Thursday, June 25, 2009

Woman's Poetry Prize?

Each year, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award is given (I believe through The League of Canadian poets) "for the best book of poetry by a Canadian woman published the preceding year."

In sports, for example, I can understand different leagues for women. Men, being generally stronger, would otherwise have an unfair advantage.

But in poetry, in any of the creative arts, what disadvantage do women burden under that they cannot compete directly with men?

What would Margaret Atwood or Alice Munro think of an award for the best novel by a woman? I trust they would not accept it. Women in the arts display through their work no less insight, inventiveness and creativity as their male counterparts, and often greater. They do not need to be singled out for special recognition.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Language and Meaning

George Orwell would be chagrined, but not surprised, at the abuse of our beautiful English language by the media and advertising interests.

The Royal Bank of Canada television commercials extol the benefits of a new service plan. For $13.95 per month we get certain services including free cheques and free overdraft protection, and other no charge services. This is another version of the old joke about the person checking hotel rates. He is told that that the more expensive suite has free television.

The Ontario Government on May 14, 2009, ran a notice in the daily press about a proposed development of Highway 407. One sentence reads: "The pre-planning activities include planning and preliminary design." If pre-planning includes planning, what's planning all about?

When The Law Society of Upper Canada announces the disbarment of one it its delinquent practitioners, the reasons may be many. In its announcement, however, the Society mentions only the least trivial of the perpetrated behaviour. Rarely is there only one charge against a lawyer. Mentioning the least of the wrongs conveys the notion of an organization protecting the public at every turn.

The Globe and Mail recently welcomed its new Editor-in-Chief. The long statement praised the new comer, described his experience, and history. As for Edward Greenspon, the out-going Editor-in-Chief, the announcement merely said he was going on the "new challenges." Readers are left to read between the lines.

The media have been intimidated into describing a prostitute as a "sex-trade worker" and an abortionist as an "abortion provider." U.S. lawyers describe torture as "interrogation techniques."

People in law flatter themselves by referring to their business as the justice system, and our courts of justice. They are courts of law whose product may or may not be justice. Law is a process, justice the presumed goal of that process.

Hyundai commercials proclaim their cars come "loaded with standard features." That's a good start.

In half-inch bold red type, Flight Centre offers a flight to Athens for $235. Then in 1/16th inch black type "taxes and fees $513." Not to be outdone, Sunquest offers a vacation for $397 (again in half-inch type) then the sucker punch of $204 in taxes. What do travel people have against giving the full cost up front? Porter Airlines warns of "taxes, fees and surcharges" in a footnote. Failure to read the fine print will result in being stung in half-inch bold face type at the time of payment.

The "majestic vagueness" of the American Constitution (so described by The New Yorker) prohibits Congress from enacting laws respecting the establishment of religion. On the face of it, the amendment protects religions from government interference. Over the years, this obvious meaning has been turned inside out.

The self-styled tolerant members of the American Civil Liberties Union want banned all those crosses in Arlington Cemetery and any recognition of God on the U.S. one dollar bill. The foes of religion want destroyed all memorials to the war dead which display a cross or any other religious symbol. And we thought only the Taliban were so intolerant as to destroy other people's religious symbols. To their credit, the Taliban does not hide behind the baloney of thinly sliced legal niceties.

Around construction sites, we see posted signs alerting passers-by to Danger Work Overhead. It is a mystery as to what pedestrians are supposed to do as they walk under the scaffolding. Don't walk under the protected area? Be prepared to dodge falling construction materials? During the 9/11 crisis, the U.S. government to its citizens to enjoy the holidays but be sure to take precautions.

In its monthly statements, Bell Canada lists the client's choices among the plethora of options. This list includes a charge for Touch-Tone. The implication is that this is an option, when in fact it is compulsory. Strange, given that the old dial service (where it is still available) costs the company more to operate than Touch-Tone. This later should be included in the basic charge.

A new meaning to "battery" as in "assault and battery" was created recently in West Virginia. A suspect held for questioning in a police station "lifted his leg and passed gas loudly" and fanned the gas toward a policeman. The complaint: "The gas was very odorous and created contact of an insulting of provoking nature with the patrolman."

Monday, June 8, 2009

Police Out of Control?

The litany of reports of police misbehaviour demands serious investigation into police training and attitudes. The efficacy of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) is also in question. 

--- The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs (CAPC) accepts $100,000 from Taser International Inc. as conference sponsor. A CAPC researcher accepts stock options from Taser international.

--- Families of 22 people shot by various Ontario police forces in the past five years are still waiting for an explanation.

--- After five years, Toronto police union past-president Bill McCormack continues to be on paid suspension pending investigation of improper conduct charges. The case will not be heard for two more years. Cost so far: Over $500,000.

--- A Toronto trial judge finds that "we have police officers who clearly lied while under oath."

--- Toronto police are blamed for drug probe delays.

--- A special investigation claimed there's a pattern of thefts by the Toronto police drug squad.

--- Toronto police party with the money received from the sale of stolen bicycles.

--- Toronto police enjoy higher salaries than their New York counterparts. By the judicious arrangement of their court appearances on minor traffic charges, some constables earn up to $160,000 a year. That's not counting the $60-$70 per hour they get for drinking coffee at construction sites.

--- As it approaches its first $1 billion budget, Toronto police refuse to disclose the cost of maintaining 28 horses and 43 equestrian officers. This, from The Globe and Mail. In fact, the amount ($7 million) is (not clearly) disclosed in the annual budget.

All these items are from newspapers. How much more is there that the media have not uncovered? Citizens are entitled to effective control over police activity. Clearly, we are not getting it.

A copy of this post was e-mailed to TPSB on May 20, 2009. Reply received June 8.

Dear Mr. Peringer,

Thank you for your email dated May 20, 2009.

The Toronto Police Service Board is actively engaged in fulfilling its mandate to provide adequate and effective police service in a manner that is both accountable and respectful.

You may wish to link to Chair Mukherjee's blog, agendas and minutes of the TPSB at and view the live web casts of the TPSB meetings to get a more accurate sense of the rigor which is inherent in police oversight in Toronto.

Again, thank you for taking the time to write to the TPSB.

Alok Mukherjee
Toronto Police Service Board

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Citizenship of Convenience

Letter to The Globe and Mail, June 6, 2009. Unpublished.

Canada, it seems, has yet to learn the a difference between being a generous nation and a foolish one. Of the 2.7 million people with Canadian citizenship living abroad, more than half are believed to have dual citizenship, and be permanent residents of their country of origin (Canada's relationship with Lebanon, June 5).

These Canadians hold passports of convenience which they wave with patriotic fervour when they need a bolt hole. The evacuation of 15,000 "Canadians" during the 2006 Lebanese troubles cost us an estimated $65 million. We may be certain the owners of available ships boosted their rates when they learned Canada was involved.

More frightening is the possibility of these non-taxpaying "Canadians" swamping our health care system. Many of them maintain false Canadian addresses ( mainly in Quebec) in order to qualify for medicare or other benefit should the need arise.

Clearly there are two classes of Canadians: Those who pay taxes and those who free load.

Nation of Wimps

In a 1992 radio broadcast, journalist Lynda Frum posed this question: "What's to account for many men and women wanting to identify themselves as the victims of one sort of hardship or another?"

In 2011, a University of Manitoba doctoral student failed the required exams twice. He was awarded his degree because "he suffers from an extreme examination anxiety disability." We have no reports of such a disability during his Master's examinations.

In July 2010, a Vancouver woman sued the British Columbia's Lottery Corp. for not preventing her from gambling away $330,000 over three years.

In November 2005, an Ontario judge accepted sexsomnia as a defence against the charge of rape. Sexsomnia was described to the court as a sleep state precipitated by a combination of alcohol, genetics and sleep deprivation. The judge accepted this self-imposed state as adequate defence, and acquitted the accused on the basis that the attack had been involuntary. So get little sleep and drink to excess and you  have two-thirds permission to commit legal rape. A glib lawyer can fabricate the other third of your defence.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that voluntary drunkenness is a defence against a charge of sexual assault. Away from the legal jargon, get blind drunk and the law will be blind to rape. Indeed, the blind leading the blind.

Loto-Quebec faced a $500-million class action law suit brought by 119,000 gamblers addicted to video lotteries. The plaintiffs claimed the casinos caused their financial losses, and should pay compensation. Curiously, the lawyer behind the action claims to be a recovering gambling addict. In January 2010, the government settled with a $50-million payment. How money cures addiction was not explained.

Addicted gamblers are suing the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation for $3.5 million, claiming the OLG failed to prevent them from entering provincially-run casinos.

A lawyer who gambled away $1-million is suing seven casinos because they had "a duty of care" to spot her compulsive behaviour, and intervene. Similar lawsuits are also underway in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.

When these people win their pots of money, odds are they head for the nearest casino, and the wheels start over again. This mischief provides an incentive to these people to sneak into the casino, lose money, then sue because of inadequate security. And our wrong-headed courts will give them another bag of money.

The family of a Saskatchewan drug addict is suing her dealer for failing to help her after she overdosed. Guess what she will do with the winnings.

An Ottawa lawyer, Paul Ebbs, successfully sued the federal government for "wrongful hiring" by making him endure three years of boredom in his job. It took him that long to realize the job was not "exciting, challenging and demanding" as he claimed he was promised. For realizing his job was boring after 36 months behind a desk, he received an undisclosed compensation. (A job applicant in a Dilbert cartoon said, "If you agree to give me no work, I will agree not to sue with some sort of bogus employee claim.")

Canadian courts have ruled that the host is responsible if a drunken guest at his party injures himself on the way home.

What's next? A class action against automobile manufacturers because they create dangerous drivers? Suing the liquor control board for creating alcoholics? Suing bridge builders for creating jump-off points? Suing municipalities because speed limits are not lower? The possibilities are endless.

While we may understand and perhaps sympathize with these people, the question remains: Need the general public compensate individuals for private problems? Why should the rest of us pay for self-inflicted wounds?

To turn a private problem into a public problem is unacceptable. Our legal system (courts and human rights tribunals) has created a culture of wimpy people looking for a pension plan due to their own weakness, indiscretion or mindless behaviour.

Linda Frum concluded her broadcast with the question: "Why is there such willingness to concede to the wrongdoings that victims present to us?"

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Abortion versus School Attendance

According to a June 1, 2009 Canadian Press report, 146 schools in Ontario will close over the next two years. The reason is low enrolment. The impact on smaller communities could be devastating as young families will not move to towns with no schools. Local industry will suffer.

Since the 1997-1998 school year, there has been a 15 per cent decline in enrolment for Ontario elementary schools, and since 2002 average enrolment in secondary schools has dropped 14 per cent. Curious that no one sees the connection between school enrolment and live births.

There are 40,000 abortions in Ontario each year. That number of live births five years ago would fill many classrooms today.

In his History of Rome, Livy wrote, "Rome was not strong enough to challenge any of her neighbours, but great thought she was, her greatness seemed likely to last only for a generation. There were not enough women, and that --- added to the fact there was no intermarriage with neighbouring communities --- ruled out any hope of maintaining the level of population."

June 6, 1944

This year's commemoration of the World War Two invasion of Normandy (June 6, 1944) was billed as a "Franco-American ceremony." This offended British and Canadian sensibilities. Letters to The Globe and Mail pointed out Canada's contribution which included 14,000 soldiers who landed that day. My letter described the French contribution. Alas, only the final sentence was published.

Your editorial (Not Franco-American, June 2) is too kind to the French.

There were far more Polish troops attached to the Canadian army in the Normandy invasion than French with their 177 green berets. French troops did not land in Normandy until August 18. By that time, Canadian, British and American forces were well inland. Yet, the monument where the Canadians and Poles landed on June 6 reads (French first): This is the place where the French and their allies began the liberation of Europe.

Conveniently overlooked in this piece of mis-history was the fact that the Soviet army had earlier begun the de-Nazification of Europe on the eastern front, while American, British and Canadian forces were already chasing the German army up the boot of Italy in a horrendous campaign.

Perhaps the insult in not inviting the Queen, or Canadians, or Poles, was due to Winston Churchill who said to his associates in World War One, "Remember, gentlemen, it is not just France we are fighting for, it's for Champagne."