Radio Freethinker

Vancouver's Number 1 Skeptical Podcast and Radio Show

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal’

Radio Freethinker Episode 211 – Election Autopsy Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 21, 2013

Orange-Crushed

This week:
–  A salute to Chris Hadfield,
– Post-Election Autopsy,

– Senate Shenanigans
, and
– Imagine No Religion 3

Download the episode here!

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A salute to Chris Hadfield

Canada’s own Chris Hadfield returned to Earth after being the first Canadian to command the International Space Station. While up there he became an international international sensation for his great efforts to popularize science, communicate with students and celebrities (including Captain Kirk aka Canadian William Shatner) via Twitter and live remote-talks, performing student inspired experiments and just generally being the best PR person NASA has had…maybe ever.

Find out more:

Post-Election Autopsy

public_opinion_pollsA look at the past election and how the pollsters and pundits could get it so wrong. We look at polling and the role polls play in elections

Senate Shenanigans

DEA3828sq-1024x1024In the light of the current flood of senate scandals, we ask and answer the question – can you fire a senator?

Find out more:

Imagine No Religion 3

4319477674-2What are the issues and what do the two main parties have to say about them? We cover Education, the Economy, Healthcare and the Environment.
Find out more:

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Skeptic Highlights

How Physics Works – a History of the Development of Quantum Mechanics

Quantum mechanics is at the root of essentially all aspects of contemporary life. It contains many non-intuitive features, but these are exploited in, for example, all microchip electronic devices.

Dr. Malcolm Longair will explain at a non-technical level the struggles made by experimenters and theorists to develop a fully self-consistent quantum physics. It turns out to provide a splendid example of how physics works in practice, based on the genius of experiment and theory.

When: Monday 27, 4 PM

Where: Hebb Theatre, UBC main campus

Cost: Free

CFI Public Forum Meeting 

We get together for drinks and dinner and then discuss strategies and goals that CFI Vancouver can pursue. With the recent INR3 conference, we’ll be discussing some of the ideas and suggestions we got there.

When: Wednesday May 22nd at 7pm
Where: the Tipper Resturant, 2066 Kingsway, Vancouver
Cost: Donations Welcome
Link: Event Link Here

Life, Liberty and the Right to Die

CFI Vancouver presents a lecture by Rebecca Coad

Rebecca Coad obtained a Bachelors of Arts in Philosophy and a Juris Doctorate from the University of British Columbia. She was first introduced to the legal issues surrounding choice in death as an intern for the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) in 2011

The focus of the discussion will be on the legal arguments made both in favour and in opposition to legalizing a limited form of assisted dying. And an examination of the decision by Justice Lynn Smith of the BC Supreme Court.

When: Thursday, May 31st at 7pm
Where: Room 1700, SFU Harbour Centrer
Cost: Donations Welcome
LinkEvent Link Here

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Why should I care about the Supreme Court?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 18, 2011

Supreme Court of Canada

Where does it fit in?

Although established at the inception of our nation, the original the Supreme Court of Canada was not supreme; in fact until the British Privy Council was abolished in 1949 it was last court of appeal. There was a sort of limbo for our legal system until the repatriation of our constitution in 1982 at which point the court truly was supreme. Since 1982 not only does the Supreme Court rule on the letter of the law; they also interpret the meaning of and implementation of the Constitution and Charter of Rights as well as a unique role of answering ‘reference questions’. Reference questions occur when the Governor General (on the behalf of the PM) asks the court if a proposed law would be constitutional or not; a prejudgment of law as it were.

Why are they important?

Although parliament may make law, how that law is actually enforced in our country or IF it is allowed to remain a law at all lies in the hands of the Supreme Court. One great example was the legality of Abortion; for decades the Supreme Court upheld limitations on abortion however in 1988 the court struck down our laws and to this date we have no law on abortion…we are one of the few countries that treat abortion as a purely medical matter between doctor and patient. Similar landmarks occurred with regard to the recognition of Aboriginal rights or the definition of hate speech and the limitation of free speech.

Who are they?

Currently there are 9 members of the SC of C. By law, 3 must be appointed from Quebec, by tradition 3 from Ontario, 2 from “the West” and 1 from the Maritimes. For a case to be heard by the court, it must first be approved of by a committee of at least 3 justices. This means that before any case even reaches the Supreme Court it must first be approved by a this committee; this is the first opportunity for the ideology of the justices can influence the way our constitution and laws are implemented.

Once a case is approved, it is then heard by any from 5 to 9 judges unlike the American Court there cases are heard by the complete 9 court members. At the moment, of the 9 justices 6 have been appointed by the Liberals and 3 by the Conservatives however in the next 4 years, 4 more members are to be replaced due to forced retirement and that does not include those who quite for other reasons. This point is brought home by the recent announcement of Justice Louise Charron who is retiring early for personal reasons. At present these retirements will allow Harper to appoint at least 7 of the 9 justices.

How are they appointed?

First, there are two parts of our Canadian constitution – legislative and convention. The legislative are those parts of our constitution that are written down…such as the Constitution Act of 1982 or our Charter of Rights and Freedoms…they are physical documents that set down in words the rule of law. Another part is the convention part…those procedures that are followed not because they are prescribed in law but by tradition…they have always been done that way.

An example of this is the Governor General does not HAVE to sign a bill into law; there is no legal requirement or a legal means for the Parliament to sidestep the necessity of the Royal Assent. However, by convention the GG has never refused to give consent to a bill passed by Parliament although one Lieutenant Governor did refuse to sign three laws in 1937 that he felt were unconstitutional; a belief that was upheld by the Supreme Court/Privy Council.

The appointment of Justices to the Supreme Courts largely falls into the convention part of our constitution. Technically the GG appoints them on the advice of the Privy Council…in fact they are selected solely by the whim of Prime Minister. However by law[1] they must be members of the Bar (i.e. lawyers or judges) and by convention, the PM selects the Justices from candidates presented to him by a judicial advisory committee of the provinces ‘due’ a justice (to maintain the balance mentioned earlier. For “the west”, each province rotates, so one justice comes from BC, the next from Alberta…etc.; this also occurs in the Maritimes).

There have be over time many complaints about the power invested in the PM to “stack the deck” with ideologically friendly justices, that there was no input from the Parliament in the appointment and there was a lack of transparency in the process. In response to these criticism, Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004 attempted to set up a committee to review nominees however this process became politicised when the Conservatives on the committee refused to sign off on the report from the committee because they felt the powers they had were insufficient; desiring a system that emulated the process in the USA where justices must be voted on by the senate prior to appointment…a process that is now considered a hyper-partisan inquisition. In response, the process was amended so as to allow the committee to select the “top three” candidates from a list of 7, one of which the PM would then select. Once in power, Harper did set up a review committee for his first nominee but quickly abandoned the idea and appointed the nominee of his choice stating that the process was too slow and political.

Lesson south of the border

caveat – it has been brought to my attention that the following paragraph is presented in a less than flattering light with some literary and political licence. As my readers probably know by now my political leanings are a little left of extreme left, so in my discussion of the US Supreme Court, I hope you will understand that I believe what I am writing to be honest and fair is not exactly balanced however one may wish to read it with “a grain of salt”[2]>

After years of lobbying and concerted effort the American Supreme Court has become what appears to be the judicial branch of the Republican Party promoting a right-wing corporatist agenda. For example, Clarence Thomas[3] and Antoni Scalia[4] have been noteworthy and active participants at a number of Neo-con gatherings with Thomas’s wife being a lobbyist for the prominent Tea-party group[5]. Having successive far right justices being promoted to the court (Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito being the worst with John Roberts, Anthony Kennedy not much better), the current court has become infamous for its patrician decisions including what has been called the Supreme Court coup d’état of 2000, the Citizens United case and many more. Don’t get me wrong, with the possible exception of the ruling on the “Florida Election Recount of 2000”, the courts are not ‘creating’ law but how they interpret laws and how they word their verdicts have wide ranging implications. My point is to show why and how the justices are important.

Let’s take a look at judicial philosophy; in the US there is a debate about how the constitution should be interpreted (one I am sure will become common here). On the one side you have what are called “living constitutionalist”, who believe that when the constitution was written the authors accepted that as time changes the interpretation of the constitution would change…that like a living creature the constitution (and the law it would give rise to) would evolve. A great example is the status of African Americans and their civil liberties. As society changed so did the depth and breadth of civil liberties.

On the other hand there is what is called Literalist or Originalist. They hold that what is written is written in stone, which comparing the constitution to a ‘living creature’ one would have to be, using the words of Justice Scalia, an “idiot”[6]. To them it is from the original meaning of the words used and not the intent of the founders, which should form the basis of interpreting the constitution. For example, capital punishment has been largely banned from civilized countries because it is seen as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and therefore a violation of civil rights. Justice Scalia would argue that capital punishment, at the time of the writing of the applicable part of the constitution (8th amendment), was not seen as cruel or unusual punishment therefor it does not violate civil rights and should therefore be legal[7].

Who is on the court can have a huge impact not only on what they rule but on what they see as their powers of interpretation…the very philosophical foundation of the rule of law.

Beyond how the constitution or laws are interpreted, the scope of the ruling can also have a wide ranging impact. In the US (they tend to provide more colourful, extreme and clear examples) the case of Citizens United was to determine that a third party could release a documentary about Hilary Clinton during the Primaries in the US. Clinton got an injunction because of the bias nature of the film, Clinton argued it was actual political advertising and as such violated electioneering laws. The case in the narrow sense was an issue of broadcasting rights but out of character for this court, Chief Justice Roberts decided to rule on an issue not actually part of the plaintiffs case; that being the financing of the film. This was unusual because the plaintiff (Citizens United) had already abandoned facial complaints[8]. In a landmark decision the Roberts case essentially struck down election advertising rules.

Who is on the court can have a huge impact not only on what they rule but on what they see as the question.

In Canada, our constitution is seen differently than the American one. We follow, for now, a doctrine of interpretation called Living Tree Doctrine or Doctrine of Progressive Interpretation. Lord Sankey stated: “The British North America Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.” This means that the Constitution cannot be interpreted in the same way as an ordinary statute. Rather, it must be read within the context of society to ensure that it adapts and reflects changes.

Why should skeptics worry?

The worry we may have is that as PM, Harper has shown signs of being both extremely controlling and dictatorial. A number of political commentators have expressed concern and surprise at the level of control Harper has maintained over his party and the level of contempt for parliament in general. Remember the Conservatives were convicted of contempt of Parliament in part for lying to parliament and in part for refusing to provide government information to committees over public policy. In articles written in the Globe and Mail[9] and the National Post[10], concern was raised over the possible radical direction the court may take on if Harper’s selection, for the Supreme Court of the land, should be of a similar ideological mind as his own.

IF the fears that he does have intention, now that he has a majority to promote a neo-con agenda, the Supreme Court may be the only restraining force left in the land. Now although personally I find most of the conservative government’s policies wrong, many of them are open to valid debate this is not why I fear what Harper may do to our judiciary; what I worry about is the likelihood that Harper will take his tendencies to ideologically dictate political policy to the judiciary and that some of those ideologies should be of concern not just to leftist but skeptics in general. Some issues that may be of concern: Harper seems to be a Climate Change Denier, there have been many members of his party who wish to put restriction on marriage and abortion based on religious grounds, G20 has shown that there is a lack of respect of political and individual rights, and with his conviction of contempt of parliament and election fraud one must wonder where he may lead the country in the future.

As skeptics we must remain informed, aware and poised to action. We should insist that appointees to the Supreme Courts…any court…should base their decision on law or on science based principles…and not on political ideology or religious theology.

Upcoming cases…

Charter of Rights – Reasonable limits prescribed by law [11]

Legality of the Safe injection site – Does the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act violate the Charter of Rights because enforcement has grossly disproportionate effects on addicted persons

Hate Speech –

The Christian Truth Activists distributed four flyers in the mailboxes of various homes in Saskatoon and Regina in 2001 and 2002. Four persons who received the flyers filed complaints alleging that the material in them “promotes hatred against individuals because of their sexual orientation”. The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission held the pamphlets, which referred to “sodomy marriage” and graphically described sexual behaviours in a derogatory manner, was hate speech.

The Christian Truth Activists argue first it does not count for it does not single out a group based on sexual orientation but a sexual behaviour and that further that IF the law does apply to sexual behaviour, then the definition of sexual orientation is overbroad in its definition.

Environmental Law[12]

Abitibi-Bowater Inc. has argued that a statutory duty to remove environmental contamination may be extinguished under the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act like a commercial debt. Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act is a Federal Act that allows financially troubled corporations the opportunity to restructure their affairs to avoid bankruptcy. The Government of Newfoundland issued several environmental protection orders for Abitibi to clean up land it had contaminated by its large scale industrial activities. Abitibi argued that when it filed for a restructuring it freed itself of the obligation of the clean-up orders. The court must determine if government orders are legally equivalent to ‘commercial debit’ claims.

Intellectual Property[13]

Bell Canada argued that providing previews consisting of excerpts of works is fair dealing for the purpose of research that does not infringe copyright.

Some commercial internet sites that sell downloads of works allow users to preview the works. A preview typically consists of an extract taken from the work, for example a 30-second extract of a musical track, streamed online and accessible to consumers. On October 18, 2007, the Copyright Board of Canada decided that royalties should be collected for these communications.

Charter of Rights – Freedom of conscience and religion[14]

Mandatory attendance to an “ethics and religion” class – Ethics and Religious Culture program became mandatory in elementary schools. Based on the experience of an older child, a family requested an exemption for the course because serious harm disruption caused by forced, premature contact with a series of beliefs that were mostly incompatible with those of the family, as well as the adverse effect on the religious faith of the members of this family. The school board refused to grant the exemption.


[5] The consulting firm she set up in 2011 was Liberty Consulting; previously she was employed by Tea Party-affiliated Liberty Central and earlier by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

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Libyan No-Fly Zone Redux

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 31, 2011

In an earlier episode I made a case for a No-Fly Zone over Libya to stop the massacre that was imminent due to a resurgent Gadhafi. When the no-fly zone was implemented, I made a comment about how the USA, NATO and the UN were in a no win situation, that prior to the implantation people would accuse them of callous indifference and that if/when it was implemented people would accuse them of imperialism. I used the term “whine” which offended some listeners…sorry Maurice…and the note that, my comments were an ad homonym attack on those who oppose the no-fly zone.

First, in my defence, the comments were not part of one of our main segments but just our idle chatter, so I wasn’t making any argument ad homonym or otherwise…but I will try to be less flippant in future if that is important to our listeners. Second, the point I was TRYING to make was that both or either side was destined to complain regardless of what was done. I was ‘whining’ that the UN did not impose a no-fly zone prior to our show. Lastly, you are right. When I made the case, for as good skeptics, we should have taken some time to assess the other side. So let’s do so now.

There are several reasons NOT to impose a no-fly zone. These fall into three main camps. The first is the idea of sovereignty. This is the claim often made by Russia and China. Each nation claims to have the right to settle internal affairs… internally and that no nation has the right to in the internal affairs of another. This issue, in a less violent way, has been raised often in Canada. There have been a number of times when Canadians have complained that comments made by American officials are wrong because they are seen as attempting to interfere with the internal affairs of Canada. An example of this is….in 2005 election the US ambassador to Canada said that Canadian politicians should not ‘bash the USA’…in response to issues like Kyoto and Softwood lumber, this verbal defence at the time cause a huge uproar in the press and public…

Another main argument against the no-fly zone is that violence, even when ostensibly for peaceful reasons, is wrong. This is similar to the arguments made against capital punishment…that we kill people to show that killing people is wrong; as in this case we are attempting to stop the killing of people in Libya by killing people in Libya…the only difference being on what side of an arbitrary, like the bombs are allowed to drop.

The last argument, and I think the strongest, is that this intervention IS an act of imperialism or at least opportunism by the US. The US has a long history of interventions in other nation’s internal affairs…or even regions affairs…not to create healthy democracies but to support pro-American regimes. My support for the No-Fly Zone was for humanitarian reasons but it is rapidly transformed into a move by ‘the west’ to oust Gadhafi. They are no longer trying to suppress loss of life but to actively support the ‘rebels’ in an attempt to drive Gadhafi from power…something a number of people said was the probable true reason for the intervention and regardless of the original intent it was the unavoidable outcome…the fundamental reason NOT to have a no-fly zone…that it would inevitably lead to active political intervention in the nation.

Now, we can argue that getting rid of Gadhafi is a good thing…like getting rid of Saddam Hussein was a good thing…and therefor the no-fly zone was still humanitarian and good even if it has been escalated because these dictators were in a near constant state of bringing violence and death upon their own people. We MIGHT agree with that…but what about other regimes that do this and the UN or the west…we do nothing? Syria comes to mind, where in the 80’s after a failed revolt, that government shelled the ‘offending city’ of HAM and killed over 17,000.

Currently Bahrain and Yemen are violently suppressing political dissent but these countries are allied with the USA…notably the US 5th fleet is based in Bahrain and the ‘hot spot’ the US war on terror in the region is Yemen…Bahrain has even had the Saudi armed forces help in the suppression; yet we do nothing. Uzbekistan is infamous for their violent repression and civil rights abuse…yet because the US sees them as reliable allies we do nothing. What about the intervention in Chile…or in 2004 in Haiti where the US engineered a coup against the popularist Aristae government under the guise of humanitarian relief.

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Michael Ignatieff visits UBC: Greenpeace makes environmentalists look bad

Posted by Daniel Gipps on January 17, 2010

Greenpeace protesters disrupt town hall

Michael Thibault/Crimson Phoenix Photography

On Friday, Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff came to UBC as part of his Cross-Canada campus town-hall series. The event was definitely successful, with one of the Liberal organizers estimating about 1,200 people inside UBC’s Norm Theatre as well as outside in an overflow area connected via video. While I doubt that number is accurate, it certainly was impressive to see so many people come out to hear from, and ask questions to, the leader of the official opposition.

The focus of the questions was on the environment, and specifically climate change. Ignatieff was asked many questions ranging from what he will do to meet the Kyoto Protocol, which he more or less dodged a committal answer to, to whether he supports the Alberta tar sands. To his credit, he did give a strong and committed answer, even though those asking him the question were openly hostile towards him, and hardly gave him a chance to speak.

Ignatieff made it clear many times that he will continue to stand behind the tar sands. The National Post quotes him as saying, “If you’re asking me to shut down the tar sands, it’s not in my power to do so, and frankly, it’s not in the national interest of our country to do so”. What Greenpeace seems ignorant of, or more likely, chooses to ignore, is that the Constitution Act of 1867 specifically gives jurisdiction on matters of natural resources to the provinces. Not only is it a bad idea to just shut the tar sands down, it is not even possibly for Ignatieff to do this if he wanted to. The courts would almost certainly rule against the legality of any legislation designed to do that.

It seems to me that Greenpeace and some other environmental organizations absolutely hate the ideas of individual freedom, rule of law, and populist but limited governments. To them, these long established ideas that have existed to benefit individuals and protect us from overbearing governments exist only as barriers to their own specific goals. Rather than educating individuals to act more environmentally friendly, or at the very least educating voters so that they know the facts about global warming and can vote for logical, evidence backed solutions like a carbon tax, they would rather disrupt civil town-halls, destroy coral reefs while campaigning to save them, and disregard science all in pointless attempts to put in place policies that few Canadians support.

Greenpeace needs to go back to its roots, back to when it followed science not activism, and when it was about education not protesting.

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