Category: That’s life

A felon no more

I received a polite phone call this morning from Chief Electoral Officer Richard Temporale, acknowledging that the Nova Scotia Elections Act would not support a conviction against me on the alleged offence of photographing and tweeting my ballot. In other words, what I did is not against the law. They are dropping the case.

We already suspected as much, because the one-year time limit for laying a charge under the act expired October 5. I am grateful to Jason Cooke, an outstanding young civil litigator at Burchells, who sent Elections Nova Scotia a brief last January, pointing out that the Act did not outlaw my actions.

The support I received from across the political spectrum was inspiring. I am particularly grateful to Premier Stephen McNeil.

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Having voted PC, I was not surprise to receive Prime Minister Harper’s support.

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Lenore Zann’s robust endorsement was particularly touching.

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Even Dana Doiron, elections compliance bulldog, was generous enough to come around in the end.

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Of course, the endorsement I most cherish came from the late, great Joseph Howe.

Joe Howe

Photoshop wizardry courtesy of Peter Barss.

Unreported in Canada: the Globe and Mail’s fight to suppress freedom of the press

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You can be forgiven, dear Contrarian reader, for not knowing that a hearing last week in the Ontario Divisional Court sought to determine how far wrongdoers can go to suppress the freedom of those they have wronged to speak about the wrongdoings. And for not knowing that the wrongdoer in the case is Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, or that the person wronged was once its most celebrated columnist, Jan Wong.

You can be forgiven because, in an revelatory display of unanimity, the Canadian news industry has suppressed coverage of the court battle. The sole exception* is a bilious piece of character assassination by National Post columnist Chris Selley, the sort of journalist who makes a fine living comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

The case has a complicated background. Please bear with me. It’s important.

Wong’s days as the darling of Globe newsroom ended on September 16, 2006, when the Montreal-born writer had the effrontery to suggest, in a page-one feature about the recent Dawson College shooting, that racial and linguistic politics exercised by Quebec’s pure laine majority might inform our understanding of that province’s three notorious school shootings (École Polytechnique, Concordia University, and Dawson), all of which were perpetrated by Quebecers of immigrant heritage.

For this Wong received a torrent of hate messages, death threats, racist taunts, misogynist abuse, and in one case, a parcel containing actual shit. Quebec politicians and journalists competed to see who among them could scale the most vertiginous heights of dudgeon. They demanded apologies. They demanded demands for apologies from their Ottawa counterparts.

On September 20, the House of Commons obliged by unanimously condemning Wong and the Globe. Unanimously! (“An event so purely Stalinist, I still cannot quite believe it,” wrote the Star’s Heather Mallick.)

The Globe waffled, then caved. Managers ordered Wong to stop giving interviews. Editor Edward Greenspon, who had read her piece before publication, wrote a column expressing regret the offending passage had not been deleted. A expected promotion evaporated.

Abandoned by the Globe, facing a firestorm of abuse, Wong sank into depression. On doctor’s advice, she took time off. The Globe and its insurance company insisted she was faking. The Globe fired her. She sued for wrongful dismissal. The Globe settled, but in a wondrous display of journalistic integrity, insisted details of its capitulation remain secret.

Wong eventually recovered, and wrote a book about the experience. Days before publication, her publisher, Doubleday, got a call from the Globe’s lawyers and, after Wong refused to make massive deletions, dropped the project. (Doubleday insisted legal pressure from the Globe played no role in its decision.) Wong self-published. Out of the Blue became a best-seller, winning rave reviews.

The book included Wong’s disclosure that the Globe had sent her “a fat cheque.”  Arguing this violated the agreement’s confidentiality provision, the Globe persuaded an arbitrator to overturn the settlement and require Wong to return the money. Wong was in divisional court last week seeking to have that decision overturned. She was opposed by the Globe, and, astonishingly, by her former union, Unifor.

Two friends and former Globe colleagues of Wong who attended the trial have provided brief accounts. Faced with the failure of every other news outlet in the country to report on the hearing, they are all we have to go on.*

John King, a former Globe reporter who attended the hearing in support of Wong, summed up the proceedings on his Facebook page:

Jan Wong took her fight for the right to tell the story of her firing to the Divisional Court this week—facing a hostile tag team of lawyers from The Globe and Mail and the Unifor union. The court appeared to see Wong’s argument that the issue was not a simple labour matter to be sorted out in the context of bargaining, but involved her natural justice. If she wins—the court reserved judgment this afternoon—the decision would set a precedent in the cosy world of labour law.

(“Reserved judgment” means the court did not reach a decision; the judges will release their ruling later.)

John Saunders, another former colleague, provided more detail in an email, which I publish with his permission:

As a spectator to the day and a half of argument, I’d like to point out what is at stake for Jan. If she loses, the hit could be more than a quarter of a million dollars, including her entire departure settlement from the Globe and Mail, which the newspaper seeks to take back.

The amount of that settlement, which came out in open court, was about $209,000, representing two years’ salary. It is worth noting that she did not disclose the figure; it would still be secret but for the Globe’s legal campaign against her, a campaign based on the idea that she violated a confidentiality clause when she said she received a fat cheque.

If she loses, she will also face claims for legal costs of $25,000 each from the Globe and her former union, which joined forces to oppose her this week, although the court could reduce those amounts. (She paid them $7,500 apiece in an earlier stage of the fight.) This is not to mention thousands of dollars in expenses run up on her own behalf, even though her lawyers, from the Ottawa office of Borden Ladner Gervais, are working on a pro bono/contingency basis, meaning they charge her nothing for their time but do not object to collecting from the other side if they win.

The lawyers, David Sherriff-Scott and Peter Thompson, needed to persuade the three-judge panel to break new ground in labour arbitration law, authorizing an employee to direct her own defence when her union fails her. It remains to be seen whether they succeeded, but they did a masterful job, it seemed to me, and clearly got an interested hearing from the judges, who could have dismissed the case out of hand. (Their written ruling may be a month or more away.)

There were several strands to the argument, but the main one, as I understood it, was this: The union’s lawyer pursued a conventional and doomed line of defence, ignoring Jan’s pleas and large amounts of spadework done by her lawyers. Specifically, he failed to advance, or perhaps even to understand, a legal principle called equitable relief from forfeiture. That principle, the Ottawa lawyers argued, opens the way to examine such things as the Globe’s conduct (including what they called lies and intimidation aimed at suppressing her book about how the newspaper treated her) and what actual harm, if any, was caused by her disclosure that it paid her off.

No one knows whether any of this would change the outcome of the case, but Jan should be allowed to give it a shot, they said. One way the court could fix things, they submitted, would be to order a hearing before a new arbitrator in which she would be defended by a lawyer of her choice at the union’s expense. Or it could simply quash to existing order that she repay the Globe.

You can hear more about the background to Wong’s case in this interview by Jesse Brown on his Canadaland podcast, which provides badly needed critical coverage of Canadian media.

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* It’s possible I have missed some news accounts, but Selley’s screed is the only story that shows up in a Google News search. If readers point me to others, I will place links here.

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Surf’s up at Louisbourg

Barry Morrison went out to look at the surf along the Lighthouse Point Trail, Louisbourg.

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Off the deep end with the RNC

Remember when the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary strolled about their daily rounds with no sidearms? It’s not that long ago. Until June 14, 1998, the RNC required members on normal duty to keep firearms locked in the trunks of their cruisers, deploying them only with permission from the chief.

What a difference 16 years makes. Take a gander at the latest RNC recruitment video, released just this month.

Writing in the Newfoundland and Labrador Independent, Jon Parsons decried the paramilitary fantasy evoked by the video:

This video, and the recruitment campaign of which it is a part, dangerously speaks to a particular kind of potential recruit.

The heroic, militaristic drumbeat, the culmination of the action in the forced penetration-insertion of a heavily armed tactical unit, the glorification of assault rifles and militaristic gear of different kinds, the constant “kerssshhhh” of the radios: the video is very much like a montage from a first-person-shooter video game or a scene in a badly written action movie. You don’t need to be a psychoanalyst to see the video is macho as hell.

Who does this recruitment video appeal to? Well, it appeals to dominators and sadists. It appeals to those who want to have power over others. It appeals to young men that get an erection from being in a position of authority. Enough said about that….

[T]he video does not have a single frame of a police officer talking to a citizen, and only one brief clip with citizens in the background at all. There is no interaction between the officers and the community – they only talk to each other, and even that limited communication is mediated by the radio or other forms of technology.

An anonymous video editor has already produced a satyrical critique, mashing up the recruitment video with the province’s sensuous tourism ads:

It’s sad to see a force that once policed on the basis of respect and community connectedness turn so swiftly to an approach so tone deaf to Newfoundland society. But as Parsons points out, the RNC approach reflects a North American trend toward militarization of local police forces (as previously by Contrarian discussed here and here).

The Atlantic this week gathered a staggering collection of 15 YouTube videos in which taser-happy police zap citizens (including one 10-year-old boy) with potentially lethal force for trivial violations. Parsons again:

[I]mmersion in the police point of view… is partly the reason police are given such free reign in society. But although citizens spend a good deal of time identifying with and trying to understand the police, do the police spend as much time identifying with and trying to understand the citizenry?

Less and less, it seems.

H/T: Emmy Alcorn

The Katydid’s ears are in its knees

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My son Joshua, who took this photo of a katydid near Halifax’s Frog Pond (part of The Dingle Park in Armdale) on October 12, writes:

Notice the pits in this creature’s front legs, which are its sound detection organs. They are situated as far apart as possible for females to better determine the direction of the mating call of males. Roald Dahl described this phenomenon is in James and the Giant Peach, when the Old Green Grasshopper tells James of his cousin, whose ears are on her legs.

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I’m sure there’s a political metaphor lurking in this somatic curiosity, but I’ll just turn matters over to Dahl:

“You mean you didn’t know that either?” the
Centipede said scornfully.
“You’re joking,” James said. “Nobody could possibly
have his ears in his legs.”
“Why not?”
“Because…because its ridiculous, that’s why.”
“You know what I think is ridiculous?” the Centipede
said, grinning away as usual. “I don’t mean to be rude,
but I think it is ridiculous to have ears on the sides of
one’s head. It certainly looks ridiculous. You ought to
take a peek in the mirror some day and see for
yourself.”

In Halifax Friday night: The gift of vulnerability

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If you are anywhere near Halifax Friday evening, I hope you will join me to hear a talk by Ian Brown, author of The Boy in the Moon, followed by a panel discussion about the inexplicable power vulnerable people have to teach the rest of us about life.

The event is part of a weekend of celebrations of the 50th anniversary of L’Arche, an international federation of more than 130 communities around the world, where men and women with developmental disabilities live and work with people who choose to share their lives.

The philosopher and theologian Jean Vanier founded L’Arche in 1964 when he invited two men with developmental disabilities, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to live with him in a small house in the French village of Trosly-Breuil. He named their house “L’Arche,” after Noah’s Ark.

In 1996, Ian Brown, whom a Globe and Mail reviewer described as “a smart-mouthed, combative scribe,” suddenly found himself the father of Walker Brown, a devastatingly disabled boy whose very preservation required a soul-destroying degree of intense, personal care, delivered around the clock by Brown and his wife.

But it didn’t destroy Brown’s soul. Quite the opposite. Through exhaustion, sleep-deprivation, fights with his wife, a sense of failure, and financial devastation, he found himself drawn to his mysterious, vulnerable child. What was going on inside that malformed head? What was the source of this boy’s power to make Brown examine the meaning of his own life, and ours?

Brown explores these questions without sentimentality, and with total candour about the hardship Walker created for his family: “It was hard to think of Walker as a gift from God,” he writes, “unless God was a sadist who bore a little boy a grudge.” The New York Times observed that Brown’s discomfort with spirituality makes his account of the lessons he learned from Walker, “all the more persuasive, as one feels the pull of his natural resistance.”

Friday’s panel is called, “The Strong and the Fragile:  The Unexpected Gift of Vulnerability.” It takes place at 7 p.m., Friday, in the Spatz Centre of Citadel High School. Panelists will include disability rights activist Stephen Estey, who helped draft the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; L’Arche grad and UNB philosophy professor Alan Hall; and L’Arche Halifax member Katie McTiernan, a family studies and gerontology grad student focused on person-centred care and critical disability studies. I will be the moderator.  Dalhousie University’s Segelberg Dialogues on Faith and Public Policy and L’Arche Atlantic Region are co-sponsors of the ecent.

Security follies, Nobel laureate division

When astrophysicist Brian Schmidt won the 2011 Nobel Physics Prize for co-discovering dark energy—the mysterious factor that causes the universe to expand at an increasing rate—his grandmother wanted to see the medal that came with the prize. So he took it with him on his next trip to Fargo, ND, where she lives.

The trip was uneventful, “until I tried to leave Fargo with it, and went through the x-ray machine,” Schmidt told Scientific American editor Clara Moskowitz. “I could see they were puzzled. It was in my laptop bag. It’s made of gold, so it absorbs all the x-rays—it’s completely black [on the x-ray image]. And they had never seen anything completely black.”

Homeland Security:  Sir, there’s something in your bag.
BS:  Yes, I think it’s this box.
HS:  What’s in the box?
BS:  A large gold medal
[At this point, the agents opened the box.]
HS:  What’s it made out of?
BS:  Gold.
HS:  Uhhhh. Who gave this to you?
BS:  The King of Sweden.
HS:  Why did he give this to you?
BS:  Because I helped discover the expansion rate of the universe was accelerating.

With this, Schmidt reports, the Homeland Security agents began to lose their patience. After he explained it was a Nobel Prize, they had one other question:

‘Why were you in Fargo?’”

Remembering BONG Bull

Saturday’s edition of Tim Bousquet’s Halifax Examiner features a list of sites that aggregate the often witty repartee that permeates many newsrooms:

Reporters think about themselves too much, which leads to sometimes funny, sometimes sad, stuff. In no random order [sic], there’s Shit Reporters Say, Overheard in the Newsroom, and the moribund Bureau Chiefs, who were behind the sadly no-longer-funny (what happened?) Fake AP Stylebook.

Charlie Stough

Charlie Stough

This brought to mind the defunct-but-not-forgotten Burned-Out Newspapercreatures Guild Bulletin, “BONG Bull” for short, a creation of longtime Dayton Daily News copy editor Charlie Stough, who produced it from the early 1990s until 2007.

Although BONG Bull began life as an early internet listserv, arriving by email before most editors knew what email was, it conjured the rapidly fading newspaper world of glue pots, foot-long scissors, and green eyeshades. It featured a potpourri of copy-desk yarns, miscues, and jabs at press barons, delivered in droll, curmudgeonly prose.

A sample:

WORLD’S BEST RESIGNATION LETTER. CLIP AND SAVE.
Dear Managing Editor:
I hereby resign as a reporter. I have decided I would like to accept the responsibilities of an ordinary human again.
When management demands we pull an all-nighter and offers to cater dinner, I don’t want to look at cold pizza and warm coffee.
I don’t want to have to stop work and dance in a circle around whoever buys a new raincoat or gets a mole removed just to get the damn cake.
It hurts to admit I can’t be managing editor because I’ve been here too long.
Telemarketers get more respect.
Nobody flipping burgers brags that they went to the University of Missouri. Well OK they do, but it was the Business School.
I want to think that the world is fair; that everyone is honest and good and anything is possible.
There must be a profession somewhere that Ted Turner isn’t a role model for.
If life is a walk on the beach at sunset, this job is sand in my pants.
I want a job where if the computers crash, the truckers go on strike or the presses burst into flame, the guy who bought the computers, hired the truckers and chose the presses doesn’t yell it’s my fault.
Would two weeks’ notice be enough?

Another:

BROTHERHOOD OF THE PEN.
A city editor and his wife were wakened at 3 a.m. by a loud pounding on their front door. The editor stumbled down and opened to find a reporter on the porch in a driving rain, staggering drunk.
“Can you give me a push, Boss?” the reporter slurred.
“Not a chance. And if you bother me again at this time of the night, it’s your ass!” the editor said, slamming the door.
But his wife was more sympathetic. “Don’t you remember when you were a young reporter?” she asked. “Out late in terrible weather, digging up stories? I think you should help him, and you should be ashamed of yourself!”
The editor grumbled but did as he was told, got dressed, and went out into the rain and dark. “Hello, are you still there?” he called out.
“Yes,” came the reply.
“Do you still need a push?”
“Yes, please!” said the reporter in the dark.
“Where are you?” asked the editor, squinting into the gloom.
“Over here, on the swing!” replied the reporter.

One more:

BOOK REVIEW COLUMN.
So you’re cutting the book review section, huh, Boss? Bookstores don’t advertise? Educators wielding Silas Marner have bludgeoned your young readers into fear and loathing of good writing? If it’s not Harry Potter, who cares about new titles?
So deal. Why not report old titles instead? Amazon.com will never think of it, because the books are free, down in the storage dungeons of public libraries.
Consider:
— “A couple of wise guys seduce and abuse a country teenager in the big city, but she soars to stardom while her captors go to ruin.” That’s “Sister Carrie,” by Theodore Dreiser, banned in Boston in 1900. The critics wanted victims to pay a steeper price. Meanwhile someone was writing the lesson plan for “Silas Marner,” a groaning yawner about a cataleptic weaver. Guess which one’s on the final.
— Speaking of Boston, how about H.L. Mencken’s nonfiction chronicle of a long legal fight with censors in 1926, “The Editor, the Bluenose and the Prostitute.” It’s a lesson in what today’s talk-radio yahoos try to do to reportage they don’t like, and what gutsy publishers can do in response.
— Speaking of yahoos, there’s Larry McMurtry’s “Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen,” a memoir that exposes Texas’ phony history of hip-shooting loners righting all the wrongs of the world. It goes a long way to explaining how we got neck-deep in an impossible war.
— How about, “A drug addict invents a marvelous city in caves of ice, but he’s so loopy that when someone bangs on his door, he forgets it all.” Welcome to “Kublai Khan,” a poem by Sam Coleridge and a lesson
in sobriety if not call screening. For all the ignorance about poetry that students bring to the world today, there has never been a time when poets made as much money as now, writing song lyrics. This is a market a smart columnist could steal from MTV.

Tom Mangan’s Banned for Life blog, a collection of reviled news media cliches, was inspired by Stough and BONG Bull.

BONG Bull was distributed free, but partly supported by the sale of such swag as typewriter-key tie tacks, personalized Chagrin Falls Commercial Scimitar Foreign Correspondent press cards, and the BONG Pejorative Poster, which listed 120 newspapers by their disdainful street names (The “Boregonian,” the “Mop and Pail”).

Copies of BONG Bull are fragmentarily archived here and here. Someone really should resurrect a complete archive.

Charlie Stough died in 2011. Tribute here; obituary here.

Law of unintended consequences — puddy tat division

SEO bait: First cat photo ever on Contrarian

SEO bait: First cat photo ever on Contrarian

The Nova Scotia government yesterday introduced legislation requiring anyone selling a cat to obtain a Veterinarian’s certificate of health.

A vet’s office in Sydney told me a certificate of health for a healthy cat, “would probably just be the examination fee, which is $65 plus tax” (or $74.75).  Selling a litter of cats will presumably require a litter of certificates, though perhaps there would be a bulk discount.

Agriculture Minister Keith Colwell is defends the legislation as a measure to combat animal abuse and abandonment.

I know animal protection is as important to Nova Scotians as it is to me. Animal abuse is intolerable. I am committed to doing all I can as minister to make sure that we have the proper legislation and regulations in place so companion animals in this province are properly cared for and protected.

Surely it will have the opposite effect. Government is erecting a financial barrier between people who have cats they want to get rid of and people who might be willing to take on those pets. Surely this will increase abandonment and abuse, not curtail it.

Legislature tune-spinners & the Legend of the Mix-Tape Mishap

Last week I marvelled at the sophistication of the music that plays when the Nova Scotia Legislature’s video feed pauses for bells summoning members to a vote. The 11 tunes that bided time for the vote on second reading of Bill 1 ranged from modern jazz to classical to some of Nashville’s greatest instrumentalists.

“Who programs this legislative mix-tape?” I wondered.

An email from Neil Ferguson, Chief Clerk of the House of Assembly, supplies the answer:

[T]he music is chosen by the Manager of Legislative Television Broadcast and Recording Services, Mr. Jim MacInnes, and his staff at Leg TV. The selections are stored on a computer drive, and are played on a random basis.

On ceremonial days, a selection of more “pomp and circumstance” music is used.

On such important days, this avoids any embarrassment—like the situation that occurred once during the wait for a recorded vote when the computer played “Send in the Clowns.”

And, for the record, being the cautious, parliamentary bunch that we are, we have the proper SOCAN licence.

With thanks to the chief clerk, and an admiring tip of the contrarian hat to Jim MacInnes and his savvy staff, I’ll note only that, during the wait for that vote on Bill 1, the feed played, “These Foolish Things” by Chet Baker, and “Stompy Jones” by Duke Ellington. (Mr. Ellington died in 1974, and there is absolutely no reason to believe he was acquainted with Joan Jessome.)

PS: Have you got any Stéphane Grappelli or Django Reinhardt on that hard drive, Jim? How about a few bars of, “You’re Driving Me Crazy,” or “It Don’t Mean a Thing?”

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