"Reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it." --G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The importance of being James Moore

James Moore (macleans.ca)
I had to smile. On the very day I dove into Maclean's "50 Most Important People in Canada" cover story to discover that our very own MP James Moore was named as the 14th biggest wheel in the country, I received a mailer from the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting ripping into the aforementioned Mr. Moore for cutting the CBC's budget--thereby breaking a rather prominent promise he had made.
Not that I found the situation humorous or pleasing or anything. Rather, the smile was more about the irony and the bad timing and the fact that being a politician is a helluva job: up one second and down the next. It was also in sympathy for James the person and the road he has traveled and the heights he has scaled.
I first met James when he was a teenager--a whirlwind of a young man who spoke a thousand miles a minute and a was a true-believer Reformer with a capital-R. He was quite the dynamo as a political worker and then as a talk-show host in Prince George.
And I remember when he decided to run federally at such a young age, just 24, to seek the Canadian Alliance nomination. And then win it. I recall writing a column for the Tri-City News (in the days before I became a regular debater in the Face to Face feature) predicting very big things for the young Mr. Moore, stating that there may come a time when some of us would be proud to say "I knew him when he was just...."
James went on to clobber the Liberal incumbent, a certain Lou Sekora, in the May 2000 general election, and the rest is history.
But not history that has been perfectly recorded. The Maclean's piece on James doesn't get it quite right. For example, its description of his mother as "a teacher-turned-homemaker mother" fails to note a few very important factors. One: his mother was Golf Canada hall-of-fame member Gail Harvey Moore. Two: it was after his mother's death at a relatively young age that the teenaged James came to the realization that he'd better make something of his life, and decided that getting involved in politics was the way to go.  James and I have talked often about that important time of his life, and it's a pity Maclean's wasn't able to chronicle it.
I suspect, however, that there will be many more opportunities for magazine writers and perhaps even historians to more fully report on the life and times of James Moore.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

When I was an alleged 'enemy' of human rights

I was saddened to read in this morning's National Post that Jennifer Lynch, the former chair of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, had died at the age of only 63. I had known for a few years that she was ill, but news of her passing, especially at such a relatively young age, was still an unpleasant surprise.

One could say--and, indeed, I feel-- that her death closes the book on an era in Canadian public life
Jennifer Lynch photo in today's National Post.
that saw broadly defined human rights trump the more fundamental right of freedom of speech. This is because Lynch was the head of the CHRC at a time when it had the mandate to prosecute Canadian citizens for, essentially, hurting the feelings of other Canadians. Thankfully, Parliament finally removed that power last year, as the Post story describes.

I wrote often, not only in the Post, but also in the Report and Western Standard magazines, about the injustice of the CHRC's anti-free-speech powers. Most of my pieces dealt with broad philosophical and legal issues. But one, published in the fall of 2009, about the "enemies list" that Lynch said she kept, was particularly personal. Here is that Post op-ed:

When Jennifer Lynch, the prickly princess of the Canadian Human Rights Commission, revealed in an interview with this newspaper last June that she kept a file on the many critics of her renegade fiefdom, I have to admit that my first thought in response to the news was not that of a concerned citizen, outraged that a civil servant charged with protecting human rights was compiling some sort of Nixonian enemies list.

And I certainly wasn’t vexed over the potential adverse consequences, of being included on the enemies list, to high-profile CHRC critics such as Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn; no, they’re big boys and can certainly take care of themselves.

Rather, my first response was actually to hope that I, red-badge-of-courage like, would be named in her file. After all, I’ve been writing critically about the censorious nature of Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act for more than a decade and I reasoned that if I hadn’t caught the evil eye of Ms. Lynch by now, one of my professional life’s great passions would somehow be diminished.

I needn’t have fretted because I am pleased to report today that, after submitting a freedom-of-information request over the summer, I am now in possession of a 49-page printout listing the contents of Ms. Lynch’s file, and that two articles bearing my byline are among the 1,001 news articles, columns, op-eds, editorials and blog entries which the Chief Commissioner has collected. Break out the champagne.

Actually, break out the champagne and a cheque for $62,840 because a certain Heather Throop, “Director General, Corporate Management Branch” (of the CHRC, I presume), informed me by way of registered mail that I would need to pay that amount to obtain information beyond a mere listing of the contents. Sadly, I don’t happen to have that sort of money lying around.

My FOI request had sought copies, not only of all the clippings and printouts in Ms. Lynch’s file, but also of any “notes, memos or correspondence” that Ms. Lynch or anyone else in the CHRC may have written that are “directly on any of the clippings or printouts, appended to any of the clippings or printouts, or placed in the aforementioned file.”

I asked for this because I figured that if Ms. Lynch were paranoid enough to maintain such a file (as she was) and then sloppy enough to reveal its existence (as she did), she might also have been angry enough to at least scrawl a telling comment or two on offending articles. I dreamed of uncovering handwritten notes such as, “We’ll watch this one—he’s in trouble!” or “I’ll let Richard know about this, for sure!” (“Richard” being CHRC attack dog Richard Warman.) Such information would surely embarrass the commissioner and, in doing so, would further advance the case against Section 13 and the CHRC.

Alas, Ms. Throop informed me in a three-page missive that any further digging by the CHRC to fulfill my request would entail e-mail searches, electronic records management system searches, typing and reading involving up to 100 employees and 6,284 hours of government time at $10 per hour, hence the $62,840 figure, of which I was requested to immediately send half (or $31,420) to Ottawa to enable my request to proceed. Either that, or narrow my search and reduce the cost accordingly.

The fact that the CHRC wants to charge me for this FOI request puts me in somewhat the same precipitous boat as a defendant ensnared by the CHRC machinery: while a complainant’s every expense is covered by the CHRC, a defendant is forced to foot the bill on his own, and isn’t even allowed to collect costs if he successfully defends himself.

Bottom line: I won’t be digging into any of my RRSPs to further my search for truth and justice and I don’t care to censor my application, so I guess my exploration ends here. But my FOI request has at least accomplished several things, including confirming that Ms. Lynch’s list really does exist and that it contains, not just opinion pieces that are critical of the CHRC, but also news stories about the CHRC and human rights in general, a fact that suggests the commissioner is taking note of critics who are quoted in those news stories.

The entries, which are listed in reverse chronological order, begin with a June 29, 2009 editorial by the Montreal Gazette (“Rights commission threatens our liberty”) and end with a February 16, 2008 column by the Globe and Mail’s Margaret Wente (“Human Rights Commissions: A day at the theatre of the absurd…”).

In between, the titles and headlines reveal that Ms. Lynch has been keeping a close eye on both the national media (articles from this paper, for example, account for 16 percent of the entire file) and the regional press (in fact, one of the two entries under my name is of a column I wrote for a twice-weekly newspaper in suburban Vancouver).

One can only conclude that, 1984-like, Big Sister has been watching. And watching very closely, at that.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Culture community thinks big

Artist's conception of new theatre at the Evergreen Cultural Centre.
Council has just wrapped up its two-day budget-requests hearings. Today was devoted primarily to hearing requests from cultural groups, two of whom -- Place des Arts and the Evergreen Cultural Centre -- have especially-major and -costly capital-project desires.
The PDA presentation asked for some significant dollars this year to move ahead with a major expansion of their Maillardville-area facility.
The folks from the ECC weren't quite as advanced in their requests, but did urge council to move ahead with a long-dormant plan to build a major new theatre-- or at least start coordinating/communicating with our neighbouring cities to get planning started.
The ECC presentation was supported by an architect's conception of that much-larger theatre (see above) than the current Studio Theatre. This idea has been on the drawing boards for several years now.
Council has yet to make any decisions, but we did remind everyone that the city is currently in the midst of developing a Parks Recreation and Culture Master Plan--a document that will certainly help us prioritize our needs over the next several years.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Hope for the homeless in our community

Photo from HopeForFreedom.org
Coquitlam Council voted unanimously last night to approve a temporary-use permit to allow Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship to join the rotation of Tri-Cities-area churches that are relaunching the cold/wet-weather mat program for the next two years--until Coquitlam's permanent shelter at 3030 Gordon opens. This good news was capped by some great news from my Council colleague, Brent Asmundsen.

First, some background: Following several successful seasons, from 2007-2011, of providing emergency shelter to the homeless, the temporary emergency-shelter program changed in 2011-2012, moving from the model of monthly rotations between churches to one in which it was based in just one church, the Grace Campus of Northside Church in Port Coquitlam.

But for reasons that have still not been fully explained, Port Coquitlam council voted last summer to deny Northside the right to continue this year, thus threatening to kill the entire program.

Happily, however, the Hope for Freedom Society was able to organize a new schedule of monthly rotations through other churches in the three Tri-Cities communities. The last "i" to be dotted was Coquitlam's approval of the temporary-use permit for Eagle Ridge Bible Fellowship.

But one other consideration remained: some sort of bus was needed to collect the homeless and deliver them to the emergency shelters at night and, of equal importance to local residents who didn't want indigents hanging around their neighbourhoods, taking the shelter-users back to their normal haunts in the morning.

And that's where Asmundson quietly sprung into action. Working behind the scenes, he not only obtained an out-of-service shuttle bus from Translink, but he also raised $22,800 from several local developers to cover operational costs for at least this year. Asmundson had made no public announcement of this act of community leadership, but Mayor Richard Stewart asked him last night to tell the public what he had done.

And so, his voice cracking with emotion at times, he told the story to the public last night. The audience applause was spontaneous and their admiration genuine. My congratulations to Brent and to all involved in this truly charitable enterprise.