Skip to content
February 17, 2012 / amanda stratton

C-30 The Title Doesn’t Matter So Much Thankfully


Bill C-30 was tabled a couple of days ago, and immediately (actually before it was even tabled), a lot of people were really angry about it. Things erupted on the social interwebs, and news media published some shockingly irresponsible headlines and downright confounding commentary. If you’re sitting on my blog, my guess would be you know about most of it, and I don’t want to even talk about the silly political games people play, so let’s just move on from that.

I read the Bill. I’m still learning to read bills, and familiarizing myself with the Criminal Code, and I don’t fully understand all things technical. But I read it. And the following represents what I understand to the realities of An Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Criminal Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and other Acts. I’m not even touching the short title.

C-30 IS AN ACT IN TWO PARTS
The first part is itself a brand new act that does two things: it requires communication service providers to have the ability to intercept communications, and it requires them to provide basic information about subscribers to certain individuals upon request.

The largest part of the Act within the Act deals with the requirements for the capability to intercept communication. So, basically, your internet service provider, for example, has to have the ABILITY to intercept (“listen to, record or acquire…or acquire the substance, meaning or purport of”) your online activity. Ditto for your cell phone carrier to be ABLE to listen to, record or acquire your calls, text messages, data transferred, and whatnot.

Of course, all of that is already possible. Otherwise this would be called the “Invoking Magic to Make Things Come True Act,” so if you’re concerned about your service providers being able to do that, you should probably just unplug your computer, turn off your cable receiver, bury your cell phone in a hole, and move to a cabin in the woods. Send me a postcard.

THE CONTROVERSIALIST PART OF THE ACT
The act says that a service provider is required by law to provide the name, address, telephone number, and email address of any subscriber, as well as their IP address, upon request, to a certain group of individuals.

THOSE CERTAIN INDIVIDUALS ARE AS FOLLOWS:

  • the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police
  • the Director of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service
  • the Commissioner of Competition
  • the chief or head of a police service

OR, if they’re too busy or whatevs, then they can appoint people to do it for them. So, certain individuals may also include:

  • the greater of five percent of the employees or five people at the RCMP
  • the greater of five percent of the employees or five people at CSIS
  • the greater of five percent of the employees or five people at the Competition Bureau
  • the greater of five percent of the employees or five people at a police service

AND further

  • any police officer who
    • reasonably believes the matter is urgent enough that there’s no time to have one of the delegated individuals do it, because
    • the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that he or she needs the information immediately to prevent serious harm to a person or property, and
    • that the person whose information is being requested, is either the suspected perp or the victim.

It should be noted that these are the same circumstances that have always applied to an officer being able to do anything without a warrant that requires one, including obtain information. It’s called exigent circumstances, and it’s always been, you know, a thing. Has it been abused? Likely. Sure looks that way on Law & Order. Has it also been used to save lives? Probably far more often.

Nobody can just call up and ask for the information, though. It’s not like anyone just whips out their investigator’s notepad and jots down your personal info then everyone forgets that ever happened. Designated individuals submit a formal request under certain circumstances (yes, I know, they could totally lie! It’s horrific!) and the entire process is documented fully, reported on, and regularly audited. And there is indeed extra paperwork for those police officers who just really couldn’t wait for the designated official to request the information.

THE TROUBLE I SEE
First, to be clear, there are checks in place to attempt to ensure that the provision for any police officer to access the information in extraordinary circumstances is not abused. Special papers must be filed, reported on, and audited; the officer has to provide his or her name, rank, badge number, and organization to the service provider; and after the fact, he or she will be required to show that those actions were reasonable.

However, if fully five percent of every police organization can be properly designated as people who can request the information, then wouldn’t a prudent Commissioner or Chief try their very gosh darn hardest to make sure that there’s always someone available who could do it properly? That would mean that the information is always being requested by the trusted people. And this great honour ought to be conferred with the understanding that if a police officer calls you, the designated seeker of information, and says, “I need this real quick like, see,” that you could use your best judgement and possibly set aside what work you were doing to fill out the form.

I just don’t understand what circumstance would really require that just any old police officer be able to do it any old time. It simply doesn’t seem necessary, and why not let’s err on the side of prudency. Why? Because I want that to be a word.

BUT ANYHOW, AT THE END OF ALL THAT
Yes, at the end of all THAT, some member of the RCMP, CSIS, the competition bureau, or a police force is sitting at a desk with someone’s (perhaps your)

  • name,
  • phone number,
  • email address,
  • address, and
  • IP address.

So they can use whatever one of those things is known to them to get the rest of that information about an individual. It’s not unlike using your license plate number to get your personal information. At this point, nobody has listened to a phone call, read a text message, intercepted a file transfer, or checked your PayPerView habits. No spying has occurred. No one has shown up at your door.

NOW THEY NEED A WARRANT TO SPY ON YOU
If you’re suspected of any number of crimes that might be committed with the use of a computer or other fancy communication device, the police or CSIS or the RCMP may want to gather evidence. That’s where Part II of the Act comes into play, and it primarily amends the wording of several sections of the Criminal Code to explicitly state the judge’s authority to issue a warrant to intercept a person’s communications.

As always, if the judge is satisfied that the warrant is, er, warranted, then it will be issued. At that point, the people who are after you (I mean, really at this point, they’re pretty onto you) can go back to your service provider, warrant in hand, and use the equipment that the service provider is legally required to have so that they can spy on you.

In the 1960s, they’d tap your phone and sit in a dark car across the street. That’s not good enough anymore.

SO THERE ARE THE FACTS
At least as I see them. There are a lot of erroneous headlines and quotes floating around out there, and I guess I just wanted to write this post to do what tiny bit I could to try to dispel any myth. I’m not saying I think you should love the Bill, but if we’re going to debate it, let’s do it with all the relevant information in hand.

Sources for this Article
Bill C-30
The Criminal Code 

February 15, 2012 / amanda stratton

You Might Want to Consider Being an Unmasked Crusader


For at least one reason, I love Bill C-309 which goes to a vote today in the house. That reason is that it’s simple and the parts of the Criminal Code it seeks to amend are simple. Not, perhaps, in terms of effect or application, but definitely in readability. It only took me… wait a second… eleven browser tabs to understand it fully. Go Bill C-309!

Oh, but we don’t make Parliamentary decisions based on readability? Well I guess I’ll say more then.

BILL C-309
seeks, essentially, to make it more illegal* to assemble unlawfully or riot while wearing a disguise than to do so without one. If passed, a summary conviction for regular old rioting with your best face forward could set you back a couple years in jail. Doing it while donning your Guy Fawkes mask could land you in prison for up to five.

*No, there’s no such thing as more illegal. That’s like saying you’re more pregnant. There’s just pregnant or not; illegal or not. What I mean of course is that it would be considered an offense worthy of stronger punishment. I will continue, however, to refer to that as more illegal for the rest of this post.

Should doing something illegal while you’re wearing a mask be more illegal than doing it without a mask?
As a matter of fact, it actually already is more illegal to do certain things while wearing a mask. That is, it is illegal to commit an indictable offence while in disguise of any kind. That offense alone carries a maximum sentence of ten years.

STUDY BREAK: Indictable versus Summary
Indictable offences are the really bad ones, and they care heavier sentences, and you usually get a trial by jury.

Summary offences are the lesser ones, they carry lighter sentences, and you don’t get a trial by jury.

Rioting is defined as disturbing the peace tumultuously. That’s illegal, and it’s an indictable offense. It carries a maximum sentence of two years.

You’re also assembled unlawfully if three or more of you are gathered together and are giving people in the vicinity reasonable grounds to believe that you might disturb the peace tumultuously or that you might provoke other people to do so without cause. Participating in an unlawful assembly (without rioting) is a summary conviction offense .

Essentially, the changes proposed in C-309 would make it so that doing either of those things while “wearing a mask or other disguise” would be an indictable offense and carry a maximum sentence of five years.

Which should mean (right? I couldn’t find anyone who knew for sure) that in some instances, this actually reduces the maximum sentence for rioting with a mask from the maximum sentence of ten years for all other masked indictable offenses.

 WHY DO THIS?
I’d think presumably because wearing a mask emboldens (but does not necessarily embiggen) the spirit. People will do things with the expectation of anonymity that they wouldn’t do if they knew that they would have to do it wearing the same face their momma kisses.

What it’s important to note is that simply wearing a disguise would be STILL NOT ILLEGAL.
Wearing a disguise while participating in a lawful assembly would be STILL NOT ILLEGAL.

So, if you just happen to like wearing disguises because that’s, you know, your thang, then you’re okay. Just don’t do illegal stuff while you’re wearing it. But that’s okay, right? Because you weren’t going to do anything illegal anyway. I’d not have thought so.

ANYWAY
Bill C-309 gets voted either back to a committee or out tonight at 5:30. I’ll be at work. So if you see what happens, let me know. I mean it. Tweet me or something, and you’d be my bestest bloggy friend forever.

I assume it will go to committee because in addition to it being Conservative-backed, there isn’t a very strong opposition to it, as far as I could tell.

THANK YOU
For reading along on this journey that I will retrospectively call, “Amanda looked all this stuff up and didn’t want to just close the tabs and let it go, so she wrote a post about it.”

LET ME KNOW
What you think. Or that you read this. Or what you’d like for Easter. Whatever. Feel free to talk back is what I’m saying.

Sources for this Article
Bill C-309 
The Criminal Code


January 13, 2012 / amanda stratton

Thinking Caps Should Have Chin Straps So They Don’t Fall Off So Much


BACKGROUNDER
Yesterday, it came to the attention of we, the Canadian public, that there was a major problem with same-sex marriages of foreigners performed in this great nation of ours. The problem was this: they weren’t legal.

They weren’t legal because Canadian law states that non-residents can only be married here if they could also be legally married in the country or countries of their residence. So if you live in a country where marriage between people of different religions is illegal, for example, then don’t come here—we can’t marry you , either. Sorry.

Except that got overlooked when the run on Canadian same-sex marriages hit. That, in itself, is enough to be angry about. Because, let’s be honest, someone should have known that was in the law books. Someone should have thought of it during the last seven years. Someone. It was a horrendous mistake. But it was that—a mistake.

Had I been one of the people affected, I’d have been pretty angry, likely, and would be expecting a timely response to the matter. Luckily for hypothetically-affected me, one was provided. Justice Canada is going to correct the mistake. The law will be altered so that marriages that wouldn’t be recognized as legal outside of Canada, will still be legal in Canada. For whatever that’s worth, and as skeptical as I am about this thing called matrimony, I do understand that maybe to some people, it’s worth a lot.

This, to me, as I review the events of the past 24 hours and write them here, then read them back checking for but undoubtedly missing grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, all seems pretty reasonable. These things happen, and though some people should probably spend the afternoon in the corner with the dunce cap on, no malice was ever intended.

SO, AMANDA, THIS POST IS EVEN MORE BORING THAN USUAL
The reason I wanted to write about it is that social media and news media alike erupted with Harper-bashing yesterday. This happens a lot, and a good deal of the time, though the facts may be skewed, or the truths incomplete, the sentiment seems mostly on-target.

That wasn’t the case this time. I honestly didn’t even know how anybody could mentally twist this situation far enough to make it seem like this was serving the Conservative/Harper agenda, or that it had been done intentionally. I still don’t know how anyone who did any research and took their critical thinking vitamins yesterday morning would have come to that conclusion.

But the media was full of hate-baiters yesterday. And when they dangle Harper on that line, too many people bite too readily. And then the media drag them along at a hundred knots because all those newspaper purchases and ad-clicks are chum for the sharks that keep them in fancy life vests.

I admit that “Don’t trust everything you read!” and “Do the research!” and “Media Bad! Thinking Good!” are favourite taglines of mine, and maybe I say those things a lot. It’s just hard to see people being led down the path of most profitability when there are more important things they should be worrying about, or more effective things they could be doing to get involved.

OR MAYBE I’M WRONG
Let us never forget the possibility that I could always be wrong. People make mistakes. Perhaps someday I will look back at this post and think, “Well, I’ll be farked. The conspiracy theorists were right!” I won’t apologize–not just because nobody reads this blog anyway, but also because I know I came to the conclusion that makes the most sense given the research I did and the information I have available to me. And I know I put the time in to find it all.

SO MY SHORT STORY IS
I just want to encourage people to think and engage in well-informed discourse rather than name-calling and fear-mongering. If you disagree with me about issues, the cool thing about democracy is supposed to be that there’s a place for all of our beliefs and we can talk about it like the civilized people we are. But let’s just keep our heads cool so we can hang onto that.

OH, ONE OTHER THING
Because I’m all about thinking critically about how and why things end up in the media: I can’t think of a single reason any member of the government would intentionally draw attention to this gaffe. My guess would be that the lawyer working for the two women who want to get divorced is the one who took it the news outlets. So if you’re wondering whose agenda was best served in all this, that’d be where you should probably look.

December 15, 2011 / amanda stratton

Nothing to Learn Here


Earlier this year, I decided that I wanted to learn about politics. Actually, in the beginning, I think I just wanted to learn about “stuff” that was going on in the world. Before that, I never read the news, I never voted, I had no idea how any aspect of our government worked, I didn’t know whether we had a Queen, or what a Senate was. There are countries I didn’t know existed. Wars I didn’t know were happening.

I was willfully and woefully (I know it’s a cliché, but please understand that it is really a thing over which to be filled with woe) ignorant.

I started this blog at the end of April. Less than eight months ago. I just wanted a place to ramble about what I was learning, because I learn better that way.

I wrote my first couple posts, and I still felt so very uninformed that I was afraid to reply to the people who commented because I thought I probably didn’t understand what they meant. By the way, I should take this opportunity to thank Jay and Tim for encouraging me, by reading and commenting, to keep going. So, thank you, if you’re still out there. I’m pretty sure for a long time you were the only two people who read this blog.

Now, reviewing this blog and it’s measly 19 posts, I know that the amount I learned isn’t reflected here. I got caught up in learning and the deeper I got, the harder it was to write from the place where I started. So that’s why it probably seems like I didn’t get much learning done.

But I did.

Actually, I looked back today and realized that never in my life have I devoted myself to anything with as much fervour, sustained interest, and genuine excitement as I did this pet project. More simply: I’ve never cared this much about anything for as long as I’ve cared about Canadian politics.

So something that started from, to be frank, just not wanting to feel inferior, ended in me finding something I am (I hate to use the word, but I must) passionate about. And I want to thank everyone who has followed along with me. You are few, but  you are awesome. It’s been fun sharing all this with actual people and not just spambots.

And I’m still just as excited to keep learning more as I was eight months ago. More excited, even. So stick around if you like, and please, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–pipe and let me know when I’m wrong!

Thanks for being here. Really. A lot.
The Stupid Girl.

P.S. Sorry for the cheesy post with nothing to be learned. I promise to make up for it soon!

December 13, 2011 / amanda stratton

It’s an Almost Completely Unnoticed Thing Just to Be Nominated


A while back, I had a conversation on Twitter with Dale Smith, a journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery. I really like following journalists and their opinions on political topics. My recent open letter to Janice Kennedy notwithstanding, I think journalists are generally far more knowledgeable about politics than 99% of the population will ever be, and there are some that I trust. (Just, you know, not Janice Kennedy.)

Mr. Smith (who goes to Ottawa, not Washington) replied to my suggestion that general elections generally suck, and in the process, he convinced me that, and I quote directly from his tweet, “Nomination races are the forgotten but arguably most crucial aspect of our system.

This was said in response to my concerns that a lot of the candidates are not very in touch with their ridings and can’t relate party policies to the area they hope to serve (as previously expressed). Mr. Smith suggested that if I/we wanted a better result, I/we should get people involved in the nomination process.

SO, SHOCKER!
I knew absolutely nothing at all about the nomination process. Anything I may have speculated about it would have come from the first season of Dan for Mayor. But I’m not letting anybody call me stupid for that, not even because it’s the title of this blog. Because, look, how many people know anything about it? Not so many. Journo Dale even said so.

FROM THE TOP THEN, SHALL WE?
In every riding across the land, there is an electoral district association for each of the various parties who wish to be represented there.* This is commonly called a riding association, and is essentially the local chapter of a political party. The riding association decides who will be nominated for candidacy, and members of the party vote for the person they want to become the candidate in a given election.

*That’s not true. There isn’t one in every riding for every party. But mostly there is.

HOW DOES ONE BECOME A MEMBER?

You have to be a card-carrying member of the party to vote in the nomination process. To become a member, you pretty much just have to pay the membership fee, which is fairly low and would be affordable for almost everybody.

  • The Ontario Liberal party and Canadian Liberal party both have a $10 annual fee for membership, but the Ontario Liberals offer youth and senior memberships for $5/year.
  • Membership in the Conservative party of Canada and PC Party of Ontario both run $10/year.
  • Belonging to the NDP party of Ontario will cost you $25/year if you’re employed, or $5 if you’re a youth or “unwaged” person.  The Canadian NDP party fee ranges from $5 to $25 per year depending on what province you live in, and is $25 in Ontario.

So for less than the price of a pizza (well, it’d be an expensive pizza if you want to join the NDP), you too can help choose the candidate for your riding. PLUS you get to vote for the Leader of the party. AND elect all the officers who make up the council of the party. Fun, huh?


OKAY, I’M IN. NOW HOW DO I NOMINATE SOMEONE?
Pretty much, if there’s an incumbent, and that person is eligible to run again and wants to, they’re it. They’ll be the only person on the nomination ballot. An incumbent who is seen to have in some way failed the riding or the party would NOT be considered eligible, so it may sometimes become a matter of opinion, and this may be a time when your voice should be heard. I don’t rightly know, but I think it seems that way.

Otherwise, the exact process is defined in the party’s constitution, so read it yourself if you wanna know. I don’t have time for that.

No, ha, just kidding–I read them all because I’m a politics geek.

Generally, a committee/council will be formed to oversee the nomination of potential candidates. Nominees have to be vetted, to make sure they have no serious black marks on their record, and that they are capable of upholding the values of the party. If you wanted to nominate someone, you would basically suggest them to that committee, and if they meet the necessary requirements, they’ll be put on the ballot.

Then all the party’s members who live in that riding are able to choose from the selection provided by the committee. By voting. I mean that’s how we choose things in a democracy, so I assume that’s understood, but just to be clear–it’s a vote.

WELL THAT ALL SEEMS VERY FAIR
There’s plenty of room for conspiracy in the nomination process. There are a few people who have more or less the final word on whether someone can run for candidacy. It leaves even more room when so few of us layfolk get involved with the nomination process. We hold the political machine accountable by being present and participating in it. So when we don’t, it’s at least partly our fault that things may go awry.

Which I suppose was Journo Dale’s point. I have no excuse for complaining about the quality of the candidates when I can’t be bothered to even know how they got nominated, let alone get off my butt and contribute to the process of finding better candidates

BTW, BEING A MEMBER OF A PARTY IS ALSO COOL BECAUSE
If you want to get involved in the political machine, there are lots of opportunities to do so as a member of the party, and without having to be, you know, a politician. Cause nobody wants to be one of those, am I right? (No, I’m wrong–a lot of people want to be, but certainly not e’erbody with a political inclination.)

SO WHAT ABOUT INDEPENDENT CANDIDATES?
That’s what you were asking, right? They get to skip to Part B.

PART B
By 2:00 PM on the 21st day before an election, all candidates, including those endorsed by a party, must submit their nomination papers to Elections Canada or the provincial counterpart, depending of course on whether it’s a federal or provincial election.

Said nomination papers, for a federal election, include the name and address of either 100 or 50  electors who support the nomination, which really isn’t that many when you think about it. That’s 100 in most ridings, and 50 in a riding that is “large or sparsely populated” according to Elections Canada, but I don’t know which ones qualify for that. I can’t know everything. Not yet.

For an Ontario provincial election, you need only the support of 25 voters to be a nominee. Do you live in another province? You should look that up. Again, I can’t know everything.

For a federal election, your nomination papers must also be accompanied by a $1000 deposit. So maybe ask each of those fifty people for a signature and twenty bucks. That’s not so much to ask.

I FEEL I HAVE TO SAY
Some of this may be inaccurate. Figuring all this out was the most confusing thing I’ve done on this blog so far. No wonder people don’t know about how it works. So if some of this is wrong, by all means, please do tell me. I have never claimed to be anything but a stupid girl. Oh, except when I started this post. Well, you know what I mean.

 

SOURCES FOR THIS ARTICLE
Elections Canada
Elections Ontario
Journo Dale on Twitter

I also read the relevant parts of party constitutions, which in some cases are actually kind of hard to find, so I’ll link them if anyone wants them, but Google will also pull them up for you pretty quickly, and I doubt anyone wants them anyway.

November 28, 2011 / amanda stratton

I’ve always been a party pooper


This isn’t a new thought, but I’ve held off on talking about because I think it’s probably particularly exemplary of my naiveté and political stupidity. For a long time now, I’ve thought that what’s wrong with democracy is the existence of parties.

I’m spurred toward posting it now in part because when I ranted the other day, I said I would, and partly because of an article that Andrew Coyne published today. Andrew Coyne grates on my nerves. The way he says almost everything makes me cringe. But ever since he said exactly what I was thinking about Occupy Toronto (don’t worry–I’m not going to start on that again), I decided to try to look past it because he’s awfully damn smart. This is as complimentary as my compliments get.

So, Mr. Coyne’s article talks about the impotence of parliament. He suggests, in conclusion, that parties need to give power back to MPs. I think they should do that by ceasing to exist. So we don’t always agree, he and I, which makes me glad.

Why do I think political parties should be outlawed like Elizabethan actors?

 

To begin with, I don’t see how parties are any different from standardized collusion.
Essentially, belonging to a political party is like saying, “We’ll all vote together and then nobody can compete with us, and we’ll be more able to keep these jobs.” Collusion is illegal when setting the price of can openers, but apparently perfectly acceptable in the governing of nations? That doesn’t make sense. It just… doesn’t.

 

Political parties don’t help anyone but the politicians.
They’re of absolutely no benefit to the constituents. None. Their one redeeming feature may be that they make a handy way to categorize candidates. But is that worth it? In my mind, no. Furthermore, I don’t want my local candidates running on a national or provincial agenda. I want someone representing me whose first priority is representing me and the people in my riding, not his or her party.

For as long as there are political parties, our elected representatives will never be able to vote in our best interests—at least not all the time. If you want proof, Harold Albrecht SAID all the conservatives were going to vote against the NDP motion which was essentially to uphold democracy last week. How could he possibly know that when he’s just one of them, hmmmm? And in Toronto, Deputy Premier Dwight Duncan avoided answering whether the Liberals had been instructed how to vote on the bill to remove HST from heating bills. TWICE. He just prattled on and didn’t answer the question.

 

People Constantly Have to Choose Between the Person and the Party
That is an unfortunate circumstance, and on a personal note, led to me making a choice in the federal election that I now regret to the very bottom of my brain. Not my heart. A heart is a terrible place for a perfectly reasonable thought.

If an individual wasn’t required to take his or her party’s policy part and parcel, then an individual could present priorities that actually work for the people in his or her riding as his or her own platform. And then perhaps there would be someone in the running who you actually felt was likely to vote in your best interests.

 

All This, Really, May Be Passing the Buck
Or perhaps throwing out the baby with the bath water. Or if you have a better metaphor for it, please feel free to let me know. I’m always open to these things. What I’m not saying very well is that the problem is just accountablility. Our M(P)Ps aren’t accountable to us because we don’t ask them to be. Their parties ask them to be.

We just elect them and think that’s good enough. Four or five years is a pretty long time, and most of us stop paying attention. Did you know you can recall your M(P)P? Well, you can’t do it yourself. Imagine the chaos! But you can petition to have your M(P)P recalled, and then they do a recall election, and if he or she loses, you get a new MP.

But if you’re going to do that, you’d probably better have a pretty darn good reason, and you’d probably better run a pretty darn good campaign yourself, because it stands to reason that otherwise he or she will likely just get elected right back.

And either way, you just end up with an MP again, chosen from the same usual pool. So, while we’re on the topic of accountability and all of us paying attention, the next thing I’m going to write about is nominations. Fun, huh? No, I know, it’s not… does anyone even read this anymore?

 

But anyway
I suppose what I’m saying is that maybe we should throw out the baby and the bath water, and just get new babies. I don’t imagine we’ll ever get rid of parties (and I don’t know anymore whether they’re the baby or the bath water) but we need to be more wary of them at least. Because, referring to my first point, I think they, as organizations, are basically on par with criminals. They’re like the mob, except much less skilled in waste management.

 

WHILE WE’RE HERE, I’D LIKE TO PASS A MOTION
Can we just assume that most of the time, i.e. when context calls for it, if I write either MP or MPP, I actually mean… well, either one. Or both. Because this whole M(P)P thing I’ve been doing sporadically looks terrible. Thanks.

 

 

November 28, 2011 / amanda stratton

Poverty Petition, Please


I promised myself at one point that I was going to stop talking (heck, thinking) about the Occupy movement in Canada, but I couldn’t. What has bothered me so much about it is that it claims to be democratic, but ignores the fact that we already have a democratic system in place. Not a perfect system by any means, but you have to start somewhere if you want to create change.

What has really bothered me is that there are things that could be done within the democratic system that would a) actually require a lot less effort (and frostbite) than Winter camping, and b) actually force the government to pay attention.

 

These things are called petitions.

And that brings me to the other thing I dislike about Occupy Canada: it’s not asking for anything. I’m not going to go into that again, because I think I already did. Twice.

But here’s the thing: if someone somewhere figures out what they want to ask for, finds a sympathetic MP (there are many), and gets a petition presented, the government HAS to listen. They have to reply in fact. Within 45 days. And if they don’t reply, then a whole committee is required to get together and investigate that. Doesn’t that sound like kind of a pain in the butt? Especially if it were repeated? See where I’m going with this?

Your MPs and MPPs may walk past you every day sitting in whatever park you’ve chosen, but that’s all they can do: walk past. They’re pretty busy people and they swore to uphold the democratic process we currently use. That’s kind of the basis of their promise to us. So my point is give them something they can use.

 

What should the petition say?

Nobody expects any one person to solve everything. Nobody is asking the people who are Occupying various parts of Canada to cast the magic bullet. I can’t answer the question of what Occupiers should petition for because I don’t, to be honest, know what they want. But I think the heart of it is inequality and general unfairness. And at the heart of that is poverty, because nobody really cares that some people have a lot except for because other people have so much less.

 

So the issue that I think people really want addressed is poverty. 

The problem, it seems to me, isn’t that nobody in government cares about poverty. It’s that it’s not anybody’s job. There is no Ministry or even Committee currently looking at poverty on its own. Everyone has been handed a single tool and told to fix the broken ship, and they can’t. They ARE trying, and they DO care, but nobody has yet said, “Why don’t you go to the tool shed and choose whatever you need.” That is to say, each group can only affect change concerning those things that fall under the purview of any given Ministry or Committee.

So, someone needs to send them to the tool shed. Which, incase this is as poor a metaphor as I strongly suspect it is, means that I think they need someone whose job is to look at poverty full-time.

Handily, there is already a bill in the works that calls for the appointment of a Poverty Elimination Commissioner, and some other more specific things to aid in the elimination of poverty. A Poverty Elimination Commissioner would be independent and would hold the government accountable to staying on track with its poverty reduction goals and remaining committed to the effort.

 

SO, LONG STORY SHORT

If I were going to write a petition (and actually, I would be happy to do that), I would request that the government pick up the pace a little on that bill, which had a first reading in June, or even better, move ahead on the part where the Poverty Elimination Commissioner gets appointed. Because the changed legislation will take time, but there surely is much to learn, and a great deal a Commissioner could be doing, in the meantime. For one thing, couldn’t said commissioner weigh in on other government activities and their effect on poverty? That’s a real question, so if you know, let me know.

If Occupy wanted to present a petition, I would not just sign it–I’d help. I’d help them present a hundred petitions. Because unlike the people who participating in the Arab Spring, we actually do still have this kind of great democratic process to use. So let’s use it. Hell, let’s just go ahead an abuse it a little.*

I suspect (though I could be gravely mistaken, as I often am; well not gravely–so far none of my mistakes have killed me. Knock on wood), that given that the existing bill is of NDP origins and has a good deal of support from the Green Party and BQ, it would not be that difficult to find an MP to present a petition. So, who’s in? Anybody?

 

TO THE OCCUPIERS
Really, I don’t see any reason Occupy needs to be involved in such a petition at all. I just figured since there’s a bunch of people who’ve created a strong network committed to working together toward something, they might be the people to do it. I debated removing any mention of Occupy from this article because people hate me enough already over my Occupy criticisms, but I have to give them credit for being the people who sparked my interest in this. So, huh, whaddayaknow: you made me pay attention and make some effort. Good job!

 

*I say that because I don’t think there’s any way for the average person to abuse the democratic system. I do not officially endorse abuse of the democratic system. And Lord knows it happens.

 

Sources for this article
Bill C-545: Poverty Elimination Act
Green Party article indicating support