutum suit

“But this portrayal of Maggie the seductress, ‘twirling through Young Conservative balls in strapless gowns,’ as the Sunday Times gushed at the weekend, sums up everything that’s wrong about the way Mrs T has been repositioned. She wasn’t a harmless socialite, she’s not a style icon; she was a ruthless politician, who looked 80s because it was the 80s.”

2. Wallis Simpson, rehabilitated?

Unfit for a King?

“English Heritage, giver of blue plaques to People Who Matter, is the latest to bitch-slap her corpse. Last week, it denied a request by a member of the public to stick a plaque outside Wallis’s 1930s London home. But Wallis matters. She drew to the surface many of the foul bigotries of the age: xenophobia, ageism, rampant snobbery and a desire for women to be submissive, uneducated, unthreatening little dolls.

[snip]

So why today does English Heritage continue this old, old vendetta? Its official reason is an affair that she allegedly had with Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador to Britain in the 1930s. However, there is no evidence that this actually happened. It is true – and unforgivable – that she visited Germany in 1937 and shook the Führer’s hand. But she did not ‘make’ her husband into the Nazi he became. It was his idea: he wanted to play the King and Nazi Germany was the only country that would have him. Wallis spent her life as a whipping girl for her husband’s failures as king. Nobody could accept that Edward didn’t want to rule us; it had to be witchcraft, didn’t it?”

3. She’s not too fond of slaughterhouses, either.

A cynic might say it’s sick-making

“Few pigs turn their snouts up at the chance to roll around in mud. But Cinderella the six-week-old saddleback has adopted a different motto – four wellies good, four trotters bad – after being diagnosed with mysophobia, a fear of dirt.”

4. Those clever Brits.

“Britons consume about 180 million pints of milk a week. At least two thirds of it is sold in plastic bottles, which began to replace cardboard containers in the Nineties. Campaigners claim that if all the plastic milk bottles in Britain were replaced with pouches, 100,000 tons of plastic waste would be saved from landfill sites every year.”

5. No Comment

“Gynecologists say that in the past few years, more Muslim women are seeking certificates of virginity to provide proof to others. That in turn has created a demand among cosmetic surgeons for hymen replacements, which, if done properly, they say, will not be detected and will produce tell-tale vaginal bleeding on the wedding night. The service is widely advertised on the Internet; medical tourism packages are available to countries like Tunisia where it is less expensive.”

6. We need to count the loot.

7. You can also use grapes.

“Illegal ‘tiger bone wine’ is still being made and sold by some animal parks in China, say campaigners.

The Environmental Investigation Agency says staff at two parks offered to sell the drink, made from carcasses soaked in rice wine, to its researchers.”

8. You think?

“Police services covering 87 per cent of Canada’s population reported 892 hate-motivated crimes in 2006, of which six in 10 were motivated by race or ethnicity, Statistics Canada said Monday.”

9. Another reason why same sex marriage is unnatural.

“Notably, same-sex relationships, whether between men or women, were far more egalitarian than heterosexual ones. In heterosexual couples, women did far more of the housework; men were more likely to have the financial responsibility; and men were more likely to initiate sex, while women were more likely to refuse it or to start a conversation about problems in the relationship. With same-sex couples, of course, none of these dichotomies were possible, and the partners tended to share the burdens far more equally.

While the gay and lesbian couples had about the same rate of conflict as the heterosexual ones, they appeared to have more relationship satisfaction, suggesting that the inequality of opposite-sex relationships can take a toll.”

Nine Things We Learnt This Week

1. George Bush, explained.

The devil made him

” ‘Evil exists in politics, quite often in fact,’ Father Amorth said.  ‘The devil loves to take over business leaders and those who hold political office.  Hitler and Stalin were possessed.  How do I know? Because they killed millions of people.  The Gospel says: ‘By their fruits you will know them.’  Unfortunately, an exorcism on them would not have been enough, since they were convinced of what they were doing.  We can’t say it was a possession in the strict sense of the word, but rather a total and voluntary acceptance of the suggestions of the devil.’ ”

2. Ships of the Damned.

“The analysis, due to be published this year by the human rights organisation Reprieve, also claims there have been more than 200 new cases of rendition since 2006, when President George Bush declared that the practice had stopped.

It is the use of ships to detain prisoners, however, that is raising fresh concern and demands for inquiries in Britain and the US.

According to research carried out by Reprieve, the US may have used as many as 17 ships as ‘floating prisons’ since 2001. Detainees are interrogated aboard the vessels and then rendered to other, often undisclosed, locations, it is claimed.

Ships that are understood to have held prisoners include the USS Bataan and USS Peleliu. A further 15 ships are suspected of having operated around the British territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, which has been used as a military base by the UK and the Americans.”

3. And so it begins. (1)

“His wife going off on a rant about how evil “whitey” is, and conspiracies that he is a covert Muslim trying to infiltrate our democracy are nothing more than rumors…at least at this point. However, there are plenty of things the media don’t put enough focus on that are true about the Obamas. Instead they would rather focus on things like his playful fist-bump. They have to keep their priorities on the important issues.”

4. And so it begins. (2)

The victim of a plagiarized lie

“Despite the tenuousness of this rumor, Obama was actually asked about this non-existent video in front of the national press by a reporter the other day. Understandably, he pushed back hard on the notion that he should have to answer such a question.

Now Jim Geraghty of National Review has claimed that the rumor may be based on…fiction. A political thriller called The Power Broker, published in 2006 by Stephen Frey, features the presidential campaign of Dem candidate Jesse Wood, who’s aspiring to be the country’s first African-American president.

We went out and got the book. And sure enough, in the novel, Wood’s opponents discover video of the candidate himself — not his wife — discussing with a radical black minister how he will ‘f— whitey’ when he gets into office, despite all his public rhetoric about racial reconciliation.”

5. We’re shocked. Really.  (1)

“The space agency’s internal watchdog, the inspector general, reports that from autumn 2004 until early 2006 Nasa’s central public affairs office handled global warming in a way that ‘reduced, marginalised, or mischaracterised climate change science made available to the general public’.

The confirmation of political interference is vindication for James Hansen, Nasa’s chief climate scientist and one of the first to sound the alarm over global warming. Claims of political dallying surfaced when Hansen said he had been blocked from taking part in a National Public Radio interview in December 2005.”

6. We’re shocked. Really. (2)

” ‘In making the case for war, the administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when it was unsubstantiated, contradicted or even nonexistent,’ Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), the committee chairman, said at a news conference. ‘As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.’

The report, the last and most contentious of a series of Senate reviews of prewar intelligence, sought to compare the administration’s public claims about Iraq with the intelligence reports available to them at the time. While many of the White House’s statements — such as Bush’s warnings about a secret Iraqi nuclear program — were amply supported by intelligence files at the time, the report said, others were not.”

7. Still dead.

Miracle of the embalmer’s art

8. Must-read essay of the week.

“I am not blind to the imperfections of this America, or the failures to always meet these ideals at home and abroad. I spent 20 years of my life in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans as a foreign correspondent reporting in countries where crimes and injustices were committed in our name, whether during the Contra war in Nicaragua or the brutalization of the Palestinians by Israeli occupation forces. But there was much that was good and decent and honorable in our country. And there was hope.

The country I live in today uses the same words to describe itself, the same patriotic symbols and iconography, the same national myths, but only the shell remains. America, the country of my birth, the country that formed and shaped me, the country of my father, my father’s father and his father’s father, stretching back to the generations of my family that were here for the country’s founding, is so diminished as to be nearly unrecognizable. I do not know if this America will return, even as I pray and work and strive for its return. The “consent of the governed” has become an empty phrase. Our textbooks on political science are obsolete. Our state, our nation, has been hijacked by oligarchs, corporations and a narrow, selfish political elite, a small and privileged group which governs on behalf of moneyed interests. We are undergoing, as John Ralston Saul wrote, ‘a coup d’etat in slow motion.’ We are being impoverished — legally, economically, spiritually and politically. And unless we soon reverse this tide, unless we wrest the state away from corporate hands, we will be sucked into the dark and turbulent world of globalization where there are only masters and serfs, where the American dream will be no more than that — a dream, where those who work hard for a living can no longer earn a decent wage to sustain themselves or their families, whether in sweatshops in China or the decaying rust belt of Ohio, where democratic dissent is condemned as treason and ruthlessly silenced.”

9. Because they can.

House of Commons Votes to Protect War Resisters

Unfortunately, it’s non-binding. The Tories voted against the motion.

From the Canadian Friends Service Committee, the peace and social justice agency of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers):

Today, just after 3 pm, the House of Commons voted 137 – 110 in favour of the 3rd report of the Standing Committee on Immigration and Citizenship, which included this motion:

that the government immediately implement a program to allow conscientious objectors and their immediate family members (partners and dependents), who have refused or left military service related to a war not sanctioned by the United Nations and do not have a criminal record, to apply for permanent resident status and remain in Canada; and that the government should immediately cease any removal or deportation actions that may have already commenced against such individuals.

The motion is not legally binding on the Government to implement (the governing party is the Conservative Party of Canada of which every member voted against the motion). Most would say it is morally binding as it reflects the will of Parliament, which is to reflect the will of the people.

So, there will still be work to be done to pressure for its implementation (the focus now is really on the Government itself, as all members present from the Bloc, Liberal and NDP voted in favour – and all of these Party Leaders and high-profile MPs from these parties were present for the vote, which is significant).

Thanks to all of you for your terrific action, prayers, and persistence in helping this to happen. The War Resisters Support Campaign, in particular, is to be congratulated for their key role along the way.

Small victories are big steps, and we are closer to our desire to see all conscientious objectors receive the protection they deserve, particularly at this time the ones from the USA who refused to fight in Iraq.

Please monitor the “News and Events” section of http://www.cfsc.quaker.ca and the Campaign’s site – http://www.resisters.ca – for up-to-date information on next steps as the E-newsletter is not scheduled until end of June.

In Friendship,

Orion

Jane Orion Smith
General Secretary
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)

Nine Things We Learnt This Week

1. Too much coffee, we think.

Jihadi donuts

“The apparently inoffensive magazine ad shows Rachael Ray, purveyor of quick and easy recipes to millions of Food Channel viewers, in a black and white paisley scarf, clutching her iced latte in front of a row of cherry trees.

The offending item, though, is the scarf, which reminded one blogger of the keffiyeh head-dress worn by Arab men, an item which a second blogger – picking up the theme and running several miles with it – dubbed ‘jihadi chic’. The Little Green Footballs blog, a conservative favourite, accused Dunkin’ Donuts of ‘casually promoting the symbol of Palestinian terrorism and the intifada’.”

2. What recession?

“Two reports released on Tuesday captured the bleak picture. One showed that home prices nationally fell 14.1 percent in March from a year earlier. The other showed sales of new homes, although up slightly in April, remained mired near their lowest levels since 1991.”

3. Me ne frego.

“True to his Fascist roots, the newly elected Mayor of Rome Gianni Alemanno has said he intends naming a street in the city after Giorgio Almirante, the first leader of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), the party that took up Fascism in 1946 where Mussolini had left off.”

4. At last, something useful on Ebay.

“A seven-month-old baby has been taken into care in Germany after his parents offered to sell him for one Euro (80 pence) on an internet auction site.

The couple, from the south German town of Memmingen, posted the advertisement to sell their son Merlin on eBay last week after he became ‘too loud’.”

5. At last, something useful on Craigslist. “A Vancouver couple have been arrested but will not be charged after posting an Internet ad on Craigslist, offering their seven-day-old baby for $10,000, police said Tuesday.”

6. No freedom, please, we’re British.

“A masters student researching terrorist tactics who was arrested and detained for six days after his university informed police about al-Qaida-related material he downloaded has spoken of the ‘psychological torture’ he endured in custody. Despite his Nottingham University supervisors insisting the materials were directly relevant to his research, Rizwaan Sabir, 22, was held for nearly a week under the Terrorism Act, accused of downloading the materials for illegal use. The student had obtained a copy of the al-Qaida training manual from a US government website for his research into terrorist tactics.”

7. Good thing she’s not une maudite anglaise.

“In an article published Wednesday in the independent monthly magazine, Victor-Levy Beaulieu said Ms. Jean was appointed to the governor general’s post because she was ‘black, young, pretty, ambitious, and because of her husband, certainly a nationalist as well.’ In an interview with La Presse, the author defended his text, saying he had not intended to be racist. However, his eight references to the ‘negre reine’ caught the attention of Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Bloc MP Vivian Barbot.”

8. Dolly duel.

 

Out for blood

9. Fat Chance.

War Resister Ordered Deported

A statement issued today by the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers), The United Church of Canada, the  Mennonite Central Committee – Canada and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)

Canada No Longer a Safe Haven for U.S .War Resisters:
A Response to Ottawa’s Decision to Deport Corey Glass
 
Toronto: As signatories to the War Resisters Declaration, our concern for conscientious objectors around the world leads us to speak out against the decision today to order the first deportation of a U.S. war resister who had come to Canada seeking refuge.

Corey Glass is a Sergeant in the United States National Guard. In July 2006, after his first tour of service in Iraq, Corey Glass fled to Canada, and applied for refugee status, which was refused.

Today, Glass was informed by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration that he is at no risk of persecution in being sent back to the United States and, moreover, that he will not be allowed to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.

Although many may say, “Well, he volunteered, he should be willing to suffer the consequences of his actions”, we believe this is a misguided  understanding about consequence and conscience. Punishment should not be the product of conscientious action. Rather it is the result of conscience being met by callousness and a closed heart. In the best of worlds, conscientious objections open our eyes and hearts to see another view of the world as it is, and call upon us, at minimum, to not be complacent and, at best, to work for change and redress.

Corey Glass came to Canada after his military duty in Iraq led him to realize that he had a conscientious objection to the war – its objectives and the way that it was being fought, with clear violations of international law.

Some may also question whether members of an “all-volunteer army” have any rights of asylum. The UNHCR Handbook on Refugees, the standard-bearer for such questions, says they do. To qualify for asylum, a soldier must “show that the performance of military service would have required his participation in military action contrary to his genuine political, religious or moral convictions, or to valid reasons of conscience.” Being in disagreement with one’s government is not enough, unless “the type of military action…is condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct, punishment for desertion or draft-evasion could, in the light of all other requirements of the definition, in itself be regarded as persecution.”

Many countries, including Canada, refused to participate in the Iraq war because it was not sanctioned by the Security Council. Many churches and citizens in Canada and around the world opposed the war . And, in 2004, the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, declared that “[The Iraq War] was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal.”

The Iraq War’s human rights abuses, particularly related to torture and unjust detention, have been condemned in the press and by international human rights organizations. What further evidence is needed to demonstrate that a refusal to serve in this war meets the burden of proof for international condemnation? Volunteering for the army does not mean that a soldier signs away their conscience – or their rights.

Sadly, today, Canada failed Corey Glass. But more than that, it has failed Canadians who themselves believe in protecting not only those who  are at risk of torture or persecution, but also those who have “done the right thing”. Their punishment will be tantamount to persecution.

And Canada, which so warmly welcomed tens of thousands of men and women – draft dodgers, deserters, conscientious objectors – from Viet Nam and other wars, has regrettably taken a step backwards in demonstrating moral stewardship.

For the war resisters, their good faith was abused by an administration that misled them about the basis of the war (“weapons of mass destruction”; links to 9/11). It took courage for them to say “no” and even more courage to leave all that is familiar behind and come to Canada. And now they  are being  betrayed by the country that for so many others has been a safe haven.

Punishment was not a requisite outcome for these conscientious objectors but it will  be their destiny unless Canadians themselves speak up and tell the Government of Canada to not deport these young people and to let them stay.
 
Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers)
The United Church of Canada
Mennonite Central Committee – Canada
American Friends Service Committee (Quakers)

Free Speech Hysteria: Does Anyone Smell a Rat?

Studied outrage over the tribulations of Mark Steyn and Maclean’s before various human rights commissions continued this last week, with editorials appearing in both the National Post and Maclean’s.  Granted, the complaints were an abuse of process, and means need to be found to prevent the frivolous and vexatious from reaching the tribunals.  Freedom of speech ought to be absolute, no matter how odious the subject.  But at the same time, I find myself unmoved by the suppression of free speech the complaints supposedly produced.  In point of fact no one’s speech was actually curtailed.  As much as some might have wished,  the authorities have not sequestered and burnt the original Maclean’s article in any figurative or literal public square.  Mark Steyn continues to issue his screeds from his New Hampshire redoubt, unmolested.  No agents in the name of state security have hauled him to a nameless gulag.  A cursory glance at the magazine rack indicates Maclean’s still publishes openly, its reduction to the status of samizdat postponed to the indefinite future.  At the end of the fuss, it’s rather unclear as to whether Maclean’s et al. are outraged over attempts to limit their speech by a few law students, or whether someone had the audacity to challenge the received wisdom on Islam and the West.

To be sure, the importance of freedom of speech cannot be underestimated, and the complaints, where they have been adjudicated, have been rightly tossed out.  My sourness at this triumph of freedom of expression resides in the generally parlous state of civil liberties in general: the subtle contempt for notions of human rights and due process by the present government, the replacement of open and fair trials by arbitrary justice, accusation treated as evidence for determining guilt or innocence, the implicit endorsement of torture as state policy, even if we do not condone it on our own soil, the endless intrusions on individual privacy by a government already bloated with information, “no-fly” lists, and the gaping void of secrecy which obscures all of these activities  — all in the name of national security against a nebulous enemy whose strength the public cannot begin to gauge, because that too is secret.  While Maclean’s, The National Post and other organs of the free press fret away countless pails of ink on the real and imagined dangers to free speech, the erosion continues, unchecked and unremarked upon by the right-wing press (and the media in general), in this country and abroad. 

Examples of undereporting are numerous. If you believe this is because civil liberties in Canada are intact, think again.  For example, in April 2007 The International Commission of Jurists held public hearings in Toronto and Ottawa to investigate the impact of counter terrorism legislation on civil liberties. I quote part of its report at length:

The definition of terrorism and related offences under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA)

  • Concerns were expressed about the speed with which ATA was enacted and in particular about the broad definition of “terrorist activity” contained in the Act and the risk that the clause requiring that the act be committed “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” leads to discrimination against the Muslim and Arab communities. Many witnesses, including representatives of Arab and Muslim communities drew attention to a widespread belief within these communities that the implementation of the Act is directed against Muslims and Arabs resulting in their stigmatization and a sense of insecurity. In this context, some participants welcomed the October 2006 ruling of the Superior Court of Ontario in the Khawaja case striking down the motivation requirement provision for being a violation of the rights to freedom of religion, expression and association while others expressed concern that the decision in fact broadens the definition. The Government representatives informed the Panel that they were aware of the concerns of the Muslim community and that positive action is taken to create a climate in which these concerns can be addressed and resolved. 
  • Concerns were raised about the breadth and imprecision of terminology used in the ATA, in particular the offence of “facilitating terrorist activities” and its potential implications for charities and persons.

Privacy

Concerns were raised about warrantless electronic surveillance of international communications introduced under ATA and the lack of adequate safeguards over collection, storage and sharing of the data. Participants expressed the view that an erosion of privacy within a free and democratic society could, in the long run, make the Canadian population less secure.

Secrecy

Growing secrecy surrounding national security measures was raised as a major issue of concern, in particular, the increasing reliance on untested intelligence information that becomes a substitute for evidence. In addition, concerns were expressed about cross-border sharing of intelligence information and about action taken on the basis of that intelligence that may have been obtained through torture and has often proven to be inaccurate. These actions are a matter of great concern when liberty is at stake as documented by the Maher Arar Commission of Inquiry. In light of these concerns, the introduction of a provision in Canada’s domestic legislation to clearly prohibit the use in all legal and administrative proceedings of evidence obtained by torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment was proposed by some participants.

  • Concerns were raised also about the use of security certificates under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) as a form of administrative detention against non-citizens suspected of being a security threat and that, in practice, has led to the detention for years without charge or trial of those subject to the certificates with very limited judicial review.
  • Concerns were expressed about the secrecy of the proceedings (ex parte and in camera) in security certificate cases where evidence is presented only to the judge in the absence of the suspect and his or her counsel who only receive an unclassified summary of those proceedings. 
  • Although almost all individuals subject to security certificates have been released as a result of the Charkaoui decision, strict conditions and limitations have been imposed on them affecting their freedom of movement and their right to privacy. These measures constitute a severe form of punishment for persons who have not been accused or convicted of any crime. Several participants have expressed scepticism about the possible resort to special advocates as used in the United Kingdom as this system also falls short of guaranteeing due process rights.

 Deportation on the basis of diplomatic assurances against torture

  • Serious concerns were raised about increasing reliance upon diplomatic assurances against torture to deport non-citizens suspected of involvement in terrorist activities. It was stressed that such deportation constitutes a major departure from the absolute prohibition in international law to send persons to countries where they face a risk of torture or ill-treatment.

This collection of particulars, from government invasion of privacy, to effectively imposing punishment on suspected terrorists without trial, to the use of immigration law as a tool to detain suspected security risks — an abuse of process if there ever was one — garnered exactly two references in the Canadian media, a Canadian Press story subsequently picked up by a Montreal radio station. In contrast, a quick Google News search on the Steyn complaint yields 398 returns. Bloggers in this case did a bit better: three posts referred to it.  The outrage was palpable, except it wasn’t.

Or we can talk about the larger international scandal of detainees in United States custody.  Sami al-Hajj, an Al Jazeera journalist was released from prison four days ago. If you haven’t heard of him, don’t be surprised: the likes of Maclean’s and Mark Steyn –or CBC, CTV, or CanWest Global– aren’t particularly interested in his plight.  He was one of the 275 faceless prisoners still remaining in American custody at Guantanamo Bay.  He was arrested in Pakistan after the Afghan invasion, despite being accredited with Al Jazeera, apparently for the crime of being Muslim, Sudanese, and a journalist all at once. He had obtained an interview with Osama bin Laden and between 1996 and 2000 he transferred money at the behest of his then employer to Islamic charities linked to terrorist activity.  He spent 78 months at Guantanamo as an “enemy combatant.”  No charges were ever laid. He was never tried.  His lawyer was prevented by law from seeing the evidence against him.  He went on a hunger strike, and for the last sixteen months he was force-fed by means of a naso-gastric tube twice daily, a procedure when administered against an unwilling person, is the very definition of torture. When finally released, one imagines a few hushed words of regret, a token offer of compensation, a handshake and the equivalent of a second-hand suit and a bus ticket.  There was none of that. Instead, he was blindfolded, handcuffed and chained to his seat on his flight home.  “In Guantanamo,” he says, “rats are treated with more humanity.” One can believe it.

Sami al Hajj’s treatment at the hands of U.S. authoities is not unusual.  The 275-odd prisoners still confined at Guantanamo are just the beginning.  Reprieve, one of the few organizations which will advocate for “enemy combatants” estimates that 14,000 men are imprisoned in secret American jails, caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare of bureaucratic doublespeak, without legal recourse or even simple hope, and in far worse conditions than Guantanamo. 

Which brings me back to Maclean’s, The National Post and other media organizations which tilt rightward.  How many column inches did the magazine, or any other media outlet in Canada devote to the story of Sami al-Hajj, or to any of the thousands languishing in secret prisons, or even on the concerted attack on civil rights in this country in the past year?  Instead we receive lengthly sermons on the supposed threat to individual liberty posed by those firebrand, authoritarian-minded human rights commissioners  — a danger that in any reasonable analysis is negligable and in any case easily fixed, at least compared to the hysterical morass of anti-terrorist measures. Free speech is integral to civil liberties.  But does anyone seriously think Mark Steyn’s right to free speech and Maclean’s right to publish this speech was ever in jeopardy?  There is a certain gap in credibility, where the rightwing press can mouth pieties about free speech while wilfully ignoring more egregious violations of human rights.  Apparently the rights of well-connected pundits and the corporate media are sacrosanct.  Everyone else can go rot.

One suspects under different circumstances the hue and cry might be different and–let’s say it softly–another agenda might be at work. Fulminations against the imposition of the War Measures Act in 1970 and the civil rights iniquities of Pierre Trudeau are still regular fodder for pundits even now, twenty-four years after Trudeau left office.  Under the present government, not to mention the Bush Administration, similar abuses of power, and worse, are given a pass.  It should not be forgotten either that human rights commissions have been intensely disliked by conservatives since their inception.  They interfered with property rights, said conservatives, or religious or personal belief , and  they even proposed the hackneyed arguments that more appropriate remedies were to be found in the market place or the civil courts. (Let pass that not so long ago racial and religious discrimination was justifed by Holy Writ, and that the poor and marginalized haven’t the money to buy their way out of discrimination or launch a lawsuit.)  However unjustified the proceedings against Steyn and Maclean’s, their cause has become a vehicle to attack the HRCs in general as inquisitional bodies hellbent on destroying individual liberty, whether the facts bear this interpretation or not. Lastly, can it be that the conservative media has bought the government’s position that the threat of Islamic terrorism is so overwhelming that the safety of all is worth the sacrifice of a few civil liberties and the notion of due process?  Subtext: the story is already done (though the abuses continue,) the debate is over, and who really cares if a few grubby Muslims are caught up in the net.

Complicity with the authoritarian’s eternal cry of safety trumping freedom or even silence becuase one has common cause with the ruling party’s ideology, is a dangerous game for the conservative press.  At best it exposes the rhetoric around freedom of speech for what it is — rubbishy cant.  In the long view, secrecy, arbitrary proceedings, extraordinary renditions and the rest of it are the antithesis of democratic society, for ultimately all of these are the root of corruption of power and the seeds of tyranny, where no accountibility is possible: a no man’s land where predators roam freely.  The contrast with the much-maligned human rights commissions, with their insistance on due process and open proceedings, accompanied by a vigourous debate on their purpose and relevance, could not be greater.  It is a contrast worth pondering.

A Christian, Persecuted

Several deep threads of irony lace the recent decision of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against Christian Horizons, a provider of services to people with developmental disorders.  The case involved a Christian lesbian named Connie Heintz, who left her job with this agency, and indeed was harassed out of it. Heintz found herself unable to comply with the agency’s employment contract — containing an explicitly evangelical Christian moral and religious agreement —  which essentially forbade her from engaging in homosexual activity.  Christian Horizons, which views itself as deeply evangelical Christian agency, and its work as an extension of Christian values, attempted to argue that as a religious organization it is exempt from the provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code. This is despite the fact the agency receives some $75 million in financial aid from the provincial government to operate 180 group homes for 1,500 clients, none of whom (or their families), it might be added, are subjected to a similar moral or religious test. The Tribunal ruled Christian Horizons violated the complainant’s rights and ordered the agency to pay substantial damages as well as implement anti-discrimination policies and procedures. Bottom line: if you’re going to take public money and offer a public service, you need to abide by the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.  The decision, despite claims of violation of religious freedom, is correct.

Way back in the dark ages, that is, the early ’90s, I knew an extremely personably and bright young Christian woman who worked for Christian Horizons, and who lived in some unholy terror that her employer would discover her lesbian relationship.  Her fear was palpable, and I can imagine the emotional torment the complainant went through.  Like my friend, Connie Heintz grew up in a serious, devout Mennonite household; only after a long struggle could she come to terms with being a lesbian.  She began a relationship.  She was confronted at work, and offered “restorative” therapy to make her “normal”.  And when she refused that a sadly familiar chain of events began, of work evaluations declining from exemplary to poor, and of highly suspect, circumstantial accusations of abusing clients and harassing another employee, before she finally left her employment.  

Reading though the 288 paragraphs (plus addendum) of the Tribunal’s decision one gets the sense of the conflicting rights and values involved, and the care by which the facts are weighed and adjudicated.  Irony seeps out.  Standard — if potentially illegal — human resources techniques of forcing an employee from a job by creating a poisoned work environment and setting up “conditions” for eventual dismissal hardly strike one as Christian, and it is perhaps surprising an organization that so aggressively bills itself as upholding Christian morality would countenance such behaviour, which is essentially deceitful and fraudulent.  There is then the larger inconguity of an organization like Christian Horizons, which according to its own mission statement is run with the admirable view to helping the marginalized, would so persecute a member of another marginalized group, in the name of Christian love.  Heintz’s own professed Christian belief and her ability to reconcile her faith and sexual orientation adds yet another layer of irony. This case boils down a Christian agency harassing a Christian out of her job — for being “insufficiently” Christian.  So much for religious freedom.  True religious liberty requires not only the freedom to practice one’s faith (or not), but toleration for dissent within an individual’s faith tradition.  Evangelical Christians do not speak for all Christians, nor do they hold the lockbox for doctrinal or moral purity.

(Note to Christian Horizons and others wanting to attack the Tribunal for this decision on the basis of religious freedom: the optics really suck on this one.)