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October 31, 2006

Witches are People Too

Fascinating Halloween-related case out of Germany:

A German court has ordered a self-proclaimed witch to refund a disappointed client her hefty fee for a spell that failed to win back the woman's partner.

The Munich administrative court said Monday it ruled that the witch must pay back the equivalent of $1,400 (Canadian) on the grounds she offered a service that was "objectively completely impossible."

After the client's boyfriend left her in 2003, she consulted the witch on a spell that would bring him back. "The defendant carried out the corresponding ritual over several months, each time under a full moon, but without success," a court statement said.

It said the witch denied the client's claim that she had guaranteed success. However, the court ruled that was irrelevant because "a love ritual is not suited to influencing a person from a distance."

Fascinating in that it raises a series of interesting issues. First, the witch denies that she guaranteed success of the spell. But a failure to explicitly guarantee performance doesn't necessarily mean there's no guarantee at all; some legal systems have developed a notion of implied warranty which applies to every transaction. For instance, the American Uniform Commercial Code provides:
[A] warranty that the goods shall be merchantable is implied in a contract for their sale if the seller is a merchant with respect to goods of that kind.
So even if the witch didn't explicitly guarantee the success of the spell, she might be bound by an implied warranty as to the merchantability of the spell.

But (second), the court says that a guarantee (presumably whether express or implied) is irrelevant because "a love ritual is not suited to influencing a person from a distance."† other words, the court said that a guarantee, express or implied, would necessarily be fraudulent, since the success of the spell was objectively impossible.

But that means (third) that the court is passing judgment on the objective possibility of a love spell. As I argued in the context of the insanity defense, I don't think that a secular court can properly inquire into the plausibility of matters of faith - nor their purported manifestations. Who's the court to say that the spell didn't work? After all, it might have been designed simply to make it more likely that before that the boyfriend would return - and it might have achieved that purpose. But a secular court is fundamentally (and ought to be constitutionally) incapable of determining such things.

Of course it might be that Wiccan spells are total; in other words, the theological claim of Wicca in this case might be that if certain words are chanted and certain procedures followed, a particular outcome will result. If that's the case, Wicca might provide its own internally consistent 'mechanical' rules against which particular instances of Wiccan practices can be judged. It might, in other words, be internally falsifiable.

But in order to make such a determination, a secular court would have to inquire into the fundamental nature of Wiccan theology - and, again (fourth), this is precisely the sort of inquiry that a secular court is (and ought to be) incapable of properly engaging in.

Like the preacher in Dallas who solicited money and requests for prayers, and who was found to have removed the checks and discarded the prayer requests, the market will take care of this witch. And as a theological matter she may have assumed some sort of moral culpability, assuming that her sale was in bad faith. But a secular court - a court, that is, of a liberal pluralistic secular polity - simply cannot make determinations of bad faith in this context, and it certainly cannot make such determinations on the basis of the "objective impossibility" of a matter of faith.

† Curiously, the court's language suggests that it might be more receptive to claims involving a spell that acts immediately upon the intended target, rather than at a distance—although this may be a trick of translation.

Posted by David Mader at 01:39 PM | (0) | Back to Main

October 29, 2006

Dirty Politics

How come we haven't heard more about this?

The Ottawa police have two investigations under way relating to the campaign for mayor.

Someone broke into former city councillor Alex Munter's downtown campaign office sometime Thursday night or early yesterday morning and removed five computers. . . .

The break-in was at Mr. Munter's headquarters at the corner of St. Patrick and Dalhousie streets in the Byward Market area.

The stolen computers contained Mr. Munter's voter identification lists, which will play a large role in getting out his vote on election day, and fund-raising information.

Nothing else was taken and there was no vandalism.

Joan Weinman, Mr. Munter's media relations officer, said all the information "was backed up, and the campaign is running at full steam." She added that no confidential campaign donation information, like credit card numbers, was taken.

Ms. Weinman said two key campaign staff have also experienced break-ins at a residence and an office recently, and that hard drives were stolen during those crimes, too.

So someone's broken into Munter HQ to steal hard drives with voter lists and other campaign information; and someone's also broken into the home(!) and office of senior Munter campaign officials to steal hard drives with campaign information.

It could all be nothing, of course; could all be petty theft. After all, it's just a break-in at a campaign office. But American investigative journalism was essentially created in the wake of a break-in at a campaign office. Isn't Ottawa's own apparently political break-in at least worth a second look?

Posted by David Mader at 08:39 PM | (1) | Back to Main

Thought for the Day

Augustus did all he could by legislation to encourage marriage among men of family. The Empire was very big and needed more officials and senior army officers than the nobility and gentry were able to supply, in spite of constant recruiting to their ranks from the populace. When there were complaints from men of family about the vulgarity of these newcomers, Augustus used to answer testily that he chose the least vulgar he could vind. The remedy was in their own hands, he said: every man and woman of rank should marry young and breed as large a family as possible. The steady degrease in the number of births and marriages in the governing classes became an obsession with Augustus.

On one occasion when the Noble Order of Knights, from whom the senators were chosen, complained of the severity of his laws against bachelors, he summoned the entire order into the Market Place for a lecture. When he had them assembled there he divided them up into two groups, the married and the unmarried. The unmarried were a very much larger group than the married and he addressed separate speeches to each group. He worked himself up into a great passion with the unmarried, calling them beasts and brigands and, by a queer figure of speech, murderers of their posterity. By this time Augustus was an old man with all the petulance and crankiness of an old man who has been at the head of affairs all his life. He asked them, had they an hallucination that they were Vestal Virgins? At least a Vestal Virgin slept alone, which was more than they did. Would they, pray, explain why instead of sharing their beds with decent women of their own class and begetting healthy children on them, they squandered all their virile energy on greasy slave-girls and nasty Asiatic-Greek prostitutes? . . .

As for us married men, for I was among them by this time, he gave us a most splendid eulogy, spreading out his arms as if to embrace us. “There are only a very few of you, in comparison with the huge population of the City. You are far less numerous than your fellows over there, who are unwilling to perform any of their natural social duties. Yet for this very reason I praise you the more, and am doubly grateful to you for having shown yourselves obedient to my wishes and for having done your best to man the State. It is by lives so lived that the Romans of the future will become a great nation. At first we were a mere handful, you know, but when we took to marriage and begot children we came to vie with neighboring states not only in the manliness of our citizens but the size of our population too. We must always remember this. We must console the mortal part of our nature with an endless succession of generations, like torch-bearers in a race, so that through one another we may immortalize the one side of our nature in which we fall short of divine happiness. . . ."

I wanted to laugh . . . because the whole business was such an utter farce. What was the use in Augustus addressing us in this way, when he was perfectly well aware that it was not the men who were shirking, as he called it, but the women? If he had summoned the women it is just possible that he might have accomplished something by talking to them in the right way.

I remember once hearing two of my mother’s freedwomen discussing modern marriage from the point of view of a woman of family. What did she gain by it? they asked. Morals were so loose now that nobody took marriage seriously any longer. Granted, a few old-fashioned men respected it sufficiently to have a prejudice against children being fathered on them by their friends or household servants, and a few old-fashioned women respected their husbands’ feelings sufficiently to be very careful not to become pregnant to any but them. But as a rule any good-looking woman nowadays could have any man to sleep with whom she chose. If she did marry and then tired of her husband, as usually happened, and wanted someone else to amuse herself with, there might easily be her husband’s pride or jealously to content with. Nor in general was she better off financially after marriage. . . .

As for children, who wanted them? They interfered with the lady’s health and amusement for several months before birth and, though she had a foster-mother for them immediately afterwards, it took time to recover from the wretched business of childbirth, and it often happened that her figure was ruined after having more than a couple. . . . And a lady’s husband, if she was fond of him, could not be expected to keep off other women throughout the time of her pregnancy, and anyway he paid very little attention to the child when it was born. And then, as if all this were not enough, foster-mothers were shockingly careless nowadays and the child often died. What a blessing it was that those Greek doctors were so clever, if the thing had not gone too far—they could rid any lady of an unwanted child in two or three days, and nobody be any the worse or wiser. Of course some ladies, even very modern ladies, had an old-fashioned hankering for children, but they could always buy a child for adoption into their husband’s family, from some man of decent birth who was hard pressed by his creditors. . . .

Robert Graves, I, Claudius, ch.7 (1934)
A large number of Canada's baby boomers -- those born between 1946 and 1965 -- turned 60 by July of this year, bringing the median age of Canada's population to 38.8. That means half of Canada's aging population is older than 38.8 and half is younger.

Almost 1,100 boomers will have turned 60 every day of this year, and by the end of the year more than 400,000 will have reached their 60th birthday. "That's a pretty high greying of the race," Statistics Canada spokesman Hubert Denis told CTV Newsnet. During the 1960s, when most boomers were born, the median age was just 25. By 1986, it was 32. In 2001, it was 37.2 and by last year it was 38.5. . . .

Canada's population is aging because we're not having enough babies to keep the mean age lower. It takes 2.1 babies per woman to keep the population from aging. That means every couple of child-bearing age has to have two children. But the average number of children per couple in Canada is 1.5.

Canada's Aging Population Reaches Median of 38.8, CTV News, Oct. 26, 2006

Posted by David Mader at 07:31 PM | (2) | Back to Main

October 26, 2006


I don't get it - did he say

you'll make an effing awful Prime Minister
or did he actually use an expletive?

Effing newspapers...

Posted by David Mader at 05:30 PM | (3) | Back to Main

October 24, 2006


Judge Strikes Down Part of Anti-Terrorism Act:

"The motive clause is at the heart of the anti-terror law; that clause has been struck down," said [Lawrence] Greenspon, adding that pre-existing Criminal Code provisions could have covered all Khawaja's alleged activities.

"How many times does the Canadian government have to apologize to the next generation, or the generation after, before we learn the lesson of history which is you don't pass legislation in response to politics," he told CTV Ottawa outside the Superior Court.

Yea. Yea, I hate it when my legislation is affected by politics. I mean, politics has no place in the legislature.


I think I actually get what Greenspon is saying, though I have a head-cold so I may be quite wrong. I think by "politics" here he means something different than "ideologically-motivated policy decisions" - the sort of politics that we would quite naturally assign to the, um, political branch. I think instead he means the crass partisan or popular pressures that are particularly strong in the wake of, for instance, terrorist attacks.

As for the decision itself, it's fascinating, and I have quite a bit to say about it. But I'm going to do something a bit un-blogger like. I'm actually going to read it. You can, too, if you're so minded: it's available here (thank you Globe & Mail). The provision of the Criminal Code at issue is Section 83.01(1)(b)(I)(a), available here.

More soon.

Posted by David Mader at 10:30 PM | (11) | Back to Main

October 19, 2006

Two Solitudes of a Different Sort

Either CP isn't familiar with the mainstream Canadian political blogosphere or I'm not familiar with the mainstream Canadian political blogosphere, and I'm willing to believe it's the latter. Who?

Posted by David Mader at 08:20 PM | (0) | Back to Main


Like Adam, I had high expectations for Michale Ignatieff. I was prepared to defend his academic pedigree and his foreign credentials - attacks on which I see as simple Canadian provincialism. His Qana comments made me uneasy not because I disagreed substantively - though of course I did - but because they seemed a transparent attempt to garner support in Quebec.

And now this:

In an attempt to shed his 'Bush-lite' image, Liberal leadership candidate Michael Ignatieff used a recent interview to call the U.S. president "a disaster," while saying he has no "remaining confidence" in the Americans' handling of Iraq.

"This president has been a disaster for the authority and the influence of the United States," Ignatieff told The Globe and Mail during a recent interview.

This raises a number of questions:
  • How many more of Canada's friends will Ignatieff insult and denigrate in his quest to become Liberal leader?
  • If he is successful in winning the keys to 24 Sussex, in what state does Ignatieff expect to find Canadian-American and Canadian-Israeli relations?
  • On what other issues besides foreign affairs can we expect Ignatieff to abandon academic reason and pander to the supposed beliefs of the Canadian Liberal?
  • Is this pandering an overt attempt to shed his image as a cool and studious thinker in favor of an image as a a hot-headed poll-follower - or is that simply an unintended consequence?
I still think the Liberals should pick him - he's far more well-spoken and prime ministerial than Rae, even though he says rather un-prime ministerial things in his prime ministerial way, and - unfortunately - I don't think there's any doubt that his anti-Americanism will appeal to a good number of Canadian voters.

But whereas I once hoped for an Ignatieff leadership as a step towards political sophistication and maturity, I now simply fear a return to Martinite anything-for-power waffling. It's too bad.

Posted by David Mader at 07:33 PM | (6) | Back to Main


Just shameful:

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay is in hot water after he allegedly referred to Belinda Stronach -- his former romantic interest -- as a dog. . . .

After a Liberal MP asked how the new clean-air rules would affect MacKay's dog, he pointed to Stronach's empty chair and responded: "You already have her."

"Mr. Speaker, this is clearly shameful and the minister owes an apology to this House," said Liberal MP Mark Holland. "It is a shameful display that he absolutely must apologize for."

It absolutely is a shameful display, and MacKay absolutely should apologize.

What's odd is that MacKay doesn't strike me as the sort of character who would resort to this sort of language - it seems rather uncharacteristic (though of course I don't know the guy). Unfortunately, that language seems entirely characteristic of the venue in which it was spoken.

I say unfortunately because that venue was, of course, Parliament. I listened to question period yesterday, and I've got the audio of today's on in the background as I type this, and I have no hesitation in saying that Canada's parliament is, from the perspective of decorum, a disgrace. Every question - and every response - is shouted, if not affirmatively shrieked, as though the question itself were the most important issue facing the nation, as though upon the answer depended the very survival of our people. Each and every speaker must contend with a chorus of what's described north of the Queensway as 'heckling' but what would be described anywhere else as incessant unfiltered rudeness. And aside from any questions and any answers, speakers must content with a constant back-and-forth of shouting and insults that appears to be entirely unrelated to the subject matter at hand. It's a disgrace.

Parliamentary antics are justified by the politically-interested by appeals to the notion that Parliament is theatre. Well, fine. But our current Parliamentarians are all playing fools.

Except MacKay. Today MacKay's playing an ass.

MORE: Sounds like the Tories might be trying to deny the whole thing.

Incidentally, the CP needs to work on its logic:
It wouldn't be the first time that the foreign minister compared his ex-girlfriend, a former Liberal human resources minister, to a canine. The day after Stronach's defection, he told reporters he planned to go home and walk his dog. "Dogs are loyal," he added at the time.
Yes, you see, the thing is, from MacKay's perspective Stronach had been quite disloyal, and so his comments were quite obviously meant to contrast - not compare - Stronach and his dog.

Posted by David Mader at 07:08 PM | (6) | Back to Main

October 18, 2006

More on Turner

The more I read and listen, the less I feel like I know how to consider this issue. My initial reaction is here.

On the one hand, Turner is a very savvy guy, and he comes across very, very well. He's playing this as a decision based on his political beliefs and a supposed aversion to political diversity within caucus. That plays into the media's self-driven obsession with the notion that the PM can't take criticism (which appears to be the current explanation for the rocky relationship between the PM and the PPG - see CTV's interview with Senator LeBreton). It's hard to escape the conclusion that this decision was made without a lot of strong thought about the optics (although the presence of the party's political director at the Ontario caucus meeting would suggest otherwise).

On the other hand, the Tories' own explanation is hardly absurd. I'm obviously a big fan of blogging, and I was thrilled with - for instance - Monte Solberg's blackberry-blogging from the floor of the House of Commons. But there's an undeniable tension between the publicity that drives blogging and the discretion that's necessary in government.

I noted earlier that I draw a distinction between the Conservative party, the Conservative caucus, and the Conservative government. I suggested - and Turner seems to argue - that a wide range of opinions is not only consistent with but important in a single partisan caucus. The difficulty - according to the Conservative explanation of the suspension - is that caucus appears to mean more today than the simple collection of MPs who identify with a particular label in the House. The caucus appears now to be treated as essentially an extension of the government; the "government" is understood to contain both the cabinet and the balance of those MPs who identify with the governing party.

Now the cabinet could not serve without the support of a plurality of the House, of course, so to a degree it makes sense to treat cabinet-supporting back-benchers differently than others. But it seems to me that there's no inherent reason for the Cabinet to treat Conservative back-benchers any differently than non-cabinet MPs of different parties - except, that is, out of courtesy. The cabinet - what I would call the government - needs to know that it can rely on the support of like-minded non-cabinet MPs, and so there's an interest in communicating with back-benchers and ensuring that proposed legislation is supported (and that legislation popular among back-bench MPs is proposed). But not all cabinet-supporting MPs are in government; in fact, I would argue that none are. And (therefore) I think it's a mistake to turn caucus into an extension of the (narrowly defined) government.

Here's how that plays out in this instance. Senator Marjorie LeBreton, the Senate Government Leader, repeatedly suggested in a CTV interview that the suspension stemmed from concerns regarding caucus confidentiality, particularly among cabinet members. Lebreton suggested that cabinet members were no longer comfortable briefing the Ontario caucus on pending legislation or other government-related matters because of the fear that information would be publicized through Turner's blog. That warrants caucus suspension only insofar as confidentiality regarding government information is necessary in a non-cabinet caucus context - in other words, it presumes the conflation of caucus and government. I think that's a mistake, and so I think there might have been a more appropriate method of excluding Turner from the disemmination of government information without kicking him out of caucus; but given the apparent reality of the conflation, the decision to suspend seems pretty reasonable.

As I note, though, Turner himself denies that confidentiality has anything to do with it, and that the discussion at Ontario caucus today was entirely about his views; moreover, by telling reporters to ask the Conservative political director why his suspension came about today, Turner has essentially alleged that his suspension was a political rather than a pragmatic decision. This post doesn't speak to any of that; I can only say that, at this point, anything but a pragmatic decision would strike me as somewhat misguided.

Posted by David Mader at 05:57 PM | (1) | Back to Main

The Veil Controversy - Latest

I'm really fascinated by this issue - I hope you'll forgive my attention to what may seem to some a British political issue. I think it's a global political issue, and I hope I can lead some of the skeptics to agree.

Tony Blair has taken a relatively strong stand on the issue, saying at his monthly press conference:

It [the veil] is a mark of separation and that is why it makes other people from outside the community uncomfortable . . . .

No one wants to say that people don't have the right to do it. That is to take it too far. But I think we need to confront this issue about how we integrate people properly into our society.

And while Downing Street maintains that Blair was expressing a personal opinion rather than a government policy, the Telegraph notes that the Labour cabinet has been speaking with one voice on the issue:
By saying that he "fully supported" the decision of Kirklees council to suspend the Muslim teaching assistant who had refused to remove her veil at work, and then reinforcing this point with the observation that the veil was a "mark of separation", Mr Blair removed any doubt about the Government's position. . . .

Most crucially, the Government's new stand implies that there is an obligation on the part of all those who settle in this country to relate to the larger society and to accommodate its expectations. As the shadow home secretary, David Davis, has said, we cannot afford to encourage a form of "voluntary apartheid" by allowing minority groups to withdraw into cultural isolation.

One very interesting element of this controversy is the fact that the public discussion appears to be taking place almost entirely between Labourites. Consider, in this vein, this op/ed by Labour MP Denis MacShane in yesterday's Telegraph:
The 10,000 Muslims in my constituency of Rotherham can only benefit from removing the dead hand of ideological Islamism – allowing their faith to be respected and their children to flourish in a Britain that finally wakes up to what must be done. Despite the efforts of extremists to prevent any sort of rational debate about the place of Islam in Britain, it is at last happening.

A fight-back is beginning to reclaim Britain from the grip of those who refuse to acknowledge the centrality of British values of tolerance, fair play and parliamentary democratic freedoms – notably those of free speech and respect for all religions, but supremacy for none. . . .

As a Foreign Office minister, I tried to get Whitehall to take the issue seriously. I argued that diplomats who spoke relevant languages should go and talk, discuss and report back to ministers.

Chinese walls in Whitehall prevented effective inter-departmental co-operation. The Home Office, in addition to allowing Hamza to poison the minds of a generation, refused to return to France Rashid Ramda, who was wanted for questioning in connection with the 1995 Paris Metro bombings – a foretaste of our own 7/7. I hated having to go on French television and waffle defensively at a policy of not extraditing this evil man. . . .

Late in 2003 [I made] a speech in which I said: "It is time for the elected and community leaders of British Muslims to make a choice: it is the democratic, rule of law, if you like the British or Turkish or American or European way – based on political dialogue and non-violent protests – or it is the way of the terrorists against which the whole democratic world is now uniting." I thought my remarks were banal. After 7/7, everyone used them.

But, three years ago, the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips wrote a whole page in the Observer denouncing me. The Foreign Office and Downing Street would not allow me to defend my position. It was an ugly, uncomfortable time, as no one in Whitehall or the media showed any support for efforts to get a debate going on issues that today rightly predominate. Red boxes are here today and gone tomorrow. But if a minister is to be dismissed for telling the truth, even if the telling of the truth is not perfectly timed, then this or any government is in trouble.

And so on. Read the whole thing. (Incidentally, as far as I know Mr. MacShane has not been kicked out of the Labour caucus.) The counterpoint comes from the left-wing Guardian:
Taken alone, each one of these topics could be the topic of a thoughtful, nuanced debate. The veil, for example, has found feminists among both its champions and critics, proving that it's no straightforward matter. There should be nothing automatically anti-Muslim about raising the subject, not least since many Muslim women question the niqab themselves.

Similarly, Ruth Kelly was hardly out of line in suggesting, as she did last week, that the government needs to be careful about which Muslim groups it funds and with whom it engages, ensuring it leans towards those who are actively "tackling extremism". Other things being equal, that was a perfectly sensible thing to say.

Except other things are not equal. Each one of these perfectly rational subjects, taken together, has created a perfectly irrational mood: a kind of drumbeat of hysteria in which both politicians and media have turned again and again on a single, small minority, first prodding them, then pounding them as if they represented the single biggest problem in national life.

It's a fascinating, difficult, extraordinarily important debate. And the Conservative Party appears not to be engaged at all. What gives?

Post-script: Leftist Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi has taken the Blair line:
"You can't cover your face. If you have a veil, fine, but you must be seen," Prodi said, adding: "This is common sense I think, it is important for our society. It is not how you dress but if you are hidden or not."
Another left-of-center politico. Is this a Nixon-goes-to-China thing?

Posted by David Mader at 03:30 PM | (0) | Back to Main


I've come around a lot on Garth Turner from the time I praised his stance on the appointment of Michel Fortier to cabinet. And I'd guess that caucus complaints with Fortier have less to do with his substantive positions on the issues of the day than with the manner in which he expresses them. Which is to say, I'd guess that Turner is a relatively unpleasant fellow.

All the same, I'm not sure how I feel about this. My idea of Parliamentary parties is rather quaint, I suppose, but it seems to me there's a distinction between the Conservative Party, the Conservative caucus, the Conservative cabinet and the Conservative government. And I think it should be possible to have even significant disageements with the Conservative government without inviting expulsion from the Conservative caucus. (I'm in the middle of Anthony Trollope's Palliser novels, and having just finished Phineas Redux I'm particularly sympathetic to the notion of partisan parliamentary identity outside of government.)

Still, precisely because I think there's a distinction between party and caucus, I think the caucus is perfectly within their rights to expel Turner if they feel it's proper. CTV's Bob Fife calls the decision a "blow to the Conservative Party in a lot of ways," but I'm not really sure what ways he means - and I'd be interested to hear his explanation. I suppose the most obvious is that the party will be seen to be suppressing internal dissent - and yet, as the story notes, the decision was made by the Ontario caucus and ratified by the national caucus; the government was not involved. Is Fife's point one of optics?


Also, am I being naive in taking the procedural posture of this decision at face value? In other words, was this really an unprompted decision of the Ontario caucus that took the PM by surprise, or was the Ontario caucus helped to its decision?

Posted by David Mader at 12:45 PM | (2) | Back to Main

Not Their Money

Consider this story about the impact of a move by big corporations to an income-trust corporate organizational arrangement:

Income Trusts to Cost $1.1B in Lost Taxes: Study

Income trusts will cost Ottawa and the provinces $1.1 billion a year in lost tax dollars once Telus Corp. and BCE Inc. convert to the increasingly popular corporate structure, reports a new study. . . .

Ottawa will bear about two-thirds of the $1.1-billion in tax revenue losses, or $726-million; the remaining one third, or $374-million, will be shared by the provinces and territories, [economist Jack] Mintz estimates.

I think I've noted before (though I can't find a link) my discomfort with this notion of "cost" and "lost" tax money. My first impression is that this sort of terminology implies that the government has a claim over moneys not yet taxed or collected. What's really happening is that corporate reorganizations are narrowing the expected tax base. But the government isn't strictly "losing" any money since the money wasn't the government's to begin with. This is a bit of an ideological argument, of course: it goes to whether the government has a claim to future tax dollars based on current tax policy, or whether the government starts fresh every tax year.

Mintz isn't speaking to this disagreement, though; he's making the simple point that changes in corporate organization will leave the government with less money than it had (prior to reorganization) expected to have. In essence he's telling the federal and provincial governments to revise their expectations downwards. The term "cost" is a useful one here in isolation - but I still think it's a bit misleading. But I think the problem is that we lack a sufficient vocabulary to make this distinction. Can anyone think of a simple and clear alternative to the language of "cost" in the context of activities that will require a downward-revision of expected tax revenues? (Is that phrase - "activities that require a downward revision of expected tax revenues" - too burdensome for a news article?)

Posted by David Mader at 10:15 AM | (2) | Back to Main

October 17, 2006

Headline of the Day

"Toews Says New Crime Bill 'Not Unconstitutional'"

Thanks for those scare-quotes, CTV.

Incidentally, I'm really not crazy about this "you-can't-pass-that-it's-unconstitutional" argument. My thoughts aren't fully formed on this, but I've got these points bouncing around my brain:

  • Under a Westminster system, Parliament probably has as great a right as the judiciary to interpret the constitution;
  • Even if it doesn't, the consequence is that the courts - and only the courts - have the right to interpret the constitution;
  • Under such a system the opposition's interpretation is no more meaningful than the government's;
  • If the opposition really thinks the bill is unconstitutional they should be confident in its overturn by the courts;
  • Admittedly, the opposition might be concerned about a) constitutional chill prior to judicial overturn or b) diminished respect for Parliament - although it's hard to see how a) applies in this context, and with regard to b) I can only say Question Period;
  • I can't shake the feeling that when they say "this is unconstitutional" the opposition really simply means "this should be unconstitutional";
  • I also can't shake the feeling that when they say "this should be unconstitutional" the opposition really ought to be saying "this shouldn't be the law";
  • The failure to distinguish between what should or shouldn't be statutory law and what should or shouldn't be constitutional is a deep and worrisome failure.
I could put that into a long and rambly post, I suppose, but I think I've got a couple of those coming tonight so a bullet list will have to do for now.

Posted by David Mader at 07:50 PM | (2) | Back to Main

October 16, 2006

As Goes Britain?

I really encouarge all of my readers to keep track of the current controversies in the United Kingdom surrounding the inter-relationship of religious expression and public life. The controversies began with the suggestion by Jack Straw, former foreign minister and current House Leader under Tony Blair, that community relations would be improved if Muslim women were to remove their veils. Subsequent controversies have attached to, for instance, the decision of the Metropolitan Police to allow a Muslim policeman to guard the Israeli embassy, as well as demand by the minister for race relations that a Muslim teaching assistant be sacked if she refused to remove her veil in class. (The minister made an intruiging anti-discrimination argument: "By insisting that she will wear the veil if men are there, she's saying, 'I'll work with women, but not men'. That's sexual discrimination. No headteacher could agree to that.")

Needless to say, this has led to heightened tensions, and the government is now trying to calm matters. The truth is, Britain is confronting the question of Muslim integration into western society - a question that we on this side of the Atlantic will likely have to confront before long as well. And as the British experience ought to make clear, it won't be a straightforward process. Without - at this moment - getting into the merits of each and every controversy that has yet arisen (and there will be many more), I'll simply say that we could all do worse than to listen to the words of this Daily Telegraph leader:

What is needed is a reduction in legislation that is intended to grant rights and prevent offence. Its effect is merely to provoke antagonism and encourage litigious campaigning. Instead, there should be the exercise of good manners and common sense. If there are people who want to dress in a way that precludes them from performing their work, then they should not expect to stay in that job.
That's easy in theory, tough in practice, of course. The Brits are now struggling with both theory and practice. I encourage all to keep an eye on their struggle.

Posted by David Mader at 11:53 PM | (8) | Back to Main

Protecting Ontarians from Themselves

More than once I've been asked, "if you're a libertarian, does that mean you don't think people should have to wear seatbelts?" And the answer, I'm afraid, is yes:

Passengers in Ontario will no longer be allowed to crowd into vehicles that have too few seatbelts as the province moved Monday to plug a legal loophole following a horrific crash that killed four people.

While buckling up is already mandatory for motorists in Ontario, the law does not cover the situation where there are more passengers than seatbelts.

Unless it can be demonstrated that unseatbelted passengers pose a risk to innocent third-parties - by, for instance, beign ejected from a vehicle and striking a bystander - it seems to me this is just so much paternalism. The unfortunates who were killed in this recent accident made a risk determination that was - given the frequency of automobile accidents - probably not unreasonable. They should have been - and people like them shoud continue to be - free to make that determination.

Kids, of course, aren't fully autonomous actors, and so I have no problem requiring that children buckle up. And of course I wear my seatbelt. But, being a sort of libertarian kind of guy, I don't think I should demand that others conform to my preferences.

INCIDENTALLY: This is entirely a philosophical point, not a political point - which is to say, I can't imagine this law will be anything but generally popular with Ontario voters.

FINE, I'LL DO Y'ALL'S JOB FOR YOU: I suppose you could argue that an unbuckled passenger poses a risk to the other passengers in the vehicle, inasumuch as, in the event of a collision, the unbuckled passenger might be displaced in such a way as to cause harm to the other passengers. Or how about this - admittedly a greater stretch - might failure to buckle up increase the risk of legal harm to third parties? Admittedly I'm not thinking about innocent third-parties; consider a driver who negligently causes a collision that, had the passenger been buckled, would have caused X damage, but that, since the passenger was not damaged, in fact caused X+Y damage. Now under a system of comparative fault or contributory negligence (and I don't know whether the Canadian provinces have such a rule), the negligent driver would be responsible only for X damage; the difference Y-X would be on the head of the party failing to buckle up. The question, though, is this: should the risk of increased damage, regardless of who is ultimately responsible, result in a legal compulsion to buckle up in order to prevent any liability? Although I think that this simply highlights my original point: when people fail to buckle up they assume the risk of the Y-X damage in any given circumstance; that being the case, forcing them to buckle up is merely paternalist.

Posted by David Mader at 06:08 PM | (20) | Back to Main

October 13, 2006

Iggy on Harper on Iggy

This whole brouhaha is fascinating in a certain way. Some jumbled thoughts:

  • Harper shouldn't have used the phrase "anti-Israel," which - like "anti-Zionist" - means entirely different things to different people. With a few exceptions, the Liberal leadership contenders were markedly equivocal regarding the Israel/Lebanon conflict in July. Harper caught the exceptions with his "virtually," but "anti-Israel" was a poor choice of term. He's paying for it.

  • I'm glad that Canadian politicians - and particularly Liberals - are now falling over themselves to be seen as friends of Israel. If only the Liberal Party had been such a strong rhetorical defender of the Jewish state through the '90s...

  • That being said, does anyone else find Ignatieff's righteous indignation a tad overwrought? Iggy stood on his expertise in the field of international affairs and international law to accuse Israel - and, in context, Israel alone - of a war crime. I don't think it's unreasonable to see his comments - to a French-language talk-show - as a transparent attempt to capitalize on actual anti-Israel sentiment in Quebec. If the accusation itself is not evidence of anti-Israel sentiment - and Iggy's right that it's not - surely his crass exploitation of the issue for domestic political gain demonstrates a suprising degree of indifference towards Israel. It may not be anti-Israel to exploit hostility towards Israel for political gain, but I don't think it shows very much principle - certainly not the kind that would justify righteous indignation now.

  • That being said, Iggy's righteous indignation is much more prime ministerial than Rae's whining. A prime minister says:
    Yesterday, Stephen Harper used my statement that war crimes were committed in this (Mideast) conflict to launch a personal attack on me and on my colleagues running for the Liberal leadership of Canada. Mr. Harper's comments were a disgrace, a disgrace for a man who holds an office that is supposed to represent all Canadians.

    There is no basis whatever for Mr. Harper to suggest that the Liberal party is biased against Israel. The prime minister showed a profound lack of respect to the Official Opposition and a profound lack of respect to the Canadian people who elected them.

    A hack says:
    I just think it's absolutely appalling to lie and smear in this way.
    It's a bit of a conundrum, of course: Iggy says stupid things and then eloquently voices his indignation when people point it out; Rae doesn't say stupid things, he just says non-stupid things poorly. Those are the choices, apparently, and I'm not sure which one I would pick.

  • In any case, who's a better judge of what's anti-Israel - Michael Ignatieff, or Israel? The Israelis are far, far too savvy to get involved in domestic politics. But I'm willing to bet money that they're far happier with a Tory government than they are with the prospect of an Iggy-led Grit government. And no, that's not just because Israel wants a blank slate. It's because the sort of condescending "friends-tell-home-truths" approach that Iggy claims to follow can have destructive consequences in the Israeli context.

Posted by David Mader at 12:57 PM | (3) | Back to Main

October 12, 2006


I don't get all the carping about the YouTube deal. I certainly don't understand Warren Kinsella's populist indignation. Kinsella writes:

[I]f it seems that we find it offensive that a pair of YouTube 20-somethings could be considered to be worth billions -- while millions of Canadians, with real mortgages and real families, are having trouble making ends meet -- it's because, well, it is.
It's been a while since we've had some good old fashioned marxism in Canadian political discourse, I think.

Two basic points: first, do we really not think the guys at Google sat down to think about this? Kinsella calls Google "gullible." Maybe. But this is a company that's steadily taking over ever major aspect of consumer internet use. (They've recently released an online word processor and spreadsheet program.) Do we really not think they had people sit down and crunch the numbers on this one?

Second, lots of folks rolled their eyes when I made a big deal, last month, about YouTube's deal with Warner Music. Here's a refresher:
Video-sharing site YouTube has signed a deal with media giant Warner Music to allow its material to be used legally. It means interviews and videos by Warner's artists can be used in return for a slice of advertising revenue. The agreement also covers the use of material in homemade videos, which form a large part of YouTube's content.
So about those lawsuits. Casts a bit of a different light on things, doesn't it?

And finally, just because it deserves a little friendly ridicule, a note about Kinsella's marxism. What, pray tell, makes a man's work "real"? Millions of "real Canadians" with "real mortgages" don't get paid thousands upon thousands of dollars a year to bloviate in the newspaper each week. But because Kinsella does, he has the income necessary to dick around in a punk band. And power to him. People pay Kinsella money to sit on his arse because people value what Kinsella has to say. I could be so lucky. But if the YouTube guys don't deserve their wealth - despite the fact that they've created a service that literally millions of people use and enjoy - then who's going to decide who gets to keep his or her money?

I have a feeling Kinsella's answer is Kinsella. And that, in a nutshell, is why I'm not a socialist.

Posted by David Mader at 11:15 AM | (2) | Back to Main

October 11, 2006

More on the Axis of Evil

I asked yesterday what Paul Wells was getting at with this comment:

In future, try not to write any speeches justifying an invasion of Iraq by saying Iran and North Korea are evil too.
Was Wells saying Bush was wrong about the Axis of Evil?

[UPDATE THAT SORT OF RUINS THE POST: In the comments below, reader "France Guy" provides what I think, on reflection, is the most plausible interpretation of Wells's comments: that by grouping Iran and North Korea with Iraq in his "Axis" speech, Bush incentivized those two countries to accelerate their nuclear weapons programs. It's an interesting argument - one that's more complex that in first appears, I think - and I'll discuss it in a new post, hopefully tonight. For now, I'll simply say that I think, on some level, Wells - and France Guy - are right.]

I couldn't believe that was his point; indeed, given the amount of criticism the Bush Administration is taking over a) North Korea, b) Iran, and c) the perceived inability to deal with (a) & (b) given the war in Iraq, it seems to me that even critics have come to accept Bush's basic premise. That premise, of course was that

[b]y seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States.
Isn't that precisely why we're so concerned about Iran and North Korea today?

But two commenters appeared to agree that Wells was - in some way - criticising Bush for grouping North Korea in with Iraq - either because the Axis of Evil speech "provided, at least in part, the motivation for Iran and North Korea to accelerate/make public their nuclear ambitions," or because Bush ought to have "pick[ed] on one that is an actual threat to the Western world. (North Korea or Iran, take your pick)."

I was afraid to mischaracterize Wells, but if that's how he's being understood I feel more comfortable responding. The notion that the Axis of Evil speech itself motivated Korea and Iran to accelerate their nuclear ambitions works as a criticism only if such an acceleration was a foreseeable consequence of the Axis of Evil speech at the time it was given. As such, it seems to me that the only criticism that makes sense is that North Korea and Iran were the more obvious threats and the more easily addressable threats back in 2002.

Let's take that criticism one assertion at a time. Were Iran and North Korea more obvious threats - more prominent members of the Axis of Evil - when Bush made his Axis of Evil speech in January, 2002? Consider Iran. Much of the concern regarding Iran centers not just on their imminent nuclear capability but the fact that their nuclear capability will be controlled by the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who's essentially called for the destruction of Israel. Now many in the west were concerned about Iran prior to Ahmadinejad's ascendancy to the presidency in January 2005. But in 2002, Iran was governed by an at least nominally more moderate cadre; moreover, it had seen repeated pro-democracy demonstrations that, many thought, might ripen over time - without outside intervention - into a democratic revolution. Iran in 2002 was a deep concern, but it was not the immediate threat that it is now - and while the current threat level was imaginable, it was not the only, or even the most likely, possible future.

Korea, of course, has been controlled by the same man since January 2002, so there's been no change in leadership that has made it more of a threat than it then was. In fact, as I suggest below, I'm not sure that very much at all has changed. Now that means, of course, that North Korea was a considerable threat in 2002. The real question with regard to Korea is whether it was a greater threat in 2002 than was Iraq in 2002, and that goes to the nature of the threat reresented by each. Without rehashing what I think are the strongest justifications for the war, I'll simply suggest that Iraq represented a much larger component of the general Islamist threat - not because of any Islamist activity in Iraq itself but because of its place as the prominent tyranny in the Arab middle east - than did North Korea, which fit into that framework only as a possible source of nuclear weapons. Addressing North Korea would have been reactive in 2002; addressing Iraq was designed to be proactive - prophylactic, in fact.

Which leads to the second question: given the nature of the threat represented by each of the members of the Axis of Evil in 2002, which of these threats was most easily addressible? While few people recognized the Iranian threat in 2002, fewer still had any concrete proposals to address that threat - particularly because, as noted above, the threat was much more qualified at the time. And I've still yet to hear a realistic proposal for dealing with North Korea. The biggest obstacle to Iraqi invasion, by contrast, was European political intrasigence. Now in retrospect we might say that the cost of Iraqi invasion is as high as any action we might have taken against Iran or North Korea. But that depends on a healthy dose of hindsight. Unless one is prepared to argue that mismanagement of the Iraqi campaign was inevitable, I don't think the criticism can stand.

Maybe mismanagement was inevitable. I don't think that's obvious, though, and I don't think it's unreasonable to argue that mismanagement wasn't inevitable. That being the case, why, exactly, was Bush wrong to list the Axis of Evil in his January 2002 speech, and to continue to site the Axis in his continued justifications of the Iraq war?

AS AN AFTERTHOUGHT: I think the same criticism can be applied to Wells's post on Harper's support for the war in Iraq. Why shouldn't Harper say that he still thinks it was a good idea - at the time? Why should the fact of mismanagement by the American and coalition authorities undermine his support for the deployment of Canadian troops at the outset? (Though his question regarding support without the sending of troops is entirely legitimate, I think.)

Posted by David Mader at 12:03 PM | (14) | Back to Main

October 10, 2006

I Don't Get It

What's Paul Wells getting at here?

In future, try not to write any speeches justifying an invasion of Iraq by saying Iran and North Korea are evil too.
Is Wells saying Bush was wrong about the Axis of Evil? Or is he actually making a note to himself - that is, did he actually make such a speech? And if so, why was it a mistake? Or is he being sarcastic?

Posted by David Mader at 01:38 PM | (2) | Back to Main


How much does this actually change things? We've known for some time that North Korea has a small number of nuclear devices. If this indeed was a detonation, it simply confirms what we already knew. Certainly it constitutes sabre-rattling, but again, Kim is all about the sabre-rattling.

The real effect of this is to throw the Korea issue into relief. But while this certainly doesn't move us any closer to a resolution of the Korea situation, I don't think it moves us any farther away. Korea was intractable last week; a little nuclear detonation doesn't really change much at all.

Posted by David Mader at 09:46 AM | (1) | Back to Main

October 09, 2006

My Lyin' Eyes

Last week I wrote a post discussing a recent StatsCan study on religious intermarriage among Canadians. I invited response, and over the weekend one "maderchecker" was kind enough to reply. Here's the substance of his/her response:

Mader, you're validating the stereotype of lawyers as innumerate blowhards. The statcan study (which appeared in the latest issue of Canadian Social Trends) showed that, holding constant for other variables, Muslims were statistically no more likely than Jews, Hindus, or Sikhs to intermarry. (To use your terminology, marital isolation of Muslims is no different for Jews, Sikhs, or Hindus.)

The key variable here is the proportion of immigrant Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs versus Jews. The Muslim pop increased fivefold in 20 years, and 40,000 Muslims immigrate to Canada each year. Many of these recent immigrants are already married (to co-religionists) and others, being recent immigrants, are more likely to marry within their own faith.

Emphasis added. And just to be a nice guy/girl, "maderchecker" ended off with this:
A legal mind: good for sophistry, not analysis.
Instead of repeating my reminder that I'm far more likely to respond to comments if they're collegial than if they're confrontational, I'm going to assume that "maderchecker" was just being cute.

Now I'm the first - the first - to admit that I'm innumerate. Repeat after me: Mader is innumerate. I'll never deny it - not until I learn some math, anyway. But my post was not based on my interpretation of StatsCan's raw numbers; it was based on the following passage from the CTV story on the study:
Furthermore, StatsCan found that interreligious unions were less likely for immigrants who cited Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism as their religion in 2001 than in 1981.
I used that as the basis for the proposition that "a generation from now there will be more identifying Muslims in Canada - and Sikhs and Hindus - and fewer identifying Jews and Christians (particularly Protestants)."

So now we have two contentions: mine, that - because of intermarriage - there will be more identifying Muslims and fewer identifying non-Muslims; and "maderchecker's", that "holding constant for other variables, Muslims were statistically no more likely than Jews, Hindus, or Sikhs to intermarry."

Now as I say, I'm innumerate. But I'm pretty sure I'm not illiterate:

Let's note some things about this chart. 1) It's entitled "Interreligious unions less likely among Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs"; 2) Of all the religious groups listed (not including respondents claiming No Religion), only four have experienced a net decline in the percentage of their self-identifying group who are in interreligious unions: Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and the Christian remainder group; 3) Only three groups have fewer than ten percent of their self-identifying members in interreligious unions: Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs.

Now, as the report itself notes - under the headline "Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus least likely to be in interreligious unions":
Many immigrants citing Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism as their religion, arrived in Canada between 1991 and 2001. As such, they are more likely to have a strong cultural association with the marital traditions of their country of origin. In fact, for these three religious groups, interreligious unions are less likely in 2001 than in 1981.
The thrust of "maderchecker's" argument, stripped of its snark, is that I fail to account for the effects of immigration; that, in other words, the Muslims who've immigrated in the past twenty years have artificially decreased the proportion of Muslim Canadians who are in interreligious marriages.

This is an interesting point. But as a criticism of my analysis (or my "sophistry," and "maderchecker" would have it) it suffers certain shortcomings.

First, the study itself neither asserts nor supports the assertion that if immigration were held constant the Muslim community would be no less likely to intermarry.† Unless, again, I'm missing something in the report; it's in .pdf here and HTML here. Snark aside, I like getting fact-checked, so if I've missed it please let me know.

Second, even if it were true that the significant disparity between Muslim and Jewish/Christian intermarriage rates is largely explainable by immigration trends, that has no effect, I think, on my argument. Again, my core assertion was that
it seems likely that a generation from now there will be more identifying Muslims in Canada - and Sikhs and Hindus - and fewer identifying Jews and Christians (particularly Protestants).
The fact that low intermarriage rates among Muslim Canadians are driven by immigration would affect my argument only if interreligious marriage is more common the further the participants are from a first-generation immigrant. Now that's not an unreasonable contention; indeed, the report notes (in Table A.2) that intermarriages rise as a percentage of all unions from the first to the third generation of immigrants - in the population as a whole from 16% to 24% and back to 19% (not a considerable change, mind), and among other religions from 11% to 27% in the second and third generations. But the category "other religions" include a substantial group of religions, including Jews and Orthodox Christians - the two identifiable groups with the highest rates of intermarriage. So the question remains whether the children of religiously observant maritally isolated Muslim immigrants can be expected to assimilate at the same rate as the rest of society. I think there are good reasons to think that they very well might not - but the report doesn't contribute to the debate one way or another.

Now, again, I'm innumerate, and I suppose it's possible that the author of the report is as well. But I'm pretty sure that "maderchecker's" assertion is either demonstrably incorrect based on the text of the report or depends on a presumption regarding second-generation Muslim Canadians that's not supported by the report.

"Maderchecker": you had a good point. Your good point was that the influence of immigration on Muslim intermarriage numbers complicates my analysis, and demands thought. All you had to do was say that. Instead you assumed that I was a) an idiot, and b) wrong, and in doing so you walked way out on a ledge that simply doesn't support you.

Better luck next time.

†More sophistry: note that "maderchecker" frames my assertion in terms of Muslims being "no more likely" to intermarry, when in fact my assertion was that Muslims might be expected to be less likely to intermarry. Muslims could be no more likely to intermarry, and be significantly less likely to intermarry, at the very same time. "Maderchecker" also suggests that the comparison is between Muslims on the one side and Jews, Sikhs, and Hindus on the other, but it makes little sense to group Jews - who have become more likely to intermarry over time - with Sikhs and Hindus - who have become less.

Oh, and just cuz it's hanging there and bugging me, the notion that "maderchecker's" point demonstrates my weakness in analysis is simply wrong: my analysis follows logically from a particular set of presumptions, and an error in one of those presumptions doesn't speak at all to the quality of the analysis. Sophistry indeed.

Posted by David Mader at 03:23 PM | (3) | Back to Main

October 05, 2006

Headline of the Day

The Star:

Tories Pledge Action on Women, Not Talk

Posted by David Mader at 11:08 PM | (0) | Back to Main

Euphemism of the Day

From an article in the October 16 Maclean's:

"We've got a dwindling supply of youth because of the revolution in fertility."
Funny how that "revolution in fertility" has led to fewer children.

INCIDENTALLY: The article, a story on the changing Canadian labour market - and the professional expectations of my generation - is a must read. I don't think it's online - not yet, anyway - but if you're not in the habit of picking up Maclean's, do yourself a favor this coming week.

Posted by David Mader at 10:23 PM | (0) | Back to Main

Let Nobody Say . . .

. . . that the Liberals are anti-American. I noticed this while browsing the primary results over the weekend:

That is who I think it is, right? And I bet he polls well in Canada, too.

Posted by David Mader at 03:39 PM | (1) | Back to Main

Does Canada Have a §1988?

Stories like this one - about Tory cuts to (previously) federally funded lobby groups, and to the Court Challenges Program - have made me wonder: does Canada have a statutory provision awarding attorney's fees to parties who prevail in a civil rights suit against the government?

That's basically how civil rights suits are funded in the U.S. A number of statutory causes of action - including 42 U.S. Code §1983, which creates a private cause of action against federal actors who abridge constitutional rights - are covered by a provision of 42 U.S.C. §1988 that provides:

In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of [various sections of the Code], the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs. . . .
In other words, if you sue the government and win, the government will pay for your litigation; but if you sue the government and lose, you'll have to pick up your own litigation bill.

I'm guessing that Canada does not have such a statutory provision, since the Court Challenges Program (and the funding of lobby groups generally) operates according to the inverse policy assumption that drives §1988. The strength of §1988 is that it encourages meritorious civil rights claims, allowing those otherwise without funding to pursue claims against the government; it also discourages unmeritorious claims, since those will not be federally funded at the end of the day. The drawback of the §1988 scheme is that it may act to discourage the filing of marginal civil rights claims, those that cannot be clearly expected to prevail in litigation under existing court doctrine, but which might help to move the law in a particular direction. So the §1988 scheme embodies a normative policy judgment: it's better to risk the discouragement of marginal civil rights claims in order to avoid the funding - and so the encouragement - of (a larger number of) unmeritorious civil rights claims.

The logic behind the Court Challenges Program appears to be the exact reverse. Because funding is provided on the front end, litigants with unmeritorious claims nevertheless have an incentive - or rather have no obvious disincentive - to pursue litigation. This is particularly true, I think, when the litigant is a federally funded lobby group, which - unlike a private individual - can not only afford to spend time and effort pursuing litigation, but in a sense must spend time and effort pursuing litigation in order to justify its continued existence. It's true that the Court Challenges Program requires applications for funding - although, as I've suggested, the direct funding of lobby groups frees them to a certain extent from this gate-keeping element - but it's not clear why the administrators of the Program would be better evaluators of the merits of a claim than the combination of the potential litigant, the potential litigant's trial attorney, and the courts themselves. The combined scheme of the Court Challenges Program and the direct funding of lobby groups by the government, then, embodies a normative policy judgment that it's better to encourage unmeritorious claims against the governmet - and to pay for them - than to allow potentially meritorious marginal claims not to be pursued because of a lack of funding.

This assumes, of course, that Canada doesn't have a fee-paying scheme like §1988, and that's something I just don't know. Any Canadian lawyers in the house? Or, more likely, law students?

Posted by David Mader at 01:56 AM | (4) | Back to Main

Much Ado About Nothing

So I was in the middle of drafting a lengthy post about this when I realized that nobody can possibly have anything useful to say about it. The applicable provisions of the Civil Marriages Act are as follows:

3. It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

3.1 For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.

How do these provisions compare to the substance of the rumoured "Defense of Religions Act"? Would such an act be redundant? Would it, by its terms, extend protection beyond religious officials to public servants such as justices of the peace?

Nobody knows. Nobody knows, because nobody has seen the proposed bill. And until we see the proposed bill, all the talk about whether it's necessary, or whether it's a sop to social conservatives, or whether it's designed to "create a protection for hate speech" (as Marlene Jennings alleges), amounts to so much bloviation.

Everybody take a deep breath. (Especially you, Ms Jennings.) When the text of the bill comes out, then we can talk about whether it's a slippery slope, or whether it's redundant - or whether it reaffirms in statute a fundamental principle of liberal democratic government that has seemed at times to have nearly been read out of the Canadian constitution. It'll be a good debate to have, if it comes. Until it comes, let's just all admit we have no idea.

Posted by David Mader at 01:43 AM | (0) | Back to Main

There Are Hatchet Jobs...

... and then there's this hit-piece on the Senate from CTV. I'm not in favor of abolishing the Senate, but somebody is, and the folks at CTV seem happy to play along:

CTV News has learned that Senator Raymond Lavigne, sued for using his office staff to cut down trees near his cottage property, wants taypayers to pay for his legal bills. . . .

Senators already enjoy some of the best parking spots on Parliament Hill, and a mandatory salute from the guards. But some want to use taxpayers' money for more perks.

Liberal Senator Daniel Hays, the Opposition leader, has been granted a larger budget by 19 per cent. He also has a new car with his own driver, and a press secretary.

But wait! There's more!
Liberal Senator Colin Kenny hopes to secure an increase for all senators' office budgets, from $135,000 to $200,000 a year.

"Well, I'd like us to move up to match the House of Commons," said Kenny, who drives a Jaguar with personalized Senate license plates.

Subtle. Very subtle.
Liberal Senator Marie-P. Poulin has almost managed to complete her full-time law degree while still sitting in the Senate.

"Well, you know, it's that some people go to the gym, but I go to the university to get the little gray cells in shape," said Poulin.

Certainly aren't getting the grey cells in shape on the Hill, eh?

Ouch, ouch, and ouch. Honestly, this is a thing of beauty. A Tory ploy to undermine Senate legitimacy to grease the wheels of Senate reform? An Ontario ploy to undermine Senate legitimacy in order to abolish it? A CTV ploy to stir some stuff up?

Whatever the story - and whoever's behind it - it's some very, very funny stuff.

(I'd guess (a), but that's just a hunch.)

Posted by David Mader at 12:52 AM | (0) | Back to Main

October 03, 2006

You Don't Say

Interreligious Unions on the Rise, Study Finds:

It was also less probable that immigrants, older individuals, and people who were highly religious [would form] part of an interreligious couple.
No kidding. People who are highly religious tend to take religious restrictions on marriage more seriously than those who are less religious? Somebody give these guys a grant.

The article does raise some interesting issues, though. For instance:
Furthermore, StatsCan found that interreligious unions were less likely for immigrants who cited Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism as their religion in 2001 than in 1981.
Which seems to mean that Musims, Sikhs and Hindus are becoming more maritally insular. On the other hand:
The study also found that interreligious unions had become more widespread among Jewish individuals in couples.

About 17 per cent were in such unions in 2001, nearly twice the proportion of 9 per cent who were in interreligious couples two decades earlier.

This won't be news to the Jews in the audience. And though it's hard to get a real handle on the nature of inter-denomination Christian marriage - since it's unclear how seriously many of these Christians take their faith in post-Christian Canada - it seems clear that Christian intermarriage is on the rise as well.

In other words, it seems likely that a generation from now there will be more identifying Muslims in Canada - and Sikhs and Hindus - and fewer identifying Jews and Christians (particularly Protestants).

Let me throw in the obligatory but heartfelt reminder that I have precisely no problem with Islam qua Islam; on the contrary, being a faithful guy myself, I tend to admire other faiths.

But an increasing number of identifying Muslims simultaneous to a decrease in the number of identifying Christians and Jews is a concern to the degree that a) we as a free society are engaged in a conflict with the proponents of a particular interpretation and practice of Islam; b) that conflict is as much philosophical as it is military; and c) at least some proportion of identifying Canadian Muslims can be expected, over time, to subscribe to that particular interpretation and practice of Islam.

Proposition (a) is a recurring theme of this blog, and is the central disagreement in 'the West' today. Proposition (b) is far less controversial, I think.

Proposition (c) is, I think, the wild-card, the element most open to debate and speculation. On the one hand, it's not clear that Islamic religious identification and what I call 'Islamism' (being the extension of Islamic tenets into the political sphere in a manner that denies or undermines fundamental liberal-democratic principles) go hand in hand; indeed, it's possible that the growth of an identifying Muslim population in Canada will advance the cause of inter-faith reconciliation through the development of an Islam-in-practice that is at ease in Western society. On the other hand, if the intra-marriage that creates further religious identification is a product of the rejection of non-Muslim Canadian society, it's not unreasonable to expect that at least some of the resulting identifying Muslims will come to subscribe - or at least will be more open to - the particular interpretation of Islam that poses a threat to 'Western' notions of liberal democracy.

Moreover, the concern - if a concern is legitimate - need not focus on absolute numbers of religiously identifying Muslims; if indeed the current conflict has a strong philosophical component, the truly important statistic may be the relative number of religiously identifying Muslims as compared to religiously identifying Christians (and Jews). If an end to the conflict will come about only with the adoption within Islam of a notion of peaceful coexistence, and if - absent such an internal reformation - the conflict will continue on at least a philosophical level, those who would not submit to the Islamist (as I use the term) philosophical interpretation must rally around or hold fast to an alternative philisophical outlook.

Now presumably the most appropriate counter-philosophy is something like secular rationalism. But I would suggest that secularism in the West, and especially in Canada, is no longer marked by rationalism as it was during the Enlightenment. I would further suggest that secular rationalism even in the Enlightened sense was deeply informed by what are today called "Judeo-Christian values," but which are in essence expressions of a particular approach to certain first principles. I think that particular approach is now more likely to be found within active Christian and Jewish religious belief - particularly in Canada, where isolation and a degree of derision on the part of the societal elites has blunted religious triumphalism and encouraged a sense of coexistence.

Which is all to say that while increasing Muslim marital isolation need not speak at all to the current philosophical conflict, it might; and if it does, the religious confidence that Muslim Canadians increasingly feel - and which Christian and Jewish Canadians increasingly appear not to feel - could give Islamism an edge in Canadian hearts and minds in the coming generations.

Okay, I've made about fifteen contestable assertions in there. Have at it.

Posted by David Mader at 11:51 PM | (5) | Back to Main