Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius


Beavertails and Prairie Oysters for December 2004

The Upper Canadian is pleased to present for your perusal the first edition of Beavertails and Prairie Oysters, where your humble and ob't servant either presents a Beavertail to the deserving and worthy or a Prairie Oyster to the venal and stupid. For a number of reasons I won't bother to rehearse, the list of recipients is shorter than I expect it will be in the future. Please feel free to add your own in the Comments below.

First, His Imperial Majesty's, um, excuse me, President George Bush's visit to Ottawa. First, buckets of Prairie Oysters to all the conservative pundits who fell down to worship the guy's footfalls as he trod on Canadian soil. More Prairie Oysters to the man himself. First, for ducking a speech to Parliament on the grounds he might be heckled. George, I have to tell you, in a democracy, Parliament and free speech are two sides of the same coin. And besides, Svend Robinson is nowhere to be found. Then there was the sheer cheek of Mr Bush quoting Prime Minister Mackenzie King on Canada's overseas responsibilities. This would be Mackenzie King speaking during the Second World War, the war which Canada, Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth faced alone the mightiest military colossus the world had ever seen, the war the U.S. sat out for the first two years because it was politically inexpedient. The Upper Canadian suggests respectfully Canadians don't need lectures on that count.

The sideshow to the American president's visit was, of course, the circus that calls itself the American media. A steaming plateful of Beavertails each to Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson for proving once again the right-wing U.S. media can't open its mouth without subtracting from the sum of human knowledge. Witness Ms Coulter's insights on U.S. Canada relations:
I suppose it's always, I might add, the worst Americans who end up going there. The Tories [Loyalists --- ed.] after the Revolutionary War, the Vietnam draft dodgers after Vietnam. And now after this election, you have the blue-state people moving up there.

[. . .]

They better hope the United States doesn't roll over one night and crush them. They are lucky we allow them to exist on the same continent.

Mr Carlson was as equally profound:
Doesn't that tell you something about the sort of limpid, flaccid nature of Canadian society, that people with ambition come here? What does that tell you about Canada?

Mr Carlson obviously was wearing his testosterone patch that day. But note that limpid means "clear" or "transparent" or "calm", and flaccid is a revealing choice of words for a man who wears a bow tie.

Leaving quickly any thoughts of Tucker Carlson's penis, The Upper Canadian hands out a Beavertail to each of the nine Supreme Court Justices for their admirable decision on same-sex marriage. And yes, reluctant a Beavertail to Prime Minister Paul Martin for announcing the government --- for once --- will act decisively in bringing the appropriate legislation before Parliament. There is the inevitable Prairie Oyster for Stephen Harper, not for his opposition to same sex marriage, but for inconsistency. As Glen Murray pointed out in The Globe and Mail on the 28th, Harper approves of the Supreme Court when it strikes down laws he doesn't like --- in this case, parts of the new campaign finance law. So much for parliamentary supremacy.

A big whopping Beavertail for Premier Danny Wiiliams for attempting an amazing feat of prestidigitation --- trying to make Newfoundland and Labrador both a have and a have-not province at the same time. If he succeeds, it will be the most fabulous piece of political bravado since Macdonald's Double Shuffle in 1858. Sadly, though, his Beavertail will have to be topped with a juicy Prairie Oyster for the offence of using the flag for political shenanigans. How do we know it's shenanigans? Because the good Premier has already claimed their is a vast conspiracy out to embarrass Newfoundlanders and Labradorians over the incident. Hey, we didn't lower the flag. . .

Lastly, The Upper Canadian has Beavertails for the bloggers over at the Western Standard, whose flame war --- "full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing" --- provided much entertaining reading during that blah period around the Winter Solstice. Thanks, guys.


The Tsunami

The horrendous calamity in southern Asia defies any description and renders meaningless any eulogy or consolation. You know what you need to do.

Canadian Red Cross 1-800-418-1111 (or donate through your local Red Cross office)

UNICEF Canada 1-800-567-4483
2200 Yonge St., Suite 1100
Toronto, Ontario
M4S 2C6

Oxfam Canada 1-800-466-9326
Asian Earthquake/Floods Relief,
Oxfam Canada 200-215 Spadina Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario
M5T 2C7

World Vision Canada 1-800-268-5528

CARE Canada 1-800-267-5232

Mennonite Central Committee 1-888-622-6337

Canadian Tamil Congress 416-751-8777

Canadian Relief Organization for Peace in Sri Lanka 416-429-2822

David McAnthony Gibson Foundation (Global Medic)
15 Honeysuckle Crescent,
Ancaster, ON
L9K 1A9


Conservative Party Topography

Has anyone noticed the big "C" in the Conservative Party logo is essentially a Moebius loop? You'd have to connect the ends of the "C" together to get the loop, but that characteristic Moebius "twist" --- the delight of topographers and physicists everywhere --- is definitely present. A Moebius loop has several odd properties worth noting:
  • it has only one edge
  • it has only one side
  • left and right are meaningless when describing its properties
  • it is a two-dimensional object existing in three dimensions
  • if you travel along it you reverse your orientation when you arrive at the place you started
  • if you stitch two of them together edge to edge, you end up with a Klein bottle. Interestingly, you cannot unite two Mobius strips into a Klein bottle properly in three dimensions.
  • Furthermore, a Klein bottle paradoxically has no volume, and neither has it any boundaries, nor any inside or outside. In three dimensions, it has a hole, but in the fourth, the hole vanishes.
  • Klein bottles (and Moebius loops) are also beloved of topographically-minded knitters. I have no idea why. Google "Moebius strips knitting" and you'll see what I mean.

And who says graphic designers don't have a sense of humour?


Our New Prima Donna

One would have thought one political prima donna per country would be sufficient for a country like Canada. We already have Ralph Klein, for example, who has been entertaining us with such divina behaviour for years by visiting homeless shelters and attacking the disabled. Now comes Danny Williams ordering the national flag down from provincial buildings in Newfoundland and Labrador. What theatre! What drama! (I wonder, inter alia, if Ralph has a mentorship programme in bad-boy behaviour). Albeit the premier may be a touch bewildered about the purposes of the national flag, i.e. confused about the difference between los federales and the country as a whole. No matter: it's the symbolism that counts.

While great muckpiles of hyperbole are flung between St John's and Ottawa, I suspect our newest diva is keeping a close eye on the poll numbers. An Angus Reid poll released on 15 December showed Mr Williams's Conservatives gaining 18 points from the previous poll in May, increasing his lead from a statistical dead heat to a whopping 31 per cent. It's probably a curious coincidence that the dispute between Newfoundland and the federal government came to a full boil at the same time: only the most hardened cynic would suggest any connection between Premier Williams's rhetorical and symbolic cannonballs and his soaring poll numbers.

Perhaps the analogy to prima donnas isn't so accurate after all. What we have here is another Phineas T. Barnum, shilling for the rubes. All Premier Williams needs is a bearded lady and a two-headed calf to make his road-show complete.


Merry Christmas

It's Christmas, and it's always amusing watching the perennial emanations pour forth from the right over political correctness.

The format goes like this. Opening statement: "Christmas has been hijacked by political correctness," followed by many, many paragraphs of blather and hysteria about how people like me are trying to steal Christmas from them by preventing the use of the greeting "Merry Christmas", among other things.

Actually, it's not so much amusing as tiresome and old.

Bottom line: nobody cares. Really. Use Merry Christmas. Call your holiday pageants Christmas pageants and and put up a Christmas tree. As a member of the world-wide politically correct conspiracy I promise you this: the wave of left-wing indignation will never appear. All of us politically-correct types are too busy getting drunk on rum-and-eggnog to bother. Or worried about real issues, like poverty, injustice, war and human rights.

Just follow my example.

Merry Christmas!

See? No hordes of politically correct censors are breathing down my neck. Now if a card-carrying left-winger like myself can do it, so can you.

I'm even going to be more incorrect and actually quote from the Bible, just to prove we haven't banned it. And, get this, I'm using the King James version! And nobody's going to complain about my cultural/gender insensitivity either:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2:1-12)
Have a very Merry Christmas.

Kisses and a Slap with a Trout

In my ongoing search for links to add to my sidebar right, I was very pleasantly surprised by a couple of things. First, I was amazed how many people from both sides of the political fence have added a link to this small corner of the Internet to their own web pages and by the kind and encouraging comments contained therein. Thank you. Since I'm essentially a black hole for positive feedback, your support is indeed gratifying. I have tried, incidentally, to reciprocate links where I have found them; if I have missed anyone, please drop me a line.

Your humble and ob't servant was also very pleased and excited to see The Upper Canadian receiving a nomination for Best New Blog in the 2004 Canadian Blog Awards competition being hosted at My Blahg. I'm bearing it all with my usual Peterborough County reserve, but truly I'm tickled pink. Many thanks to my anonymous nominator.

Now, lest you think all of this is going to my head, that I'm a self-important schmuck with no sense of proportion or propriety
this is the conversation I had with my Significant Other yesterday driving along Highway 7 into Peterborough:

Me: My blog got nominated for an award.

SO: What's a blog?

Me: [long, incomprehensible explanation]

SO: Oh. [pause] You mean it's like Harry Potter trading cards for adults.


Shari'a Hysteria

I've spent some time, weenie that I am, looking over Marion Boyd's report to the Ontario Attorney General called Dispute Resolution in Family Law: Protecting Choice, Promoting Inclusion. The purpose of the report was to address the use of Islamic jurisprudence in the arbitrations process. It's already causing some controversy, and even Aljazeera has picked it up.
On the general excellent principle that people can do whatever the hell they want, within the law, I liked the report. I also liked it on the grounds it is a well-considered piece of research on an exceedingly complex subject. If you enjoy this sort of thing, and want to become a weenie yourself, I suggest you read it. Unfortunately this one's going to get bogged down in the soft slush of hysteria and misinformation. Willful misunderstanding, as usual, is the order of the day.

I have to be honest here. Any talk of bringing shari'a law to Canada makes me uncomfortable. Very, very uncomfortable. I dislike any system that makes an a priori claim to infallibility, as shari'a does. I find distasteful shari'a effectively subjugates women, then justifies it as God's law. And on general principles the further the state stays from religion, the better.

But let's be clear about a couple of things. First, shari'a courts are not coming to Ontario. The report makes very plain that what's being reviewed is the alternate dispute resolution process, i.e. arbitrations. Setting up a parallel religious court system for Muslims is not being proposed, slippery slope arguments notwithstanding, if in fact it were possible to do so. There is, to be sure, no consensus in the Muslim community about what shari'a actually means, and not all Muslims follow shari'a in any case; indeed in Western, nominally Christian countries, it is impossible to follow all aspects of shari'a, as shari'a implies not only Islamic jurisprudence but a whole set of regulation affecting personal behaviour.

Marion Boyd's report merely recommends that Muslims be able to avail themselves of the Arbitration Act, 1991, not the implementation of shari'a law. She writes:

[U]nder the current legal structure, establishing a separate legal regime for Muslims in Ontario is not possible. Creating a separate legal stream for Muslims would require change to our justice system on a level not easily contemplated from a practical, social, legal or political point of view. In addition, it must be clearly understood that arbitration is not a parallel system, but a method of alternative dispute resolution that is subject to judicial oversight, and is thus subordinate to the court system. Assertions that arbitration actually provides a system of justice running alongside the traditional court system are misleading and unfounded. Nor would it be at all advisable to encourage the creation of such a system.

Ontarians do not subscribe to the notion of "separate but equal" when it comes to the laws that apply to us. . . Equality before and under the law, and the existence of a single legal regime available to all Ontarians are the cornerstones of our liberal democratic society.

Ms. Boyd proposes
  • to allow Muslims formally to arbitrate certain matters in family and inheritance law;
  • that the provincial government regulate the certification and appointment of arbitrators;
  • that judicial review and government oversight be ongoing;
  • and that the provincial legislature enact changes to the Arbitration Act and the Family Law Act to provide increased safeguards for all faith-based arbitration.

    Further, all arbitrations must fall within the norms of Ontario law and the Charter of Rights. That's all, and no more than other religious groups have been doing using the Arbitration Act. Her Majesty's mighty ship Justice will sail onwards untrammelled. A snowy Saudi Arabia is not coming to a suburb near you, and all stonings will remain figurative and reserved exclusively for politicians.

    But (and this is where the rubber hits the slush) there are some troubling aspects to all of this. One needs to be dealt with right away. There will those on the left (and the right) who will argue that the arbitration process will inadequately protect and even be coercive to women whose knowledge of English and Canadian legal process is limited. The sentiment behind this argument is Canadian Muslims can't be trusted to respect the law. As such, the argument is pernicious and racist.

    Moreover, at least two Muslim groups have been operating faith-based arbitration systems from both the Sunni and Shia traditions. Ms Boyd found no "evidence to suggest that women are being systematically discriminated against as a result of arbitration of family law issues."

    Unfortunately for the provincial Liberals, Ms Boyd's report makes them face a bit of a conundrum. Since other religious groups --- Jewish and Christian ---- have used faith-based arbitration for decades, it can't very well be denied to Muslims. On the other hand, public suspicion and misunderstanding --- gauging the reaction already--- of all things Islamic make intelligent debate of this issue problematic. The Liberals need to screw up their courage --- something, to be fair, they haven't been lacking --- and implement the report anyway. I fear, though, that the slush is already obscuring its real importance.


    Seeing Red Again and Again

    This will absolutely be my last post on the Red Ensign bloggers. Okay, probably: the potential for silliness on this topic is boundless, and I'm still considering whether an annotation of the Red Ensign Brigade's "manifesto" is worth the effort.

    On 16 December I noted that someone in the blogging universe had the fanciful notion that the Liberals had somehow imposed their party colours on the Maple Leaf flag. I apologize. I misremembered and only got part of it right. The actual quote from Jaeger of Trudeaupia reads: "In a move more reminiscent of a banana republic than a respectable democracy, [the Liberals] used their parliamentary majority to impose partisan colours and logos onto a national flag."

    Now it is not often one sees not one but four inaccuracies in one short sentence.

    1. The flag colours are derived from the Royal Proclamation of 1921, as already noted.

    2. The maple leaf has been the symbol of Canada since at least 1830s, if not before. (It might be of some interest that the first time the maple leaf appeared on an official flag was for the Royal Canadian Regiment's colours in 1859.)

    3. At no time did Pearson have a majority government. (I suspect the NDP supported the flag bill, and I would be curious if any Tories did, but I haven't been able to determine how the parliamentary vote fell. Yet.)

    4. The Liberals did not impose the flag by ramming the bill through Parliament. The flag debate lasted six weeks, and at the end of it, some Tories were begging the Liberals to invoke closure in embarrassment.

    (For more details, see the excellent history of Canadian flags and symbols at Alistair Fraser's Flags of Canada site.)

    What to make of this history rewrite? To call it revisionist would be charitable, but false. Perhaps the kindest thing one can say is that standards are slipping on the rightward side of things, or perhaps they are victims of the educational system about which they so assiduously complain.

    A Blip in the Moral Fibre

    The Koebel brothers have been sentenced for their role in the Walkerton water disaster: Stan Koebel will be watching the plumbing at a provincial jail for a year; his brother Stan received 9 months of house arrest. Stan Koebel's lawyer Bill Trudel said after sentencing that the criminal aspects of Mr Koebel's behaviour were definitely overplayed in the media: "This is a man of moral fibre, and during that period of time there was a blip in it, but I don't think anyone would doubt that he's ethical." (Source: Globe and Mail)

    I suppose some would argue the same apologia could be made for the last provincial goverment, whose ideological blinders and thirst for tax cuts at the cost of public safety directly led to seven deaths and thousands getting sick. But was it a blip in the moral fibre, or something more congenital? Lest we forget who the real culprits at Walkerton were, or the spirit of the Harris's Common Sense Revolution, here are some extracts of Mr Justice O'Connor's report on the Walkerton tragedy:

    I am satisfied that the regulatory culture created by the government through the Red Tape Commission review process discouraged any proposals to make the notification protocol for adverse drinking water results legally binding on the operators of municipal water systems and private laboratories. . . The evidence showed that the concept of a notification regulation would likely have been "a non-starter," given the government’s focus on minimizing regulation.

    [. . .]

    Before the decision was made to significantly reduce the MOE’s budget in 1996, senior government officials, ministers, and the Cabinet received numerous warnings that the impacts could result in increased risks to the environment and human health. These risks included those resulting from reducing the number of proactive inspections – risks that turned out to be relevant to the events in Walkerton. The decision to proceed with the budget reductions was taken without either an assessment of the risks or the preparation of a risk management plan. There is evidence that those at the most senior levels of government who were responsible for the decision considered the risks to be manageable. But there is no evidence that the specific risks, including the risks arising from the fact that the notification protocol was a guideline rather than a regulation, were properly assessed or addressed.

    In February 1996, the Cabinet approved the budget reductions in the face of the warnings of increased risk to the environment and human health.
    The phrase that should hit you over the head is that the Tory government "considered the risks to be manageable." For the Tories, of course, the equation was simple. Regulation = evil. Stifles private initiative and all that. Managing risk, that is, doing risk assessment of government policies might lead to --- more government regulation. Bad. The Tories, it seems, were more committed to whatever ideological folie du jour than to the common sense proposition that safe drinking water requires close government supervision. It's regrettable, in this case, that the only price the Tories paid for imposing reckless policy was political.

    It's also unfortunate there is little evidence the Tories, or anyone on the right for that matter, has learnt anything at all from Walkerton. Regulation is still decried as the besetting sin of government. Every ideological nostrum is swallowed like a drunk taking his first swig of the day. Even for the most recalcitrant student, the lesson is easy:

    Regulation isn't all bad.

    Playing ideological games can kill.

    It's that simple.


    Rally for Discrimination

    Captain Flynn has his own take on Ralph Klein's tour here. I give even odds as to whether Ralph actually goes.

    Stephen Harper's Problem

    You have to pity Stephen Harper, sort of. The leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition has a tough job. He's desperate to bring the bullfruit elements of the old Reform Party into the 21st century. He needs to position the party in a firm centre-right position for the next election, and he has to convince the rest of us that a federal Conservative government won't look like a Canadian version of the great State of Mississippi.

    With the same sex marriage issue now before Parliament, Mr Harper has a problem. And it isn't Ralph Klein, though his threatened perambulations are merely adding fuel to the fire. ("I wouldn't go now because it's too close to the holidays," Mr Klein was quick to amend after announcing his Magical Mystery Tour. After the holidays? "I'll see what the mood is." Weather forecast for the new year: bilious.)(Source: CTV News)

    Even the flogging he's getting from the Liberals over pussy-footing around using the notwithstanding clause is nothing. After all, this is a guy who bore the daily contempt of Jean Chretien.

    When Mr Harper after some days of foot shuffling and closed door meetings finally brought out his amendments to the same sex legislation, he was actually attempting a moderate compromise, a rear-guard action against what he must know to be an inevitability. Consider his proposals:

    1. Recognize the traditional definition of marriage

    2. Protect the rights of non-traditional unions so that they are afforded the same benefits as married couples

    3. Provide substantive protection for religious institutions to be free from performing gay marriages

    If the Conservatives had brought this proposal, this compromise to the table two years ago, it would have been justifiably seen as an exercise in prudence and moderation. But times move on. The problem for Mr Harper is that the same sex marriage debate has suddenly become a zero-sum, all-or-nothing game. Compromise at this point is not possible. And the rub is that the core of Mr Harper's supporters want nothing. They want the notwithstanding clause invoked. Even the language of "protecting the rights of non-traditional couples" is suspect. At heart, they want none of that either. Hence Mr Klein's querulousness, his ramblings on establishing a "registry" and holding a national referendum and the rest of it.

    So Mr Harper is caught between two grindstones. His supporters and Ralph Klein don't think he's keeping to the true faith; the rest of country watches as his programme of moving the Conservative Party to the centre leaks like an old tramp steamer. Whether he can manage both competing interests at the same time remains to be seen.


    That Other Red Ensign

    And speaking of flags, there's that other Red Ensign, the flag of Ontario. (And no, I haven't forgotten Manitoba, either). When looking through the history of Canadian flags, I was struck by the old Royal Union Flag, which is your Union Jack without the the red diagonal cross of St Patrick, added after the Act of Union in 1801. You can still see it flying at such places as Old Fort York in Toronto. The old Royal Union, of course, is also a symbol of the United Empire Loyalists, who fled to Ontario in 1784, thus forever depriving the Yankees of their best talent.

    My thought is to replace the Union Jack in Ontario's ensign with the old Royal Union, thus providing a nod to the Loyalists, while keeping intact the intention of having the Union Jack in the canton.

    Though, God help me, aggravating the Irish is the last thing I want to do.

    More Seeing Red

    A commenter (or perhaps I should say the commenter) to my last post suggested I should look at this page as a manifesto for the Red Ensign Bloggers. I did, and post the relevant parts here for your perusal. Please note I have resisted the extremely strong temptation to annotate.

    We had an aircraft carrier. Imagine that. Now we have metric and the CBC. It was a bad trade. I am proud to say this is one of a handful of countries in the whole world where you can arrive, work hard and send your kids to school in the hope of a better life. No matter your accent or appearance you will be Canadian. Try moving to France and see if you could do the same. It is true that Canada used to be a profoundly nativist country with some repellent ideas about race. It is also true the history of this country might be told as one of conquest and exploitation. Also, we had no cable television. We were far from perfect. Nobody sensible wants anything like that again.

    But Canada has also been about exploration and entrepreneurialism and optimism. Half this country is made up of Hudson's Bay territory itself granted in a charter to the oldest corporation in the world. It was trade that drove the voyageurs to find the next river or the next lake. It was trade that inspired the search for the elusive northwest passage (soon to be a reality if global warming finally pays off).

    This country has also been a force for liberty. The third largest navy in the world fed Britain through the dark days of the Blitz and Hitler's north Atlantic wolf packs. This is the country that took Vimy Ridge and that stormed Juno Beach. Let's bring back that Canada.

    Update: December 4, 2004

    I intended this post to be a kind of meeting place for people who hoped for Canada to remember its duty to democracy at home and around the world. Many people shared that vision and linked to this post. A community sprang up from those links - one I never intended but one I was pleased to see take shape. My place in that conversation has now ended but I wish many of those people luck and continue to link to them through my personal blogroll on the main page of this weblog.

    Unfortunately, many who wish to continue Canada's racist policy of isolationism and disregard for the rights of people still living under dictatorships and theocracies around the world found it threatening for some bloggers to remember our responsibilities as Canadians. They chose to smeer me and my friends with racism by linking to this post despite our opposition to racism, the fact many of us belong to religious or ethnic minorities ourselves and that this post explicitly rejects racism. It has come to my attention that bigoted morons are linking to this piece as part of a crusade to link the Red Ensign to a racist agenda. I am a child of immigrants and I am Canadian and I will not have it. Nobody can take that history away from me. I am therefore providing the following readers guide to this post.

    When I say I oppose racialist ideas in Canadian history it means I am opposed to racism. That is as true for contemporary racism as it is for its manifestations in history. When I say I support the memory of the men who fought and died to defeat the Nazis at Juno Beach it means I am opposed to contemporary Nazis spouting the same race-hatred by whatever name. Anyone using the Red Ensign as a mark of a racist agenda shows they have no idea what that symbol meant or continues to mean to Canada's veterans. But then, if they had any knowledge of history or compassion for humanity they would not be racists in the first place.

    And I do not think much of attention seeking useful idiots who accept the racists have a claim to the Red Ensign either. While I share their opposition to racism and bogus "heritage" groups they should be careful lest they unwittingly do the racists' work for them. My advice to the well-meaning useful idiots: Don't wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig enjoys it (and all links to the fool in question have now been removed... let there be no traffic oxygen for people who link to racist websites).


    Seeing Red (Ensign)

    Still looking over blogs. One that did catch my eye was the collection of bloggers who write under the name of Red Ensign Brigade, who presumably see in our late and somewhat unlamented unofficially official flag as symbol of everything that used to be fair and bright in our great land. To quote the blogger at Ravishing Light again:

    Above all, it's a flag I could stand behind and be proud of. The Canada of the Red Ensign hadn't yet withdrawn from the great traditions and achievements of western civilization to wallow in whiny and toothless self-righteousness. Canada before Mike Pearson was a place I think I could have been content with.
    Fair enough. If using an 18th century British merchant navy device gets your mojo up, fine, though some might question Canada's halcyon nature prior to 1965: nostalgia, as someone far more clever than me once remarked, is longing for a past that never existed. But I think some of these bloggers forget, if even they were alive, that the Red Ensign was used as a rallying point in the late Sixties and early Seventies against everything from the supposed French plot to take over the country by making Corn Flakes boxes bilingual to changes in the immigration policy and against Trudeau himself. And as much as the flag debate was divisive, it's pretty well forgotten how divisive the use Red Ensign itself was at the time.

    As well, Captain Flynn at Against All Flags, notes the use of the Ensign by various crackpots such as Ernst Zundel et al.

    One final note: someone (I forget where, but I will post when I find the page again) stated that they supported the use of the Red Ensign because red and white Maple Leaf flag was designed to correspond to Liberal Party colours. Uh, no. The colour scheme was chosen to reflect Canada's national colours, as defined by The Royal Proclamation of George V, 21 November 1921, at the behest of Conservative Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden and under the watch of Conservative Prime Minister Arthur Meighan.


    Blogging Hell

    So I'm looking at bloggers today to which might be appropriate to put on the right sidebar, in other words looking for clever and maybe funny, from any part of the political spectrum (it's the exchange of ideas that counts) and also maybe a little original.

    Needless to say, I'm not encouraged. Yet. So far I've looked at the ones from the right, all of which (thus far) boil down to the United States is heaven and George Bush is God-in-cowboy-boots and Canada, while not being the precise opposite, is a sort of pallid, soft and culturally inept fraud. Which brings me to one of my quibbles with my friends on the right: who among them actually speaks for Canada? One would think, if their comments were considered in isolation, that Canada was such insipid frozen hell that anyone with any sense would pack up their Pathfinder and flee to Phoenix, posthaste. Are any of them actually proud of their country? One example: the blogger at Ravishing Light writes: "I'm a university student living within spitting distance of Parliament Hill, with a profound sense of shame and embarassment for most things Canadian." No doubt he'll be found, come the next federal election, working for his local Tory candidate.

    Their solution is simple: Canada needs to become more like the U.S. economically, culturally, politically. I might be from Peterborough County, but it escapes me, exactly, how becoming more American will make me more Canadian.

    Meanwhile, the search goes on. . .


    Minister Cotler Thinks Aloud

    Meanwhile, back on Parliament Hill, Irwin Cotler, the Minister of Justice consults with his muse. We have lovely legislation, he thinks. Gays and lesbians can marry. Religious liberty is protected. The Supreme Court is going to love this. Everyone is happy. Then his muse drives him over a cliff. Marriage commissioners, says Minister Cotler, will not be compelled to perform marriages against their conscience. (Source: CBC News)

    Now before you get your knickers in a knot and tell me that even marriage commissioners have religious rights, I will say that I agree with you completely. But the marriage licence office in Lower Nockleby, New Brunswick is not a church, and all civil servants, marriage commissioners included, are obliged to treat all Canadians equally, regardless of personal belief. Who knows what mischief would ensue if state employees, citing the marriage commissioners as precedent, started refusing service to the public on the basis of personal conviction.

    I'll add another notion to the Minister's ruminations: yet another Supreme Court suit over same sex marriage.

    Some of his Best Friends are Gay Too

    Ralph Klein saunters up to the mike today with two messages, one for the rest of Canada outside of Alberta's blessed realm, and one for his rural constituents. Message #1: I am not a yahoo. Oh, I have nothing against gays and lesbians, says the Alberta Premier. "I have friends who are gays and friends who are lesbians, and they are wonderful people." (Source: CBC Calgary ) Message #2: I am a yahoo. "I do feel that gays and lesbians ought not to be discriminated against in any other form other than marriage, because I think that marriage is a sacred thing that exists between a man and a woman." Thanks for clearing that up, Ralph.


    The Unanswered Fourth Question

    The full text of the 9 December 2004 Supreme Court reference is now online. The most controversial aspect of the Court's decision may well turn out to be the fourth question, which the court declined to answer. The fourth question, of course, was the one added by the Martin government as kind of ministerial escape hatch just prior to the federal election. It read

    4. Is the opposite-sex requirement for marriage for civil purposes, as established by the common law and set out for Quebec in section 5 of the Federal Law-Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If not,in what particular or particulars and to what extent?

    The Court gave three reasons for not answering this question. The learned Justices said:

    In sum, a unique combination of factors is at play in Question 4. The government has stated its intention to address the issue of same-sex marriage by introducing legislation regardless of our opinion on this question. The parties to previous litigation have relied upon the finality of their judgments and have acquired rights which in our view are entitled to protection.Finally, an answer to Question 4 would not only fail to ensure uniformity of the law, but might undermine it. These circumstances, weighed against the hypothetical benefit Parliament might derive from an answer, convince the Court
    that it should exercise its discretion not to answer Question 4. (Emphasis added.)

    When all is said and done, it may well be the second reason that might cause the most problems for supporters of the legislation. The argument is essentially that the petitioners in the provincial court rulings have already gained rights the Court thought it inadvisable to remove:

    The second consideration is that the parties to previous litigation have now relied upon the finality of the judgments they obtained through the court process. In the circumstances, their vested rights outweigh any benefit accruing from an answer to Question 4 . . . There is no compelling basis for jeopardizing acquired rights, which would be a potential outcome of answering
    Question 4.

    The implication of this is a bit startling. One reading of this might suggest that if the Court had ruled on Question 4, it would have ruled in the affirmative, that is, that the traditional definition of marriage was valid under the Charter. It dodged the bullet by affirming that rights already acquired are ultimately more important. But in a field where every word is parsed for meaning, the modifer "potential" will be pondered. Was there some impetus from within the Court to rule in the affirmative?


    Klein Emerges for a Pronouncement

    Ralph Klein, God love him, has just aired his views on the Supreme Court decision. He wants a referendum.

    Fine, I say. So long as we can have a simultaneous vote on whether to allow Mr Klein near a microphone for remainder of his legislative term.

    Sounds fair to me.


    Supreme Court Rules, Democracy Wins

    The papers were predictably full of the Supreme Court's same-sex marriage ruling today. (I started to nod off even as I wrote that sentence.) The Nat Post wore a funereal air, as if a dowager aunt had passed on, the Globe was the usual grey voice of reason, and the Toronto Star was frankly jubilant. The headlines should have read "God's Wrath Postponed, Religious Right Disappointed", for indeed, the skies did not open and the futures market in brimstone was sharply down on the news of God's apparent indifference.

    I think Jeffrey Simpson had it exactly right when he said in today's Globe that unless parliamentarians start muttering the dreaded words "notwithstanding clause", go back to sleep.

    The ruling, in fact, was a masterpiece in that old Canadian virtue, compromise. Nobody completely happy, but everyone who came to the table got something. The churches were promised they wouldn't have to book George and Daniel for May 28th if they didn't want to (though nobody except for the bullfruit division of the far right really thought that anyway); gays and lesbians got equality; parliamentary surpremacy nuts were heartened by the court's refusal to legislate; and the Government got the excuse to introduce the legislation it wanted to all along. Everybody wins!

    More curious to my mind were the various right-wing "pro-family" groups (as if the right holds the copyright on family values) that showed up for the ensuing media circus. For as we all know, gay marriage means the "traditional family" is going to a barbeque at Lucifer's summer cottage on Rousseau. Their various media geeks bent the ear of any reporter who would listen to express their shocked-and-appalledness. "The meaning of family has lost its integrity," they wailed. "What about the children?" (O dear Lord, people. Get a grip.)

    To listen to such groups such as Focus on the Family Canada (the Canadian branch office of the American far-right group) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (the umbrella group for fundementalist churches) --- two of the organizations quoted by CBC Radio One --- you would think gay marriage, along with abortion on demand and stem cell research pose the greatest threat to families since the arrival of rock-and-roll.

    Well, dear Reader, I will tell you the greatest threat to Canadian families. It is not gay marriage. It is not stem cell research or abortion or rock-and-roll or even space aliens kidnapping farmers from the back concessions of Wellington County.

    It's poverty.

    You remember poverty, don't you? Single mothers trying to decide whether paying the hydro bill or the rent is more important. Children living on an endless diet of Kraft dinner and pasty white bread, then going to school hungry. You know all of that and the dreary statistics as well.

    Now when was the last time you heard either the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada or Focus on the Family create a media furore, hold a news conference, testify before a Royal Commission or even have a prayer vigil against poverty?

    Right, you haven't.

    I looked today at the website of the EFC and yes, they have a five para bit on poverty copied from their statement of principles, plus a more substantial document published in 1999 called (facietiously, I think) "Good News for the Poor", which is long on biblical exigesis and short on action. That's it. Compare this offering to the miles of press releases and commentary regarding the minutiae of the same-sex marriage issue and you'll see my point. Imagine a tenth of the energy spent on this issue spent on the issue of poverty!

    On the other great enemy of families, on a world scale, war, the EFC offers nada. Instead it worries itself sick about George and Daniel, op. cit.

    I won't bore you with long disclaimers and testimonials about all the fine evangelicals I know. It's all true. They are fine Christians, better than I could ever hope to be. But all I hear from their leadership is cant and pandering and complacency in the name of the suffering Christ.

    In my mind, groups like the EFC and Focus on the Family have absolutely no credibility to hector all Canadians on the issue of "family values". They want "dialogue" on the issue of same-sex marriage, "time for reflection", they say. Fine. Feed the poor. Comfort the sick and visit prisoners. Take the beam out of your eye.

    Then come back and talk.