April 07, 2005

This is why I will never be more than a Large Mammal

If you haven't been there yet, you really should drop by Captain's Quarters and bear witness to Ed Morrisey's own version of the South Park movie, starring in the real life role of Kyle's mom (but he's no b*tch!). Update: looks like Kyle's Mom wins in this one!

Ed is single-handedly taking on the nation of Canada and their idiotic law which allows them to keep the proceedings of public hearings out of the media. How ironic it is that Canadians can't report the goings on, but an American can.

Some would object that this law is akin to our rules regarding Grand Jury testimony, but it's quite different (Grand Jury testimony always comes out anyway) This is not an in camera (private) proceeding. These are public hearings, and the Canadian legal system is barring Canadian citizens from reading about what's happening out of worries about what the media coverage would do to a potential jury pool.

Please. Didn't OJ get acquitted? I doubt the Canadian media is any more persuasive than the American media. The people of Canada have a right to know what their government is doing and what the truth is in this matter. Abridging the rights of 12 million (well, ok, more than that) so that 12 individuals will be unbiased is blatantly stupid. I'm sure that there are plenty of people in Quebec who are eligible to serve on the jury who won't have read the papers anyway. Just like here.

Holding the media hostage in a case of government corruption is even worse.

Most of you know just how much I love the MSM, but they have a right to report public proceedings. And people have a right to hear them.

I bet all those idiots who made a run for the border are asking themselves just which totalitarian state is worse, the one with the Chimp for a President, or the one that abridges their rights.....
(cross posted to the old blog)

Posted by caltechgirl at April 7, 2005 01:27 PM

Normally, I'd be keeping my little Canuck fingers offa the keyboard on this, but I'd just like to point out a couple of things:

1) When the ban was imposed, Gomery made it clear that it was a temporary measure. All the testmony given still remains part of the public record. No rights have been taken away.

2) You are correct that the hearings are not in camera; the Commission in fact has a small conference room (about 200 seats) available where interested citizens can go to view the testimony - including the testimony covered by the publication ban (this, of course, is only really useful if one lives in Montréal; and according to our MSM, the room has been at near-capacity since the start of the inquiry. Québecer's are quite passionate about their politics - and their scandals). Nothing in the ban prevents the viewers from relaying any information learned to others by private means (including e-mail; I have a friend in Montréal who e-mailed me some of the choice bits from the first couple of days of Brault's testimony. I'd discussed them privately with a couple of my friends here on the West Coast, but I did not publish that info on my blog. I may not exactly agree with the ban, but I am not stupid.), but we Canadians also know that any testimony given under the ban will be released to the media with a reasonable degree of dispatch (as has been the case with this), and our "right to know" has never been taken away from us (unless, of course, by "right to know" you mean "right to know, RIGHT NOW!!!").

I agree that the publication ban is a bit stupid in this modern age of the internet, but I truly wonder if your outrage is, shall we say, for real.

If such publication bans abridge the people's (in your words) "right to know what their government is doing and what the truth is in this matter", I'd really like to know your own opinion of your government's ban on the photos of the coffins returning from Iraq (which is still in force). The dead (honoured or otherwise) are a sad fact of war, so why should that fact be kept from the American public?

Or are such bans only considered good when they are covering the ass of the faction you support?

While I agree with the fundamental stupidity of the ban (in this case, at least), I know how our system of public inquiry works, and I know that it does work (quite well, thank you, and it's done so since 1867). I also know it's an historic given that any Federal scandal involving Québec is going to a) be nasty; b) probably involve some sort of criminal wrong-doing; and, c) reflect badly on both sides in the mess (and this goes all the way back to the Pacific Scandal of 1873 - for which a Conservative government was responsible, I might add).

We Canadians have our system, and we are quite comfortable with it, thank you very much (despite what people in your country might think about it).


Posted by: Doug McKay at April 8, 2005 08:05 PM

The dead deserve respect in death. I don't mind when our national news shows their pictures every night as they were in life. The current policy has been in place since WWII and was implemented not to cover the government's ass, since most people supported that war, but to spare the feelings of the families who had lost their loved ones.

All of the network news programs show the service photos and on occasion, family photos, of the recently dead. I'm not real thrilled with all of the media coverage of JPII's dead body on display either.

Does all the "banned" information really come out? Or does it get sanitized by holding it? Why is the Canadian government afraid of letting people know what's going on in a timely manner? It seems designed to cover the ruling party at the expense of the citizens. I don't doubt that the system works, per se, probably better than ours in some cases, but this kind of policy is ridiculous in a free society.

Posted by: caltechgirl at April 8, 2005 09:06 PM

Hi there, Ctg! Sorry I'm late getting back to you on this (see last para).

Fair comment on the coffin issue. Well put (and I'll consider myself justly - and politely - slapped for the CYA comment). I wasn't aware the policy dated from WWII; I've only been aware of in in the context of Vietnam and television coverage.

As for the "banned" information coming out: I believe it does. Because it's a public inquiry, it's a pretty fair bet that both sides will have people in the audience taking notes, for eventual comparison with what comes out in the published reports. I can say this with a high degree of certainty, as I ended up doing that - even though I'm not the greatest at shorthand - during the Vancouver hearings of the Krever inquiry (that was our Red Cross/Health Canada tainted blood scandal). Given that the published testimony from these kinds of hearings can run into the thousands of pages, I will grant that some things can be missed (and probably are - there's only so much legalese and bureaucratese you can wade through before the circuit breakers in your brain start demanding anaesthesia). I can't really give you an exact percentage for all inquiries, but from my experience with the Krever commission, there was (I'd say) about a 95% accuracy/disclosure rate on that one (and that was a scandal that encompassed 4 governments - 2 Liberal, 2 Conservative). It is really tough to judge just how accurate these sorts of commissions are (think of how many questions the Warren commission left in it's wake).

As for your sanitising question; I suppose it can be regarded as an expanded version of the common governmental practice of releasing controversial press notices late on Friday afternoons, hoping that some of the controversy will slip through the cracks (but I'm not sure that's the right context to put it in, so that's the best thought I have on the subject). Besides, a scandal of this magnitude tends to make a mere rat's nest look like the winner of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval, so trying to "sanitise" any information is pretty much a dead issue right off the bat.

Now we get to your really tough question (Why is the Canadian government afraid of letting people know what's going on in a timely manner?), and I'll answer as best as I can.

The core of the whole mess is the Québec sovereignty/separation issue, which has been running at a good simmer (with occasional outbreaks of high-rolling boil) for forty-plus years (the best, if inexact, analogy for you would be your Civil War. We're just fighting our version via Parliament, the courts, and public-relations firms rather than grabbing the weapons and having at it - although I've always been afraid it could come down to "seeing the whites of their eyes'). We still haven't solved it. I don't think we will ever really solve it. I sometimes think the only reason Canada has remained whole is because of the sheer ineptitude that the players on both sides of the issue have displayed over the years.

Right now the government fear about AdScam is driven more by the realities of being a minority government, and I'll try and summarise as best I can.

Our parliament has 308 seats (we can ignore our Senate for now...but then again, most of we Canadians tend to ignore our Senate anyways, as the Senate tends to be mostly harmless). As a result of the June '04 election the Liberals (135 seats) and NDP (19 seats) - these two parties are reasonably natural, if uneasy, allies - hold half the seats in the House. The Conservatives (99 seats), the Bloc Québecois (54 seats) and one independent make up the other half.

Small (but pertinent) digression: Our Liberals are analagous to your Democrats (mostly); our Conservatives are analagous to your Republicans; the NDP is social-ist (originally rising out the philosophy of the Methodist Social Gospel, rather than Debsian-type social-ism) with Naderist leanings (60's Nader rather than the Nader of last year); the Bloc is mixed-bag (left, right, whatever), but their main mantra is "Québec first". The independent is a wild card. He was the incumbent candidate (for the Conservatives) in his riding (re-nominated unopposed), but the party brass disallowed his candidacy and replaced him with someone more "acceptable". He ran as an independent and still won the seat.

Back to the mess. This is all complicated by the fact that the Speaker (who cannot normally vote, except to maintain the status quo in the event of a tie vote on the floor of the House) is a sitting Liberal. This leaves the Liberals with 134 voting members. The government is on an incredibly thin footing. If the government falls (by a vote of non-conference), our Governor-General could ask the Conservatives to form a minority government with the Bloc. That alliance is about as likely as a mongoose making friends with a cobra, as the Conservatives have a very large anti-Québec streak running through the party, so the likely outcome of a Liberal defeat.

Historically, the party who makes a successful non-confidence motion so soon (ie. within two years) after the previous election has been slaughtered in the election they triggered. The Conservatives could trigger the vote mostly because they hate the Liberals (but they might bank on gaining enough votes from disaffected Liberals - in Ontario, mostly - to make the exercise worth it). The NDP could trigger the vote on principle. Up to the partial lift of the publication ban, the Bloc could have triggered a non-confidence vote without doing themselves any damage. Now that they are implicated in AdScam they may have second thoughts about bringing down the govenment.

I have no idea how this is going to play out (the minority government situation is the one time I start thinking that your two party system is better, but I console myself with the fact that our minority parliaments are nowhere near as bad as Italy's or France's), but I do know it's going to get a lot uglier before it gets better.

Sorry for this being so long (I tried avoiding writing a poli-sci textbook), but I hope this all makes sense and answers your questions (I've been fighting a nasty sinus infection, and the antibiotics - and pain - don't necessarily contribute to coherence).

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