Thursday, February 22, 2007

Should Anti-terrorism Act provisions be renewed?

Harper's blatant inference that the Liberal Party's opposition to renewal of provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act are based on the personal relationships of Navdeep Bain and a debt that Stephane Dion owes to the Sikh community, is simply ludicrous. No party would jeopardize the safety of Canadian citizens for a political debt and for Harper to suggest this is ridiculous. The only good news in all of the furor of the past couple of days is that the public once again gets to see the Mr. Hyde that Harper has managed to hide pretty effectively in the past six months.

It's a good thing too because it really wasn't shaping up to be a good couple of days for the Liberals with former Liberals and some current and future ones coming out for extending the
Investigative Hearings and Recognizance with Conditions provisions in the Anti-terrorism Act. Then there was today's Senate panel who today also recommended extending the provisions.
Not to mention the fact that Air India families came out in support of Mr. Harper and extension of the provisions.

Given these facts, should the act be renewed? I took a quick read of the contentious provisions this evening and while I'm no lawyer, I have to agree that there seems to be a real danger the provisions could put civil liberties at risk. For example subsection 7 of the Recognizance with Conditions provision seems to give pretty unlimited powers to impose recognizance or detention on both suspected terrorists and witnesses. Perhaps that's why the Senate panel recommended new safeguards be attached to the provisions. This indicates that even though they are recommending extension there is concern about the violation of civil rights. And the fact that a part of the Act has been struck down by an Ontario judge(Part of Anti-terrorism Act violates charter: judge), I can certainly understand why Stephane Dion is against renewing it.

At the very least careful consideration and thoughtful debate should be undertaken before extending these provisions. Unfortunately, Steven Harper really does seem to want to be the Decider, and so this sort of dialectic seems to be beyond his capacity.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Housing initiatives in BC budget

Being new to Vancouver I was very interested to see what if anything the BC Liberals were going to do to alleviate the shortage of affordable housing in the Vancouver area. For prospective buyers this is an incredibly expensive market -- San Francisco and maybe San Diego are the only markets that I can think of that are as expensive as the Vancouver market.

And while the housing market in the U.S. and in to a lesser extent Canada have cooled out, the Vancouver market still seems to be in overdrive with property values up 24% in 2006 and more than 100% over the past 5 years. Even for someone who is in the upper echelons of income earners will find it difficult to buy here. If you do buy you're essentially forced to narrow your investment portfolio to a single asset type -- real estate. Which is not a good investment strategy, but one that friends in San Francisco have felt forced into.

When I read a summary of the housing initiatives in today's Globe & Mail ("Do housing initiatives in B.C. budget go far enough?") I have to say I was disappointed. An $864 income tax savings isn't going to convince that me to take on a $400 to $600 thousand mortgage.

These days I don't normally point to the U.S. as a model we should follow, but they have it right when it comes to creating an environment that truly promotes home ownership (which is also pretty good for the economy). Allowing home owners to write down a portion of their mortgage interest payments on income tax makes sense if you want to encourage home ownership. Why don't governments in Canada get this, and if they do why don't they have the courage to act?

Monday, February 19, 2007

A good week for democracy?

For those who didn't get a chance to see it on the weekend, Evan Solomon's "Hot type" featured a new book by Stephen Grey, "Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program". The book details the inner workings of the CIA's rendition program and is a must read for anyone who is concerned about the seemingly unlimited power law enforcement agencies have been given.

The show aired on the heels of the indictment of 26 Americans, most of them CIA agents, and 5 Italians on kidnapping charges. More good news came on Friday when Federal Court Justice Richard Mosley "ordered the release of an Egyptian terror suspect, Mohamed Mahjoub, who has spent nearly seven years behind bars, held on a controversial national security certificate".

But for all the good news there is still cause for concern that our democracy is being undermined by those whose job it is to protect our freedoms and rights. Hopefully, there will be a long and thoughtful debate before any consideration for renewal of the Anti-Terrorism Act. The Act gives sweeping powers to law enforcement agencies and the judiciary, and some of these powers are likely undermining the fabric of our democracy. There's no point in fighting terrorism if we give up the freedoms and rights that are the essential fabric of our democracy.

The Conservatives blatant attempt to politicize the judiciary was alarming, and is a clear attempt by Harper to ensure judges share his ideological bent. The only good news in all of this is that Harper is finally showing his true ideological bent -- hopefully Canadians will punish him at election time.