Friday, 28 October 2011

How Many Will It Take?

How many people must take to the streets?

The recent images of 100,000 Greeks demonstrating in the streets of Athens raises an intriguing question about the utility of protest. And, as it relates to the ever-widening Occupy movement, its worth asking: "how many people will it finally take"?

How many people must take to the streets before a government will respond to the will of its citizens? There's no ready answer. There's no absolute number. And just posing so fundamental a question itself unleashes a torrent of new ones.

In the case of the Greek protests, what is clear is that 100,000 was not nearly enough, because the country's parliamentarians enacted tough new austerity measures despite the vigorous opposition of those who elected them. The government clearly understood the pain it was inflicting on its own people, even as it refused to consider their wishes, and it chose instead to meet the demands of the international banking class. In a democracy, then, how many people must take their dissent to the streets?

The Greek example demonstrates yet again that the almost universal disapproval of a people, and massive displays of public protest, are generally insufficient to sway the course of government. In Greece, a higher authority was at work. Economists tell us that the world-wide catastrophe arising from a Greek default is too terrible to contemplate. They tell us that crushing the lives of ordinary Greeks is a necessary price for the greater good. A fact central to this unfolding drama that receives almost no commentary is that working- and middle-class Greeks played no part in creating the explosion of debt that now puts us all in such jeopardy. Adding insult to injury, those actually culpable for this mess have quietly and safely moved on with their lives, even as the austerity measures,
"are being imposed by the very people whom most Greeks blame for misgoverning the country and benefiting from pervasive corruption. Nobody has been arrested. Ex-ministers live lavishly in Athens' most luxurious properties. Everybody speaks furiously of the immunity of the political elite."
Still, there must be a number. At some point, a critical mass of citizen participation and dissent would have swung the balance in the Greek protests. So what exactly was that number? Let's look to other recent examples for a possible answer. 

Like OWS, the J14 movement in Israel was borne of a tent city and a growing dissent over the issues of social justice. A mood of palpable disaffection spread across the country this past summer, culminating in street protests that attracted 300,000 people, the largest such demonstrations ever seen in Israel to that point. What began as a protest by young Israelis against the high cost of housing soon turned to broader societal issues, ultimately giving voice to calls for Prime Minister Netanyahu's resignation and the fall of his government.

The J14 movement continued to grow in intensity, and was ultimately capped by the September 3rd Million Person March. While the actual numbers were closer to 500,000, it was nonetheless a truly inspiring example of mass participation and public dissent. However, like the recent events in Greece, it too has amounted to nothing -- Netanyahu expressed the appropriate concern; he formed a suitably august and benign commission to investigate the problem; and then he promptly ordered the tent cities forceably dismantled.

We can be certain that the J14 protesters anxiously await the solemn pronouncements of the Trajtenberg Committee on housing reform. But the larger issues of social justice that truly animated the average Israeli's active participation remain unresolved -- it was, and is, an extraordinary opportunity lost. Perhaps the average Israeli citizen is left wondering today just how many more thousands it would have taken to affect a real change.

Tahrir Square -- a million people in the streets.

We continue our search for evidence that a critical mass -- a tipping point of participation -- can bend the actions of the state to the will of its people. And so we turn our attention to the mother of all protests, an event so inspirational that it continues still to inform the Occupy movement in the US and around the world -- Tahrir Square in Egypt.

The popular revolt in Egypt brought millions to the streets of Cairo and other cities around the country. It riveted the world's attention, and it ultimately brought down the government of the dictator Hosni Mubarak. It was not polite, and it was not without bloodshed. But the sheer mass of people in the streets seemed to still the worst of the military's basest reactionary instincts -- this in a country dominated by the military.

The demands of the revolution's organizers and leaders were initially embraced by the ruling military council. In a country so rife with daily corruption and police brutality, there was much to correct. The success in social and political reform made for inspiring reading; the arrest and subsequent trial of Mubarak and his two sons; the dismantling of the hated State Security Investigations Service; the dissolution of parliament and the announcement of new elections; the removal of the SSI-controlled university police; and the dissolution of the singular and authoritarian National Democratic Party.

So, at last (!), a popular will that bent the state to its own service!

Well, no, not quite.

There are new reports of significant reversals by the ruling Egyptian council. In recent clashes with the military, several protesters have been killed. And in an announcement that has stunned the public, the military council has said it expects to retain control of the government even after the elections that have now been postponed till November. Moreover, the continued control by the council will ensure that the 30-year old emergency laws will remain in force, and that the ratification of a new constitution may not conclude till 2013, if at all. And finally, it appears that one dictator will simply be replaced by another.

Perhaps it was much too much to expect that a modern dictatorship could actually be transformed by the popular will of its people. And complicating this particular event, one wonders how much pressure was brought to bear on the Egyptian military by its major benefactor, the United States, in negating the gains of the people's revolution.


In the end, is it really possible? Are there no examples of government actually acceding to the popular will of its people? From the protests of the Indignados in Mexico and Spain to the labor wars in Wisconsin, the recent history of public dissent around the world is sadly bereft of success. Indeed, the scoreboard reads like a rout.

But before we give up, before we fold our tents and quietly go home, lets first consider the nature of our opponent -- the opponent that is our own government, and the representatives charged with upholding our will and best interests. Because that's just it, they don't. Instead, they represent the monied class and their own ideologies, with the backing and full coercive power of the state.

The struggle for social justice and the growing imbalance of the 99% demonstrate that, once safely in power, our representatives imagine themselves to be unassailable -- they are validated by a manufactured "democratic process" that is carefully scripted, choreographed and managed to ensure the "correct" result. George W. Bush was more forthcoming than he perhaps intended when he boasted of spending the political capital he had "won". Bush offered a rare glimpse of how today's ruling class views its own sovereignty; it is a view that holds the rest of us in barely concealed contempt. We are, at best, tolerated for the vote we provide and the vote they must have. The ruling class use democratic election cycles like a bludgeon, saying in affect, "you get your chance every four years, and you've had your say, so now sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up".

And that's precisely why we must stand up, and speak up, loud and clear. That's exactly why mass protest and public dissent have now become our last possible route to meaningful change. It explains why, in democratic societies that so righteously espouse liberty and the right of free assembly (unless, of course, you live in Oakland), the political class and their enablers and courtiers bristle at all forms of populist participation. And it explains why, in the final analysis, there are so few examples of a government actually heeding the will of the people it so earnestly purports to represent.

Governments routinely shirk their most important responsibility to us by relying on their most reliable weapon -- time. The state knows it has time on its side. It will stall and placate its activists (as in Israel), it will outlast its activists (as in Egypt), and it will ignore its activists (as in Greece), because by doing so it knows it will diffuse and exhaust their energy. In moving forward, our activists for social justice must gain a more complete understanding of these strategies to better aid in counteracting them.


What does all this mean for the nascent Occupy movement? Well, for a start, and in answer to our original question: how many will it take?, if we accept the lessons offered up by Greece, Israel and Egypt, it will take millions. And those millions must offer more than just supportive chatter around office water-coolers, or give solidarity through on-line opinion polls; they must demonstrate their commitment to our shared values through direct action and mass participation. At the same time, we must recognize the state's desire for certainty and the status quo, and in combating it's strategy to placate, outlast and ignore, we must hold firm to our right of free assembly, even as the state will embrace every opportunity to subvert it.

Compared to the Greek protests, the J14 movement, Tahrir Square and the Indignados, the Occupy movement remains embryonic and fragile. To be sure, it has accomplished much -- it has changed the nature of public discourse, and it has thrust the issue of social justice to the very top of our political agenda, something that all the pundits and bloggers in the world have been unable to do for all their years of trying. But this brave and dedicated vanguard camped out on the commons cannot themselves affect the necessary outcomes. They must be joined by many more, both in the tent communities and out on the streets, so that the Occupy movement will become more fully legitimized in the public mind, an important step in building a critical mass of participation that our politicos and their corporate masters cannot possibly ignore.

It is not our job to take power, but rather to hold our representatives accountable to us. The sheer weight of our numbers makes this goal possible, but only through the active participation of millions in the coming months can it become truly attainable.

Postscript. The situation in Egypt is not good. In a story published October 30, we learn more about the post-Mubarek era. And as I had suggested in the main post, it is almost impossible to resurrect and mobilize the passion and participation of the critical mass once it has been diffused. The state understands this fact, and uses it to its own advantage as part of its response to public dissent.

Also related to my piece is a newly posted column by Chris Hedges in Truthdig. This man is a well-respected chronicler of social and political trends and events in America. And I greatly admire his writing. But his last several pieces are difficult for me to embrace. There is a lot of poetic romanticism of revolutions past; too many fond recollections of anarchists and revolutionaries that have no bearing on the issues now at play in the 21st century. We're faced with a situation that is unlike anything we've ever seen, in that the financial control now exercised by the monied class is unprecedented. And to be brutally frank about it, Hedges has lavished much too much enthusiasm on a 27 year-old self-taught anarchist.

And when ever I need a little positive affirmation to shore up my own poor scribbles, I can always rely on Bill Moyers. And there he was, this morning, on the pages of CommonDreams. In a keynote address at Public Citizen's 40th Anniversary Gala, he quoted Lawrence Goodwin, who said there was,
"a mass resignation of people who believe the dogma of democracy on a superficial level, but who no longer believe it privately, [and who saw] a decline of individual self-respect on the part of millions of people."
Moyers understands perfectly well why this is so,
"We hold elections knowing they are unlikely to produce the policies favored by a majority of Americans. We speak. We write. We advocate. And those in power -- Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives -- turn deaf ears and blind eyes to our deepest aspirations."
These comments speak to my post, and the politicians who tolerate us for our vote, and then tell us to shut up and sit in the corner till next election day. Our democratic election cycles are truly used against us like a bludgeon. So I ask again, how many people must take to the streets before a government will respond to the will of its citizens?

By David.


Your musical accompaniment for the day: Pack My Jack, by J.J. Cale, from the album Shades. A great blues feel for a Friday afternoon. Enjoy.


Friday, 21 October 2011

Canada's Warrior Prime Minister

All hail the warrior prince, Stephen Harper!

As pronounced in the Globe and Mail today, he has won his first war. We can now all bask in the glory that is Stephen Harper's Canada.

In his fawning post about our Prime Minister, Campbell Clark boasts that the "mission's success bolsters Harper's argument for a muscular Canada with military assets and the will to deploy them". It does not. Harper will no doubt make the claim, but it does not follow logically. This was not a war won by Canada. It is, instead, a blight on our international reputation. And further, it is both an absurdity and an obscenity to characterize the murder of a head of state -- however odious -- as a righteous act, a "war victory", much less one that in any way belongs to Stephen Harper.

But there he was, our new 'war prime minister', as quoted by the breathless Mr. Clark, expressing satisfaction at the end of a dictator,
"Gaddafi's days are over. Never again will he be in a position to support terrorism or to turn guns on his own citizens. The Libyan people can finally turn the page on 42 years of vicous oppression and continue their journey toward a better future."
Always play the terrorism card. For domestic consumption, always link safety and security at home with the need -- as per the sage words of George W. Bush -- to fight them over there so we don't have to fight them here. And in so doing, it is entirely acceptable to ignore the rule of international law that forbids any aggression toward a sovereign nation for any reason other than imminent self defense. Link the struggle against terrorism to the cause of liberty and a better life for others, and bind them together to strengthen your broader domestic agenda. This Stephen Harper has done, ably assisted by the likes of Campbell Clark.

It was not so long ago that Col. Gaddafi had been rehabilitated and returned to the community of nations, lauded by a parade of world leaders. But in the end he, too, suffered the shifting fortunes that plague all usefully useful dictators. Sadaam Hussein comes to mind. And like the Butcher of Baghdad, who was dragged up from a hole in the ground, Gaddafi was found hiding in the muck and mire of a drainage ditch. The similarities, in the end, are striking.

And, too, like Sadaam's Iraq, Gaddafi's Libya is now available for the taking. As Paul Craig Roberts says in this post, Libya will likely become another American puppet state. Roberts notes that much of the Libyan infrastructure has been destroyed by air strikes -- air strikes that so satisfied our own warrior prince -- and that lucrative new rebuilding contracts will reward the invaders.

But more than bridges and roads are in play here. As Roberts makes clear,
"With Libya conquered, AFRICOM will start on the other African countries where China has energy and mineral investments. Obama has already sent US troops to Central Africa under the guise of defeating Lord's Resistance Army, a small insurgency against the ruling dictator-for-life. Washington has revived the Great Power Game and is vying with China. Whereas China brings Africa investment and gifts of infrastructure, Washington sends troops, bombs and military bases. Sooner or later, Washington's aggressiveness toward China and Russia is going to explode in our faces."
So the Prime Minister of Canada can congratulate himself, or have surrogates act on his behalf, for winning the war of Libya (!), but the game is far beyond him. In touting a muscular Canadian foreign policy (laughable, really) as a central part of his domestic agenda to become the ruling party for a generation, Stephen Harper has become a minor though clearly committed partner to a new imperialism that may well have devastating consequences far beyond his own limited vision.

By David.


Your musical accompaniment for the day:  Big Change is Gonna Come, Peter Green Splinter Group, from the album Destiny Road. Enjoy.

Monday, 17 October 2011

OWS is Only the Beginning

The first exhilarating steps in a very long journey.

It is a wonderfully warming sight. Thousands camped out now for weeks in solidarity and protest against the deteriorating state of social justice in our society.

There is much to say -- and much has already been said -- about the OccupyWallStreet movement. The first call to action; how to sustain and shape the momentum; where it will lead; the rising concerns over messaging, leadership and demands.

For those of us inclined toward liberal democracy and social justice, this is a tremendous moment. Commentators in the alternative media have long called -- largely in vain, it appeared -- for action against the excesses of a corporate culture that now dominates almost every facet of our lives. In the OWS movement, we have finally found an answer to Ralph Nadar's question, Where's the Spark?.

In posing his question, Nadar was reacting to the first swell of protests in the Arab Spring, which had begun to fire the imagination of many around the world. Wishing for some of that magic at home, he said,
"How do we break the cycle of despair, exclusion, powerlessness and endless betrayal by those given authority to bring down the exploiters and oppressors to lawful accountability?
The spark can come from a recurrent sequence of abuses that strike a special chord of deeply felt injustice. Or it could be a unique episode or bullying that tolls the feeling 'enough already' throughout the land. Such sparks cannot be manufactured; the power to arouse and break people's routines is spontaneous.
When that moment comes, millions of Americans whose self-respect and keen sense of wrong will remind them precisely why our Constitution begins with We the People and not, We the Corporations."
And so we finally see the spark. Following from the protests in Greece, Israel and in the Arab Spring, there is a growing sense that public dissent is the only viable path by which we can achieve social change. The OWS movement is the first tangible effort to affect that change.

I say "first" because it may be just that. It might be the first of many sparks, the first among many faltering steps. If OWS is seen as a good beginning, it might be just that, a beginning.

The early success of OWS is, in my view, the spontaneous gathering of like-minded people who are finally heeding Mr. Nadar to say "enough already" -- those who are mad as hell and aren't going to take it any more. And they've done it without leadership and top-down thinking, a revolutionary concept in and of itself that typifies the movement's anti-corporatist sentiment. If OWS can sustain itself, perhaps its greatest legacy will be the notion that active dissent is a right and a duty, and that opposition to unjust power is a habit and a mindset that requires effort and dedication.

But for all the hopeful reporting from the left, we are nowhere near such an outcome. Chris Hedges recently wrote that the rich are now trembling at the prospect of the OWS movement. They are most certainly not. Naomi Klein says that OWS is the most important thing in the world. It is not -- at least, not yet.

The rich will tremble, and OWS will become truly important, only when millions take to the streets. It is certainly a welcome start that 2500 people (or more, or less) have taken on the occupation of Wall Street. And it is a good beginning that hundreds (maybe thousands) of like-minded citizens are occupying and protesting in solidarity in communities across the country and in countries around the world.

But there are more than 25 million unemployed people in the United States. Millions more live in poverty and millions have lost their homes to the avarice of our now dominant corporate culture. This is the core constituency from which the dissenters must be drawn and mobilized. And even this subset does not represent the 99. There are millions of union and government workers, teachers and healthcare providers, whose rights have been trampled; there are millions of students who will not find work for which they have trained; and there are millions from the so-called middle class who now hang on in quiet desperation, hoping against hope to keep the modest lifestyle they've won through a lifetime of playing by the rules. And then there are the millions more around the world suffering under government imposed austerity designed solely to rescue the rich from themselves.

It is the concerted action of these millions, in countries around the world, that will finally put the elite and the governments that serve them on notice that change is inevitable. Bring 25 thousand to the streets and they will be denounced as hoodlums and radicals; send a million to the streets and governments will put their security forces on high alert. But bring 25 million out in sustained protest, and then, truly, Hedges and Klein will be right.

The trick is getting from here to there -- and doing so in the most peaceful way possible. The power that will oppose the OWS movement (and anything that looks like it) is the enormous power of the state. Even in our so-called democracy, the state will employ every means at its disposal to suppress the exercise of free will and public dissent, as was made clear this past weekend, when security forces were on full display at Occupy events around the world.

It will take time to nurture and mobilize the numbers needed to truly tip the balance in favor of the 99, so there is no immediate need for a list of demands. In fact, the absence of specific demands deprives our opponents of a recognizable target. And in any case, there is no doubt that the monied class, and the governments who serve them, know full well what the issues and grievances really are. They have spent the last 30 years denying them.

As the numbers grow, and the momentum builds, OWS must resist both the attacks from its enemies, and the warm embrace of its so-called friends. While the reaction from the right is expected, there is growing concern that Obama and the Democrats, the unions, and the liberal class in general, will try to co-opt and leverage the protests for their own advantage -- it is abundantly clear that they all are tone deaf to the movement.

And so finally, OWS is still a work in progress. There is no clear and obvious path to a finite result within a well defined timeline. What is clear and obvious, though, is the urgency. It is now critical that we navigate the obstacles and maintain the momentum in order to build participation to a critical mass. And then Nadar and Hedges and Klein might be right, and we might yet see a return to liberal democracy and social justice.

These are, however, only the first steps on a very long road.

Update. I want to pull at a few threads from the main post. First, a quick return to the writing of Chris Hedges. His two most recent posts have been much more upbeat in tone than usual. The OWS movement seems to have softened his earlier view that "The war is over, and they won." He seems absolutely giddy over the "imminent" toppling of the monied class -- see the links here, and here. However, his enthusiasm has outpaced reality. True, OWS may prove to be an historic moment, but we are still at the very earliest beginnings, and the outcome is far from assured -- hell, the outcome has yet to be articulated!

But I want to return to Hedges' Death of the Liberal Class to expand on a thought in my post. A central thesis in Death is the notion that the liberal establishment, the institutions of liberal democracy, have been co-opted by the forces of the now-dominant corporate culture. Hedges correctly notes that the liberal elite exchanged their relevance for position and comfort (I'm reminded of the line from Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here "And did you exchange / a walk-on part in the war / for a lead role in a cage?"). And so the liberal establishment has become an empty and contemptuous vessel in today's society. Where representatives of the professional left (unions, churches, universities, social democratic political parties) have nothing to offer in the struggle for social justice and liberal democracy because they have become so thoroughly compromised.

From this brief discussion, it is important to note that OWS did not grow out of the professional left. It is borne of a truly populist, grass-roots phenomenon. If it weren't so sad a sight, it might be comical to watch the institutional left as it scrambles to catch up, fighting for its own relevancy. As I said in the main post, OWS must be wary of the death-grip embrace of its so-called friends. Already the pundits and the politicos are strategizing this movement -- see the post by Eugene Robinson, How Democrats can Use Occupy Protests to their advantage as the most recent example of this cynical opportunism (note the word "use"). Or read this post by Glen Ford about how the Democrats have already begun to co-opt the OWS movement. And finally, Matt Taibbi posts his thoughts on the gathering threats to the movement.

As I said in the main post, OWS will be challenged by its enemies, and tested by its so-called friends. And all the while, it must find a way to grow to a critical mass of participation.  

By David.


Your musical accompaniment for the day: Insomniacs' Boogie, by the Insomniacs, from the album At Least I'm Not With You.  Enjoy.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Furor Over Our Flag

When ideology trumps sound policy.

Canadians love their flag. Simple. Distinctive. Instantly recognizable.

And we like to be recognized as Canadians because our self-image is that of a peaceful, kind, warm, friendly and intelligent people. It is a self-image that our flag helps communicate to the world. Like I said, we love our flag.

So why would anyone waste even a moment's thought over the hype Prime Minster Harper has recently lavished on our national standard? Well, perhaps its because we know he attaches a carefully concealed agenda to almost everything he does. Put another way, we are sharp enough to see through the bullshit. As one commentator noted, the PM's glorification of the flag is a joke.

Still, this is a joke with purpose. A new mandate protecting our "right" to show the flag in high-rise apartments -- yes, that's the urgent issue at play here (!) -- is part of the Conservatives' strategy to implant a new symbolism and ideology that they hope will bolster their brand as Canada's permanent ruling party.

The returning reader will recall (here & here) my poor opinion of our prime minister's leadership. As has been very well documented, his governing style is combative and partisan, secretive and controlling. And while these traits have won for him the ultimate seat of power in Canada -- though not yet a simple majority of public support -- they are out of step with the traditions of a parliamentary democracy.

In a recent post I commented on Harper's desire to re-brand the country in his own name. In another I reported on Professor Shadia Drury's views on the rise of neoconservatism in Canada, in which she says,
"Neocons...share [Strauss'] faith in the importance of religion, nationalism and war for the health and well-being of the political society...Religion, nationalism and the looming menace of an existential enemy are the key neoconservative ingredients in the war against liberal laxity and weakness.  Moreover, liberal niceties such as the rule of law, insistence on due process, and the limitations on executive power, can be formidable obstacles in the effort to defend society against unpredictable hazards."
The undemocratic political philosophy practiced by Stephen Harper has been a subtext to his leadership for several years. While he may not be overtly Straussian in his strategies, he has surely embraced the philosopher's general tone and direction -- he has shown a strong preoccupation with the military and nationalism, he has forged strong linkages between religion and politics, and he is highly secretive and controlling in policy, delivery and general communication.

This is Stephen Harper's government, in the most literal sense -- a better example of the singular possessive would be difficult to find. There is not a single government action, statement or strategy that is not conceived and stage-managed by our prime minister and his corps of close aids.

The purity of their thought and execution has produced an agenda that is ideologically locked-in, which is, of course, the whole point. The loud and growing opposition to the omnibus crime bill offers only the most recent example. Contrary to the clear evidence from Statistics Canada, the Harper Government will ram through legislation that goes overboard on sentencing, will put thousands more into prisons and will cost the provinces $billions. And all this at a time when crime rates have steadily decreased.

According the Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, Bill C-10 will deter terrorism, increase the accountability of offenders, and better protect Canadians from violent young offenders, among many, many other much needed outcomes. As he said,
"The objective of our criminal law reform agenda over the past few years has been to build a stronger, safer and better Canada."
And who could not want that? Of course, this tough-on-crime persona solves a problem that did not actually exist. It also fulfills a campaign pledge, and therefor portrays the government as active and effective and trustworthy. And it never hurts to hype the danger and heighten the public's fear -- it's a tactic that worked well in America, did it not?

The Harper Government has also demonstrated it's commitment to ideology in the struggle over Vancouver's safe injection drug clinic. The Insite facility was launched in 2003 under special exemption from prosecution to bring seriously ill addicts off the streets, and to help those afflicted deal with the dangers of their addictions. But the government of Stephen Harper does not use the word "afflicted" when referring to addicts -- it prefers the term felon, and withdrew the exemptions that sustained the site's operation.

In a case of gross over-reach, the government put ideology over the rule of law, as it sought to trump healthcare (a jurisdiction of the provinces) with criminal law (a federal jurisdiction). In what is seen as a landmark victory, the Supreme Court of Canada preserved Insite as North America's only legally supervised injection facility. In so doing, the Court has showed itself to be perhaps the only remaining check on this government's power.

University of Law Professor Errol Mendes commented on the ruling,
"It is extraordinary that the court has found that government decision-making was arbitrary and hugely disproportionate. This is probably the first major strike against the Harper majority government using its hard-right ideology to counter evidence-based health and social initiatives when they impact on Charter rights."
As noted by a news post in the Globe and Mail, the Court grounded its decision in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and our right to life, liberty and security of the person. As Chief Justice McLachlin said,
"Iniste has saved lives and improved health. And it did those things without increasing the incidence of drug use and crime n the surrounding area. The Vancouver police support Insite."
She also disagreed completely with government's contention that drug addicts choose their own fate, calling drug addiction a grave illness and not a choice, or sign of immorality (the Harper government's own self-serving and ideological position).

While I don't want to flog this point beyond exhaustion, it is important to hear and understand exactly what the Chief Justice said in reaching this unanimous decision,
"On future applications, the Minister must exercise that discretion within the constraints imposed by law and the Charter, aiming to strike the appropriate balance between achieving public health and public safety. In accordance with the Charter, the Minister must consider whether denying an exemption would cause deprivations of life and security of the person that are not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice [emphasis added]. Where, as here, a supervised injection site will decrease the risk of death and disease, and there is little of no evidence that it will have a negative impact on public safety, the Minister should grant an exemption."
I wish to draw your attention to the wonderful phrase the principles of fundamental justice, as it is so completely absent from the lexicon of this ideologically driven government.

In both the omnibus crime bill C-10 and the Insite case, the Harper Government has shown itself willfully immune to facts. Statistics and empirical evidence have no merit when they run counter to ideology.

And so the faux veneration of our flag -- like Harper's plan to celebrate the War of 1812 -- is just a diversion from the real agenda intended to reshape the very nature of our country.

Update. The Supreme Court's ruling on the Insite injection facility has generated more news. A post in the Globe and Mail points to a brewing confrontation between the judiciary and the Conservative government of Stephen Harper.

The article begins by suggesting that the Court's ruling, based as it is in scientific fact and statistical evidence, gives judges a "new tool for activism". I find it curious that the Globe believes that judicial activism would grow out of the proximity to scientific facts -- while the government would surely take that view as a means of discrediting the Insite decision, it is clear that facts and truth are the very foundation of our legal system, so I say, bring on the activism.

But this is not judicial activism. It is a refreshing application of the principles of fundamental justice against an over-reaching and ideologically driven government.

The article suggests that the Court "elevated scientific evidence over laws found to be arbitrary and grossly disproportionate". Again, I say bring it on. This is an important check against government abuse, and particularly against the abuses of this government.

The Globe article quotes two prominent legal minds who seem to support the decision;
"The Insite ruling is a warning to the government that any of its laws or policies which restrict liberty or threaten lives or health are vulnerable to Charter challenge, if compelling evidence calls into question their effectiveness in achieving their stated goals." Bruce Ryder, law professor at York University.
"When government policy affects liberty and relies on politics to shunt aside real scientific evidence, the court will step in." Clayton Ruby, a prominent Toronto lawyer.
But for the most part, the article hints darkly at the judicial activism the Insite ruling will supposedly unleash, as well as the worry and discomfort it will cause to judges in lower courts.

And its in the last section of the article that the author fully reveals his own negative opinions on the Insite ruling. Repeating the terms "arbitrary" and "grossly disproportionate", and suggesting that the ruling will invoke "future attacks" on laws and government policy, Kirk Makin asks,
"Arbitrary in whose view? And grossly disproportionate to what?"
He then goes on to cite a Charter expert who worries that courts will scrutinize the intent of legislators when they were drafting a law. Makin quotes the expert, who asks,
"Does the law make sense? Does it cause more problems than it solves? Does it create rather than avoid danger? Does it fail dismally to achieve its objectives? Do the costs of enforcement far outweigh the benefits achieved?"
Good questions, all, and worthy of consideration. But the tone of the Globe post by Kirk Makin seems to suggest that truth and scientific evidence should not be allowed to intrude on the government's will, even if it is ideologically driven. For all Makin's fretting, there seems no concern for the fundamental principles of justice that the Supreme Court's Insite ruling has upheld.

Like I said, if this is judicial activism, bring it on!  

By David.


Your musical accompaniment for the day: "Breezin" from the album of the same name by George Benson. Enjoy.