Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stephen Harper - Canada's most socially progressive Prime Minister ever - against his will

Prime Minister Stephen Harper - most socially progressive ever?
Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday February 10, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"Life is never free of contradictions." 

Manmohan Singh, former Indian prime minister. 

Stephen Harper has surprisingly become Canada's most socially progressive prime minister -- even though it's against his will and personal beliefs.

Why? Because his right-wing Conservative government has been in power for the most dramatic positive changes ever made on a series of personal rights and freedoms.

Despite Harper's own social conservatism and that of many Conservative members of Parliament, his government has presided over Supreme Court decisions that have seen Canadians gain the right to:  union strikes; safe injections sites; RCMP unionization; and now even physician-assisted dying, all while avoiding revisiting the abortion issue and giving up on fighting same-sex marriages.

It is an irony that must rankle Harper mightily -- even former Liberal PM Pierre Trudeau doesn't come close.

Even before the most recent court decisions -- and the Conservatives' declining to try to overturn them -- his political friends were frustrated.

"It's my hope that Stephen Harper will soon get back to the values we had in 1993," former Reform and Conservative Alberta MP Myron Thompson said in 2013. "I hope he hasn't lost them, but he's certainly gotten away from them."

A still lower blow came from Gerry Nicholls, who worked under Harper at the right-wing National Citizens Coalition. Harper, at the time, he toldThe Globe and Mail in 2013, was "second to none when it came to criticizing conservative leaders who strayed even slightly from ideological purity."

But even by 2013, Nicholls said "what Harper is doing and what a Liberal government would do" were not very different.

Unanimous ruling

Despite that view, last week's stunning Supreme Court of Canada decision on the right to die was strongly opposed by the Conservative government in legal submissions. But government lawyers failed to convince even one of the nine justices. The Feb. 6 Supreme Court decision was unanimous.

The attorney general of Canada argued that "an absolute prohibition sends the message that all lives are valued, and worthy of protection from those who may subtly encourage vulnerable people to terminate their lives."

But the Supreme Court of Canada completely rejected the Harper position.

"The prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice," the court decided in a unanimous decision released Feb. 6.

It is extremely unlikely that Harper would now invoke the "notwithstanding" clause of the Canadian Constitution to override the court after that powerful ruling and huge public support for allowing doctors to help end the lives of those suffering pain and despair from terminal illness.

With an election scheduled for Oct. 2015, Harper will not want to risk defeat by going against the tide.

And to do so would maintain an unjust law that dictates imprisonment of up to 14 years for anyone aiding or even counselling someone to commit suicide -- something intolerable to Canadians.

Meanwhile, those who fought long and hard on this case are grateful.

"This is one incredible day. Physician-assisted dying is now recognized for what it is: a medical service that brings an end, for some individuals, to unbearable suffering," Grace Pastine, litigation director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, which started the challenge, said in Ottawa Friday.

Indeed it was incredible. 

I was with both my parents when they died in hospital. Sadly, it was neither painless nor peaceful. This decision is merciful but tragically much too late for far too many people.

Harper must listen to both the court and public -- and not stand in the way of ending further unnecessary suffering. 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Memo to Media: Don't Broadcast ISIS 'Television Terrorism' - Shut Down Free Publicity They Want

Don't show terrorist hostages and give ISIS what it wants - publicity
Refuse to give these evil criminals the enormous publicity they need 

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday January 27, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"In order to spread fear and thus advance its political goals, a terrorist organization needs the media."

- Transnational Terrorism, Security, and the Rule of Law report

After yet another gruesome video showing the beheading of a Japanese hostage Saturday by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and new threats to Canada on Monday, it's time to stop giving them free publicity -- by turning off television terrorism.

ISIS is a barbaric group that has gained astonishing media coverage by kidnapping and then videotaping innocent victims begging for their lives.

The hostages' families then make tearful pleas -- also on television -- for their release and to show mercy, which has sadly not happened but no doubt further encourages the murderers as they gain even more publicity.

News coverage has made ISIS internationally feared -- almost solely for successfully manipulating media to cover them engaging in acts of extreme cruelty.

The menacing, knife-wielding, British-accented terrorist nicknamed "Jihadi John" who makes video demands and has previously overseen the beheadings of American and British hostages is now one of the world's most wanted -- and famous -- people.

But there is a way to dramatically reduce the insidious success of ISIS.

Don't broadcast executions

All media -- print, radio, online but especially television -- should refuse to give these evil criminals the enormous publicity they obviously want and thrive on.

Certainly I do not argue that kidnapping, death threats or beheadings should not be reported -- they should.

But if media voluntarily stopped broadcasting the ISIS videos, quit publishing the horrific pictures of victims supplied by ISIS and refused to give ISIS what it desperately wants -- free, horrifying publicity -- it could dramatically reduce the value of kidnapping and killing foreigners.

There are issues that need to be discussed in the western world about the root causes of terrorism.

Without doubt the American military's use of remote assassination of terrorists -- and sometime civilians -- through drone attacks provokes responses.

Canada has also thrown its military into anti-ISIS action in Iraq -- perhaps justifiably but with potential consequences, such as the murderous attack on Parliament Hill by a mentally disturbed gunman.

And new ISIS threats issued Monday claimed that "what lies ahead will be worse -- with Allah's permission" after praising the Ottawa attack and recent others in Australia, France and Belgium.

And there should also be debate about the West's ongoing support of a Saudi Arabian monarchy that beheaded over 70 convicts itself last year -- including for non-violent offences -- and allegedly engages in the torture of political prisoners, as reported by Amnesty International.

Blogger flogged

Such as the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi with 1,000 lashes over several weeks for the prisoner of conscience's "crime" of setting up a website for public discussion and accusations of "insulting Islam." Badawi also has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and fined US$266,000.

"The flogging of Raif Badawi is a vicious act of cruelty which is prohibited under international law," said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa deputy director.  

It also bans women from basic rights like showing their hair or faces in public or driving a car.

More ominously, Saudi Arabia is known as the primary exporter of extremist Islam -- and Osama Bin Laden was its most prominent exile.

But Saudi Arabia is our "ally" and supplies massive amounts of oil to the west.

So there is an urgent need to get beyond the instant media coverage of the latest horrible act by ISIS and look at the broader picture of what is happening in the Middle East and why.

But no cause can possibly justify kidnapping and then obscenely killing foreigners simply to terrify the world.

"Terrorism is theatre," Brian Jenkins noted back in the 1970s.

With that theatre designed for broadcast, author Bruce Hoffman argued in his 2006 book Inside Terrorism, "The media responds to these overtures with almost unbridled alacrity, proving unable to ignore what has been accurately described as 'an event... fashioned specifically for their needs.' "

So news organizations need to acknowledge their role, turn off the cameras and change the channel on ISIS's ability to so easily manipulate the media for its own terrible ends.


Memo to Premier Christy Clark: Public Education Just Won Big in Washington State Supreme Court - Watch Out!

Washington State Capital Buildings - Olympia
BC should take careful note of its neighbour's mistakes.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday January 20, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"We have to invest. It's come to that point. This is the session. This is the Armageddon. This is the Super Bowl. This is it. And it's gotta happen this year."

Picture this education imbroglio: the Supreme Court rules that funding for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students is completely inadequate and must be remedied immediately with an infusion of billions of tax dollars every single year -- or else.

Then, after legislators drag their feet to find the money to hire thousands of teachers and staff and provide more resources, a visibly angry Supreme Court reconvenes to find the government itself in contempt of court.

Then, the judges give the government just one legislative session in 2015 to fix it or face extraordinary, court-imposed financial and other penalties.

The government is also ordered to reduce the number of students per overcrowded classroom to improve learning conditions. That means hiring 7,400 new teachers and 17,600 other education staff, at a cost of nearly $5 billion through 2019 and $2 billion a year after that.

It may sound like a wonderful dream for B.C. teachers after their lengthy 2014 strike.* Currently, they're waiting for an upcoming B.C. Court of Appeal case decision on class size and composition after a hearing in Oct. 2014.

This teachers' dream is definitely B.C. Premier Christy Clark's worst nightmare.

But in Washington State, it's Governor Jay Inslee's absolute reality.

Gov't violated duty to students

Not only did the Washington Supreme Court find in 2012 that constitutional provisions providing students with an appropriate education were not being met and must be restored, but in Sept. 2014 it scathingly ruled unanimously that the government was in contempt of court for refusing to fulfill its court-ordered remedy.

Washington State "is engaged in an ongoing violation of its constitutional duty to K-12 children" and it "has known for decades that its funding of public education is constitutionally inadequate," the Supreme Court found in its contempt decision.

Now, Washington State Democrats and Republicans alike must resolve the education funding issue in their current 2015 session in the capital, Olympia, or face withering court sanctions.

And it gets even better for teachers and students, because in November,

Washington voters narrowly approved state initiative I-1351 to lower the student-to-teacher ratio to 17 to one for Kindergarten through Grade 3 from the current average of 24 to one in elementary schools, and to 25 to one from 30 to one for Grades 4 to 12.

That measure is unrelated to the Supreme Court order, and will cost an estimated $2 billion more a year to hire 7,400 new teachers and thousands more support staff in the schools.

So, what's the lesson?

There is a lesson from Washington for the government of British Columbia: the best solution in the face of a potentially devastating court order to spend billions a year more on education is a negotiated agreement with the BC Teachers' Federation.

Clark should see that Washington's dilemma is a harbinger of B.C.'s possible future, and start talking to the union now rather than answer to an angry Supreme Court of Canada down the road.

The alternative for Clark is to find herself in the shoes of Washington State Democratic Governor Inslee.

"This unprecedented action by the Supreme Court is a critical moment in our history," Inslee said last September. "No one should be surprised, yet no one should minimize the court's order.

"I urged lawmakers to act this year and agreed with the court that we must do more to adequately fund education, which I believe is both a constitutional and
moral obligation," he concluded.
Washington's House of Representatives is controlled by Democrats but its Senate is controlled by Republicans, leaving Inslee with a tough challenge.

Tom Ahearne is a Seattle attorney who acted for plaintiffs complaining in the 2012 case that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligations.

"All the excuses [legislators] tell themselves that they can delay and no one has to do anything, these are now gone," said Ahearne, who represented parents Stephanie and Matt McCleary, lead plaintiffs for a group that also includes Washington's largest teachers' union, school districts and education advocates.

Ahearne isn't joking. The Washington Supreme Court ruling could not be clearer:

"The court has no doubt that it already has the legislature's 'attention.' But that is not the purpose of a contempt order. Rather, contempt is the means by which a court enforces compliance with its lawful orders when they are not followed," the court decision reads.

"These orders are not advisory or designed only to get the legislature's 'attention'; the court expects them to be obeyed even though they are directed to a coordinate branch of government. When the orders are not followed, contempt is the lawful and proper means of enforcement in the orderly administration of justice," the ruling signed by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen warns.

BC should pay attention

It all sounds very much like B.C. Supreme Court Justice Susan Griffin's ruling in favour of the BCTF and against the BC Liberal government over its ripping up contract provisions and deliberately trying to provoke a strike in 2011.

"In Bill-22 the government re-enacted legislation identical to that first branch of what was previously declared unconstitutional, namely, the deletion and prohibition of hundreds of collective agreement terms on working conditions," Griffin wrote.

"When legislation is struck down as unconstitutional, it means it was never valid, from the date of its enactment. This means that the legislatively deleted terms in the teachers' collective agreement have been restored retroactively and can also be the subject of future bargaining."

Regardless of how the Washington State situation is resolved by its legislature, one thing is abundantly clear -- education funding is about to go up substantially as a result of the court rulings.

The BC Liberal government would be wise to pay attention and start opening the channels of communication with the B.C. teachers' union to find a negotiated solution to the B.C. Court of Appeal case.

Win or lose, if that case is finally resolved in the Supreme Court of Canada, Christy Clark may wish she was in Washington Governor Jay Inslee's position instead of her own, very expensive B.C. one.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Denying a Dog's Danger - Pit Bull Advocates In Denial But Ban On Breed Has Wide Support

Pit bull unhappy
Pit bulls are bred to 'fight and kill' and “should be banned”: children’s plastic surgeon

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column 

Tuesday January 13, 2015

By Bill Tieleman

"Based on my extensive experience, I believe that the risk posed by pit bulls is equivalent to placing a loaded gun with the safety off on the coffee table. In my opinion, these dogs should be banned."
- Dr. David Billmire, paediatric plastic surgery director, Cincinnati Children's Hospital
Pit bull advocates are as fierce as the dog breed that has killed and maimed more people than any other by a wide margin.
But worse, many pit bull owners and supporters are simply in denial.
And my column calling for a pit bull ban in British Columbia, like those in place in Ontario since 2005, Winnipeg since 1990 and many American cities, stirred up some of the nastiest emails and comments I have received in many years.
An angry reader in Prince George [name withheld] emailed me directly:
"You and your opinions can fuck right off. Nobody needs your half assed informed articles causing problems for the tame and loving animals we know and love."
Equally charming and articulate was this email, replete with spelling and grammar errors: "I thought that same way about the breed because of clowns like you writing this bullshit. Until I bought one as a protector for my famy cus I work away & since we socialized her n discouraged aggressive behaviour she is now worthless as a guard dog but the best most loving animal I have ever owned... You sir are what's wrong with the work [sic] fuck off."
Stunningly, last week's column was shared on Facebook over 15,000 times.
And by no coincidence, over 14,000 readers of 24 Hours Vancouver voted "No" to banning pit bulls, in what was obviously a coordinated effort to skew the results.
My sin? Pointing out the need for action after three serious pit bull attacks in B.C. in just two months and citing U.S. statistics showing 25 people were killed by pit bulls in 2013 alone, including 18 children -- making up 78 per cent of all fatal dog bite deaths, even though they account for just 6 per cent of all U.S. dogs.
Dog mauls elderly man
Despite being "tame and loving animals," since last week's column, an 87-year-old man was mauled to death by his own pit bull in Maryland; only a police helicopter and intervention saved a California man's life after four pit bulls attacked him in his own alley; a 10-month-old Florida child was severely maimed by the family pit bull; and a puppy and its owner were savaged by a pit bull in a Florida dog park, also caught on camera.
Sadly just another week in pit bull attack news.
Unfortunately, pit bull advocates go into denial when faced with these grim stories, blaming "bad" owners -- even the parents of attacked children and babies -- and saying their pit bull is sweet and loving.
Several people invited me to meet the family pet and change my mind -- but that's not the point. No doubt some pit bulls behave well but far too many have not or have suddenly snapped, leaving a defenceless child scarred or dead -- and sadly some of these incidents were in the dog's own home.
I prefer to listen to Dr. Billmire, who, in Cincinnati alone, has dealt with so many horrific child injuries from pit bull attacks that he has stepped out to criticize the breed.
"I recently gave a talk summarizing my 30 years of practice in paediatric plastic and reconstructive surgery, and one segment was titled 'Why I Hate Pit Bulls.'
"I watched a child bleed to death one night in our operating room because a pit bull had torn his throat out, " he wrote. "I have had to rebuild the skull of a child who had his ears and entire scalp torn off. I am currently reconstructing the face of a child, half of whose face has been torn off down to the bone. I have had to rebuild noses, lips, eyelids, jaws and cheeks of numerous children."
"Now, I am a dog lover and virtually every one of my family members has a dog. But it is a fact that different dogs have always been bred for specific qualities. My sheltie herded, my daughter's setter flushes birds and my pug sits on my lap -- this is what they are bred for.
"Pit bulls were bred to fight and kill and, unfortunately, many current breeders favor these aggressive traits. There is no need for any dog with the characteristics," he concluded.
Sorry, but Dr. Billmire is right -- pit bulls are simply too dangerous and a ban is needed for public safety.