Canadian Journalists for Free Expression and whistleblowers

Cindy Blackstock under surveillance

A group called Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE) has  issued a report for the year 2012-13 that should challenge our complacency. The CJFE details how the Conservative  government and its bureaucracy are muzzling scientists, putting roadblocks in the way of people trying to use the Access to Information legislation, and harassing whistleblowers and other individuals who dare to challenge their political masters. Two of the names raised by the CJFE in its report, those of Edgar Schmidt and Cindy Blackstock, will be familiar to readers of this blog. The name of Evan Vokes may be new to you.

Edgar Schmidt

Edgar Schmidt is a senior Department of Justice lawyer who has blown the whistle on what he believes is his department’s failure to protect Canadians against Parliament’s passing laws that may be contrary to our rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Schmidt says the law requires his department to review proposed legislation for its compatibility with the Charter and to inform the Minister of Justice regarding that analysis. He says, in effect, that the department does not do so. He attempted for years to raise the matter internally but without success. In fact, he had been warned to back off.

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Legal fund for Edgar Schmidt

Legal fund for Edgar Schmidt

I posted to this blog in February about Edgar Schmidt, a senior lawyer in the federal Department of Justice in Ottawa, who launched a highly unusual court case against his employer. Schmidt believes that his department is failing to provide advice to law makers that would protect Canadians against Parliament creating laws and regulations that infringe upon their Charter and civil rights. He is paying a price for his principled stand in blowing the whistle. Schmidt told Global TV in a recent interview that, “The day after I filed the claim [in December 2012], I was called at home and told not to show up at work on Monday and that I was suspended without pay.” The Justice Department also stopped contributions toward his pension.

Schmidt remains professionally and financially in limbo with no job and no income. He has hired a lawyer to represent him in an attempt to be reinstated and he has likely spent over $10,000 in legal fees. He has created a website called charterdefence.ca to keep interested people informed about the case. The website also has a link to a legal fund created for Schmidt. It has been registered at arm’s length from him and has an independent administrator. In the interest of transparency, I should mention that I am one of those who helped to register the fund.

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Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis

Michael McBane & Tony Clarke

On New Year’s Day 1983, Canada’s Catholic bishops released their controversial report, Ethical Reflections on the Economic Crisis. Tony Clarke and Michael McBane worked for Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) at the time and were staff members for the bishops’ Social Affairs Commission. Thirty years later, in April 2013, the two appeared together at a Catholic church in Ottawa to talk about the report and its release in 1983.

“It was a time of high unemployment and deindustrialization,” McBane told an evening audience of 40 people at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. “There was very little sense in the country of the social ramifications of high unemployment. There was a sense of inevitability about it, almost as if it was an acceptable sign of economic progress, but the bishops named it a moral crisis.”

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RCMP spied on Tommy Douglas

RCMP spied on Tommy Douglas

The RCMP security service spied on Tommy Douglas, the former Saskatchewan premier and federal NDP leader, from the 1930s until shortly before his death the 1980s. We know this only because Jim Bronskill, an Ottawa-based Canadian Press journalist, has waged a long battle with the federal government and its agencies beginning in 2005 to make public the files on Douglas which are being held in the vaults at Library and Archives Canada.

Bronskill used Access to Information requests and subsequent court cases to pry loose much of the 1,147 page file that the RCMP accumulated. A good portion of the material released has portions of the pages blacked out and it has also come to light that some material was destroyed. The federal government and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), which inherited the files from the RCMP, fought Bronskill every step of the way. They argued that the files must remain secret to protect the names of sources and the RCMP’s methods of spying. This seems rather odd because Douglas died in 1986. The police last spied on him about 30 years ago and much of the material in the files goes back as far as 80 years.

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Anne Gruending, in memoriam

Anne Gruending 1924-1976

My mother died on the Easter weekend in 1976 and we think of her especially at this time of year.

She was born in rural Saskatchewan in 1924 and met my father (Rudy) when they attended the same two-room schoolhouse.

She was …

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Pope Francis and the Argentine generals

Pope Francis and the Argentine generals

Pope Francis has completed his first days in office. Much has been made of his frugal lifestyle, his apparent simplicity and his sense of humour. Those are admirable traits and it is also refreshing to hear a religious leader talking about solidarity with the poor rather than the prosperity gospel preached by so many. On the other hand, virtually every knowledgeable commentator cautions that we should not expect changes to the hierarchy’s conservative doctrinal positions on matters such as birth control, the ordination of women or of married men. Francis may prove to be a humble man and a pastoral leader, but the substance of the message likely will not change as much as the manner of its delivery. The media has gone overboard in covering the selection and installation of a new pope. It is great television – the backdrops of St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican, the suspense, the white smoke, the pope’s first appearance on the balcony. But now at least some journalists and commentators are getting down to work, as they should, to tell us more about the man who has been elevated to this position of prominence and power.

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Preston Manning’s talk fest hits Ottawa

Preston Manning’s right wing talk fest

Ron Paul is a Texan who has made three marginal runs for the American presidency and who is also considered by many to be a godfather of the Tea Party movement that has driven the Republican Party to the far right. The Huffington Post reports that Paul’s campaign in the Republican primaries in 2012 foundered “when newsletters published under his name back in the 1980s and ‘90s were found to contain anti-gay and racially-charged statements.” Paul says that he did not write those comments even though he acknowledges they appeared in his literature. Paul is a headline speaker at a conference of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy about to occur in Ottawa. Paul has already held forth in a series of Canadian interviews in which he says he opposes public health care and all gun registries but wants to see the Keystone XL Pipeline built as soon as possible to deliver Alberta oil to Texas refineries.

Preston Manning and his wife Sandra created the Manning Centre in 2005 to act as a training ground for conservative politicos and a think tank and advocacy arm for conservative causes. Each year Manning holds what he calls a networking conference in Ottawa. Often the guest speakers are those such as Ron Paul, who for the most part have narrowly missed prominence, and others who have now left prominence behind them. A speaker in the latter category this year is former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

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Pope Benedict XVI as communicator

Pope Benedict XVI as communicator

Pope Benedict XVI has left the scene and I want briefly to look at his performance as a communicator. A past anecdote may be instructive here. I worked in communications with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB) for four years in the early 1990s. Those were not easy days for the church. Issues regarding the sexual abuse of children by clerics and the church’s role in residential schools were becoming hot topics and causing great angst.  I recall asking one of the bishops if we should do some public opinion polling. He was amused and replied, “Bishops don’t ask for advice, they provide it.”

When Benedict succeeded Pope John Paul II in 2005, much was made of their different personalities.  John Paul had been widely hailed as a great communicator while Benedict was considered to be more cerebral and introverted. John Paul was indeed a charismatic man but his communication was mostly all one way. He believed, as popes and bishops have over the centuries, that they are the repository of God’s wisdom and it is their duty to share it with the rest of us.

In that fundamental way, there was virtually no difference between the two popes. Now, on the  threshold of a new papacy, we are being told that we should not expect the message to change, no matter who is elevated.  Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto likes to say that Moses did not descend from the mountain with Ten Suggestions in hand. The church’s message apparently is fixed.  What is at stake in communicating that message is not a change in substance but rather in the style of delivery.

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