Saturday, 2 December 2017

"FREE SPEECH BUT"


An identarian group at McMaster said “But freedom of speech doesn’t now, and hasn’t ever, meant that we can or should be able to say whatever we like in public spaces regardless of the impact of our speech on others.”   Deborah MacLatchy, the president of Wilfrid Laurier University, is marginally more favourable free speech.  She phrased it this way “Academic freedom and freedom of expression are very central to the university.  We recognize that there will be challenging and uncomfortable conversations, but it's not okay for them to be threatening -- and that's the overall balance that we look for in every class and in every tutorial.”  So anything subjectively threatening, which in effect means something that another person does not like hearing, is no o’kay.

Retired professor Harriet Lyons in article in the Toronto Star says that the rule for free speech at universities is that “if one has a position on a social or intellectual issue, one should have the freedom, at a university, to advance it, in class or published research, using appropriate expertise and respectful language”

In Harriet Lyon’s opinion would the following statements sufficiently use appropriate expertise and respectful language such as to constitute allowable free speech”?  Which of these statements are not okay because they are “threatening”?

 “I believe that the cost of administration at this university is too great.  There are far too many people taking home a large paycheck but not providing any real value to the University. There is an urgent need for a major cull of administrative positions - perhaps up to 50% of the people employed in administration at this university are not necessary.”

 “I am strongly opposed to business administration being taught at this university.  Business administration is not a genuine academic pursuit.  It has no proper intellectual basis.  It teaches people how to manipulate other people for their own self aggrandizement.  In other words it teaches greed.  The kind of people that you find in Business Administration departments can properly be described as deplorables.  They should be removed from the campus.”

“People from wealthy backgrounds should be excluded from enrolment at this university, or if they are allowed to enrol, they should pay substantially higher tuition fees. In other words all applicants should have to provide a personal net worth statement and a net worth statement for their parents and based on such net worth statements a personalized tuition should be set which can be up to 1000% of the regular tuition.  The University plays an important part in perpetuating the class system.  It must be overhauled in a revolutionary way and if that means firing three quarters of the professors and not allowing it to be the playpen of coddled rich kids, so be it.”
     
“I believe that the people of England are profoundly disgusting.  Up until long after the Second World War they promulgated a culture and an economy which was based on the unlimited exploitation and often the hideous enslavement of various people in Asia and Africa.  I do not let believe that the English should be let off the hook for their past colonialism any more than we allowed the Germans to be let off the hook for their support of Hitler and Naziism.”

I suspect that none of these statements would be allowable speech if they were reviewed by an “unbiased” adjudicator scrupulously applying the Harriet Lyons test.

The Harriet Lyons opinion (and Deborah MacLatchy’s) is the classical “free speech but” approach so ably examined by Greg Lukianoff in Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.  “Free speech but” is free speech censorship expressed in a nicer way.

As George Orwell said some seventy years ago “At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed all right-thinking people will accept without question. It is not exactly forbidden to state this or that or the other, but it is “not done”… Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness. A genuinely unfashionable opinion is almost never given a fair hearing, either in the popular press or in the highbrow periodicals.”

Or to quote Chomsky from Manufacturing Consent “Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you're in favor of freedom of speech, that means you're in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.  Or from the Common Good  “The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum—even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate.

Keep free speech within respectful confines, keep it within limits, keep it within a spectrum of acceptability - that precisely summarizes the free speech perspective of Harriet Lyons and Deborah MacLatchy.  It is in other words the classical recipe that has always been used by tyrants to repress free speech.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

FREE SPEECH v. REGULATED SPEECH

On January 7, 2015 Islamic terrorists massacred eleven cartoonists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo whom they considered “blasphemous”.  Subsequently four million people in France marched in support of freedom of expression.  Prominent French politicians gave unremitted support for Charlie Hebdo.  Despite this many of these same politicians supported the international regulation of social networks in order to crack down on “racist and anti-Semitic propaganda.

Within two days after the four million-plus march in Paris in support of Charlie Hebdo and freedom of expression, 54 people in France had been arrested for "hate speech or other acts insulting religious faiths, or for cheering the men who carried out the attacks."  Included in the arrests was a controversial Muslim comic, Dieudonné, who is known for his anti-Semitic views.

Harlem Désir, France’s State Secretary for European Affairs, told reporters “There are hate videos [online], calls for death, propaganda that have not been responded to, and we need to respond.  [Those who propagate] terrorism, religious fanaticism, jihadism and radical Islam use the Internet enormously.  We must limit the dissemination of these messages.”  Désir condemned social networks for failing to take responsibility for “racist or anti-Semitic” content published on their platforms, citing Facebook and Twitter as examples.  He said that France wants to create a legal framework that would “place the responsibility on those who are passing the message, even if they are not deciding the message”.

Désir claimed that the proposed law would not target freedom of expression.  He said that there has to be a clear distinction between freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right, and the liberty to incite hate, discrimination, and death or in other words hate speech. He compared hate speech to the dissemination ”of child pornography.

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, described Désir’s plan as an “interesting proposal” that would require consulting both the general public and the private sector.  She said “We’re very alert to the extent to which social media platforms are being exploited by violent extremists across the board, including by al Qaeda and Islamic State”.

Earlier in the day, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to the UN, Abdullah al-Mouallimi, stressed the relationship between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.  “We have witnessed with growing concern the increase in hate crimes around the world, and we are very concerned because some arbitrarily reject their responsibilities in this regard,” al-Mouallimi said on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation. “Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and all crimes that are based on religious hate are inextricably linked, they’re inseparable.”  Another senior Saudi official said that free expression was an 'abuse of religious rights'.

Proponents of speech prohibition argue that hate speech can cause psychological harm, just as hate-motivated violence causes physical harm. Children who are called "nigger", "Paki", or "queer" suffer just as much as when they are physically bullied. For adults, verbal abuse can render workplace, educational or other environments unbearable.'  In other words hate speech is not merely speech, but rather is a form of violence.  Implicit is the notion that hate speech doesn’t merely CAUSE violence but IS violence.

An American an attorney and counsellor at law in Burtonsville, Maryland, Usa,  Regina Njogu defined hate speech “as any expression that maligns, threatens, or insults individuals or groups based on race, colour, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.”  She made the observation that “Hate speech is not protected under clauses on freedom of speech in constitutions of the civilized world and is prohibited and criminalized in many jurisdictions.”  You can have freedom of speech “with the limitation that one must not, in the exercise of this freedom, cause another harm in character or reputation by lying or using misleading words.”

She claims “Many people are not mindful of the danger the pattern of unbridled expansion of freedom of speech without social and legal safeguards portends for social order in the long run. Violent acts of hatred are generally preceded by hate speech.”  She further alleges that “Enduring hatred over many years will take a toll on most people. It can limit their opportunities, push them into poverty, isolate them socially, lead to depression or dysfunction, increase the risk of conflict, and endanger their physical health or safety.”

She is also concerned that some people will be corrupted by bad speech. “Although the harmful effects of hate speech may not be immediately apparent, they are cumulative and can influence and indoctrinate the gullible.”

So it all comes down to prohibiting speech deemed to be harmful.  “The purveyors of hatred must learn to exercise self- discipline, simple decency, and restraint or the law should come down hard on them.  This is because hate speech is personal and a sign of lack of tolerance to diversity.  Perhaps it is the result of poor upbringing. The answer to confronting hate speech lies in individual responsibility and behaviour — everyone must share the responsibility of making our society orderly whether by restraint, genuine will and desire, or polished lying.”  She concludes “If they cannot restraint their behaviour, the law should force them to do so.”

In his book “The Harm in Hate Speech”  Jeremy Waldron, puts forth a theoretical basis for expanded hate speech laws.   He wants to prohibit speech when it might cause harm to "dignity".  He calls "dignity" "the social standing, the fundamentals of basic reputation that entitle [persons] to be treated as equals in the ordinary operations of society".  He says dignity "is a matter of status -- one's status as a member of society in good standing -- and it generates demands for recognition and for treatment in accord with that status" ; it involves, "intrinsic[ally]" the "assurance that one will be dealt with on this basis [as an equal in rights and entitlements]"; it involves what Stephen Darwall famously dubbed "recognition respect"; and "it is a matter of . . . one's status as an ordinary member of society in good standing, entitled to the same liberties, protections, and powers that everyone else has".   He summarizes his view by saying that, "Hate speech and group defamation are actions performed in public, with a public orientation, aimed at undermining public goods", that is, the good of assurance of dignity in public.

Fortunately in the U.S. the First Amendment has been an impediment to this type of assault on free speech.  Not so in Canada or the U.K. or Australia.  In the Anglo countries it is certain people who self identify as human rights activists that probably pose the biggest challenge to free speech.  An example is Barbara Hall who was until recently the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. In a letter to Maclean’s Magazine she wrote “The OHRC is mandated to express what it sees as unfair and harmful comment or conduct that may lead to discrimination. We need to keep in mind that freedom of expression is not the only right in the Charter. There is a full set of rights accorded to all members of our society, including freedom from discrimination. No single right is any more or less important than another. And the enjoyment of one depends on the enjoyment of the other. This means if you want to stand up and defend the right to freedom of expression then you must be willing to do the same for the right to freedom from discrimination.”

She had an ideological ally in Jacques Frémont, who as head of the Quebec Human Rights Commission (QHRC), was a driving force behind Quebec’s infamous Bill 59.   Fremont said that he would use the new powers provided to him by Bill 59 to target people who would write against the Islamic religion on a website or on a Facebook page. The law would allow the QHRC to "apply for a court order requiring [alleged hate speech] to cease" and would further impose a fine up to $10,000 if "a person has engaged in or disseminated such speech". The exact monetary value of the fine would be determined by a Human Rights Tribunal.

The legislation treated words as equal to “sticks and stones”.  It would have allowed the Commission to apply to a court for "any emergency measure" if the Commission has "reason to believe" that [speech is a] threat to "health or safety" exists. This would allow the Commission to "put an end to the threat."

People like Hall or Fremont supporting expanded human rights legislation have invariably been very generous in defining targeted hate speech.   It has been variously said to include speech which offends, insults, demeans, threatens, disrespects, discriminates against, and/or incites hatred or violence against a person or a group of people based on their race, gender, age, ethnicity, color, nationality, religion, sexual orientation or sexual activity, gender identity or gender expression, disability, language, language ability, ideology or opinion, social class, occupation, appearance (height, weight, hair color, etc.), mental capacity, and/or any other comparable distinction.

In fact It is a very short step from protecting religious beliefs from criticism to likewise protecting political beliefs.  Many people are deeply offended by having their political beliefs insulted.  It may indeed cause them considerable psychological stress - even pain - in some cases substantially more stress or pain than a racial epithet.  In fact Bill 59 included “political convictions” in the list of “prohibited grounds” for the purposes of “hate speech”.  So not only was it included in the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in, say, public accommodations or employment.  By being thusly being included in prohibited hate speech it meant that the Commission could police speech denigrating people not on the basis of some personal characteristic they were born with, but because of their political opinions.  As was pointed out it would be prohibited speech to say or write that Nazism was an abomination because Nazis are "a group of people sharing … political convictions".

Under the guise of prohibiting hate speech human rights initiatives are leading to regulated speech, potentially highly regulated speech.

One final comment about Barbara Hall and Jacques Fremont.  These people are not left-wing or right-wing ideologues.  They were both card carrying Canadian Liberals.  They are middle of the roaders, Centrists, nice respectable people.  Yet they and their ilk as much as anybody are helping to grease a slippery slope at the bottom of which there is no longer free speech.






Monday, 6 March 2017

THE FREEDOM TO BE OFFENSIVE TOWARDS RELIGION

There has to be absolute freedom to criticize religion.  There has been a curious retreat from this proposition among so-called liberal academics.  Gaad Saad noted in a 2102 article:   “It would not be melodramatic to state that one of the first steps of totalitarianism is when intellectuals begin to engage in self-censorship. Having been an academic for close to two decades, I know of numerous scholars in the United States and Canada that have repeatedly refrained from sharing their views on religion in general, and a specific religion in particular, lest they fear the dire consequences of doing so (ranging from losing their jobs, being ostracized by friends, to outright bodily harm). Any freedom-loving individual living in the West should be deeply concerned about this reality. Freedom of speech (especially the criticism of religious dogma) should be a non-negotiable right whose protection is valued above all other rights.”

Anything less is a fundamental denigration of the freedom of speech.  Many well meaning people begin a discussion about free speech with what Mick Hume has termed “free speech but” as in “I believe in free speech - but there are limits/-but not for hate speech/-but you cannot offend or insult or upset other people’.” 

Bishop Michael Ingham, of the Anglican Diocese, New Westminster in a forum on the criticism of religion captured the essence of “free speech but” when he said “There is no unlimited right to freedom of speech and no absolute right to freedom.  To exist, freedom needs self-imposed restraints and democracy requires a consensus based on mutual respect.  What we have in the Paris cartoons is a misuse of freedom.  It is secular fundamentalism that insists on the right to cause offence in the name of freedom.  Religious satire is not off limits when it serves the public good by exposing hypocrisy and causing us to live up to our ideals in a better way, but when its purpose is to deliberately offend, how is that different from hatred.” 

It has been pointed out that when religious satire has to be respectful and avoid offense it is no longer either funny nor is it free.  Satire is almost always disrepectful of its object and free speech is only meaningful when it is offensive to someone or some group or to some authority.  And who is going to be the arbitrar of public good - religious leaders like Bishop Ingham or a human rights commission or tribunal or a secret court?  Bishop Ingham’s formulation would be the death knell of free speech as it affects religion.

Bishop David Zubik, of the Pittsburgh Catholic Diocese, is in favor of some decidedly more stringent restrictions on free expression: “As I have said over these last few weeks, this is an opportunity for all of us to be reminded that freedom of speech and freedom of expression do not constitute a freedom to dismiss or disrespect the beauty of anyone’s race, the sacredness of anyone’s religious belief or the uniqueness of anyone’s nationality,”  The disrespect of the “sacredness of religiousness belief” that Bishop Zubik found offensive was a papal parody - in which a student doing an action art project wrote half naked dressed (partly) as the pope.

Bishop Zubik conflates disrespect of race with disrespect of religion but they are not the same things.  Religion is about ideas and criticizing ideas - even if it involves harshly criticizing ideas - is a fundamental freedom.  Indeed why should religious ideas be carved out as criticism free zone any more than political ideas or ideas about appropriate etiquette.  Indeed people can be and usually are deeply offended when their political views are ridiculed.  When political ideas are ridiculed or satirized it is typically a deliberate act to offend. 

Religion is all about faith (as opposed to science or rationality) and the most ardently religious have the deepest faith.  They are the true believers and true believers are easily offended.  When ‘hurting the feelings’ of the believers becomes a basis for limiting speech - as it does for Bishop Ingham - speech is always at risk of being offensive to true believers and hence not permitted.

True believers are also described as fundamentalists and today they have substantial numbers in all religions including Christianity and Judaism but most spectacularly in Islam.  True believers now run the show in most countries where Islam is dominant.  Blasphemy law are now widespread in those countries where Islam is the majority religion and there are countless examples of people who are deemed to insult Islam - often in most trivial ways - being imprisoned or executed not only by the state but also by religious zealots, who invariably go unpunished.

Islamic true believers are offended by any depiction of Mohammed.  In fact Islam fundamentalists are offended by any negative comment about Mohammed as an historical figure. Islamic true believers were offended by Gunter Luling who was hounded out of the profession by German universities because he proposed the radical thesis that at least a third of the Koran was originally a pre-Islamic, Christian hymnody, and thus had nothing to do with Mohammed.   In other words a legitimate academic study on the history of Islam and its historical connection with earlier Abrahamic religions was off limits because it was offensive to the religion’s true believers.

Religious true believers are offended by the very existence of other religious beliefs. Per Mindy Townsend “If you are a member of religion A, and you discover that religion B believes something different, does that not arguably “dismiss or disrespect…the sacredness” of your religious belief? Sure it does, because it plants the little seedling in your brain that suggests that you might be wrong. To get rid of that threat, you need to eliminate religion B. Suddenly you have a medieval-style death match.”

As stated by Rowan Atkinson “To criticize a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous, but to criticize their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom. The freedom to criticize ideas, any ideas - even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society. A law which attempts to say you can criticize? and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed.  It all points to the promotion of the idea that there should be a right not to be offended. But in my view the right to offend is far more important than any right not to be offended. The right to ridicule is far more important to society than any right not to be ridiculed because one in my view represents openness - and the other represents oppression”.

A few years ago a fundamentalist Christian preacher in North Ireland was charged under the the UK’s 2003 Communications Act with improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network.  The two charges arose out of a sermon that was streamed online, in which he described Islam as “heathen” and “Satanic”.  Ultimately he was found not guilty on the basis that while his remarks were offensive they were not “grossly offensive”.  The case, however, illustrates the danger of illegalizing “offensive” comments about religion.  It is a religious opinion that Islam is heathen and satanic.  It can be an Islamic religious opinion that Christianity is heathen and satanic.  It can be an atheist opinion that both Islam and Christianity are ridiculous and absurd.

What particularly concerns nice otherwise liberalish people like Bishop Ingham is the fear that free speech will result in social discord.  He says “We must use freedom of speech with responsibility.  That is the price of keeping a civil society.”  Totalitarian societies have always been justified on the grounds that they preventing social discord.  This was a constant theme with the Nazis. 

The blasphemy laws, that once prevailed in the Christian majority nations, punished individuals for making statements that could be perceived as criticisms or insults against religious doctrines, figures, deities, and symbols. Typically, the language of these laws contained the following words: offending, insulting, wounding, denigrating, or outraging religious ideologies or feelings.

In an English blasphemy case from the 18th century the issue was whether any religious denomination other than the Church of England was “protected” by the then blasphemy law. It was held that a publication attacking the Old Testament was not merely as an attack upon Judaism but rather because ‘the Old Testament was so connected with the New that it was impossible that such a publication as this could be uttered without reflecting upon Christianity itself’.  Other religious groups, Christian or not, were protected ‘to the extent that their beliefs overlapped with those of the Church of England. The material needed to be couched in indecent or offensive terms likely to shock and outrage the feelings of the general body of Church of England believers.  This requirement meant that the offence of blasphemy did ‘not protect religious beliefs as such’ but was ‘concerned with attacks on those beliefs expressed in highly offensive ways.  In the manner of Bishop Ingham “Decent and reasonable criticism was not blasphemous.”

As stated by Alan Sokal in Beyond the Hoax “All of us are understandably reluctant to give offense to our fellows especially concerning their most cherished beliefs, and in personal interactions this self-restraint is generally a sound instinct.  But public debate is impoverished and distorted by our culture’s deferent attitude towards faith.  After all conservatives are not ordinarily offended  by the obligation to debate their ideas with liberals (though in recent years this seems, alas, to be changing) and most capitalists can tolerate the occasional encounter with a socialist.”

He notes “The free ride given to “faith” is so deeply imbedded in our culture  - so taken for granted - that even critical voices often end up committing the very errors that they decry. For instance, the American scholar of religion Mark C. Taylor in a thoughtful critique of “religious correctness” nevertheless felt obliged to reassure his readers that "The sum of critical analysis [of religion] is not to pass judgment on religious beliefs and practices - though some secular dogmatists wrongly cross that line - but to examine the conditions necessary for their formations and to consider the many functions they serve."
 
But asks Sokal "why should anyone accept such an arbitrary limitation on the aims of “critical analysis”?  Substitute “scientific”, “philosophical”, “economic”, or “political” for “religious” in that sentence, and the double standard becomes patent.  In every other sphere of life, beliefs and practises are subjected not only to descriptive analysis but also to evaluative judgment - and rightly so.”

Of course, the additional problem is that laws making it an offence to be offensive to religion - as Bishop Ingham might advocate - don’t stay limited to religion.  It can soon extend to political beliefs themselves, as is the case in some Islamic nations - since political beliefs can easily merge with religious beliefs.  Similarly at some so-called liberal American universities “wrong” views on politics, on epistemology, on social relationships (especially sexual ones), on legal issues, on many other topics are increasingly becoming non-tolerated.   Why?  It is often because one or more (intolerant) individuals find them offensive.
     

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

CREEPING AUTHORITARIANISM

According to Merriam-Webster, the following is one of the ways that the word “totalitarian” is defined: “of or relating to a political regime based on subordination of the individual to the state and strict control of all aspects of the life and productive capacity of the nation especially by coercive measures”.  In contemporary Western democracies totalitarian has taken on a new character - it is being distilled down to an extensive micro-management of individuals by state and corporate organizations - what has been described as a ‘smiley face fascism’ in which all interactions are regulated but almost invariably for superficially benign reasons.   To quote George Carlin “When fascism comes to America, it will not be in brown and black shirts. It will not be with jack-boots. It will be Nike sneakers and Smiley shirts …”

How and why is this happening?  I have identified four horses of modern totalitarianism.  The first is the rapid growth of offences.  The second is the decline of critically important legal rights. The third is the expansion of state and corporate surveillance. The fourth is the bigger and broader enforcement of all the offences.  Can the four horses of totalitarianism be stopped.

I am a pessimist for many reasons.  Most significantly the new authoritarianism is coming at us from too many angles.  The rush to create new offences and the concurrent attack on civil rights comes from the left, the right and the centre of the political spectrum.  Right wing governments introduce legislation overriding historical civil rights because they have a tough on crime agenda or they want to catch subversives; left wing governments create new social crimes because they want to protect so-called vulnerable people or they wish to create a “safer” environment.  Authoritarian initiatives - such as anti-bullying laws - are often the work of well intentioned people who would self identify as middle of the roaders, as ideologically centrist.  So it does not seem to matter whether the governing party is ostensibly liberal or ostensibly conservative or somewhere imbetween.

There is the unabated growth of new “offences”.  These new offences are being created by government at all levels - civic, state or provincial and federal.  Most significant the law making machine has discovered brand new areas to regulate - such as social relationships.  Many types of social interaction are now criminal or quasi-criminal. Many activities formerly considered harmless are now an offence of one type or another.

The assault on traditional rights and freedoms have also come from all points on the political spectrum. The Right led the attack in the 1970's through to the 2000's.  They were motivated by a supposed war on crime and by anti-Communism - later to be replaced by anti-Islamism.  They wanted to make it easier to convict people of crimes.  They said it was necessary to give the police vast new military like powers.  They advocated witch hunts against people engaging in various alleged conspiracies.

The toll on traditional civil liberties in the U.K., the U.S. and Canada has been huge.  In 2013 the UK hammered in the final nail in the coffin of civil rights with the passage of the Justice and Security Act which introduced so-called "secret courts" (Closed Material Procedures) into ordinary civil cases in Britain for the first time in over three hundred years.   Closed Material Procedures ( "CMPs") mean that one party is not able to take part in either part or the whole of a trial. The party will usually be either a civilian who is bringing a claim against a government agency or a civilian who is the defendant in a case. The government and its lawyers are present during the CMP but the civilian and their lawyer cannot be present, cannot see the evidence the government is relying upon (and which is said to be national security sensitive information) and cannot know the government's case on this evidence.

This particular bill does not stand alone.  Under firstly the Conservatives and then New Labour there was a savaging of legal rights in the U.K. over two decades.  That set of legal rights that were bequeathed to us by England, some of which date back to the Magna Carta, all took a beating.  Section 18 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 allowed the police to search the home of arrested (not charged) people without the need for a warrant.   Section 110 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 gave the police powers to arrest without warrant, which made all offences, no matter how trivial, into arrestable offences .  The police could now collect and retain fingerprints, palm prints and DNA samples of all those arrested for a recordable offence, including those of innocents, i.e. even when the arrestee was not charged with any offence or had been acquitted of an alleged offence.  Section 23 of the Terrorism Act 2006 allowed innocents (not even charged) to be held for 14 to 28 days.  Section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (SOCPA) outlawed protests without prior police authorisation within a designated area of 1 km straight line from the central part of Parliament Square.   Part 2 of the Serious Crime Act 2007 (SCA) made it an offence to encourage or assist in the taking part in or organising of a demonstration not authorised under SOCPA (modified by the SCA) possibly further criminalizing peaceful opposition to the government. 

The police also used Section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986 to move away photographers and journalists from protests.   In the Serious Crime Act 2007, the Home Office introduced 'serious crime prevention orders' (SCPO) targeted at those whom police believe are likely to commit violence, i.e. including those who have not yet have committed an offence - and may never commit any.  With the Mental Health Bill, ministers also attempted to allow enforced detention of people who were mentally ill, even if they have not committed any crime.  Control orders and even more restrictive special bail surety conditions forced persons to live in what amounted to being under quarantine.

The legal definition of terrorism, specified in section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (amended by the Terrorism Act 2006) is very broad.   Section 58 (collection of information) of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows prosecution for simple possession of an item likely to be useful to terrorists, and carries a sentence of up to 10 years. The indelible record left by a long-forgotten internet search is an sufficient for a conviction. Section 76 of the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 extended section 58 further; in particular it criminalized taking or publishing a photograph of a police officer, which is of a kind likely to be useful to a terrorist collection of information.   Saying or wearing the wrong words could get you arrested. The Terrorism Act 2006 introduced new offences of encouragement of terrorism and preparation of terrorist acts. These are so broad that they constitute an incursion on free speech.
There was a full scale assault on civil liberties when New Labour was in power. 

Some of the most egregious initiatives were scaled back under the Coalition (Conservative/Liberal) government.  Political opponents to the authoritarian legislation has generally come from the fringes of the main political parties in the U.K.  They are outliers like UK Conservative MP, David Davies who resigned his parliamentary seat in 2009 to specifically fight a by election on the issue of erosion of civil liberties. He produced a report which identified 50 measures since 1998 that had eroded civil liberties. Davies commented: "We cannot actually trust politicians or the process of politics to preserve liberties. Our liberties must not go unprotected in the way they have for the last 10 years." 

Unfortunately when the Conservatives replaced Labour the push back against the erosion of civil liberties quickly petered out.  When she was Home Secretary Theresa May, was a busy beaver pushing dangerous new initiatives to damage civil liberties.  As noted by the Conservatives for Liberty:  "The highly overrated Home Secretary and (worryingly) possible future Conservative leadership candidate, Theresa May, is a bigger threat to liberty than any Islamist. Her time as Home Secretary has been one of fear mongering and ever increasing authoritarianism.  In order to gain support for draconian measures, she has made cynical and hysterical claims such as the assertion that the terror threat in the UK is “greater than at any time before or after 9/11”. Statements such as these are designed to lay the groundwork for the expansion of state powers."

The “(worryingly) possible future Conservative leadership candidate” is now prime minister!

In Canada the recently demised Conservative government introduced their own anti-rights legislation with Bill C-51.  Bill C-51 was a compendium of many of the rights limiting features of the UK legislation described earlier.  It contained provisions that went further than the U.K.’s Terrorism Act 2006 in limiting free speech.  It authorized the intelligence agency to engage in illegal acts against allegedly sbversive groups.  Activities that undermine security was said to include interference with the capability of the Government of Canada in relation to intelligence, defence, border operations, public safety, the administration of justice, diplomatic or consular relations, or the economic or financial stability of Canada.  This latter provision could be used against economic boycotts whether such are directed at a foreign country or a local corporate giant.

The United States witnessed a huge erosion of civil rights under the Bush regime.  Soon after the September 11 terrorist attacks, President Bush issued an executive order that authorized the infamous National Security Agency (NSA) warrantless wiretapping program. This secret eavesdropping program allowed the surveillance of certain telephone calls placed between a party in the United States and a party in a foreign country without obtaining a warrant through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.   In the years after 9/11, the U.S. government illegally kidnapped, detained and tortured numerous prisoners.  The USA Patriot Act severely limited the constitutional rights of immigrants and US citizens.  It permitted non-citizens to be jailed based on mere suspicion without charges and detained indefinitely. It broadened the definition of activities considered “deportable offenses,” including defining soliciting funds for an organization that the government labels as terrorist as “engaging in terrorist activity”. The  Patriot Act also subjected lawful advocacy groups to surveillance, wiretapping, harassment, and criminal action for legal political advocacy, expanded the ability of law enforcement to conduct secret searches and engage in phone and internet surveillance, and gave law enforcement access to personal medical and financial records.  The Military Commissions Act gave the president absolute power to decide who was an enemy of the country and to imprison people indefinitely without charging them with a crime.  It removed the Constitutional due process right of habeas corpus for persons the president designates as unlawful enemy combatants  and allowed our government to hold hundreds of prisoners for multiple number of years without ever being formally charged and tried.

In south-eastern United States evangelists are dominant in the Republican Party and the Republican Party are dominant in government.  States like Louisiana and Florida are prone to passing draconic legislation imposing long sentences for minor drug offenses.  Under Louisiana law, a second pot possession conviction is classified as a felony offense, punishable by up to five years in prison. Three-time offenders face up to 20 years in prison. 

There are currently over sixty thousand individuals listed on Florida’s sex offender registry! They include child molesters alongside sexting teens. They include violent rapists alongside the couple who had sex on the beach. They represent dots on a map and names on a list, for life, irrespective of the seriousness of their crimes, how long they have lived offense free in the community or the level of risk they presently represent.  In Florida, it's legal to lock someone up indefinitely for a crime they haven't yet committed. The Miami-Dade ordinance has received national attention for effectively forcing sex offenders into homelessness with over 70 offenders living underneath the Julia Tuttle Causeway Bridge Sex offenders are treated uniquely under state and federal law as the only offenders whose punishment does not end once they have completed their court-imposed sentence.  For many, the punishments they suffer after finishing their sentences are much harsher than those they received from a judge.

There was a slight pull back in the U.S, during the Obama presidency but the new Trump regime are promising a reinvigoration of the Bush assault on civil liberties.

Starting in the 1990's the attack on civil liberties from the Right was joined by the Left.   The Left brought forward a strange new version of totalitarianism most dramatically characterized by anti-harassment policies and speech codes at universities.  In some ways the Right has now been eclipsed by the Left.

While the Right are advocating virtually unlimited mass surveillance to locate subversives the Left are doing their part in the march to totalitarianism with one “social good” campaign“ after another.  There is a creeping nature to social good campaigns - for example, anti-stalking became anti-harassing became anti-street harassing became anti-sexual harassment, became anti-workplace harassment became anti-bullying.  In other words the realm of punishable behaviour gets ever larger. For example New Jersey’s law against general harassment prohibits communicating with another person using offensively coarse language and “engaging in a course of conduct meant to seriously annoy the person”. 

Anti-bullying campaigns have an almost motherhood character.  Often the starting point has been a suicide.  The suicide was invariably attributed to bullying although a close look at the facts of individual cases show that there are multiple causes.  It didn’t matter - bullying became a cause de celebre and  every municipality, every state and every province were rushing to bring in anti-bullying legislation.  It was the rare politician who could stand up against grieving parents immortalizing their child with a new law named after him or her.  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan brought forth a so-called anti-bullying bylaw which in many way epitomizes the extent to which sincere people in government are prepared to regulate ordinary person-to-person relationship.   Included in the definition of bullying was “gossiping or rumour mongering” which, of course, make up a significant portion of human discourse.

University students are not fighting the new unfreedom.  Instead they are in the vanguard of those very people pushing to regulate social behaviour at a micro level.   The campus social justice warriors are shouting down speakers they don’t like, advocating the expulsion of fellow students for thought crimes, promoting frightening new behaviour controlling notions - eg.  micro-aggression, triggers, etc. 

Even though conduct is not fully criminalized it is tagged as improper or inappropriate and invariably some kind of punishment is applied - in the university it is usually expulsion.  Or for Amtrak it is being kicked or forbidden to ride on one of their trains.  Amtrak told  its employees (and customers) that passengers exhibiting various behaviours "should immediately be reported to trained law enforcement personnel." It detailed a long list of behaviours which were deemed to be suspicious including “unusual nervousness of traveller, unusual calmness or straight ahead stare, looking around while making telephone calls, position among passengers disembarking (ahead of, or lagging behind passengers), carrying little or no luggage, purchase of tickets in cash and purchase of tickets immediately prior to boarding.”  With these kind of indicia everyone (mathematically) must be a suspect.

The internet has provided a public platform for nasty comments which were formerly restricted to private conversations in the locker room or the barroom.  You can just feel the desire among respectable people to do something about this type of speech.  Recently Bob Paulson, the reform oriented head of the RCMP, said “think everyone would agree, a more sort of caustic tone to the political discourse that seems to attract and agitate and radicalize people of all persuasions, particularly those who know hardly anything about it, to engage.” ... “And that represents a concern for us. And I think everybody’s concerned about that including the Service (Canadian Security Intelligence Service, or CSIS) and us and other police forces. And we are doing everything we can to get our heads around it.”

There is an implicit suggestion in these comments that authority must do something about the “caustic tone to political discourse” because it attracts and agitates and radicalizes people of all persuasions, OR cutting to the root of the proposition, speech must be controlled because otherwise it causes people to act bad.  This has always been the core reason that totalitarian regimes advance to justify repression of free speech.

The new totalitarianism whether it originates from the Left or the Right is usually politically popular.  Poll after poll show support for legislative proposals that further erode historic legal rights. According to a Pew research centre from June, 2013 an astonishing 56% of Americans had no problem with the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program tracking the telephone records of millions of Americans as an acceptable way for the government to investigate terrorism. Republicans are especially supportive of mass surveillance - 75% of Republicans said it was acceptable for the NSA to investigate suspected terrorists by listening in on phone calls and reading emails without court approval but Democrats also viewed the NSA’s phone surveillance as acceptable by 64% to 34%.

In Canada Bill C-51 attracted criticism from commentators from the right, centre and left but initially was very popular with the public.   According to an early survey of 1,509 Canadians conducted by the Angus Reid Institute after the introduction of the legislation more than four in five (82 per cent) of Canadians backed the new legislation to expand the powers of intelligence agencies and police. Sixty-four per cent of respondents, believed there was a “serious threat” of terrorism in Canada.  Far from seeing it as too sweeping, 36 per cent said it did not go far enough while less than one in five (19 per cent) worried that it went too far, compromising freedoms and privacy.

The push to criminalize so-called bullying has also been politically popular.  An Angus Reid online survey of 1,006 Canadian adults carried out in February, 2012 found that two-thirds of respondents thought bullying should be considered a crime even if no physical violence was involved.  Only six per cent of respondents didn't think it was necessary to criminalize bullying.  There was overwhelming support for legislation specifically targeting cyber-bullying with ninety per cent of those surveyed said it should be illegal to use electronic means to "coerce, intimidate, harass or cause other substantial emotional distress."  Support for anti-bullying legislation was especially high in Quebec, as well as among women and people over the age of 55.

Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion, told CTVNews "We were a bit surprised by the high level of support for cyber-bullying laws.  It's very hard to get 90 per cent of Canadians to agree on anything."

Most of the survey participants said bullying was a serious problem in Canada's elementary, middle and high schools. The majority felt that bullying gets more intense and dangerous as students get older.  More than half said that bullying continues later in life, both at work and at home.  "I think this survey shows Canadians are ready to accept (bullying) as a serious crime," Canseco said.

Although the anti-bullying campaign has now somewhat faded it has left behind a whole new set of intrusive legislation.  Characteristically the most draconic Canadian provincial laws on bullying originated in Nova Scotia under an NDP government and in Alberta under a Conservative government.

The Conservatives in Canada were replaced by Liberals.  The Liberals had mildly criticized Bill C-51 but in the end had voted for it.  They still have not introduced any amendments (despite being told that the security forces are actively using their “right to sabotage”).  Eventually it might mean that the worst anti-rights elements of the Conservative legislation will be tracked back slightly - but will the Liberals on the other hand bring in a whole new batch of social correctness legislation?  Will they introduce anti-blasphemy laws in the context of fighting Islamophobia.  This is certainly suggested by the wording of a motion before the House of Commons which “condemns” Islamophobia.

Along with the unrelenting expansion of illegality (and the concomitant weakening of legal rights), there has also been in all the Western democracies a big expansion in surveillance - through new technologies, through "better coordination" between government departments, through "information sharing" arrangements with foreign governments.   State and corporate surveillance is driven by ever increasing computer power.  Every use of the internet becomes part of big data - you know how closely you are being tracked when last weeks searches create this weeks ads on your smart phone, tablet or computer.

In the paper era the state had in aggregate a massive amount of information about its citizenry but it could not make very good use of it.  Computerization has changed all that.  When something is possible, it will happen - the police will use its access to the information record just because it is such a powerful tool to keep tabs on everyone.  It doesn’t matter if it is legal or not. It does not matter whether the courts uphold privacy and try to restrict access to the information record.  The reality is that a large number of police and bureaucrats will be able to quickly access detailed profiles of every individual including his or her exact location. 
 
Finally there are new ways to punish - such as civil forfeiture, huge fines, preventative detention, expulsion from schools and universities and others. Terrorism has not been the only excuse.  Civil forfeiture is justified as a necessity to fight gangs.  The expanded policing of social relationships is justified as needed to protect vulnerable individuals.  The slippery slope analogy may not be the best.  It is more like the death of personal freedom by a thousand cuts. 

There is also a new method to sanction people even before they do anything criminal - which as stated above can be a whole lot of things.  This new method is called pre-policing.  It is particularly popular in the U.K. where the Prevent program gives the state power to interfere in people’s life BEFORE they have done anything criminal. 

Friday, 16 December 2016

Pre-Policing and PREVENT

We have pointed out before that the UK, which was once an icon for legal rights, has in this century (starting in the last two decades of the last century) flipped and now leads in engineering the new authoritarianism.  From thousands of security cameras to anti-social policing (and ASBOS) to highly intrusive child welfare legislation to secret courts to curtailment of free speech at its universities the UK is painting the picture of a new society - an unfortunately very Orwellian society.
        
The latest UK addition to this sustained assault on legal rights is a program called “Prevent”.  Prevent is said to be part of a counter-terrorism strategy which tackles the problem of terrorism at its roots, by preventing people from becoming terrorists.  Prevent is a “pre-criminal space” program which means that it is intended to identify individuals who are at risk of radicalisation.  It is not limited to identifying potential Islamic radicals.  It is not limited to a particular ideology but rather extends to all forms of state identified extremism. 

The public in general and professionals in particular are asked to identify individuals who are “vulnerable” to radicalisation or whose behaviour and ideology has changed.  These individuals are “snitched” to a body with the rather imposing bureaucratic title “Health Corporate Safeguarding Team” which independent of any legal process decides upon the appropriate response. 

The police force for Prevent are various health and educational professionals including any National Health Service front line staff, managers and clinicians and teachers at state schools.  In fact teachers are now obliged to undergo Prevent training.  Although couched in the usual social worky “supportive” language it is clear that Prevent is a surveillance program.

Doctors, in particular, are being conscripted to act as spies.  Personnel from their offices will have to attend courses where they will be taught to identify radicals - whom the doctor will be required to report to Big Brother.  If a GP practice fails to send a member of staff on the “Prevent” counter terrorism course, part of their funding will be cut.

At the present time Prevent is directed at radical Islamism but it has a far broader reach.  The 2015 legislation’s definition of extremist ideology includes “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.  In other words an atheism, which does not respect religious beliefs, is potentially identified as an extremist ideology.  Depending on what one considers to be fundamental British values there are a lot of other potential thought crimes - opposing abortion, supporting abortion, opposing the monarchy, criticizing capitalism and calling for state nationalization, opposing eating meat, disliking vegetarians or whatever else might be the unacceptable viewpoint of the day.

The Prevent legislation includes “extremism disruption orders”, which go beyond previous anti-terrorism legislation by criminalizing not the act itself but rather the intent to act.  These measures are aimed at those who operate in what the police have called the “pre-criminal space” and therefore expand the definition of people who could be incarcerated from those who do bad things to those who think bad things.  It means prosecuting a person’s mens rea where there is no actus reus.

What will they teach the spies that attend the Prevent indoctrination sessions?  Across the Atlantic the Minnesota Department of Corrections has developed a program that identifies criminal thinking patterns.  Examples of statements which supposedly disclose a proclivity to engage in criminal activities include “I tend to be a victim of the whims of others. Friends, family, employers, and/or the government really created the mess I am in today.; “It doesn't take a lot of hard work, time or effort to be successful. I am really interested in ‘get rich quick' ideas.”; “No one knows what I have gone through. I've lived a tough life that has given me the experience to be better at things than others.”; “Rules and laws are made for other people. I tend to have my own way of doing things.; “People are always telling me that I should learn from my mistakes and plan for my future. Not me, I live for today.”;  “I'm a thrill seeker. I live for excitement - responsibility is not for me.; and “I tend to be possessive of my things and the people around me, but get upset when others don't share their good fortunes with me.”

The Minnesota list identifies thought patterns held by millions of people - one suspects that some of these attitudes are especially widely prevalent among highly successful people - whether in sports, entertainment, politics or business.

The UK’s National Health Authority are drawing up their own lists of “attitudes” which supposedly will disclose unacceptable radical thinking.  They will inevitably reflect the ideological perspectives of the drafters.  As a product of mindless, unimaginative bureaucrats they will invariably come down hard on outliers, eccentrics, non-conformists, individualists, free thinkers. 

The “trained” people from doctor’s office will return to their jobs with their nice little lists.  They will be looking hard for patients who supposedly have identified proclivities.  And no doubt people will get reported just because the snitch just doesn’t like them or their “attitudes”.

Pre-policing, of course, is an intrinsic component of any authoritarian state.  In Hitler’s Germany the citizens including educators and doctors were expected to report people who showed the slightest hint of disrespect for the regime.  It was the same in the Soviet Union.  Police states are constantly engaging in pre-policing; ie. identifying people who have the wrong thoughts and who might, in the future, act against the regime.  On the other hand pre-policing is antithetical to that bundle of civil rights which underlie law and order in a democratic state.  The U.K. - as it used to be.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

THE ENLIGHTENMENT v. THE DARK FORCES

The Enlightenment was a European intellectual movement of the late 17th and 18th centuries which emphasized reason and individual freedom. It challenged the traditional class system; it challenged the designation of some people as superior and others (the many) as inferior. The Enlightenment argued for equal treatment under the law, equal opportunity for all, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, civil rights and civil liberties for everyone, the equality of women and minorities, and especially the separation of church and state and the freedom to practice any religion or no religion at all.  The Enlightenment was indistinguishable from rationalism.  Its more modern day descendant is probably secular humanism.

Baruch Spinoza is often called the philosophical founder of the Enlightenment.  Other Enlightenment figures included Descartes, Locke, and Newton, Kant, Goethe and Voltaire.  The classical economists like Adam Smith (but not the neo-classical economists like Pareto) were mostly associated with Enlightenment.   More often than not Enlightenment figures were critics of the then prevailing religion.  In the Age of Reason Thomas Paine wrote “Whenever we read ... the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God.  It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize humankind. And, for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

Since the 18th century there has been an epic struggle between the Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment.  There have been many strands to the Counter-Enlightenments from the middle of the 18th century through to the 21st century.   The Enlightenment has enemies on all points of the ideological compass, from the far left to the far right, and even points in between.  Its most vehement critics have come from the Abrahamic religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism although current critics of the Enlightenment even include critical theorists, post-modernists and feminists. 

I refer to the enemies of the Enlightenment as the Dark Forces.  I identify five main categories of present day Dark Forces. These are puritanism, kleptocracy, fascism-nazism, statism and red guardism.  These are necessarily arbitrary and arguable categorizations as many characteristics are shared by these cohorts. 

The original Puritans wanted to “purify” the Christian church by following intensely strict religious principles, which earned them the name Puritan.  Puritanism has come to mean adherence to scrupulous moral rigour and extreme strictness in religious matters and especially hostility to social pleasures and indulgences.  The original Puritans in England and in the American colonies wanted to set up a theocratic state in which clergy had authority over both religious and civil life.   Accordingly Puritanism is associated with a prominent role for religion and the preist hood in determining the laws of the land and political and social structure.

Puritanism has continued as a significant influence on Christianity - in recent times the Fundamentalists carry the puritan banner.  A leading puritan philosopher of modern day Christians was Rousas John Rushdoony who was associated with the Reconstructionism  movement which openly advocated theocracy and the restoration of Mosaic law.  Rushdoony’s fundamentalist Calvinism has had an important but often unseen influence on the Christian Right in the United States. 
  
The Reconstructionists looked to the Mosiac laws in the Old Testament as their guide for the society that they envisioned. Government posts would be reserved for the righteous, as long as they are male. There would be thousands of executions a year, with stoning a preferred method because it would turn the deaths into “community projects,” as movement theologian Gary North (Rushdoony’s son-in-law) has noted.  Sinners in line for the death penalty would include women who commit adultery or lie about their virginity, blasphemers, witches, children who strike their parents, and gay men. Gays would be executed if they were caught indulging in sodomy.

Gary North succinctly set out what Reconstructionism was all about when he wrote,“We must use the doctrine of religious liberty…until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.”

In the United States the open advocacy of biblical law has been restrained because in many cases it would be criminal.  While a theoretical discussion about stoning disobedient children or adulterers might be protected as “freedom of speech” an intonation to stone a specific child or adulterer would land the good pastor in jail.  Thusly Reconstructionist notions have more usually been advanced by mediators like Francis Shaeffer. 

In the last several decades the extreme puritans have mostly been Muslims.  While the Christian puritans especially in the U.S. are there, they are kept in check by a secular legal system.  Muslim puritanism, however, is the official orthodoxy in countries as diverse Saudi Arabia and Malaysia.  In the Islamic State and in Taliban Afghanistan the kind of puritanical extremism that the Reconstructionists can only theorize about is the law of the land.  Stonings, death penalties for adulterous women, beheadings for blasphemy,  persecution of gays ... are all common occurrences.

Muslim fundamentalists have often derived their theological premises from the intolerant puritanism of the Wahhabi and Salafi creeds.  Wahhabism was founded by the eighteenth-century evangelist Muhammad ibn ’Abd al-Wahhab in the Arabian Peninsula.  He wanted to rid Islam of the corruptions that he believed had crept into it.  He was a strict literalist in which the text became the sole source of legitimate authority and like the Calvinists with respect to Christianity he was extremely hostile to intellectualism, mysticism, and any sectarian divisions within Islam.  It was necessary to return to a pristine, simple, straightforward Islam, based on the literal implementation of the commands of the Prophet, and by strict adherence to correct ritual practice.  Wahhabism opposed any modernization of Islam on account of changed circumstances. It perceived the vast majority of Islamic history as a corruption of the true and authentic Islam. It narrowly defined orthodoxy and was extremely intolerant of any creed that contradicted its own.

On the surface the Christian fundamentalists and Muslim fundamentalists are implacable enemies.  Many Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. would like to make it illegal to be a Muslim and most Muslims in most Muslim ruled countries support making Christianity illegal.  These two strands of fundamentalism, however, are also very similar  - they both subscribe to the notion that their primary religious texts - the Koran in one case and the Old and New Testaments in the other - are the inerrant word of God.  In arguing for inerrancy they both inevitably advance Abrahamic law - where there is no freedom of religion, where many offences are punishable by death - usually stoning - where there is a hatred of deviation.

One ever present characteristic of both Christian puritanism and Islamic puritanism is the fear of freedom for women.  This intense desire to control women probably has a root in  sexual monopolization but the targeting and degradation of women is more than just ensuring faithfulness to a mate.  There is a certain undeniable vehemence and angst in the treatment of women, as if the more women are made to suffer, in order to secure the future of the religion. Puritan orientations do not hesitate to treat all theological arguments aimed at honouring women, by augmenting their autonomy and social mobility, as if they were part of the Western conspiracy designed to destroy Islam. This is also manifested in the puritans' tendency to look at Muslim women as a consistent source of danger and vulnerability for Islam, and to go as far as branding women as the main source of social corruption and evil.

The code word for the Enlightenment is secular humanism.  Both Islamic and Christian fundamentalists are extremely hostile to "secular humanism".   According to Francis A. Schaeffer in his book How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (1976) rampant secular humanism would lead to moral relativism and ethical bankruptcy. For Shaeffer secular humanism was pernicious and diabolical, and would morally and spiritually destroy America.  This premise is a frequent theme in North American fundamentalism where secular humanism is typically portrayed as a vast evil conspiracy, deceitful and immoral, responsible for feminism, pornography, abortion, homosexuality, and New Age spirituality. 

For the fundamentalists secular humanism is the devil’s work.  One Christian pastor put it this way “We live in a day when there is a great war going on in the society in which we live. There are many battlefronts and aspects to the war, but the primary war in our day is between Christianity and secular humanism.  Secular humanism is a religion and a philosophy of life which views man as the supreme being of the universe. It rejects the existence of God and the supernatural. It sees moral values as relative and changing and varying from person to person.  It is important for every Christian to know the subtle ways that secular humanism is manifesting itself all around us. It is important for us to make decisions on a daily basis that demonstrate that we have not been captured, to any degree, by this intoxicating and persuasive philosophy and religion.”

Another fundamentalist preacher, Robert L. Waggoner writes “Many are only now suddenly awakening to the realization that the Christian foundations of our society have drastically eroded. Christians must realize a war is in progress. Christians must resist philosophical enemies. To defeat humanism, Christians must understand it and how it operates. Because Christians have too often failed to understand humanism, Christians have often compromised their beliefs and have therefore suffered defeat in many battles.  The conflict between humanism and Christianity is a war of many battles. This war is about whether a third of our unborn children shall continue to be murdered within their mothers’ wombs. It’s about whether a fourth of all births in this nation will continue to be outside of wedlock. It’s about whether decency or pornography shall prevail. It’s about who controls the education of children – parents or civil governments. And it’s about many other such things. This document contrasts humanistic and Christian beliefs and their consequences within society, and notes reasons why Christians have been losing this war with humanists.”

An Islamic scholar Habib Siddiqui writes “In the minds of people, the term “humanism” has certain magic, electric charm – like the "Aladdin’s lantern”. It bemuses many with its so-called rational, liberating gimmicks. Many Muslims, therefore, have developed false opinions without questioning the origin of western humanism and its effect on modem man.”

Malaysian prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak  said, “They call it human rightism, where the core beliefs are based on humanism and secularism as well as liberalism. “It’s deviationist in that it glorifies the desires of man alone and rejects any value system that encompasses religious norms and etiquettes. They do this on the premise of championing human rights.”

Every religion has its puritans and they are increasingly powerful - the ultra orthodox jews, Hinduist extremists.  Todays fundamentalists whether they identify as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or other religion are the storm troopers of the new puritanism.  They are out to destroy the enlightenment values which many of us thought had been preserved for all times with the defeat of Hitler.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

SASKATOON'S EVEN MORE RIDICULOUS ANTI-BULLYING BYLAW

I have earlier article on Regina’s anti-bullying by-law which I described as ridiculous. Saskatchewan’s other metropolis has done Regina one better with an anti-bullying bylaw which deserves unrelenting ridicule.  

It starts with one of most far-reaching definition of bullying imaginable.  Bullying is said to mean any unprovoked, repeated and inappropriate comment or conduct by a person which causes, which is intended to cause or which the person ought reasonably to know will cause harm, fear or physical or psychological distress to another person, including taunting, tormenting, name calling, ridiculing, insulting, mocking and directing slurs towards another person. kicking, pushing, hair pulling or pinching another person; and shunning, ostracizing, excluding another person and gossiping or rumour mongering about another person.  

Lets distill this at its worse: Bullying is any ... conduct by a person ... which the person ought reasonably to know will cause ... psychological distress to another person, including ... name calling, ridiculing, insulting, mocking ... another person.  At the time of considering this by-law there is an election going on in Saskatchewan.  Better suspend that election in Saskatoon since any election in Saskatchewan involves a whole lot of ridiculing, insulting and mocking of another person.

Of course kicking, pushing, hair pulling and pinching all fall under one or more criminal offences and do not need to be nor should they be the subject of a municipal bylaw.  As to a municipal by-law making it illegal to shun, ostracize or exclude another person - what can one reasonably say.  People in Saskatoon will no longer be free to choose their friends and associates.  This is a level of human relationship micro-management that would not even have been contemplated in the Soviet Union in the 1950's and 1960's.  There is obviously no concern in this part of Canada about protecting free speech like in the United States with its First Amendment.

The ultimate absurdity is making gossiping illegal.  Gossiping is a universal human social behavior - there have been estimates that it makes up forty per cent or more of human discourse.  Of course to stop gossiping it will be necessary to have multiple microphones in all public places - one up on the omnipresent cameras in the U.K.  

The definition of "public place" includes any place to which the public has access as of right or by express or implied invitation. In other words public place includes restaurants, bookstores, community halls, clubs, golf courses, churches, etc.  as well as roads, streets, parks and other places traditionally considered public.  A political rally would most likely be deemed to be taking place in a public place.  

Retired Saskatoon police Sgt. Brian Trainor, a gentleman who is now making his living in the burgeoning anti-bullying industry, loves it.  He says “I think it’s an intermediary tool that the police can use instead of a slap on the wrist or doing nothing.” What this really means is that police have another tool to push people around - bully them if you like.  The bullying will invariably be directed at young people.  If a police officer doesn’t like some young person’s attitude he or she will have an excuse to levy charge which can result in a significant fine.

The accused has the ability to participate in mediation to deal with charges as an alternative to the court process; this all sounds so nice and goodie, good but really it is just another way to interfere in a person’s life in what can be a most Kafkaesque manner.

If approved, the proposed effective date of the Bylaw is September 1, 2016, which will permit implementation of an awareness campaign and provide time for an appropriate mediation program to be developed to handle the diversion of matters from the court process.  People who push these kind of laws like the notion of diversion from the court process - because what it really means is avoiding oversight from judges who might still have some vestigial appreciation of civil liberties

Friday, 13 March 2015

MUNICIPAL CODES OF CONDUCT

CODES OF CONDUCT

The thing about 21st century totalitarianism is that it seems so nice at first appearance.  Like Codes of Conduct.   Shouldn’t codes of conduct be welcome.  Isn’t it a social good to encourage people to be polite to one another?

Codes of conduct have been notoriously imposed on many U.S. campuses.  But free speech limiting, democracy restricting codes are not limited to universities.   For example they are being widely adapted by municipal governments in Canada.  This is particularly true in Ontario, which in many ways is Canada’s  leader in “soft authoritarianism”. Codes of conduct have been popping up here and there all over the province.  Missisauga, is a sprawling suburban town outside of Toronto which was famous for its (now retired) 93 year old mayor, Hazel McCallion.  It also has a very extensive Code of Conduct governing its elected Council.  It is appropriately divided into rules - yes, a list of rules just like the Councillors would have been subjected to forty years earlier in high school.

Rule No. 10 of the its Code of Conduct reads “members of Council will accurately communicate the decisions of Mississauga City Council, even if they disagree with the majority decision of Council, and by doing so affirm the respect for and integrity in the decision-making processes of Council.”  It is difficult to imagine a more blatant way to chill opposition to Council decisions.  A critical Councillor will invariably be tagged with not accurately “communicating the decisions”.  Why should a Councillor be forced to affirm respect for and integrity of the decision-making process of Council when he or she disagree with that process and the decisions resulting from the process.  

The commentary attached to Rule No. 10 makes it even worse.  It says  “A Member should refrain from making disparaging comments about other members of Council or about councils, processes and decisions.  In other words, a Councillor cannot criticize Council decisions.  Missisauga does not tolerate opposition.  Goodbye democracy, Mississauga.

Rule No. 11 of the Missisauga Code keeps up the assault on political opposition when it says that Members “shall encourage public respect for the city and its bylaws”.  Why? -  if a Councillor disagrees with the bylaws and does not respect the type of decision-making being made in the City? This Rule goes beyond telling a Councillor that he or she should not encourage citizens to violate a bylaw.  In compelling a Councillor to be a cheerleader for a bylaw with which he or she disagrees, it is totally inappropriate in a democratic society.

Rule No. 11 also says “Members shall conduct themselves with decorum at all times.”  Imposing such a requirement on a Councillor also has no basis in a democratic society.  A Council is a political body and an elected member in a democratic society has every right to “rant and rave” at political meetings in the community and sometimes even to abandon “decorum” at a Council meeting or elsewhere.  

Rule No. 13 reads, “Members shall be respectful of the role of staff to advise based on political neutrality and objectivity and without undue influence from any individual Member or faction of the Council.”  This rule effectively shields municipal management from criticism from Councillors.  It is also, of course, ridiculous to claim that staff advice is based on “political neutrality and objectivity”. The import of such a statement is that staff advice is pure and above reproach.  A Councillor is essentially disallowed from stating that staff advice is anything other than politically neutral or objective.  Subrule 13(4) includes the further chilling provision “all members shall show respect for the professional capacities of the staff of the City.”  In other words, don’t disagree with what we say because we are the professionals and you councillors are the know-nothing amateurs. 

The Town Council in Carleton Place employs a cop to ensure that councillors do not get out of hand. The deputy mayor, Ed Sonnenburg, was reprimanded for a series of e-mails that used “offensive” language in a message to a resident and others that criticized the town’s chief administrative officer, Paul Knowles.  The town’s integrity commissioner, Robert Swayze, a lawyer in Caledon, Ont who at the time was the integrity commissioner for nine different Ontario municipalities, suspended Sonnenburg’s pay for four weeks which was a penalty amounting to about $1,700.  Swayze cited a couple of examples of unacceptable behaviors: the Councillor sent e-mails about changes in a development plan discussed at meeting he apparently missed, only to learn the news from a ratepayer: The e-mail: “But then again, council has been proven over and over again to be powerless” ... and “For Paul (the CAO) once again a ratepayer is providing information to a councillor.” Or another e-mail about a capital project in town: “Who decided to build what on whose authority --- or is it just the CAO using his discretion again?” Council, it turned out, had approved the very work.

The Carleton Place Code of Conduct contains the following: “Members of council....shall treat every person including other Members of Council, corporate employees...and the public, with dignity, understanding and respect for the right to equality and the right to an environment that is safe and free from harassment and discrimination.” The writer of an article in the Ottawa Citizen concerning the Councillor’s problems made the following comment: “On the one hand, especially among elected officials, is scrutiny and criticism of each other not just part of having a healthy democracy? It’s not kindergarten. Look at that band of partisan banshees up on Parliament Hill. One wonders, too, whether these limits on free expression would even stand up in court.  It is troubling, too, that the integrity commissioner has been delegated to decide what is and isn’t contrary to council’s code of conduct, which is written in that “everybody play nice” kind of language.”

It is troubling that an unelected official can exercise this kind of authority over an elected councillor. Councillor Sonnenburg was essentially reduced to a civil servant by a non-elected “Integrity Commissioner”.  It doesn’t matter if the councillor’s comments were accurate or inaccurate - it is incompatible with democracy that he can be punished for making these kinds of comments.

Port Hope (Ontario, of course) exemplifies everything that is perversely undemocratic about municipal codes of conduct.  Under the heading “What are the Responsibilities of Council Members?”  one finds this statement “Political Activity - Members of Council are to be allowed as great a measure of political rights as can be reconciled with the need to ensure the fact and appearance of impartiality, in the performance of their duties with the Municipality as Members of Council. The point at which any appropriate balance can be struck in any particular case depends primarily on the nature and level of the Council Member's responsibilities.”  This statement basically says that the political freedom of a councillor is something that we will try to allow but don’t count on it.  The drafter of this document suffers from democracy impairment - an elected councillor is a politician and as such it is his or her role to express their opinions and to represent the views of their constituents.  He or she is not “allowed” political rights.  Political rights are fundamental to being a democratically elected representative. 

Even more outrageous is Port Hope’s provision on Public Comment: “In accordance with the Municipality's Communications Policy, By-law Number 115/2007 every member of Council shall display the reserve inherent in his/her position with the Municipality when publicly expressing his/her personal opinions on matters of political controversy or on existing or proposed municipal policy or administration. This policy is not intended to restrict the legitimate public comment of spokespersons of Council, nor the public comment of Council Members on matters of essentially a personal interest related to his/her position as a Council Member with the Municipality of Port Hope.”

A councillor is not required to display any “reserve” when it comes to publicly expressing his/her personal opinions on matters of political controversy or an existing or proposed municipal policy or administration.  To quote from a letter written by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association when the City of Victoria was considering a similar conduct provision “Political debate, by its very nature, can involve heated discussions on matters of great contention.  It can involve polemics and diatribes.  This may, again by its nature, result in people being offended.  It may involve people having their motives questioned and that is, as we would expect in any truly open and democratic process.  The accountability of Councillors for their conduct in these regards is to electors.”  

Michael Vonn of the B.C.C.L.A. made a particularly valid point about codes of conduct that prohibit councillors from openly criticizing staff.  She said "The downside if you have a code of conduct that includes the requirement that you respect or consider the self-esteem of staff and colleagues, you really are in an area of chilling appropriate political speech.  Obviously in the context of debate, people are going to disagree. You have to allow for that disagreement without the chill of having somebody being brought up on a conduct matter."

What we see with codes of conduct is the downgrading of municipal councils to the role of an advisory board to the unelected bureaucrats. Is it the level of democracy closest to the people or it is it the level of bureaucracy with the closest control over the people?  One has to think the latter is more accurate.

Monday, 9 March 2015

ONE BIG REGISTRY

Online registries are flourishing in the U.S.  Politicians just can not resist them.  Identify a bad set of behaviors and then legislate an online registry naming the miscreants that have engaged in that kind of behavior.

SEX OFFENCE REGISTRIES

The movement to create online registries - like compulsory reporting laws - were initially motivated by crimes against children.  Sex registries in the U.S. began in California in 1947 but were not used in a major way until 1994 with passage of the Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act - which required states to form a database of offenders convicted of sexually violent offenses or offenses against children. In 1996 following the abduction and murder of seven-year-old Megan Kankain New Jersey, the law  (Megan’s Law) was amended to require law enforcement to make registration data public. 

Like compulsory reporting laws on-line registries have not remained confined to horrendous sex crimes against children.  While they were originally intended to name the worst of the worst,  sex offender registries have gradually broadened to include any type of sexual offence.  For example offenses listed on Pennsylvania’s sex offender registry include “aggravated indecent assault,” “unlawful contact or communication with a minor” and “sexual assault.”  New York’s list is even broader including patronizing a prostitute. 

As a result in 2013, there were nearly 750,000 registered sex offenders in the U.S., including individuals convicted of non-violent crimes such as consensual sex between teenagers, prostitution and public nudity, as well as those who committed their only offenses decades ago. Children as young as 13 have been placed on a registry.

Jill Levenson, an associate professor of psychology at Lynn University in Florida, questions the effectiveness of sex offender registries.  She references Department of Justice figures that conclude that only 13 percent of new sex crimes are committed by known sex offenders, and that such crimes are at least six times more likely to be committed by other types of offenders who do not appear on any sex offender registry.  She notes that studies, that have examined the effect of registry and notification laws for sex offenders on recidivism, “do not show a decrease in repeat sex offenses that can be attributed to sex offender registry or notification.”

MORE REGISTRIES

There are now a host of registries listing non-sexual offenders.  In fact an organized effort to establish a new registry seems to always succeed.  Typically the New York State Senate voted 57 to 4 on Tuesday for a violent offenders registry.  In Illinois, the murderer’s registry bill passed the House in April by a 97-to-1 vote.   Representative Monique Davis, the lone member of the Illinois House to oppose the law, said that although she favored the state’s sex offender registry, “I just don’t think that a murderer registry is of much value to anyone except those getting paid to set it up.”  She noted that the recidivism rate for murder was very low to begin with and that the state, facing a deficit of more than $4 billion, could not afford the cost of another registry. In fact murderers have among the lowest rates of recidivism. Only about 1.2 percent of convicted murderers go on to commit another murder within three years of their release; roughly 35 percent commit other types of crimes within the same time period.

Activist groups across the U.S. are successfully promoting registries for drunk drivers even though as Maine State Representative Gary Plummer, a Republican, stated they are “prohibitively expensive.”   He said “I haven’t even gotten to the point of considering is it fair to put people on this type of registry, when we don’t have the resources” to do it, he said of the drunken driver bill, adding that he had also opposed proposals for arsonist and animal abuser registries as too costly.

BAD TENANT REGISTRIES.  

With all these stories about bad tenants, Ontario PC MPP Ernie Hardeman has called on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to look into creating a registry where bad tenants (and bad landlords) could be listed and seen by the public.  Hardeman said “there must be a way that once you have a record that record becomes public.” And BC landlords now the importance of tenant screening. And even Alberta landlords are making sure they rent to great tenants and avoid the pro bad tenants.

ANIMAL ABUSE REGISTRIES.

In fact registries are no longer being restricted to crimes against humans.  Suffolk County, on the eastern half of Long Island, has created the nation's first animal abuse registry, requiring people convicted of cruelty to animals to register or face jail time and fines.  The online list is open to the public, so that pet owners or the merely curious can find out whether someone living near them is on it - on the theory that some animal abusers have been known to steal their neighbors' pets.

"We know there is a very strong correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence," said Suffolk County legislator Jon Cooper, the bill's sponsor.  Repeating was essentially is an urban legend he said  "Almost every serial killer starts out by torturing animals, so in a strange sense we could end up protecting the lives of people."

Cathy Mulnard, a founder and co-director of Second Chance Rescue, a Suffolk animal shelter, said about animal abusers "They don't mean to be bad to the animal, but they get overwhelmed and don't know how to ask for help. They may be innocent abusers," She called the legislation "a godsend for the animals."  She added "We take care of our animals and love our animals the way you do your children," she said. "We need to protect every animal that's out there because they don't make the decisions in their life; human beings do."

Suffolk County is also notorious for having imposed such onerous restrictions on sex offenders exceeding those required by New York State law that it was faced with a situation where 40 sex offenders ended up living in two cramped trailers located in isolated locations.

Animal Abuse Registries exemplifies the whole problem with laws created by people with good intentions.  As SCOTT H. GREENFIELD, says on his Simple Justice blog “Animal abuse is wrong, therefore anything that causes misery to animal abusers is good.  And this is how bad law happens.” He observes that animal registries (like other registries) essentially gets the bad guy twice “You mean they were already sentenced for their crime?  You mean they served their sentence, paid their dues, and only afterward do they get this dumped on them, on top of everything else?”  Another erosion of the rule against double jeopardy.

ONE BIG REGISTRY

Every time there is publicity about some repugnant act - idling a car in a parking lot, smoking in the vicinity of children, throwing a plastic bottle into a culvert, saying something hateful about a religious belief, some legislator somewhere in the U.S. will be trying to create another registry.  So the country will invariably end up with a significant portion of the population on a bad person registry.   Eventually the various registries will be combined into one BIG REGISTRY. 

In fact, in British Columbia, Canada that has happened.   B.C.’s Court Services Online provides public access to court records including the Provincial Court ticket records and Provincial Court criminal records. Most of the records displayed on this site are traffic offences or criminal code offences. Some offences are even municipal bylaw offences or offences under provincial or federal Acts, such as the Fisheries Act.   B.C’s Online Registry, like other registries, is accessed by all the information systems that are being utilized by government and policing institutions in Canada and the U.S. so invariably a person trying to travel to the U.S. will be stopped from entering the country because of catching a fish that was too small or failing to license the cat.