Archive for the ‘Rights and Responsibilities’ category

How to end sex discrimination in one easy step

February 15th, 2011

Make it a men’s issues instead of a women’s issue.

I read about yet another workplace sexual harassment lawsuit today. These stories are a regular occurrence in the news. You can change the names and workplaces, and get basically the same story every time.

Multiple choice “Make Your Own Sexual Harassment Story” generator:

Woman gets job, woman’s male colleagues make inappropriate comments a) [behind her back] b) [in front of her]. Woman is denied a) [raises] b) [perks] c) [promotions] d) [all of the above]. Colleagues make a) [explicit] b) [implied] comments about taking maternity and parental leave, and how it will negatively affect your career. Woman a) [gets fired] b) [leaves for another job] and sues the former employer.

The sad fact is, that men are just as victimized by this behaviour as women are. Grown up men who work in these offices are likely to be offended by the same juvenile antics, just as much as women. Maybe they don’t say anything because they’re afraid of not getting the raise or promotion. Nonetheless, they are entitled to a workplace that is free from this kind of office politics. How many of these men have kids? How many did not take a parental leave after their kids were born, because it would be bad for their careers, even if they wanted to?

These men are suffering too, probably without realizing it. They are putting up with a workplace that could be better for everyone, themselves included. Many must be too chicken to say anything, lest they suffer the same fate as their female counterparts. If you think taking leave is such a hardship on one’s career, why assume that the mother of your children should be stuck with that? Shouldn’t you share? Or better yet, shouldn’t you stand up in your own workplace for the rights you have under the law to share part of that magical first year with your kids?!

These “women’s issues” need to be seen as “family issues,” that affect men equally. Only then will we have achieved any kind of lasting solution. Until that day, women will continue to be victims and men will continue to be silent accomplices, and continue to miss out on the benefits and rights they are just as much entitled to.

We are all Egyptians now

February 2nd, 2011

Last summer, police in Alexandria tortured and murdered a 28-year-old man named Khaled Said. Afterwards, supporters created a website called We are all Khaled Said. This horrific event was one of many catalysts leading up to the the current revolution to end the brutal dictatorship in Egypt.

Today, we are all Egyptians. The peaceful protesters who had gathered over the past week, have been attacked by armed men. Witnesses say they have seen government officials paying people to join the attackers, and found government IDs on some attackers. I don’t think you need witnesses to know the truth, you just need to put two and two together:

  • A week of peaceful protests telling the dictator to step down (peaceful except when they were attacked by police)
  • A dictator who said last night he’s not going anywhere any time soon, and there would be chaos if people didn’t go home
  • A day later, violent attackers descend on the protesters, complete with tear gas

I mean, come on. This is the same government that shut down the internet, confiscated journalists’ camera equipment, and arrested the journalists! The dictator has no clothes!

You can find out more on Al Jazeera’s English channel, as well as from many Egyptians on the internet, including my friend and colleague from the Drupal community, Khalid Baheyeldin — Khalid’s blogKhalid’s twitter feed.

I do not know what we outside Egypt can do, except exercise our own freedoms in support of theirs. That’s why I am writing this. We can all contact our elected leaders and urge them to articulate our outrage and to pressure the powers that be in Egypt to yield to the will of the people. If you are in Canada, go to the prime minister’s website and send him a message. And as long as you know your postal code, you can get contact info for your local member of parliament and tell them what you’re thinking.

Millions of Egyptians are trying to change their country for the better. What can it mean for our own freedoms, if we do not stand against the egregious oppression they are facing in this struggle? Never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

What’s so special about WikiLeaks? Nothing!

December 3rd, 2010

Why isn’t anyone in the media standing on the rooftops, defending WikiLeaks?

After the whistle-blowing website released thousands of documents recently, the spin in the news has been focused on the government outrage, and the outrageous calls to assassinate Julian Assange, the “editor-in-chief” of WikiLeaks.

OK, let’s imagine for a moment that the government called for the assassination of the editor of the Globe and Mail, because they disagreed with a story the Globe published. Can you imagine that?! What kind of banana republic would this country be if that happened? But when Stephen Harper’s former advisor, Tom Flanagan, says just that about WikiLeaks where is the outrage from sane individuals in this country?

In Canada, at least, journalists are no different from anyone else. They have no special rights and no special laws protecting them or their work. If they publish something you don’t like, you can sue them, just like you can sue anyone else when they say or write something you disagree with. If someone publishes information that undermines the state, there are laws against that too. But you have to prove that it undermines the state, you can’t just say it does, and suggest assassination as a remedy!

And it should be needless to say that there’s a fine line between information that undermines the state and information that’s in the public interest. The Pentagon Papers are one of the most famous examples of this fact. If you condemn WikiLeaks, then you either have to condemn the New York Times for publishing the Pentagon Papers, or you have to explain why WikiLeaks is somehow different from the New York Times.

Before you say, “of course it’s different,” remember that in this country at least, journalists have no special rights. There is no difference between this blog and the Toronto Star in a legal sense. In the United States, there are some states where journalists working for “recognized media outlets” have special rights and responsibilities. That creates the possibility of separating “real” journalists from plain old bloggers and WikiLeaks.

But who gets to make that distinction? The people who make the laws granting journalists special rights? The courts when ruling whether someone is protected by the law or not? I much prefer the Canadian model where we’re all equal under the law, and all equally able to take the government to task (more statutory protections for those that do would be welcome of course, whether journalists or not!).

Sweden, where WikiLeaks is based, has different rules about freedom of the press from Canada or the US. So once again, the online world is forcing people to confront distinctions in the laws of different countries, but that’s not new, right? It’s the same old thing as when debates have erupted about copyrights and patents and so-called digital rights management. We’re used to seeing the old media/new media story play out around relatively trivial subjects, like whether you can download movies from the internet. We’re not used to seeing it play out around freedom of the press.

Maybe this is why the media is not rallying to WikiLeaks defence. Old media hates new media. It’s the new kid on the block, and it’s going to eat old media’s lunch sooner or later. Maybe the editorial boards of major newspapers are happy to see this new media upstart under the gun. But they should think long and hard about the role of journalism in a democracy before they spend too much time on the side lines. When they look at the vitriol being cast at WikiLeaks, they should remember, “there but for the grace of God go I.”

We’re in this together (or: what is “your turn” really about?)

July 30th, 2009

Update – January 9, 2012 — An excellent overview of the Kafkaesque case of Hassan Diab at Briarpatch Magazine.


Update – May 27, 2011

I sent the following letter to the Globe and Mail tonight:

In the case of extraditing Hassan Diab, a Canadian Citizen has been denied his freedom for literally *years* despite the fact that there is absolutely no evidence against him that would stand up in a Canadian court. This is the most shocking and terrifying thing I have seen in this country in my life.

Before a Canadian citizen can be arrested, deprived of their freedom, and shipped overseas, must we not have at least a modicum of evidence? Wouldn’t you assume that the government would only arrest you and send you to a foreign country, if there was some evidence that could prove you had done something very wrong?

It seems not. What the French government has provided as evidence against Hassan Diab is a fig leaf, barely able to conceal their complete lack of a case.

Besides handwriting evidence that the judge himself has called “very problematic, very confusing, and with conclusions that are suspect,” the balance of the so-called evidence is based on un-sourced, secret intelligence of East German origin, which may have been the result of torture. It’s like the Maher Arar case, but backwards. If we stand up for human rights in this country, then the case to extradite Diab must be dismissed immediately because of the link to torture alone.

But instead, for *years*, Hassan Diab has faced the loss of all of his freedoms. He lost his teaching job when Carleton University decided that innocent-until-proven guilty was simply a nice idea on paper. He has had to pay *tens of thousands of dollars* for a monitoring anklet as part of his bail conditions.

The rules of extraditions even deny him the right to introduce evidence that could prove his fingerprints don’t even match the suspect in the case!

The terrifying thing is that our laws have done nothing to protect a Canadian citizen in this case. It seems that if a foreign government simply asks nicely, then our government will do everything in its power to hand you over. Sure, you’re not Hassan Diab, lucky for you, but not even proof of your innocence can stop you from being next.


Update – October 20, 2010 — Nearly two years after being arrested, but not charged with anything, Hassan Diab’s case is still not closed. Using spotty evidence (and that’s a generous description), the French government is asking that he be sent to France to stand trial. In November 2010, some conclusions might be reached in this long tale, when an extradition hearing might actually get under way.

As the website states:

Dr. Diab’s case will establish a dangerous legal precedent if a Canadian court allows unsourced intelligence of unknown, untestable reliability to be used to extradite a Canadian citizen.

We were all shocked and horrified by the Maher Arar case. A foreign government claimed he was a terrorist and he was summarily sent to another country without a chance to confront the evidence against him (assuming there even was any!). And, of course, he was tortured there!

Hassan Diab is another Canadian citizen facing a similar situation. A foreign government is claiming he’s a terrorist, and he faces the threat of being sent to another country. But this time, it’s not the US doing the dirty work. The Canadian government is acting on behalf of France, to try and extradite a Canadian citizen based on the flimsiest of evidence. At least he’s not likely to be tortured in France.

Good luck to us all.


Original Post, July 30, 2009:

Carleton University fired a professor Tuesday, because he is alleged to have committed a terrorist act. I wonder if there’s a list of possible alleged acts somewhere in Robertson Hall (that was the admin building when I was a student there, maybe it’s not anymore). Maybe this hypothetical list is written in some sort of hierarchy, and a line is drawn across it somewhere, separating the fire-able allegations from the ones that merely mean they read all your e-mail.

Maybe it’s because I am an alumni of Carleton University (BJ/96) that the article on the Toronto Star website made me pause for a long while. Or maybe it’s just because of my appreciation for the principles of a free society, which I partly acquired at Carleton University, and other places, including at the knee of my mother’s parents, who were both Royal Air Force veterans, and had an endless supply of stories about World War II and the Nazis. My grandfather in particular was a lifelong student of the history of his youth, and knew as much about the political run up to the war as he did about the war itself.

One thing he shared with me, which made among the strongest impressions, was the famous quotation of German Pastor Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.

Well, they came for Hassan Diab, at Carleton University this week. Thankfully, many people are saying something.

Now, in fairness, perhaps professor Diab really did kill four people in Paris in 1980. I don’t know for sure. But that’s the whole point; it hasn’t been proven, it’s an allegation.

And also to be fair, this isn’t exactly the same thing as a Nazi purge. Carleton is not politically cleansing its faculty. But there’s a thread of public mindedness and community involvement that runs through Niemöller’s quotation, and this event at my alma mater. That’s what “your turn” is all about.

I registered the domain name on April 19, 2005. I wanted a personal domain that could be a vehicle for saying something, somehow, about many things that I care about and am involved with, most of which revolve around engaging other people and working together for a common goal: promoting a free and open internet, environmentalism, open source software development, not-for-profit business models…. I could go on, and hopefully I will with many more postings.

I also like games, computer games and board games mostly, but all games certainly. When you’re playing a game, “your turn” is what you say to pass things on to the next person, it’s how you acknowledge that you’ve done your part, and now they can do theirs. It’s a gesture of community and partnership, even if you’re competing to win the game, you’re playing it together. We’ve all said “your turn” countless times in our lives. I think it’s a gesture that we can all take to heart far away from a games table.

In the meantime, it seems to me that Carleton University has made a big mistake here. This is not a case of an alleged pedophile coaching a little league team, where, if the allegations are true, there would be irreparable harm done. The worst that could happen in this case is that his views would be debated, in public, at an institution of higher learning. What could be more appropriate?

If you want to make your opinion known, write to Carleton University president Roseann O’Reilly Runte. I’m sure your local paper’s editor would like to hear about it too.


P.S. I must apologize for miraculously demonstrating Godwin’s Law with only one post! ;-)