25 June 2015

Oaths, niqabs, and respecting the rules

Immigration Minister Chris Alexander made a curious statement recently when being asked about the government's proposed Bill C-75 which states that a person taking the oath of citizenship must "swear or affirm the oath out loud and with their face uncovered," and furthermore, "If a person is required to take the oath of citizenship at a citizenship ceremony, the person shall take the oath at the time, during the ceremony, when the oath is administered to the applicants." (The quotes are underlined as in the bill.) In other words, if a person would prefer to take the oath in private rather than at the ceremony, she is out of luck.

Alexander, in justifying the bill, commented that Canadians "don't want people to become citizens who haven't respected the rules." What is odd about his statement is that the rule he's concerned about is presumably the one in Bill C-75, i.e. a rule that doesn't now, and may never, exist. With the proroguing of Parliament, the bill died on the Order Paper. Currently a person may take the oath of citizenship in private and still attend the ceremony. This seems to work perfectly well.

The "person" I keep referring to is of course Muslim women who wear the niqab. Bill C-75 is entirely for their benefit. I doubt they feel honoured being singled out for such attention, however, as the bill is a gratuitous insult to their religious beliefs.

As for Canadians not wanting people who don't respect the rules becoming citizens, this born and bred Canadian disagrees with Mr. Alexander. If I were becoming a citizen, I wouldn't even be able to respect the citizenship oath itself. It reads, "I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfill my duties as a Canadian citizen." I would have no problem affirming that I would obey the law and be a good citizen, but as a democrat I would have real trouble swearing allegiance to a foreign, unelected head of state who got her job not by merit but by birth.

I cannot, therefore, in good conscience ask a niqab-wearer to violate her religious beliefs in order to swear to an oath I don't respect. Fortunately we won't have to make that request of our new citizens at least until after the October election, if then, as Bill C-75 almost certainly won't be resurrected unless the Conservatives win. It is in fact their second attempt to impose this rule, the first being struck down by the courts. The bill is a nasty bit of intolerance targeting a few people—very few—of one gender of one religion. It deserves to remain in its grave.

22 June 2015

For black Americans, 239 years of terrorism

The United States is obsessed with terrorism these days. In a Pew Research survey, Americans ranked defending the U.S. against terrorism as the top policy priority for their federal government, ranking it even above the economy. At home, they have built a bureaucracy second only to the Pentagon for homeland security. Abroad, the U.S. stumbles about bombing and assassinating terrorists while inadvertently creating more than they kill. All this is aimed at evil foreigners who "hate us for our values."

Meanwhile a form of homegrown terrorism, as old as America itself, persists. Since the first day of the nation's history, black Americans have been subjected to terror to keep them in their place.

Slavery was, of course, maintained by terror. The threat of the lash, or worse, kept slaves obedient to masters. After the civil war ended, slavery was replaced by a brutal system of segregation, often little more than slavery by another name, enforced by a variety of methods, legal and otherwise, the most infamous being lynching. Segregation has now formally ended, but terror continues to lurk in the background.

In South Carolina, for example, subject of the horrific attack last week that took nine lives, is the home of 19 hate groups, including neo-nazi and white supremacist organizations and chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. South Carolina has no law against hate crimes. The Confederate flag, the banner behind which the South fought to maintain slavery, flies in front of the South Carolina State House. When hate-mongering is tolerated and the symbols of oppression are flaunted by the state's leaders, it isn't hard for impressionable young men to justify their perverted passions.

These are not, I assume, the values that Americans insist the foreign evil-doers hate them for. Indeed they are more closely-related to the values of the evil-doers. If Americans are to obsess about defending themselves from terrorists, they might focus on the form that lives entirely in their homeland, the one born from racism, and free their black citizens from the oldest and most intransigent terrorism afflicting their nation.

19 June 2015

Mr. Trudeau brings more good news on the democracy front

This is shaping up to be a good week for democracy. The new Alberta government's banning of political donations by corporations and unions has been followed with a surprising and very welcome announcement by Liberal leader Justin Trudeau of major democratic reform if his party wins the October election.

Some of the Liberal proposals I particularly like include the following:
  • A thorough study of the electoral system with the goal of making every vote count. The study will be carried out by an all-party parliamentary committee (rather like Alberta's inclusive approach) which will bring recommendations to Parliament. The recommendations would be instituted within 18 months of the Liberals forming a government.
  • Stronger Parliamentary committees. Changing the electoral system to ensure Canadians are fairly represented in Parliament is a necessary first step, but we need to ensure also that all those elected, not just members of the ruling party, have the opportunity to participate in government. The voices of all Canadians should be heard. Strong Parliamentary committees would help to achieve this.
  • More free votes. Trudeau has promised free votes on everything except issues from the Liberal election platform, confidence matters, and issues that concern values embodied in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This, too, will help all MPs to be heard while liberating them from the straightjacket of caucus solidarity.
And what I really like is that the Liberals are well and truly committed to these reforms. Parties frequently talk about electoral reform while in opposition, but once elected they decide to stick with the system that brought them to power—dance with the one that brung you, so to speak. But Trudeau has made such an issue of this reform it would be extremely difficult for him to back down if he became prime minister. Indeed, it would be difficult for him not to support similar reform if the NDP is elected.

After the Liberal vote for Bill C-51, I was about to write them off. I am now forced to give them a very close second look. Justin's papa would be proud of him.

18 June 2015

The Trans-Pacific Partnership—never heard of it ???!!!

The above headline is plagiarized directly from a CBC article. I added the punctuation gratuitously to convey my horror that a proposed "trade" agreement that could have major effects on Canadian lives is largely unknown to those same Canadians.

The agreement is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and it involves 12 Pacific Rim countries including Canada (but not China). According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it is “the biggest game on the planet,” and yet according to a recent Environics survey, 75 per cent of Canadians have never heard of it.

If it is the biggest game on the planet, why aren't we intimately familiar with it? One answer is that the thing has been, as these agreements tend to be, thrashed out in secret. The TPP has been under negotiation for 10 years but a text has yet to made public. Our own government has been less than forthcoming. For example, when a negotiating session was held in Vancouver, the government didn't bother to mention it until it was leaked by news media in Peru.

There is a need to negotiate in private on a day to day basis, but the public has a right and a need to be periodically brought up to date so we know what will be done for us and to us. The process and the results should be transparent. And we particularly need to have the text reviewed by interests other than government ... or corporations. It should be available for analysis by academics, labour unions, environmentalists and others who can add special expertise.

Our ignorance about the TPP is aggravated by the fact it had been scheduled for completion within weeks. Fortunately that deadline may not now be met. The U.S. House of Representatives recent refusal to give President Obama permission for fast-track approval should slow down the process significantly. We, the people, may even get a chance to look at it. The House has done us all a big favour.

Pope Francis and the moral imperative of dealing with global warming

It's no surprise that Pope Francis only gave PM Stephen Harper 10 minutes for his interview earlier this month. And no surprise he looked constipated in his photo op with the Prime Minister. Ten minutes with Harper would freeze the bowels of anyone concerned about global warming, and, unlike the recalcitrant Harper, the Pope is very concerned indeed.

In his encyclical released today, he called for not only an economic revolution to deal with climate change, but an ethical revolution as well, a revolution of hearts and minds to confront not only our profligacy with the Earth's resources but our inequitable use of them. His letter conflates economics, politics and ethics to proclaim against both ecological destruction and poverty.

He didn't mince words: "Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth." When he wrote, "Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms," he could have been referring directly to our prime minister.

He has quite correctly positioned these issues as moral issues, as indeed they obviously are. What could be greater moral issues than the greatest threats humanity faces? And even if environmental destruction did not threaten us, are we not morally responsible for what we do to other species?

Science, which has clearly laid out the dangers humanity faces, has now been reinforced with a moral imperative laid down by the leader of the most influential religious institution in the world. Will this be enough to convince the capitalist apologists? Probably not, but it does make their reactionary efforts less credible in the public eye.

I have no great respect for religious moral authority, but when it gets things as right as the Pope has gotten this, I heartily welcome it. And we must hope it is welcomed also at the critical Paris climate conference later this year.

17 June 2015

Read my lips—it doesn't trickle down

It has been the heart and soul of capitalist market economics since day one—the ultimate justification for an unfair society. If we ensure that the rich get richer, the benefits will trickle down through the economy benefiting all. According to a new and exhaustive study released by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), if this was ever true it isn't anymore.

The report, Causes and Consequences of Income Inequality: A Global Perspective, states: "If the income share of the top 20 percent (the rich) increases, then GDP growth actually declines over the medium term, suggesting that the benefits do not trickle down. In contrast, an increase in the income share of the bottom 20 percent (the poor) is associated with higher GDP growth." In short, making the rich richer at the expense of the poor is not only bad for the poor, it is bad for everybody. And conversely, making the poor richer is good for everybody.

The latter is not surprising. The poor spend every penny they get, they spend it now, and they spend it locally, where it does the most good. Consumption is, after all, the main driver of the economy.

The report suggests that as the income share of the rich increases, so does their political influence, which leads to policies that favour them. Less is spent on policies that would benefit the poor such as better schools and cheaper university education, policies that would lead to increased GDP and a better life for all. Inequality leads to more inequality. According to the report, "Widening income inequality is the defining challenge of our time."

Actually, climate change is the defining challenge of our time, but inequality runs a good second, and if economists at the staunch free market-oriented IMF want to give it pride of place, I won't quibble.

16 June 2015

Democracy wins one in Alberta

The new Alberta government has announced it will, as promised in its election platform, ban political funding by unions and corporations. Alberta will join the provinces of Manitoba, Quebec and Nova Scotia, as well as the City of Toronto and the federal government, with its ban.

The government has also promised a new legislative committee to review rules on elections and ethics and to strengthen whistleblower legislation. Reaching across the aisle, the committee will include nine government and eight opposition members of the legislature.

The need for the measures was revealed by statistics compiled by the Parkland Institute.  In the 2012 provincial election, while the NDP and the Wild Rose obtained over 50% of their funds from small donors (under $375—the legal disclosure limit), the Progressive Conservatives received only four per cent from this source. Almost 70% of their revenue came from corporations. And, of course, with the big donors, they were able to raise far more money than their opponents. This was nothing less than corruption of the democratic process.

Corporations will still influence the political process in major ways—rewards to political friends, economic pressure, funding think tanks, media ownership, etc. Nonetheless, this is a good week for democracy. The Alberta government deserves a hearty round of applause from all democrats.

15 June 2015

Will Republicans keep invoking God if the Pope keeps pissing on their philosophy?

American politicians are particularly prone to invoking their Christian faith as a guide to their political beliefs. Although members of both major parties freely trot out scripture at the drop of a writ, conservative Republicans are especially inclined to pepper their appeals with references to their faith, God and Jesus.

But now they have encountered a rather embarrassing development. Christ, it seems, is turning on them. The most influential Christian on Earth, leader of the largest religious institution in the world (and in the United States) is implying, rather insistently, that Republican philosophy may not be on the side of God. At least not when it comes to the major problems facing human society. The Pope has powerfully condemned humankind's assault on the Earth's resources and the maldistribution of those resources. This leaves Republican policy, founded on capitalism and the untrammeled free market, in shreds. These are exactly the institutions the Pope has found wanting, or worse.

He has referred to capitalism as a new form of idolatry and declared, "Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na├»ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting." About capitalism and the environment he has said, “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.” Like Christ in the temple with the money-changers, he is outraged.

Certainly he still agrees with conservatives on sexual issues such as abortion, gay marriage and contraception—misogyny sticks to the Church like glue—but he has at least moderated Vatican views on these issues. He supports a stronger role for women in the Church, although not as priests, and about gays he has said, "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?"

He has manifested no such reluctance to judge our assault on the environment and our neglect of the poor. I disagree with the man and his religion on a number of important matters but when he expresses outrage about anthropogenic climate change and the inequality of modern society ... well, I'm ready to embrace him like a brother. These are the most critical issues of our age and a right-minded champion with 1.2 billion adherents is a most welcome ally.

14 June 2015

Obama stopped in his free trade tracks

Free trade agreements are frequently referred to by dissenters as corporate rights agreements, and as I pointed out in a recent post, there are powerful reasons why politicians negotiate them in favour of corporate interests. But regardless of who they are primarily intended to serve, the agreements contain articles which seriously affect the public good, including in ways that have nothing to do with trade, and therefore should be subject to vigorous public debate. Unfortunately, they are not. On the contrary, they are negotiated in secret and presented to our legislatures fait accompli—take it or leave it.

It was, therefore, refreshing to see the U.S. House of Representatives deny President Obama the "fast track" trade negotiating authority he was seeking. Fast track would mean precisely that Congress would have no power to amend an agreement; it would either have to vote it through or reject it.

Ironically, Obama was rebuked principally by his own party, the House Democrats providing the major opposition. In a particularly harsh cut to Obama, Minority House Leader Nancy Pelosi, the ally of the president who muscled his health bill through the House, voted "no." Pelosi is not opposed to trade agreements but simply wanted to "slow this down" in hopes of better protecting U.S. workers and the environment.

This was a humiliating defeat for the president, but not undeserved. The arrogant "trust me" attitude of politicians and the undemocratic negotiating process of these agreements deserve humiliation. Unfortunately we are unable to administer similar rebukes to our government. We must therefore be grateful that at least some politicians, even if they aren't ours, are making a gesture for democratic process.

09 June 2015

The TRC report and the Langevin Bridge—what's in a name?

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report has issued a damning condemnation of the Indian residential schools, referring to their history as "cultural genocide." Reverberations are being felt across the country, including here in Calgary. For example, a question has risen about the Langevin Bridge and Langevin School, and whether or not they should be renamed.

They both honour Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, one of the Fathers of Confederation. The Langevin Block on Parliament Hill is also named after him. Langevin, as Secretary of State for the Provinces, played an important role in establishing the Indian residential schools. He claimed, "If you wish to educate the children you must separate them from their parents during the time they are being taught. If you leave them in the family they may know how to read and write, but they will remain savages ... by separating them ... they acquire the habits and tastes…of civilized people.”

To be fair, Langevin did not appear to be a racist. For instance, he lobbied against the hanging of Louis Riel. The commission's choice of "cultural genocide" seems appropriate in his case.

Calgarians are torn over the issue. Former Calgary historian laureate Harry Sanders observes, “You could make an intellectual case for maintaining history and everything that’s embodied in it, for good and for bad. History isn’t a celebration, it’s an analysis. But, on the other hand, it’s deeply hurtful to those who have suffered to have this name.”

My own inclination if to leave the name. When we name sites after public figures we honour them because of they're contribution to the public good, not because they are saints, and Langevin was, after all, responsible for the bridge.

If we renamed sites because their namesakes committed sins, we would be renaming most of our public places. For example, there is a Winston Churchill High School in Calgary. But Churchill was a racist. When defending his view that a Jewish state should be established in Palestine, he was asked what was to become of the Palestinians and answered, "I do not admit... that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia... by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race... has come in and taken its place." His attitude toward "lower grade" races is at least as contemptible as Langevin's attitude toward "lower grade" cultures. Should we, therefore, change the name of this school?

Or what about the suffragette Nellie McClung, one of the "famous five" who campaigned  to have women considered persons and therefore eligible to sit in the Senate. McClung was a supporter of eugenics (as was Churchill) and in fact her promotion of sterilization was vital to the passage of Alberta's detestable eugenics legislation. Should we, then, remove her statue from in front of City Hall along with two other members of the famous five, Emily Murphy and Irene Parlby, who also supported eugenics? These women were giants in the struggle for women's rights and child welfare, but they were not saints.

I believe people deserve to be recognized for the good they do regardless of their imperfections, just as they must be judged for the wrong they do regardless of the good. If a man, or woman, is simply evil, that's another matter—I'm not about to condone a Hitler Avenue or a Stalin Street. But Langevin, like Churchill and McClung, was not a bad person. He was a man of his time, puffed up with a European sense of cultural superiority. I wager he would hold very different views today and that, perhaps, is the test.

Rewriting history to clean up its messiness is not an honest pursuit. Better to accept the truth no matter how unpalatable. So Langevin Bridge it is and Langevin Bridge it should remain.

08 June 2015

Double victory for democracy in Turkey

Turkish President Recep Erdogan has just learned a lesson in democracy. And humility. Erdogan, a popular prime minister and the country's dominant politician since his party swept to power in 2002, ran for president successfully in 2014. The Turkish presidency has limited powers but Erdogan gambled he could use his party's majority in  the Grand National Assembly to change the constitution and greatly expand his powers.

To that end he urged voters in yesterday's election to give his party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a majority sufficient to change the constitution. Although the president is supposed to be politically neutral, Erdogan campaigned vigorously. His power play failed. The AKP, with only 41% of the vote, lost its majority. It will now be forced to form a coalition just to retain power and there will be no vote to change the constitution. Erdogan will still roam his new presidential palace but with little power.

Erdogan, like so many politicians, let his popularity go to his head. The Turkish people, acting through the democratic process, have put him in his place, along with his hand-picked prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, whose future is now uncertain.

A spoiler in the election was the Peoples' Democratic Party, a pro-Kurdish party. With 12% of the vote, it will have a solid bloc of seats and a significant position in the assembly. This new-found influence could contribute significantly to ending decades of insurgency by Kurdish militants. Yet another victory for democratic process.

07 June 2015

John Baird, Barrick Gold, and the corruption of democracy

In February, John Baird, then Minister of Foreign Affairs, announced his resignation from cabinet and as an MP. Within two months he was on Barrick Gold's international advisory board, the board of the CPR, and an international advisor to Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li. He is expected to receive $235,000 in compensation from the CPR. His expected salary at Barrick is unknown, but Barrik is very generous to former politicos. They have, for instance, taken very good care of Brian Mulroney since his retirement: he is believed to be still raking in over a million a year. With his new jobs, Baird may have have tripled the income he made as a federal minister.

If any group has to consider their future very carefully, it's politicians. Consider what recently happened in Alberta. An entire cabinet found itself suddenly and surprisingly out of office, most of them not just out of cabinet but out of the legislature—unemployed. Federal cabinet ministers may find themselves in the same position come October. Even a minister who is first rate at his job can overnight find himself on the street. When the private sector tactfully implies that if a minister is a good boy he will be rewarded lavishly with a permanent sinecure, how can he not be a good boy.

It's corrupt but it's discreet and perfectly legal. No need to accept large amounts of cash in envelopes in a hotel room. All you have to do is promote legislation amenable to corporate interests. Want an investor-state dispute settlement clause in a trade agreement?—no problem. And if the politician is challenged, he simply insists he's acting for the good of the country, and whose to say he doesn't genuinely believe it. One wonders if the current government's rush to sign trade agreements is less a concern about trade and more about maintaining a lavish pension scheme for cabinet ministers.

We like to think of Canada as a thoroughly democratic country, free of the corruption that plagues the developing world. But we fool ourselves. Our politicians, too, are often bought and paid for. We should not wonder why they sign trade agreements that favour the corporate interest over the public interest. They are uniquely vulnerable and corporations are masters at exploiting that vulnerability.

Vancouver Humane Society gives CBC Stampede coverage a thumbs down

Only 26 days to the Calgary Stampede. Yee-haw! This is our premier event of the year—the greatest outdoor show on Earth. Mostly it's great fun for Calgarians and visitors alike: agricultural exhibits, a huge midway, entertainment from around the world plus Calgary's very own Young Canadians, Stampede breakfasts, endless bar-hopping—10 days of fun and frolic.

And then there's the rodeo—10 days of animal abuse posing as sport. I was gratified therefore to see that the Vancouver Humane Society has begun its annual event—censuring the Stampede rodeo. This year it's petitioning CBC Sports to end its coverage.

The society claims the rodeo subjects animals to "fear, pain and stress" in events that are "self-evidently inhumane." Its point is well taken. Chasing a small animal across a field, stopping it abruptly with a rope around its neck, heaving it into the air and slamming it down, and finally tying it up, would certainly seem to be self-evidently inhumane, inflicting fear, pain and stress.

That's the fine sport of calf roping. Then there's the king of rodeo sports—bronc riding. Broncs buck out of fear. A horse is a prey animal and when something large leaps on its back, it instinctively assumes the something large is a predator. In sheer terror, it bucks to get the damn thing off. Such is the life of a bronc—an endless round of one episode of terror followed by another.

Rodeo is considered inhumane by virtually all major animal welfare agencies, including the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, and the national SPCAs of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Both the Calgary Humane Society and the Alberta SPCA, on the other hand, work with the Stampede, making the intervention of the Vancouver Humane Society doubly welcome.

The Stampede seems blind to its own barbarity, insisting that as valued assets its animals get the best of treatment. No doubt they do. In the same way race car teams take good care of their valued assets. But animals aren't cars; they are sentient beings. Quality food and shelter aren't adequate for creatures that live not only physical lives, but mental and emotional lives as well. Rodeo assaults these unfortunates at all three levels. If the Vancouver Humane Society can help put an end to the suffering, more power to them, says this Calgarian.

Bill C-51—a chance for the Senate to redeem itself

In the words of Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, the Senate was created as a place of “sober second thought.” In the eyes of most Canadians today, it is more a place of corruption and sinecures for party hacks.

But now it has been given a chance to redeem itself. This Tuesday it will vote on Bill C-51, the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, the government's omnibus security bill. This completely unnecessary legislation has been excoriated by a host of legal experts as well as tens of thousands of Canadians from all walks of life, including many conservatives, for its excessive intrusion on civil liberties, for its potential to chill freedom of speech, for creating a secret police force, and for its lack of oversight.

The bill has passed the House of Commons, now it is left to the Senate to do its duty and protect the rights and freedoms of Canadians. If the institution remains of any value to us at all, this is the time to show us. We are watching.

03 June 2015

The anti-communist memorial—an outrage to Canadian heritage

I recently wrote the following letter to The Honourable Shelly Glover, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages:
Dear Minister:
I am writing in regard to the Memorial to the Victims of Communism proposed for a site immediately southwest of the Supreme Court of Canada.

My interest in this project stems from my long association with the history of our country at all levels—federal, provincial and local. I am a member of Canada's History Society and faithful reader of its flagship publication, Canada's History. For a number of years I edited the Chinook Country Historical Society Newsletter, the newsletter of the Calgary chapter of the Historical Society of Alberta. I was also active for many years with the Cliff Bungalow-Mission Community Association’s Heritage Committee working on numerous projects commemorating the community’s unique history.

Guided by my passion for this country’s heritage, I must express my profound objection to the site proposed for this memorial. I do not of course object to an anti-communist memorial as long as it is privately funded and erected in a suitable location. The proposed location is anything but suitable.

The history the monument portrays is not our history. While it is true that people have fled communist dictatorships to come to Canada, as people have fled fascist, theocratic and military dictatorships to come here, the abuses of those regimes belong to the history of the lands from which they came, not to Canada. It is disrespectful, indeed offensive, to attempt to insinuate foreign history into our country's capitol, the very heart of our country’s heritage.

I encourage you, therefore, to preclude a monument dedicated to foreign grievances on this site and reserve it instead for a function central to our own heritage.

Bill Longstaff
This memorial is a monstrous thing designed to devour a grassy site southwest of the Supreme Court on Wellington Street, west of the Parliament buildings. It has been promoted by a group of ardent anti-communists known as Tribute to Liberty, and strongly supported by the federal government. That the fervour of the anti-communists has instilled a lack of respect for our heritage is perhaps understandable, but our government's disrespect is not.

I understand the Supreme Court had hoped to use this site for a courthouse. This would be most appropriate as it would complete the triad of justice buildings, matching the triad of the Parliament buildings.

I understand further that naming the courthouse after former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau has been seriously considered. This would be well-deserved and long overdue. Mr. Trudeau was responsible for both patriating our constitution and introducing the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which, along with Medicare, is one of Canadians’ two most cherished institutions. Either of these achievements would in itself merit having a major justice site in the capital named after him.

One can only hope that Prime Minister Harper's antipathy to the Supreme Court and Mr. Trudeau are not the reasons behind the government's support for this memorial.

An array of prominent voices have been heard in opposition to either the monument or the site, or both, including Ottawa's city council, the Natural Capital Commission's design committee, the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada, and Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin. The Chief Justice summed it up nicely with her observation that the memorial, “could send the wrong message within the judicial precinct, unintentionally conveying a sense of bleakness and brutalism that is inconsistent with a space dedicated to the administration of justice.”

I hope all those who value Canadian heritage will agree with Justice McLachlin and inform the government accordingly.

02 June 2015

Need a job? Saudi Arabia is hiring executioners

The beheading business is brisk in Saudi Arabia. The desert kingdom has decapitated more people so far in 2015 than in all of 2014. As a result there is a shortage of executioners, and the country has posted eight job openings online. If you are interested, you can find the posting here (it helps if you can read Arabic). Look for “executors of retribution.”

No need to worry about a lack of qualifications. The job requires no specific skills or educational background. As a result, it doesn't pay particularly well. Classified as "religious functionaries," the positions are at the lower end of the civil service pay scale. You would be required to do amputations as well as beheadings, so you can expect a heavy workload. On the bright side, you get to perform in public.

Most of your victims will be guilty of murder although the Saudis decapitate for a variety of reasons, including drug trafficking, rape, murder, apostasy and armed robbery. Amputations are reserved for lesser offences. Of course saying the victims are guilty is assuming a lot. Trials in death penalty cases are often held in secret and defendants are rarely allowed formal representation by lawyers. They are frequently convicted solely on the basis of confessions, and we know how those are obtained in medieval theocracies.

So there you go. If you have a strong arm (and stomach) and are willing to travel, here is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You may have to bring your own sword.