Friday, January 29, 2016

Five Vicious Attacks in Five Days: Ban Dangerous Dogs - Especially Pit Bull - in BC Now!

Pit bulls account for most fatal attacks on humans
What will it take for politicians to find the courage to act?

Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column 

Tuesday January 5, 2016

By Bill Tieleman 

"It was worse than a horror movie. It was like something out of a nightmare. There was blood absolutely everywhere."

- Sheryl Elgie, daughter of pit bull attack victim Robin Elgie

Five people in British Columbia have been viciously attacked by pit bull and Rottweiler dogs in five days -- two very seriously injured -- and yet not one provincial or municipal elected official dares to speak out on the obvious need to protect the public.

Is it not overwhelmingly obvious when Robin Elgie lies in a hospital bed facing the possible amputation of both hands after two pit bulls invaded his Fort St. John home on Christmas and ripped him to shreds in what he called "a shark attack" before RCMP shot them -- that something must be done?

Is it not obscene that after Kati Mather received 100 bites, a separated bicep and fractured arm from a Rottweiler-Husky cross breed attack while defending her three-year-old nephew in a Richmond park, no elected representative calls for new laws?

Three other people were also attacked in the two incidents, suffering serious bites.

So does a child have to be killed by a dangerous dog and the public totally outraged before politicians finally find the courage to act?

I deeply fear that is likely, because elected officials appear to be more afraid of dog owners and their fearsome lobbying organizations that fight proposed laws restricting pit bulls and other dangerous breeds than they are of a fatal dog attack.

Echoing past BC attacks

Neither B.C. nor Canada keep detailed statistics on dangerous dog attacks that identify breeds, but in the United States in 2015 there were at least 32 human fatalities, with the majority coming from pit bulls, followed by Rottweilers and other breeds or mixed breeds, according to the advocacy group, which meticulously documents each attack.

In 2014, the last year with complete statistics, there were 42 U.S. dog attack fatalities. Sixty-four per cent, or 27 attacks, were by pit bulls and 10 per cent, or four attacks, were by Rottweilers -- meaning three-quarters came from just those two breeds. The numbers are similar for previous years.

It's why groups like call for breed specific legislation in both the U.S. and Canada.

The group points out that between 2007 and 2014, pit bull attacks in the U.S. rose by an astonishing 773 per cent and that most fatalities are children.

That has very nearly happened several times in B.C. already.
In January 2015, a six-year-old Vancouver girl was attacked in Crab Park by a pit bull, requiring 14 stitches to her face and leg, with her mother telling me exclusively that the dog came at them "like a shark."

And a New Westminster woman suffered "life changing" facial injuries when a pit bull attack sent her to hospital in July 2015, while a man in the same apartment was also bitten.

New Westminster had previously repealed bylaws restricting pit bull and other breeds. Despite the July attack, a spokesperson told me that month there were "no plans" to reinstate the vicious dog bylaw.

A nine-year-old girl in Penticton was also the victim of an unprovoked pit bull attack in June 2015, requiring five stitches on her arm when the dog lunged for her face.

These are just the human attacks in B.C. -- many helpless pet dogs and cats have been killed by raging pit bull attacks.

A man whose cocker spaniel puppy was allegedly "ripped apart" by a pit bull in June 2015 is suing its owners, alleging they failed to muzzle the dog as ordered by the City of Vancouver after it had previously attacked a small dog. He's also suing the City for not having the pit bull euthanized as a dangerous animal. None of the allegations in the lawsuit have been proven in court.

'They just ate him'

It's not just this province -- a 22-year-old man in Lancashire, England was mauled to death by his own pit bull cross on Jan. 1, 2016.

The same day police in Edwardsville, Pennsylvania shot a pit bull attacking a 10-year-old boy outside his apartment after Tasering the dog failed.

On Jan. 2 in Big Bend, Wisconsin, four people including one child were sent to hospital after a pit bull attack.

And on Dec. 2, 2015 in Detroit, four-year-old Xavier Strickland was killed by four pit bulls while walking on a residential street with his mother.

"They pulled him from me and (dragged) him under the fence. They just ate him," said Lucille Strickland. The dogs had previously gotten loose and attacked children, the Detroit News reported.

Bring on the ban

While most jurisdictions look the other way, Winnipeg has banned pit bulls since 1990 and Ontario since 2005 -- with significant drops in dog bite attacks, while Burnaby has upheld strong restrictions on "vicious dogs" that include muzzling in public and higher licensing fees.

To be clear, no pit bulls were killed in Winnipeg or Ontario under the ban, but they were not allowed to breed and no new dogs can be imported.

Pit bull owners and organizations are very aggressive in opposing such laws and angry each time I write about them, with responses ranging from polite to obscene and some bordering on threatening.

We have an obvious problem in B.C. with ongoing dangerous dog attacks injuring children, adults and pets. We also have a clear solution -- legislation to ban the breeds most responsible for fatal and serious injuries that has worked elsewhere.

What we don't have is the political will to stand up for the silent majority of British Columbians who want dangerous dog breeds banned.

Let's not wait for a child to be killed before politicians finally take action.

Tell them to do it now, before it's too late.


Criminal Charges Against Former BC Liberals Executive Director Laura Miller a Big Blow to Christy Clark, Party

Now ex-BC Liberal Executive Director Laura Miller 
Laura Miller resigns, party again rocked by issue of deleted emails.

Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday December 22, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching."

- C.S. Lewis, Irish author

Last week Premier Christy Clark's BC Liberal Party was rocked when executive director Laura Miller resigned after being charged with breach of trust and mischief in Ontario over alleged destruction of government emails and computer records.

The case, though unrelated, echoes the BC Liberal government's own email deletion scandal.

Miller must be presumed innocent, and the Ontario Provincial Police allegations against her have not been proven in court. In a public statement, she promised to "vigorously defend" against the charges.

If convicted, Miller -- former deputy chief of staff to then-Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty -- potentially faces up to 10 years in jail over allegations that government records regarding the $1.1-billion cancellation and relocation of two natural gas power plants were destroyed.

UPDATE:  A lawyer representing Laura Miller appeared in an Ontario court, where the next hearing date was set for February 24, 2016.

But a 2013 hearing in the Ontario legislature related to the gas plant cancellation decision where Miller testified under oath before an investigative committee, along with other previously disclosed information, show that B.C.'s is not the only provincial Liberal government having a serious problem with top political officials deleting emails and other public records.

During that hearing, Progressive Conservative Member of the Provincial Parliament Victor Fedeli said to Miller: "So what you're saying is you deleted your emails to do with the gas plant? That's why you have none..."

Laura Miller: "I would delete political, personal and transitory emails..."

Fedeli: "You had none because you deleted your emails."

Miller: "If I had those records, I would have provided them to the freedom-of-information request."

Fedeli: "I have the records now; don't worry. We have them now. We know you're in this up to your forehead in this gas plants scandal."

Miller: "I don't really feel that I am, but thank you for that."

BC's triple-delete scandal

Last week, former B.C. information and privacy commissioner David Loukidelis issued a government-commissioned report recommending that the BC Liberal government stop its own practice of triple-deleting of thousands of emails and destroying government documents to avoid them being released in freedom of information requests.

Loukidelis also recommended that destruction of emails directly or indirectly to avoid an FOI request be made a firing offence for any government employee.

Clark responded by promising to end the email deletion practices and study a "duty to document" law recommended earlier this year by current information and privacy commissioner Elizabeth Denham -- whose earlier report exposed massive violations of existing rules after a staff whistleblower contacted both her and the BC NDP opposition.

Tellingly, Clark's own deputy chief of staff Michelle Cadario was found by Denham to be deleting almost all her email daily, as was Transportation Minister Todd Stone.

It was email deletion by Laura Miller in her previous deputy chief of staff role in Ontario that first gained public attention.

Miller served as former Ontario Liberal premier Dalton McGuinty's deputy chief of staff, while her co-accused David Livingston was chief of staff when the gas plant scandal erupted. Livingston also denies any wrongdoing. Both will appear in court Jan. 27, 2016.

Ontario Provincial Police have alleged that Miller's partner Peter Faist -- a computer technology expert -- was wrongly brought in to "wipe" government computers of emails in McGuinty's office.

Faist does not face charges and an OPP "information to obtain" a search warrant shows Faist told them he used a software product called White Canyon to erase computer records.

Miller, who filed an official complaint previously over police conduct in the investigation that was partially upheld, now says the OPP did not use "impartiality and fairness in police charging decisions" and vows to clear her name.

Clark defends Miller

When Miller first got into hot water in 2014, initially refusing to speak to police without written assurance information divulged would not be used against her, Clark leapt to her defence.

"She is a person of absolutely sterling character, and she works incredibly hard for our party and our province," Clark told reporters in Ottawa. "She is a person of the utmost integrity and we're really, really lucky to have her in B.C... of course, you know, she is not the target of this investigation."

Not so really, really lucky now that it turns out Miller actually was a police target.

After Miller was charged last week, Clark again rushed to her defence, saying: "In British Columbia, Laura Miller is known to her colleagues as a person of integrity..."

The issue will now be determined in court. But Miller's integrity was certainly tested in the Ontario legislature in August 2013 when she testified about her role in the gas plant cancellation decision and was severely cross-examined by Conservative MPP Victor Fedeli.

Fedeli: "Okay. These are not political or personal. There are emails that I've brought forward to you that are clearly gas-plant-related documents, including your Outlook calendar. Is it systemic through the Liberal associates to delete their email? Is that why we don't have any from you?

"You deleted them and felt safe to tell the freedom-of-information people, 'I don't have any,' because you did tell the truth: You didn't have any; you'd deleted them all? All 1,000?"

Miller: "When I delete emails, I do not have the ability to go back. Perhaps it's a lesson learned that the government can take back, in terms of maybe it shouldn't be political staff who search their emails; maybe it should be an individual in the civil service who has access to inboxes and sent-mail folders and deleted archives --whatever it is -- to conduct the search. But at the time--"

Fedeli: "You know the lesson learned? The lesson learned is, you thought you deleted your emails permanently and they weren't deleted permanently. Only when the Ministry of Government Services looked 'under the hood' did they find your emails that you thought were safely deleted. Is that true?">

Miller: "And I'm glad that they found them. I'm absolutely glad that they found them."

Fedeli: "I'm glad they found them, too, because you told the freedom-of-information request you had no responsive records."

Miller: "Well, let's be frank. If I had those records--"

Fedeli: "You had none because you deleted your emails."

Miller: "If I had those records, I would have provided them to the freedom-of-information request."

NDP MPP Gilles Bisson also took a hard run at Miller during the hearing.

Miller: "We're completely accountable."

Bisson: "Boy, you have a funny way of showing it. You won't release documents, you hit the 'delete' button, you think you've covered your getaway, and it turns out in fact there were backup tapes of the backup tapes, and you got caught. The fact is, you did not release documents when this committee--"

Miller: "We produced documents in July, after we had reached a negotiation on Mississauga. We produced documents in September, after we had reached a negotiation with Oakville."

"At the end of the day, political staff are told to manage their inbox in a certain way, so that requires that duplicate, personal, transitory, political emails be deleted. I did nothing wrong."

Blow to Liberal fortunes

Regardless of what the court decides, Miller's fate will impact BC Liberal fortunes in the 2017 election, not to mention that she is unlikely to take back the party helm while the case is pending -- and even if found not guilty, the Liberals may be reluctant to take her back.

That means organizationally the BC Liberals' formidable fundraising machine -- which under Miller raised $10 million in 2014, over half from corporate donors and triple the BC New Democrats' $3.4 million -- could be missing its captain.

And the party's campaign arm suddenly lacks leadership just as Clark must call two critical byelections that will test the government's popularity -- in Vancouver-Mount Pleasant and Coquitlam-Burke Mountain. The BC Liberals have no chance in the NDP's Vancouver stronghold, but a loss in one of their previously solid suburban ridings would be disastrous.

The loss of Miller alone would be a blow to the BC Liberals' prospects in the 2017 provincial election -- that it is connected with the issue of deleting emails in Ontario and the echo in the B.C. government scandal only adds dry wood to the fire.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Not So Fast, Prime Minister Trudeau: We Need a Referendum on Electoral Change

Democracy in Canada is too important to leave to politicians alone.
No matter which system Liberals choose, Canadians should have the final say.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday December 15, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"No government has the moral right to alter the precious process of elections without the approval of the people."

- Professor Patrice Dutil, Ryerson University

If you think democracy means that voters get to decide how we elect governments rather than politicians, get ready for one hell of a fight.

That's because the new Liberal government has promised to radically change the way we elect governments -- but without giving Canadians a vote through a binding national referendum -- and that's totally undemocratic.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal campaign platform said: "We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system."

But the Liberals did not even indicate what kind of electoral system they would introduce, how it would work or what process they would follow to get there.

Change that lasts

How we vote in a democracy is an absolutely fundamental question requiring Canadian voters to give their approval through a binding national referendum -- because it will affect every election thereafter in a way far more important than any budget or policy decision.

And an electoral system change would last long after this Liberal government's term is over.

Think about this contrast: at my strata condominium, our government-mandated rules state that on key questions the owners must vote 75 per cent in favour for many changes to pass.

So why would we fundamentally change our entire Canadian electoral system indefinitely without at least a binding majority vote by Canadians?

If major issues in a strata condo like buying a new boiler with reserve fund need a three quarter majority, why would the country's electoral system be deemed less important?

The disparity is unbelievable.

It should not be easier for Canada's Members of Parliament to change how we elect governments forever than for condo owners to repair their roof!

This undemocratic proposition cannot stand.

Canadians must come together to demand that Parliament put a clear proposal on electoral change to a national binding referendum -- regardless of personal preference, only a vote can make that decision.

Nothing else is fair. Nothing else is democratic. And nothing else will do.

Democracy comes first

Some may say the Liberals are just keeping their election promise. Rubbish -- the Liberals did not promise not to hold a national referendum on electoral change.

And they are already breaking significant promises -- with some understandable reasons -- such as the pledge to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by year's end or to keep the federal deficit under $10 billion.

The New Democrats and Greens are also wrong in not backing a national referendum.

While the Conservatives now demand a referendum, they made a number of negative changes to electoral laws with no mandate and no referendum when they were in power.

So no party has completely clean hands -- but they can all make that right by now promising to support a fair, democratic vote on electoral systems.

There is at least some hope that common sense will prevail.

Liberal government House leader Dominic LeBlanc said last week that: "I never thought that one party with a majority rewrites the rules that apply to everybody else."

That's a good start.

But now we need a solid Liberal commitment to a national referendum on a clear question and for the NDP, Conservatives and Greens to back that position. Anything less is unacceptable.

Fair and informed lessons

I have been through two B.C. binding provincial referenda on electoral systems before, in 2005 and 2009.

As volunteer president of NO BC STV I helped lead opposition to an electoral change proposal that would have meant a radical change for the province. The Single Transferable Vote was rejected the first time because it did not reach the required 60 per cent in favour set by former BC Liberal premier Gordon Campbell.

Campbell rightly believed such a change required a strong majority in favour because the consequences would last lifetimes.

That decision was proven correct in 2009, when after four years had passed and a more fulsome public discussion took place, British Columbians rejected the STV proposal overwhelmingly with 60 per cent against, 40 per cent in favour.

Those results mirror those in the two other provinces that held electoral change referenda -- Ontario rejected proportional representation by a 63 per cent vote in 2007 and Prince Edward Island voted 63.5 per cent against it in 2005.

The United Kingdom did the same in a referendum on electoral systems in 2011 where 68 per cent voted "no" to an alternative vote system.

That's how it should be -- in all three provinces, like the UK, voters could get all the information they wanted and then made an informed choice -- and they decided to keep the first-past-the-post electoral system that has served our democracies well here since 1867.

But those who want change have every right to call for it -- I have no disagreement there whatsoever and support a full and free debate on what would serve Canada best -- so long as it is decided by a national referendum.

However -- and amazingly -- an advocacy group called Fair Vote Canada that claims it wants more democracy refuses to demand a binding vote by Canadians.

"This election was a referendum on the last false-majority government," Fair Vote Canada said in October after the election.

"Fair Vote Canada and its supporters are asking Justin Trudeau to be brave. We are asking him to lead and put the country and its citizens before his party and build a representative democracy where all Canadians have the opportunity to equally participate in the governance and policy making of our country," their news release of Oct. 20 reads.

They want a "fair vote" in the next election -- yet won't demand that Canadians fairly vote on any proposed change to the electoral system -- hypocritical and sad.

Let voters decide!

Meanwhile, a poll commissioned by the Broadbent Institute that purports to show support for a change in electoral systems to proportional representation actually produced an interesting result.

While 42 per cent thought the electoral system requires major changes or needs to be changed completely, 58 per cent of those polled said they believe the system only needs minor changes [41 per cent] or no changes at all [17 per cent].

And of the five top issues cited by respondents, the first four are achieved by our existing system.

Those five are, in descending order of priority:

    A simple, understandable ballot;
    A system that produces stable and strong governments;
    Direct election of MPs who represent their communities;
    Governments that represent all regions; and lastly
    A system that closely matches number of seats to levels of support throughout the country.

First-past-the-post -- our current system -- clearly meets the first four priorities and is not dramatically off on the fifth, while other systems are not close by comparison.

Advocates of mixed-member proportional, STV, preferential ballots and a host of other electoral systems will clearly disagree -- and their point of view is very welcome.

But that's exactly the kind healthy, democratic debate Canada needs -- not the imposition of another system to replace our existing one -- without the full and explicit support of voters through a national referendum.

If the other systems are so superior, their advocates should have no complaint about letting the voters decide -- not a handful of politicians without a clear mandate to implement an undetermined change.

If you think democracy means voters get to decide instead of politicians on how we elect governments, please join my new Facebook group Canadians for Democracy on Electoral Change and send all parties a clear message -- no change without a vote!