When governments have contempt for the law

There is an alarming trend in Canada in the past few months of governments demonstrating contempt for the law and for people’s civil liberties. This morning I received an email alert from the Council of Canadians:

The CBC reports that, “A proposed BC law would allow municipal officials (in Whistler, Vancouver and Richmond) to enter homes (with just 24 hours notice) to seize unauthorized and possibly anti-Olympic signs on short notice (says) the BC Civil Liberties Association.”

Bill 13, the Miscellaneous Statues Amendment Act, introduced on October 8 to amend the Municipalities Enabling and Validating Act, means so-called ‘violators’ could be fined up to $10,000 a day and jailed up to six months.

The law would allow these three host municipalities to remove unauthorized signs during the period of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, February 1 to March 31.

In June, the City of Vancouver passed “the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games bylaw to restrict the distribution and exhibition of unapproved advertising material and signs in any Olympic area during the Games.”

“Legal experts say the definition of an unapproved sign is open to interpretation. The BC Civil Liberties Association has been warning for several months that the vague wording might be used against anti-Olympic signs or promotions for anti-Olympic events or material.”

The Council of Canadians has started to raise concerns about key Olympic sponsors – including Coca-Cola/ Dasani bottled water – and how these corporations use the Olympics to “greenwash” their business practices. It is our intention to distribute signs and materials with messages reflective of these concerns.

The province says Bill 13 is intended to stop ‘ambush marketing’, a term used to describe advertising by entities that infringe on the rights of corporations that have paid for Olympic sponsorship rights.”

This follows months of reports about anti-Olympics activists being harassed, stopped in the street to be questioned, their neighbours and workmates being questioned – all in the interests of so-called security. Yet there has been little outcry with the exception of the BC Civil Liberties Association. If this is the new normal for the treatment of protesters and dissent we are all in very big trouble.

Harper attacks a government  inquiry

At the same time that legitimate dissent is being criminalized in BC, the Harper Conservatives are doing everything they can to block, delay and otherwise derail the on-going investigation in to the Afghan torture inquiry – the one looking at Canada’s likely violation of international law by handing over Afghan prisoners to the torture-prone Afghan  police.

The effort to stop the inquiry has been followed by Globe and mail reporter Tu Thanh Ha.. He revealed that the government has put forward eight motions that seek “to eliminate witnesses, question the inquiry’s jurisdiction and hold up proceedings.”  It even has tried to radically alter the normal back-and-forth of cross examination, demanding that   “..witnesses take questions in writing and then have the transcript of their answers edited before the inquiry lawyers sees them.”

The government has engaged in such an intense campaign of intimidation of witnesses that only one has been willing to come forward to do pre-hearing interviews.This summer a lawyer from the Justice lawyer sent a letter to witnesses who had been subpoenaed to appear before the commission warning them that their reputations (and by implication their careers) were at risk if they took part in pre-hearing interviews. Lori Bokenfohr, lawyer for diplomat Richard Colvin, the single witness brave enough to come forward, stated in a letter to the government lawyer: “According to your letter, as a result of participating in pre-hearing interviews, government servants might face accusations of lying during public hearings, face greater risk to reputation and carry the potential moral burden of unwittingly exposing military and other colleagues and peers to disciplinary penalties.”

I have seen virtually nothing in the other mainstream media, including the CBC, on this frightening abuse of executive power.  It is typical of the major media outlets – in the rare cases where investigative pieces are written, they are ignored by the competition because they didn’t originate the story.

These issues and others go beyond the question of civil liberties and to the core of democracy. And each time they get away with it, the security-state apparatus simply moves the bar higher. We are all in peril.

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