What’s with all the Holocaust deniers flocking to Canada?

First there’s Ken O’Keefe speaking in Toronto tomorrow, and now French “comedian” Dieudonné M’bala M’bala is playing Montreal in May:

The comedian, who routinely makes jokes about gas chambers and has denied the holocaust publicly, was found guilty last year in France of condoning terrorism after posting a joke on his Facebook page about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.

Espace Mushagalusa, a small art gallery in downtown Montreal, has booked Dieudonné to play ten shows in a room that accommodates 200 people from May 11 to 16.

Gallery owner Mushagalusa Chigoho told CBC the shows sold out quickly, despite little publicity.

Chigoho said he was aware that Dieudonné is controversial, and so he asked to review the script of this particular show before agreeing to the booking.

“There was nothing insulting, nothing degrading, nothing racist. I can’t be responsible for what he’s said in the past,” Chigoho said.

Dieudonné has several previous convictions under hate speech laws in France and Belgium. He has been widely criticized in Quebec and has seen previous runs of shows booked here cancelled due to his controversial remarks.

We’re not obligated to let human garbage into our country, so the federal government would be justified in denying entry to Dieudonné (or O’Keefe, for that matter). But I think it would be a better idea to let him in and see which Canadians are willing to pay money to watch him perform.

Jewish group to host Holocaust denier

The extreme left, it turns out, is still capable of surprising me.

A fringe Toronto-based Jewish organization called Beit Zatoun is hosting a presentation by the famously happy and well-adjusted Ken O’Keefe on April 28. (via Eye on a Crazy Planet) Once a somewhat revered figure by the mainstream anti-war movement, O’Keefe is now better known for ranting about “fucking Jews” on YouTube and appearing on David Duke’s radio show.

Perhaps unsurprisingly for a 9/11 and Sandy Hook troofer, Kooky Ken has also used his twitter feed to promote Holocaust denial.

Even for the rabid anti-Zionists of Beit Zeitoun, I figured this would be a bridge too far. But in an age where activist websites can declare that anti-Semitism may someday become respectable if Jews don’t stop acting so persecuted, I guess anything is possible.

Should O’Keefe even be allowed into the country? As with most creatures like him, I think it’s better to let him enter than to turn him into a martyr. The good news is, O’Keefe doesn’t always have the best luck being allowed onto planes to begin with.

Cirque Du Bai

Cirque du Soleil is the latest act announcing plans to boycott North Carolina:

The Canadian-based circus company Cirque du Soleil is cancelling upcoming stops in North Carolina by two of its touring shows to protest a state law that limits anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community.

The company said Friday that it will scrap plans for “Ovo” to play Greensboro from April 20-24 and Charlotte from July 6-10, and “Toruk — The First Flight,” which was scheduled to play Raleigh from June 22-26.

The company said in a statement that it “strongly believes in diversity and equality for every individual and is opposed to discrimination in any form.”

North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” – passed by the legislature in an emergency sitting, no less – is appalling and almost certainly unconstitutional.  (Mississippi’s “religious freedom” legislation isn’t much better.) Even if you think boycotting the state goes too far, you can’t deny that after Indiana went though a similar mess not long ago, its legislators should have known what they were getting into.

But now that Cirque du Soleil is taking an admirable stand for gay rights, will it strike this upcoming show from its schedule?

Cirque du Soleil, the world’s most iconic live production, is coming back to Dubai.

Set to take over the Dubai World Trade Centre in Dubai, the company’s signature show, Varekai, promises to deliver a state-of-the-art performance of acrobatics, dance and circus-like acts.

The show, running from September 16 to 24, is the first in the UAE for three years, and has earned rave reviews around the globe.

Here’s the Wikipedia entry for LGBT rights in Dubai:

Article 177 of the Penal Code of Dubai imposes imprisonment of up to 10 years on consensual sodomy. The most common depiction in the local media of LGBT people involves foreigners, disease, and sex crimes such as rape.

One such case involved the kidnapping and rape of a sixteen-year-old French Swiss boy by a group of men.[6] Initially, the police treated the victim as a suspect and the fear of being charged under Article 177 prompted the boy and his family to leave the country.[6] Eventually no formal charges were brought against the teenager who returned to testify against his rapists. The story generated international media attention with government representatives defending the criminal laws against homosexuality as, “This is a conservative society. Homosexuality, conducted homosexuality is an illegal act. And we are not ashamed of that.” The boy’s mother had launched an international campaign to boycott Dubai for the treatment of her son, but ended the campaign when the government agreed to certain demands.[7] The boy was also awarded AED15 million ($4 million USD) in civil compensation.[8]

In 2008 two lesbian tourists were given a one-month jail sentence and then deported for engaging in public displays of affection while visiting a beach.[9] The trial, reportedly the first of its kind, prompted the police to create a special task force to combat homosexuality and other “indecent acts” from taking place on the beaches.[10]

The legal and social sanctions against LGBT people mean that no formal LGBT organizations or nightclubs exist in Dubai. One nightclub called the Diamond Club sponsored a special night for the LGBT community, featuring a British cross dressing DJ, only to be shut down by the government.[11]

In 2011, two men were caught having sex in a car and were sentenced to a year each in prison. Both men were deported following their prison terms.[12]

In 2012, police arrested two Indian men for having consensual sex in a public toilet at a bus station. Both were jailed for six months each and were deported following their prison terms.[13] In the same year, a 28-year-old British man who drunkenly had sex with another man in public were both sentenced to three years in jail followed by deportation.[14] On 21 March 2012, Police raided and broke up a gay party consisting of 30 men.[15] On 7 June 2012, a Belgian man admitted to police that he was in a homosexual relationship with a Filipino. He was arrested and jailed for a year to be followed by deportation.[16]

A Cirque du Soleil show is also playing in Moscow right now, even after the Russian Duma voted unanimously to outlaw “gay propaganda.”

I guess an argument can be made that a highly publicized boycott of an American state is more likely to get results than boycotting a Middle Eastern country. But for the likes of Bryan Adams (who made a big show of boycotting Mississippi not long after playing Egypt, which makes the Magnolia State look like Provincetown) it sure seems like some soft bigotry of low expectations is at work here, as though we can’t possibly expect these people to stop being so homophobic.

The ball’s in your court now, Cirque du Soleil.  Do your concerns about discrimination and tolerance apply everywhere, or are you just jumping on a bandwagon?

Satire is a crime in Germany

The Germans have been making fun of foreign leaders – especially American Presidents – for as long as I can remember, so I strongly suspect its law against “insulting foreign leaders” is only enforced if said foreign leader is humorless, self-righteous and thin-skinned enough to officially complain about it.

Why, hello, Mr. Erdogan, we were just talking about you:

The German government has approved a criminal inquiry into a comic who mocked the Turkish president, Chancellor Angel Merkel announced.

By law, the government must approve any use of an article of the criminal code on insulting foreign leaders.

Mrs Merkel stressed that the courts would have the final word.

And she added that her government would move to repeal the article. Turkey sought the prosecution after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was mocked.

Prosecutors will have to decide whether to proceed against comedian Jan Boehmermann, who crudely mocked Mr Erdogan in a poem. If convicted he could face a fine or a prison sentence.

Some experts say he has a strong defence because his poem could be seen as part of a wider piece of satire about free speech, rather than a deliberate insult, the BBC’s Damien McGuinness reports from Berlin.

[…]

The poem was broadcast by ZDF television two weeks ago. The public TV channel has decided not to broadcast his weekly satire programme this week because of the furore surrounding Boehmermann.

You’d think the Germans, of all people, would appreciate the value of satirizing foreign leaders:

charlie-chaplin-in-the-gr-004

 

The Price of Justice 

A report in a The Toronto Star describes how many litigants, unable to qualify for legal aid and faced with exorbitant lawyers’ bills, are choosing to represent themselves in court:

…With legal fees on the rise—the most recent survey from Canadian Lawyer Magazine shows bills for civil and family cases have jumped markedly since the global recession — there’s an increasing number of people who can’t afford a lawyer, according to studies by Julie Macfarlane, a law professor and researcher at the University of Windsor.

“The number of people who are going to court without lawyers has gone up enormously,” Macfarlane said in an interview this week. “We know around half of the people that represent themselves begin with a lawyer. And they run out of money.”

Macfarlane added that, according to her research, more than 50 per cent of people going to family court this year will not have a lawyer.

Cole Webber, with the Parkdale Legal Clinic, said there is a wide swath of people who can’t afford legal bills, but don’t qualify for Legal Aid assistance.

The threshold for eligibility varies depending on household size and whether your case involves domestic violence, but the general qualification limit is an income of $12,000 to $14,000 for a one-person household and $31,000 to $40,000 for a family of five or more.

“You basically have to be on social assistance to even qualify,” Webber said.

Macfarlane agreed, and called it an impediment to universal access to justice.

“This isn’t any longer, ‘there’s a group we have to assist because they’re the poor and vulnerable.’ It’s most people, and it’s certainly the middle class,” she said.

You might think we lawyers enjoy steamrolling over self-represented parties, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Without legal counsel, they often have no one to tell them they’re being unreasonable or that they fundamentally misunderstand the legal principle at issue.

Negotiations and pre-trial procedures can drag on for months longer than they should. And when the case finally makes it to trial, the case is dragged out even longer as the Judge is forced to explain things to the self-represented party.

All things considered, everyone is better served when both parties have legal counsel. That said, many people simply find themselves unable to afford proper representation, while not earning a low enough income to qualify for legal aid.

In response, more lawyers, myself included, are offering unbundled legal services, in which we may assist in drafting documents or reviewing the other party’s materials without committing to appear in court.

Many people don’t realize that they have access to Employee Assistance Programs through which they may be entitled to free or discounted legal services. A common arrangement is for the lawyer to provide a free half-hour consultation, and then agree to represent the person at a 25% discount from his or her regular fee.

Here in Nova Scotia, the Legal Information Association offers a Lawyer Referral Service through which people can obtain a 30-minute consultation for $20.00. A half hour may not seem like much, but you’d be surprised how much ground can be covered in that short time.

Mind you, even after a short consultation of even with a discounted fee, legal proceedings can still be very expensive, and it doesn’t look like governments will step in any time soon to ease the pain. But when you need a lawyer, every bit helps.

Book review – “Tough Crimes: True Cases by Top Canadian Criminal Lawyers” by Christopher D. Evans and Lorene Shyba

[originally posted at Canadian Lawyer]
It’s the question every criminal lawyer has been asked more than any other (after “Why did it cost that much?”): “How can you defend a person you know to be guilty?” And my answer is always that it’s really not that hard, relatively speaking.
If I know or strongly suspect my client is guilty, I still believe the Crown must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, without relying on means that violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.If a person’s liberty is to be taken away by the state, we’d better be sure the state has made its case. That protects the rights of everyone, not just the accused.

But defending a person whom I believe to be innocent, now, that’s the kind of case that keeps me up at night. The innocent person’s freedom depends largely on my competence as a lawyer, this can be emotionally exhausting.

Marie Henein, a contributor to the absorbing compilation Tough Crimes: True Cases by Top Canadian Criminal Lawyers and who is now in the spotlight as Jian Ghomeshi’s counsel, feels the same way. Recounting her representation of former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant when he faced a charge of dangerous driving causing death, she notes, “any lawyer will tell you that it is the innocent who are the toughest to defend . . . I can think of no case in which I agonized so much over the strategy.”

Edited by C.D. Evans and Lorene Shyba, Tough Crimes features essays by several eminent Canadian lawyers, discussing the most interesting, notorious, or compelling cases they’ve worked on.  The most noteworthy thing about the book is that it illustrates the emotional toll criminal law can take on the people who practise it.

Vancouver’s Richard Peck, spent more than four years of his life representing Ajaib Singh Bagri, charged — and ultimately acquitted — in the Air India bombing case.

On the Crown side, meanwhile, New Brunswicker Fred Ferguson, discusses his emotionally exhausting participation in the heartbreaking case of John Ryan Turner, a young boy abused, neglected, and killed by his parents. The case reduced this hardened, experienced lawyer to tears.

Even where the client undeniably bears some responsibility for the alleged crime, there are sometimes mitigating circumstances that can make counsel more emotionally invested in the case.

Stan Koebel certainly made mistakes that contributed to the Walkerton contaminated water tragedy, but his lawyer William Trudell recalls his client’s feelings of soul-crushing remorse, and how other parties tried to make Koebel a scapegoat for their own errors and failings. Similarly, the teenager who opened fire on his classmates in Taber, Alta., did indeed pull the trigger, but his horrific act came only after a lifetime of sadistic bullying.

Tough Crimes also offers considerable insight into the idiosyncratic thinking that separates Canada’s top lawyers — the ones deemed worthy of contributing to this volume — from their peers.

Henein, for example, decided it was in her client’s best interests to disclose the evidence compiled for Bryant’s defence to the Crown, in the hopes that prosecutors would decide he was not criminally responsible for killing a pedestrian with his car, and refrain from laying charges in the first place.

Most of us would keep that evidence far away from the Crown, on the basis it’s their job to prove the guilt of the accused, not the job of the accused to prove his innocence. But Henein’s gamble paid off; the evidence very clearly showed Bryant was defending himself from an agitated, unstable, and violent “victim,” and no charges were laid.

The first essay in Tough Crimes is by none other than the recently deceased Edward Greenspan, describing a case in which a jury convicted his client despite absolutely overwhelming evidence he was not guilty. Every dedicated lawyer does everything he or she can for the client, and voluntarily takes on a heavy emotional and intellectual burden in doing so. But as Greenspan’s case illustrates, even the best can’t win ’em all.

Garry Trudeau shows those murder victims who’s boss

Why the foiled Halifax shooting plot (allegedly) wasn’t terrorism

This Canadian Press article by Laura Kane explains how the distinction between “terrorism” and mere criminal activity can be blurry, and why the alleged plot to shoot up the Halifax Shopping Centre this past weekend doesn’t qualify as a terror plot:

Police said there is no evidence that ideology or culture is part of the allegations. But if plotting to cause mass murder in a public place is not called terrorism, then what is?

Defining terrorism is a complex task, one that has preoccupied governments since the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, experts say. And with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s new anti-terror bill before Parliament, taking a closer look at the Canadian definition is all the more crucial.

“The problem of defining terrorism has been a thorny one from the get-go,” said terrorism expert John Thompson, vice president of Strategic Capital and Intelligence Group.

“Terrorism overlaps with so many other activities. When does a violent protest become terrorism? When does some sort of psychotic episode where someone is acting out become terrorism? It’s a very hazy border.”

In Canada, section 83.01 of the Criminal Code defines terrorism as an act committed “in whole or in part for a political, religious or ideological purpose, objective or cause” with the intention of intimidating the public’s security or compelling a person, government or organization to do or refrain from doing an act.

[…]

Andrew Mack, a security expert and professor in the school for international studies at Simon Fraser University, called the alleged Halifax plot a “deadly criminal offence,” but not a terrorist one.

“The important point there is political intent, and ‘political’ is fairly widely interpreted,” he said. “If we’re talking about (ISIS), for example, they will always justify what they’re doing in religious terms. But as far as law enforcement is concerned, that’s political.”

That’s the question: were the shooters motivated by any religious or political ideology?  A widely-shared article by Robert Devet, for the Halifax Media Co-op, argues that the would-be shooters’ fascination with Nazism is being downplayed:

The Tumblr blog of James Gamble, the 19-year old found dead in Timberlea, features pictures of Adolph Hitler and marching Nazis.

You go to the Tumblr blog of Lindsay Kantha Souvannarath, the Illinois woman now in custody, and a swastika is the first thing you see.

Meanwhile, thanks to the work of people who know their way around in the world of blogs, message boards and handles, there are strong suggestions that at least Souvannarath has along-time infatuation with fascist and white supremacist ideas.  None of this has made it into Nova Scotia news outlets.

One CBC reporter looked at Gamble’s Tumblr blog, and mentions the Nazi references in passing, almost as an afterthought.

The same for a Chronicle Herald story, where a reference to Nazi images warrants one sentence.

You have to wonder whether coverage would have changed in tone had the plotters been Muslims, and had the Tumblr images been of Osama Bin Laden, or ISIS militants?

That’s a good question, actually.  Justin Bourque, who murdered three RCMP during his shooting rampage in Moncton, was apparently motivated at least in part by his radical anti-government, anti-police beliefs, yet he wasn’t charged with terrorism-related offences.

Islamist terrorism is a very serious threat – we saw that in Copenhagen this past weekend, right around the same time as the Halifax plotters were being charged.  But not all terrorists are Muslims – and, it goes without saying, not all Muslims are terrorists.

The Carter ruling is correct, though I don’t agree with it

The Supreme Court of Canada struck down the Criminal Code provisions making assisted suicide illegal:

In a charter precedent that will go down in the history books as Carter vs. Canada, the court unanimously struck down the ban on providing a doctor-assisted death to mentally competent but suffering and “irremediable” patients.

The emphatic, unanimous ruling prompted tears of joy and frustration on both sides of the debate, reverberated through provincial health ministries and doctor’s offices across Canada, and left skittish federal parliamentarians groping for time to digest the implications.

“The prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes on the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice,” the nine justices flatly asserted.

The judgment — left unsigned to reflect the unanimous institutional weight of the court — gives Parliament a year to draft new legislation that recognizes the right of clearly consenting adults who are enduring intolerable physical or mental suffering to seek medical help in ending their lives.

It does not limit physician-assisted death to those suffering a terminal illness.

And to put an exclamation mark on the ruling, the court awarded special costs against the government of Canada for the entire five-year course of the litigation, less 10 per cent to be paid by the government of British Columbia.

The court suspended its judgment for 12 months, during which the current law continues to apply, placing enormous pressure on Parliament to act in what is an election year.

(An aside: remember when Stephen Harphitler was going to pack the Supreme Court with Conservative loyalists who would rubber-stamp everything he did?  Didn’t quite work out that way, did it?)

I’m torn on the issue of assisted suicide.  I fundamentally believe a person should have the right to do what he wants with his body, and if you’re suffering from an incurable, terminal medical condition, I can understand why you’d want to end the misery on your own terms.

I also firmly believe that this starts the proverbial slippery slope toward extending this “right” to people who are not competent to make the decision to end their lives, young children, and that we will ultimately see people given the right to make end-of-life decisions for disabled people in their care.    (Indeed, supporters of Robert Latimer have been arguing for this ever since he took the life of his severely disabled daughter in 1993.)

Andrew Coyne argues that the Court did not seriously consider the implications of its ruling:

…on what grounds could any limit be placed on this right? Once we have embraced the idea of suicide, not as a tragedy we should seek to prevent, but a right we are obliged to uphold; once the taking of life has been converted from a crime into a service — “physician-assisted death” — to be performed at public expense; once we have crossed these sorts of philosophical and legal divides, how is it to be imagined that we could stop there?

The Court airily dismisses concerns that euthanasia will be expanded or abused, as it has been in those few jurisdictions where it has been legalized, as “anecdotal.” Very well. Perhaps the Court is right, that the “medico-legal culture” of Belgium, where assisted suicide is now provided to children and prisoners on demand, is different than Canada’s.

But it is not in the administration of the law that I fear we will see the “slippery slope” at work so much as it is in its interpretation. Perhaps the Court’s confidence that “safeguards” can be devised that will prevent the spread of euthanasia beyond the competently adult and the clearly consenting is well placed. But there can be no safeguard against the Court’s own future decisions.

Some day, someone is going to bring a case before the Court arguing that children with an incurable disease and in “intolerable” pain should also have the right to assisted suicide, perhaps with their parents’ consent. Is the Court really going to condemn them to endure years of excruciating pain until they are of age? Likewise, is it really prepared to leave the mentally incompetent to suffer unbearably, when with the signature of a legal guardian they could be released? Or if personal autonomy is all, why should a “grievous and irremediable medical condition” be required? Isn’t it enough that you want to be dead, but need someone to help?

So, I’m worried about what the Carter decision means.  And yet, paradoxically, I think the Court dealt with the slippery slope argument appropriately.

In deciding whether a law is unconstitutional, a Canadian court must then turn its attention to whether the infringement of a Charter right can be justified “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society,” as stated in section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In layman’s terms, it must be established that the offending law has an important, pressing societal objective, and that it carries out this objective by infringing upon the Charter rights as minimally as possible.

The Court notes, correctly, that “slippery slope” arguments are speculative by nature:

[118]                      Canada also argues that the permissive regulatory regime accepted by the trial judge “accepts too much risk”, and that its effectiveness is “speculative” (R.F., at para. 154).  In effect, Canada argues that a blanket prohibition should be upheld unless the appellants can demonstrate that an alternative approach eliminates all risk.  This effectively reverses the onus under s. 1 , requiring the claimant whose rights are infringed to prove less invasive ways of achieving the prohibition’s object.  The burden of establishing minimal impairment is on the government.

[119]                      The trial judge found that Canada had not discharged this burden.  The evidence, she concluded, did not support the contention that a blanket prohibition was necessary in order to substantially meet the government’s objectives.  We agree.  A theoretical or speculative fear cannot justify an absolute prohibition.  As Deschamps J. stated in Chaoulli, at para. 68, the claimant “d[oes] not have the burden of disproving every fear or every threat”, nor can the government meet its burden simply by asserting an adverse impact on the public.  Justification under s. 1  is a process of demonstration, not intuition or automatic deference to the government’s assertion of risk (RJR-MacDonald, at para. 128).

[120]                      Finally, it is argued that without an absolute prohibition on assisted dying, Canada will descend the slippery slope into euthanasia and condoned murder.  Anecdotal examples of controversial cases abroad were cited in support of this argument, only to be countered by anecdotal examples of systems that work well.  The resolution of the issue before us falls to be resolved not by competing anecdotes, but by the evidence.  The trial judge, after an exhaustive review of the evidence, rejected the argument that adoption of a regulatory regime would initiate a descent down a slippery slope into homicide.  We should not lightly assume that the regulatory regime will function defectively, nor should we assume that other criminal sanctions against the taking of lives will prove impotent against abuse.

In practice, I do not believe assisted suicide will be limited to those who care competent to request it.  But I concede that this is speculative, and that our courts may very well rule that this is something the disabled and the young should be protected from, not a right that should be extended to them whether we really know they want to exercise it.

“Slippery slope” arguments are considered logical fallacies, and court decisions should not be based on logical fallacies.  I think my fears about assisted suicide may be borne out, but they aren’t inevitable.  And if they aren’t inevitable, the Charter right is not minimally infringed upon.

I know this seems pretty confusing, but it’s a morally complex issue (dominated, like most morally complex social issues, by the loudest and most extreme voices on each side).  To summarize, by head agrees with the Carter ruling, though my heart is worried about it.