Friday, December 13, 2013

Gags are not Transparent . . .

We all come into contact with confidentiality rules as third party associates. We talk to lawyers, doctors, and psychologists, from whom we rightly expect confidentiality. We even have, naively, certain expectations of confidentiality with certain online corporations, sites, and servers. However, these kinds of confidentiality agreements serve very clear purposes; we understand what they are for and what they are supposed to protect. Furthermore, the confidentiality arrangements used by doctors or lawyers are designed by professional associations and are intended to protect the professions themselves. We all understand, for example, that the legal system wouldn't work without some significant form of client-lawyer privilege.

However, when our legislators begin to write hugely broad confidentiality agreements for their employees, we should sit up and take notice. When a large group of public employees are asked to sign an agreement that says they won't reveal anything about what they see while on the public payroll, alarm bells go off in my head. It is one thing for a professional association to create their own confidentiality rules, it is entirely another when employees are compelled to sign such agreements. This is because a mandatory agreement like this can easily be used not simply to protect confidentiality but to scare and intimidate employees into maintaining extreme obedience.

Looking at the big picture, one has to ask "what exactly are these agreements intended to protect?" If the goal is to protect very sensitive material relating to security, then they should be written very specifically to reflect that intent. But they are not. Anyone looking at such agreements, particularly the one now being proposed, is struck by how broad they are.

There is a huge problem of corruption in politics everywhere. And it doesn't require an insightful mind or political knowledge to understand why. The problem is that the people who create the rules that are supposed to protect the nation from corruption are written by the very same people who benefit from that corruption. We might as well have a group of millionaires write our tax code or the oil companies write our environmental protection rules. (Of course, with Harper in office, some might say that this is already happening.)

The gag rules that this government is going to impose on civil servants is not intended simply to protect security issues or sensitive personal information. Rather, they are intended to create an atmosphere of fear among civil servants with the long term goal of insulating the government and allow its favoured members to break the law without fear of discovery or prosecution.

Almost every major political scandal emerges into the public eye because someone bypassed official channels and went public with the information. Though few people have talked about it, the only reason the recent Senate scandal occurred is because someone fed emails to the media. Even the events of Watergate and the depth of Nixon's malfeasance were only known because one man went to the media.

If we want to improve our political institutions we should be looking at how to make them MORE transparent not LESS. We don't need to worry about MP staffers writing books about personal information relating to what they have seen in the back-rooms of government. Rather we need to start asking what our MPs need to so badly to hide from citizens. But once again, our political class is simply reacting to public scrutiny aimed at the depth of their corruption, and attempting to shore up the avenues of possible leaks of information relating to their malfeasance.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Criminals are Running the Show. . . .

There was something profoundly surreal about Conrad Black interviewing Rob Ford. This is what the Canadian Rightwing has been reduced to - a drug-addled Mayor being interviewed by a convicted fraudster. It would be laughable if it weren't so serious.

Ford, who has now transformed his career into dropping media bombs, made the bizarre claim that Police Chief Bill Blair had cooked up the entire investigation concerning Rob Ford, Sandro Lisi, et al., for reasons of personal resentment. This is the model of the new right in Canada - always blame someone else for your problems. But just how bizarre can the blame-game become? Well pretty bizarre apparently. The very idea of a ultra-rightwing Police chief undertaking a major investigation involving huge resources and lots of officers just to smear a rightwing mayor for personal reasons is, prima facie, absurd. However, even if we were to admit the possibility of such a turn of events, then the question arises; "if this was Chief Blair's plan, why has the Mayor not been indicted?" A close examination of the facts suggests that far from pursuing the Mayor, the Chief's investigation seems to have shielded the mayor from the possibility of prosecution.

But this is the topsy-turvy world of the New Right in Canada - criminals interviewing criminals, police-chiefs with dubious human rights records investigating corrupt politicians, Lawyers hiding e-mails to hide PMO conspiracies, one rightwinger bribing another rightwinger to keep quiet, rightwing Senators interfering with audits conducted by rightwing insiders to keep things quiet, a rightwing Premier who has just enacted a wildly unconstitutional law trying to prevent freedom of speech attending Mandela's memorial.

The rightwing in this country has truly degenerated into a massive organized crime syndicate that is suffering from the kind of infighting that would make a good Mario Puzo novel.

Curiouser and curiouser. . . .

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Innocence is in the Eyes of those who Decide who to Investigate. . . .

Is there anyone out there still naive enough to believe that Rob Ford would be in jail if not for the fact that he is a rich and influential white man? The sad fact is that despite all the talk by Chief Blair about the Toronto Police treating everyone equally and the professional standing of his investigators, it is simply unrealistic to believe that Ford has been treated like anyone else who comes into the surveillance of his force.

As with the release of the last round of court documents, yesterdays revelation are being met in the mainstream media by interviews with lawyers, all of whom assure us that there is nothing in these documents that warrant the arrest of Rob Ford. And you know what? On the face of it, the lawyers are correct. But lawyers deal in convictions, and evidence, and indictments. With the exception of the occasional stand-out, like Clayton Ruby, lawyers are not trained in and seldom engage in political analysis.

To really understand what has happened here we need to look beyond the simple evidence presented in these documents. As disturbing and compelling as these wire-tapes and witness statements are, they probably don't serve as any kind of criminal case against Rob Ford. Though, Ford obviously has important ties to countless criminals, and has engaged in various kinds of criminal behaviour, the demands of criminal indictment and conviction are often high, as they should be.

But here is where the politics come into the equation. The question is not "why wasn't Rob Ford indicted?" Rather, the question is: "Why wasn't Rob Ford investigated?" It is clear to anyone who has even the vaguest experience with police and the law, that if Rob Ford was not a powerful, rich, white man, the events observed by the police would have quickly blossomed into an all out investigation into every aspect of his personal and professional life. Did you notice that all the people whose phones were tapped in this investigation were racialized? Even Sandro Lisi, the whitest guy in indicted in the police investigation has what many people might still refer to as an "ethnic" identity. The one guy that the police didn't really investigate was the guy at the very heart of the entire series of events - and, surprise surprise, he is a rich white guy.

The simple fact is that the Toronto police did just enough investigating to create the appearance of objectivity and fairness, but de facto protected the Mayor from indictment by never actually investigating him. Let us take, as a mental exercise, the idea that, say, Olivia Chow, or even Councillor Cesar Palacio, were mayor and they were caught up in a similar police investigation. I think you would have to be monumentally naive to believe that he or she would not instantly become the subject of an intense personal investigation into every aspect other their lives. Their phones would be tapped, their finances would be investigated, and eventually their offices and their homes would be treated to complete searches.

I think it is pretty clear that it is not lack of evidence or probable cause that has prevented Rob Ford from being indicted. It is the simple fact that the Toronto Police never actually investigated him. If not for his position as a rich, rightwing, wasp, Rob Ford would have been treated like anyone else - he would have been investigated. Here is a guy who the police knew was involved in the use of illicit drugs, whose closest associate appears to have been dealing drugs and strong-arming people in Ford's interests, who has been the subject of numerous domestic disturbance calls, whose various family members have been involved in selling and using drugs, and who has been arrested in a foreign country for drug possession. And yet the police never really investigated him at all. It doesn't pass the smell test folks, and it is further evidence of the basic unfairness or our criminal injustice system.

So the next time some yahoo from so-called "Ford-nation" tells you that Ford has been indicted of anything, and that everyone is innocent until proven guilty, just point out that someone who is never investigated and can curry police favour - can never be proven guilty because he will never be brought up on charges. Only those who the Police are willing to see as criminals will ever be looked at by them as criminals.

(Interestingly enough the same goes for Stephen Harper)