Category: Justice

The growing clamor to grant Edward Snowden clemency

Bus-ThankYouSnowden

A Washington, DC, city bus

Briefly, because I can’t say it better than these people did, please check out the links below for eloquent arguments about the value of Edward Snowden’s lawbreaking, and the Obama administration’s pernicious folly in persecuting him.

On the last day of October, from his exile in Russia, Snowden wrote a letter seeking clemency.

snowden letter

On the first day of January, a New York Times editorial endorsed his request.

Considering the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed, Mr. Snowden deserves better than a life of permanent exile, fear and flight. He may have committed a crime to do so, but he has done his country a great service. It is time for the United States to offer Mr. Snowden a plea bargain or some form of clemency that would allow him to return home, face at least substantially reduced punishment in light of his role as a whistle-blower, and have the hope of a life advocating for greater privacy and far stronger oversight of the runaway intelligence community.

In a series of tweets, a US business journalist who has cheered on the excesses of the security state, condemned the Times’ position.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 9.54.24 PM

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf eviscerated Barro’s argument in a logical tour-de-force.

When should a leaker of government secrets be forgiven rather than jailed? Here are some possible standards:

  • When the leak reveals lawbreaking by the U.S. government
  • When the leak reveals behavior deemed unconstitutional by multiple federal judges
  • When a presidential panel that reviews the leaked information recommends significant reforms
  • When the leak inspires multiple pieces of reform legislation in Congress
  • When the leak reveals that a high-ranking national-security official perjured himself before Congress
  • When the leak causes multiple members of Congress to express alarm at policies being carried out without their knowledge.

The Snowden leak meets all of those thresholds, among others….

Leaks of classified information in the United States will remain common, regardless of what happens to Snowden, because they frequently serve the interests of people in power—and they won’t be prosecuted precisely because they are powerful or connected. That longstanding, bipartisan dynamic is far more important to the norms surrounding official secrets in the U.S. than how a singular, unrepeatable, once-in-a-generation leak is handled….

For apparently altruistic reasons, Snowden revealed scandalous instances of illegal behavior, and the scandal that mass surveillance on innocents is considered moral and legal by the national-security state, though it knew enough to keep that a secret. It is difficult to imagine another leak exposing policies so dangerous to a free society or state secrets so antithetical to representative government. The danger of a Snowden pardon creating a norm is virtually nonexistent.

The Friedersdorf piece in particular deserves to be read in its entirety.

Edward Snowden’s Christmas message: asking is cheaper than spying.

Every Christmas since 1993, British Television’s Channel 4 asks a noteworthy figure to record an “alternative” to starchy pieties of Her Majesty’s annual Christmas message to her subjects.

This year, Channel 4 tapped whistleblower Edward Snowden. From his temporary asylum in Russia, Snowden sounded a pithy, 1 minute, 43 second, warning about the dangers of government spying:

A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. They’ll never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves — an unrecorded, unanalysed thought….

Remind the government that if it really wants to know how we feel, asking is always cheaper than spying.

H/T: A.C.H. Noskwith

How seriously did Canada Post consider people less mobile than they

CanadaPostPetition

Susan Dixon has started a petition:

Has anyone at Canada Post ever tried to to push a stroller or a wheelchair or a walker through the snow? I don’t think they realize the impact of ending door-to-door mail delivery when it comes to the parents of young children, to the disabled, and to the elderly, especially in winter…

Did the government or Canada Post really consider how people in difficult circumstances might be affected? I am the mother of two young boys. My youngest has cerebral palsy and uses a walker or wheelchair to get around. For me, Canada Post’s decision would mean having to bundle them up and struggle through the snow with a wheelchair just to get our mail. And I am just one of thousands of Canadians who must already overcome mobility challenges on a daily basis.

That’s why I started this petition urging Canada Post to reconsider the plan to end door-to-door delivery, and think about how all Canadians would be affected. Please sign it and share it with your friends.

Are we a country where the only worthy vets are old vets? – corrected

[See correction appended below.]

I am amazed that Liberals and New Democrats have not been more effective at highlighting the hypocrisy of the Harper government’s claw back of services and benefits to veterans—especially vets who suffered cruelly in Stephen Harper’s Canada’s* Afghanistan adventure.

Demonstrations on Remembrance Day weekend protested the closure of Veteran’s Affairs offices across the country. Recent news stories have highlighted the government’s haste to drum injured vets out of service before they qualify for extended benefits.

The contrast proved too much for a Halifax friend who watched the Halifax Mooseheads organization celebrate “DND Night” Friday. He writes:

Two dignified octogenarians in wheelchairs joined an honour guard at centre ice for the ceremonies.

To them: Thank you for your courage and service. You did a fine job of representing current and former members of the armed services on Friday.

To Moosheads Inc: Where were the wheelchair-bound vets in their twenties and thirties who are demanding the same benefits enjoyed by the gentlemen on the red carpet?

I was glad to see a good number of hockey fans sitting on their hands during the club’s opportunistic ceremony. My father, a hater of hypocrisy and a decorated veteran of the Second World War, agrees with them. He’s a resident of Veterans’ Memorial Building, where receives care of inexpressible value to him and his family. The cost to him is less than renting a decent apartment in Halifax. The Department of Veterans’ Affairs picks up the rest.

But young veterans, in wheelchairs or otherwise, are absent from Veterans’ Memorial Building. The unit where my father lives will be closed once his cohort has passed away.

I explained this to my father at breakfast yesterday, Remembrance Day. He was baffled and angered by the treatment younger vets are receiving.

Obviously, the Second World War produced vastly more vets than our recent conflicts, yet Canadians were able to provide them with benefits for the rest of their lives. It’s hard to understand why we cannot provide the same to the relatively small number of people who need our help today.

So, to the Moosehead organization and thousands of glowing hearts who participated in Friday night’s spectacle: tell your government to put your tax money where your mouth is.

* [Correction] I’m grateful to Contrarian reader Ritchie Simpson for pointing out that it was Jean Chretien, not Stephen Harper, who first committed Canadian troops to Afghanistan. According to Wikipedia, Canada sent a small contingent of troops secretly in October 2001, followed by larger numbers in January and February 2002. Canada took on a larger role in 2006, when our forces were redeployed to Kandahar province. Harper became prime minister with his first minority government on February 6, 2006.

Duffy feedback

Contrarian reader Tim Segulin writes:

Senators were appointed by the Monarch (via the Governor General on the advice of the PM) from defined regions within Canada on the basis of the excellence they had to offer review of government legislation in its final stages. They were there to be the final quality control against the passing of biased, defective or unfair laws from the Commons.

To do that, they had to be independent of electoral politics and political parties. Senators were intended to call it as they see it, and propose constructive suggestions to improve proposed laws without fear of petty political reprisals from the PM or some political party.

It is the breaching of this fundamental principal by successive PMs, who have advised the GG to appoint party flacks like Messrs Duffy and Brazeau and Ms Wallin, whose primary asset is that they can be expected to do the party’s bidding in the Senate, that has brought the place into such contempt by the public.

As usual a political party is seen to put its own interests before that of the nation. Now their treasured brand is at risk by the alleged actions of their appointees, they want them gone from their “Senate caucus.””Be a team player and go along with the PMO and the senate leadership? Or stand up, and do your constitutional duty?”

All of them owe their Senate seat to a partisan appointment. It will be fascinating to see where these Senators feel their primary loyalty lies.

Sen. Duffy: The other side of the story

If I had edited Mike Duffy’s speaking notes before his address to the Senate yesterday, I would have red-penciled the opening reference to a “heart condition” aggravated by “months of unrelenting stress,”  and to “my beloved Prince Edward Island,” along with a few adjectives  at the end (“monstrous,” “outrageous”). As John Iveson noted in the National Post, “Duffy does not cut a very sympathetic figure,” and these rhetorical flourishes don’t help. Still, it’s hard to read this and not suspect that the senator has a point, and that Prime Minister Harper has a problem. It’s long, but I urge you to click “read more” and keep reading after the jump.

Honourable Senators,

I rise today against the orders of my doctors who fear my heart condition has worsened after months of unrelenting stress. But given the unprecedented nature of today’s proceedings, I feel I have no other choice than to come here to defend my good name.

Like you, I took a solemn oath to put the interests of Canadians ahead of all else. However the sad truth is, I allowed myself to be intimidated into doing what I knew in my heart was wrong, out of a fear of losing my job, and a misguided sense of loyalty.

pullquoteMuch has been made of the $90,000 cheque from Nigel Wright. I hope I’ll be able to give an explanation of the chain of events, and the circumstances surrounding that gift, without impinging on the rights of others to a fair trial should criminal proceedings follow. Let me summarize it this way:

Dec. 3rd, 2012, The Ottawa Citizen ran a story asking how I could claim expenses for my house in Kanata, when I had owned the home before I was appointed to the Senate? The inference was clear. I was doing something wrong. I immediately contacted Nigel Wright, the Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff and explained that I was doing nothing improper. Nigel Wright emailed me back, saying he’d had my expenses checked and he was satisfied that my accounts were in order. That all was in compliance with Senate rules. In fact he said there were several other Senators in the same situation, and that this was a smear.

Following the PMO’s advice, I ignored the media. But the attacks from Postmedia continued, and the political heat escalated. So after caucus on Feb. 13th I met the Prime Minister and Nigel Wright. Just the three of us. I said that despite the smear in the papers, I had not broken the rules.

But the Prime Minister wasn’t interested in explanations or the truth. It’s not about what you did. It’s about the perception of what you did that has been created by the media. The rules are inexplicable to our base.

I argued I was just following the rules, like all the others. It didn’t work. I was ordered – by the Prime Minister – to “pay the money back!” End of discussion. Nigel Wright was present throughout. Just the 3 of us.

[Continued after the jump]

Read more »

Meet the odd couple who nettle the NSA from a dog- and monkey-filled jungle retreat*

GreenwaldAtHomePoitras

Please read journalist Peter Maass’s spellbinding account of how reporter/polemicist Glenn Greenwald and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras collaborated in bringing to light NSA leaker Edward J. Snowden’s disclosures about massive illegal spying by the US Government.

Seriously, if you read nothing else this week, do read this richly detailed, 10,000-word account of how Snowden made contact with Poitras, how Poitras roped Greenwald into the project, and how they communicate privately when all three are targeted by the most sophisticated electronic spying in the world.

It reads alternately like a novel, a spy thriller, a quirky travelog, and most importantly, like detailed expose of the American security apparatus run amok. I am not by inclination paranoid, but this article convinced me I need to learn how to encrypt electronic communications. There’s even a Q&A Maass conducted with Snowdon over multiply encrypted links to his Moscow hideout.

Greenwald lives and works in a house surrounded by tropical foliage in a remote area of Rio de Janeiro. He shares the home with his Brazilian partner and their 10 dogs and one cat, and the place has the feel of a low-key fraternity that has been dropped down in the jungle. The kitchen clock is off by hours, but no one notices; dishes tend to pile up in the sink; the living room contains a table and a couch and a large TV, an Xbox console and a box of poker chips and not much else. The refrigerator is not always filled with fresh vegetables. A family of monkeys occasionally raids the banana trees in the backyard and engages in shrieking battles with the dogs.

Greenwald does most of his work on a shaded porch, usually dressed in a T-shirt, surfer shorts and flip-flops. Over the four days I spent there, he was in perpetual motion, speaking on the phone in Portuguese and English, rushing out the door to be interviewed in the city below, answering calls and e-mails from people seeking information about Snowden, tweeting to his 225,000 followers (and conducting intense arguments with a number of them), then sitting down to write more N.S.A. articles for The Guardian, all while pleading with his dogs to stay quiet. During one especially fever-pitched moment, he hollered, “Shut up, everyone,” but they didn’t seem to care.

Amid the chaos, Poitras, an intense-looking woman of 49, sat in a spare bedroom or at the table in the living room, working in concentrated silence in front of her multiple computers. Once in a while she would walk over to the porch to talk with Greenwald about the article he was working on, or he would sometimes stop what he was doing to look at the latest version of a new video she was editing about Snowden. They would talk intensely — Greenwald far louder and more rapid-fire than Poitras — and occasionally break out laughing at some shared joke or absurd memory. The Snowden story, they both said, was a battle they were waging together, a fight against powers of surveillance that they both believe are a threat to fundamental American liberties.

It’s a wonderful piece of reporting about a courageous pair of reporters picking up the slack left by the supine mainstream news giants.

If Maass’s 10,000 words don’t exhausted you, please also check out a much shorter piece, The NSA Is Commandeering the Internet on The Atlantic’s website. Security expert Bruce Schneier (he coined the phrase, “security theatre”) pleads with executives of giant technology company’s to fight back against US government spying.

Most of the largest Internet companies provide information to the NSA, betraying their users. Some, as we’ve learned, fight and lose. Others cooperate, either out of patriotism or because they believe it’s easier that way.

I have one message to the executives of those companies: fight.

Lastly, The Takeaway podcast has a good interview with Maass about his piece.

[*Yes, I know, Greenwald and Poitras are not a couple in the usual sense, and only Greenwald resides in Rio. Poitras, a Massachusetts native, lives in New York City when she is not in precautionary exile, as she is now. In this 2012 Salon story, Greenwald details the harassment Poitras faces in her home country.]

Finally. Commission will pass MLA office accessibility rule Wednesday

The Nova Scotia House of Assembly Management Commission will meet Wednesday to clear up an injustice that should have been fixed decades ago. Its members will pass a new rule requiring MLAs’ constituency offices to be free of barriers to wheelchair users.

The commission reached all-party agreement on the change a month ago, but inexplicable last-minute foot-dragging by senior NDP officials threatened to deep-six the deal. Lobbying by the James MacGregor Stewart Society, a disability rights group,  embarrassed the government into action Friday.

MysteryNDPhonchoThe new rule will come into effect after the election, at which time newly elected MLAs will have one year to find a standards-compliant office. Re-elected MLAs with existing office leases will have three years to comply. All leases will be with the Speaker’s office. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal will ensure compliance with building code accessibility standards.

Had the election been called before the new rule was passed, the commission would have ceased to exist, and the large crop of freshman MLAs expected this fall could have rented inaccessible offices.

Responsibility for calling the commission meeting rests with Speaker Gordie Gosse, but it seems unlikely he was NDP honcho who wanted to scuttle the deal. A former steel worker, Gosse represents a working class constituency, and is widely regarded as sincere in his efforts on behalf of disadvantaged constituents. He also has personal experience with disability issues in his own family. Contrarian’s calls to Gosse’s office on the issue were returned by Jennifer Stewart, press secretary to the premier.

The Stewart society surveyed MLAs’ offices last spring, and found most to be party or completely inaccessible. Which of the powerful, long-time social democrats in cabinet was keen to keep them that way remains a matter of speculation.

How phoney scandals poison democracy

Moments after Auditor General Jacques Lapointe’s decision confirming Richmond MLA Michel Samson’s eligibility for an outside member’s housing allowance, but denying his current claim on the slenderest technicality, NDP House Leader Frank Corbett rushed out a news release.

In it, he falsely stated that Lapointe had found “Samson lives in both Halifax and Arichat and as a result his residency cannot be the basis of providing a housing allowance to Samson.” [Contrarian's emphasis]

There are many things not to like in Lapointe’s decision, among them, the time and ink he wasted dreaming up residency tests not found in any legislation governing MLAs’ allowances. Nevertheless, he eventually acknowledged that the only test with legal weight confirms Samson’s entitlement to the Outside Member’s Allowance.

It’s true that along the way to this self-evident conclusion, Lapointe mused that Samson “lives in both locations.” Yes, and so do the 29 other MLAs who claim an outside allowance—17 of them New Democrats. Their jobs require them to live in two places. Conflict Commissioner and retired Supreme Court Justice Merlin Nunn nailed this months ago when Samson referred the matter to him days after a scandal-aspiring CBC reporter floated the bogus issue.

It is very important to understand that we have had, and will have, members elected to our Legislature from rural areas. They are required to work in two areas, their constituency and Halifax, for Legislature and constituency matters. To do so they must leave their homes and area for both short and extended periods of lime. Recognizing this, the House Rules provide for certain reimbursements to offset the extra costs involved.

In the end, Lapointe denied Samson the bona fide expenses his job requires, not because of where he lives (or where his wife lives, in the sexist reasoning of the CBC and the NDP), but because his Halifax abode is a house not an “apartment,” the word used in the regulation. As everyone now acknowledges, the word “apartment” was chosen not out of any preference for dwelling type, but to ensure MLAs only claim reimbursement for rental spaces, not real estate in which they are building ownership.

Frank-Corbett-Maureen MacDonaldEven the hyper-partisan Corbett recognized this when he said the rule, “prevents an elected official from using their housing allowance to pay for mortgages for themselves or their associates.” Then, brazenly, he rejected any plan to clarify the wording, “so that taxpayers are not left paying the mortgage for MLAs or their friends and then have to watch as they profit from the resale of property.”

In an interview with Contrarian last May, Samson categorically denied he has any equity in the Halifax house he rents from a Richmond County associate, insisting the terms are a standard rental arrangement. If Corbett has evidence to the contrary, he hasn’t provided it. He refuses to clarify the rule in a way that would focus on the distinction that matters, between rentals and mortgage payments, while clinging to the meaningless distinction between an apartment and a house, because it conveniently gores a Liberal ox.

In one of her least distinguished moments in the public sphere, Finance Minister Maureen MacDonald, who knows better, parroted the same party line.

Lapointe, Corbett, and MacDonald ought to consider the damage they are doing to public confidence in the democratic process—Lapointe with his querulous nit-picking; Corbett and MacDonald with their poisonous partisanship. Commissioner Nunn recognized the danger straightaway:

To be perfectly clear, yes, these reimbursement claims must be honest and made only when warranted.

However it is vitally important that our elected members of our Legislature are not open to public denouncement on the whim of a media member who, without first pursuing the necessary facts, raises a suspicion which is akin to serious issues in one or more other jurisdictions, knowing it will be scandal and embarrassment to the person involved.

We need the best members we can get and we must not put in their way a fear of baseless scandal and embarrassment brought on by immature and sensational oriented reporting. Our elected members give up a great deal to serve the people of this Province and should not be dishonoured to the public in any way without a sound basis of facts to support the matter or claim being made.

I am not using a “kill the messenger” approach but rather the approach that the “messenger bring the correct message.” Otherwise, over time, we will have fewer capable and desirable people offering to represent the public in a constituency to the detriment and loss of the whole Province.

Corbett’s release got one other crucial point wrong: after an election, he may not be the house leader who makes the final decision on any clarification of MLA expense rules. He may be sitting on an opposition bench, or even a park bench.

Will the government trample wheelchair users in its rush to an election?

Last spring, a disability rights organization surveyed the constituency offices of Nova Scotia MLAs and found hardly any were fully accessible to citizens who use wheelchairs.

In May, the James McGregor Stewart Society cajoled the House of Assembly Management Commission into meeting and considering ways to remove barriers from MLAs’ offices. The campaign hinged on passing changes before the election, so newly elected MLAs could be required to find accessible space, while returning MLAs would have a modest grace period to comply.

accessible-icon-updatedI was skeptical. I expected the inconvenience of modifying or relocating constituency offices might trump the obvious injustice of preventing citizens from entering MLAs’ workplaces, let alone working in them.

I was wrong. Commission members from all parties recognized that Nova Scotia lags behind other jurisdictions on this human rights issue. To their credit, they worked collaboratively to develop a practical plan for breaking down barriers that separate Nova Scotians who use wheelchairs and their elected representatives.

That plan is now in jeopardy due to an inexplicable delay in calling the commission meeting required to pass the regulation, something only Speaker Gordie Gosse has the power to do. Calls and emails to Gosse’s office were eventually returned by Premier Darrell Dexter’s press secretary.

“We have every intention of getting a meeting called as soon as we can,” Jennifer Stewart said. “All three parties are agreed, and it has to happen.”

The problem is that the Commission ceases to exist the moment Stewart’s boss calls an election, an event some predict as early as this Saturday.* At that point, the Commission can no longer pass the agree-upon regulation, thus destroying the crucial proviso that MLAs elected for the first time in the forthcoming vote must find barrier-free offices.

That the matter has drawn the attention of “the centre”—the premier’s office, from which all decisions in this highly centralized government flow—is a good sign. An opposition member of the commission told Contrarian he expects a meeting August 14, although he hasn’t received official notice yet.

Meanwhile, the James McGregor Stewart** Society continues to entreat the Speaker to get the meeting called and the regulation passed. Surely Darrell Dexter will not want to begin an election campaign in a way that wrecks an all-party agreement to remedy this lamentable injustice.

* Find Contrarian’s prediction of the probable date here.

** I did not think to ask Ms. Stewart if she is related to the redoubtable Pictou native, one of Canada’s most accomplished lawyers, who had lifelong mobility issues arising from a childhood bout with polio.

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