Guelph Mercury

City should rethink details of proposed nuisance bylaw

Dennis Baker and Samuel Mosonyi.

The City of Guelph is currently in the process of drafting a new public nuisance bylaw to provide bylaw and police officers “with tools to address minor, unwanted behaviour or activities on city-owned property and, in certain limited cases on private land, without laying criminal charges.”

According to the report of the city’s operations, transit and emergency services committee, Guelph has had a number of incidents and “undesirable gatherings” on both public and private land, and staff do not have sufficient tools at their disposal to protect the interests of the city.

Guelph’s proposal is part of a rash of municipal bylaws enacted across the country that seek to supplement the federal Criminal Code by establishing minor penalties (typically fines) for misconduct deemed too minimal to attract criminal prosecution.

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The Ontarion

Supreme Court HIV ruling promotes responsibility

This article is in response to Laura Chown’s article, “Supreme Court HIV ruling promotes stigma.”

The Supreme Court ruled the following in R. v. Mabior: that an individual would not have to disclose HIV status, provided the following two conditions are met: (1) a low viral load of HIV, and (2) use of a condom.

Chown argues that the Supreme Court was wrong in applying the two-part test. For her, if either one of the two parts of the test are met, there should be no requirement for disclosure. Consistent with the views of the HIV/AIDS Legal Network, she states that the ruling promotes “stigma” and places an extra burden on those living with HIV.

The topic of consent is strongly promoted on campus. To be able to enter a contractual decision with another person, one needs to have all the facts to make a rational decision weighing costs and benefits. Chown further states that, “Condom use, regardless of viral load, is close to 100 per cent effective in preventing the transmission of HIV when used properly.” This is incorrect. The number is closer to 80 per cent.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

The Supreme Court was right on HIV and consent

The Supreme Court of Canada recently issued a ruling in R. v. Mabior clarifying the requirement for people with HIV to disclose their status to sexual partners. If the accused has: (1) a low viral load, and (2) uses a condom, there is no realistic possibility of transmission. As a result, the Court ruled, there is no requirement to disclose HIV status to a partner if these two conditions are met. The ruling builds upon a previous judgment in R. v. Cuerrier, where the majority held that failure to disclose that one has HIV may “vitiate” (negate) consent to sex and can make one liable to be charged with aggravated sexual assault.

The Cuerrier test was based on the following two elements: that (1) a “dishonest act” must occur, which includes lying or failing to disclose HIV status; and (2) the complainant must be deprived of knowledge which would have caused him or her to refuse sexual relations that resulted in exposure to a significant risk of bodily harm. Opponents of Cuerrier argue that the test is both uncertain and it overextends the criminal law. The Court in Mabior recognized that Cuerrier gives rise to uncertainty over what constitutes “significant risk” and what constitutes “bodily harm.”

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Guelph Mercury

Time for the public to weigh in on proroguing

The political community exploded with interest Monday when Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty unexpectedly announced he is resigning.

In an email sent to Liberal supporters, McGuinty reiterated his request to the party president to hold a leadership conference at the earliest possible time, at which point he will resign. Additionally, he prorogued the legislature, using the rationale of allowing discussions on public-sector wage freezes to “occur in an atmosphere that is free of the heightened rancour of politics in the legislature.”

Some have speculated that, in reality, the prorogation was due to other factors, including the contempt motion brought against Energy Minister Chris Bentley for allegedly delaying the release of documents related to the cancellation of two gas-fired power plants. McGuinty had acknowledged the seriousness of the contempt motion, noting that Bentley is at risk of being the first cabinet minister to be found in contempt of the Ontario legislature.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

Has Harper lost control of his backbench?

Last week, the National Post’s John Ivison wrote an interesting column arguing that the Conservative backbench has lost its fear of Stephen Harper. He argues that “the trained seals on the backbench are biting back and we are likely to see more unsanctioned behaviour in future, as MPs relish their new-found freedom.”

Is the Prime Minister, who for years has kept an extremely tight leash on his caucus, losing control? The answer may be more subtle than Ivison suggests. The Conservative Party of Canada is a broad coalition of interests: social conservatives, fiscal conservatives, economic libertarians, red Tories, and the like. Due to its very nature, this coalition will occasionally pit interests against interests. A successful leader will be able to reconcile differences and hold the alliance together.

The Prime Minister can enforce discipline in a variety of ways. He can promote or demote MPs based on their performance. Harper can kick an MP out of the Conservative caucus at any time. Postmedia’s Stephen Maher argues that it was easier to impose discipline prior to the 2011 election. Some MPs want to get their name in the headlines, while others will speak out when the government does something they dislike.

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Guelph Mercury

Conservatives should have whipped cabinet on abortion vote

Kitchener Centre Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s private member’s Motion 312, which was defeated last Wednesday in the House of Commons, enraged many.

It proposed striking a special ad hoc Commons committee to review Criminal Code section 223 (1), which states: “A child becomes a human being … when it has completely proceeded, in a living state, from the body of its mother.” The motion proposed to review this, taking into account new medical and legal evidence.

According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice, private members’ motions mean “the government is not bound to adopt a specific policy or course of action as a result of the adoption of such a resolution since the House is only stating an opinion or making a declaration of purpose.”

Party discipline, for better or worse, constrains MPs from voting their conscience on important government bills and matters of confidence. This motion was not a government bill. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the party whip, and most of the Conservative cabinet opposed the motion.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

Public screening of hate film poses danger to Canada

A small group of individuals in the United States filmed a primitive and hateful video depicting the Prophet Muhammad. This was posted to YouTube and translated into Arabic. No one paid much attention to it until an angry mob of protesters stormed the US embassy in Libya, killing the ambassador and three other staff.

Anti-American and anti-Western sentiments are strong in the Middle East, and will continue to be so. It is important to note that the US government did not condone, let alone even know about the video until the riot. Obama condemned the murders, but also the video for insulting holy Islamic values. This is certainly not the only such inflammatory item on the internet. Any attempt to police the internet will prove futile; a site, once up, will remain up forever. It can be archived and re-posted within a matter of seconds once taken down by the authorities.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

RCMP plane grounding infringes free speech

The RCMP last week forced a plane flying over Ottawa to land, as the plane was apparently flying in restricted airspace near Parliament Hill. The plane flew a banner promoting a website, “Stephen Harper nous déteste.ca” (Stephen Harper hates us). The plane was hired by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) to carry the message. Earlier this summer, I wrote a piece arguing that it was inappropriate for civil servants to wear buttons carrying this message in their workplace; political servants must remain politically neutral in the course of their work. Likewise, I was critical of Brigette DePape when she openly protested Harper’s policies during the Throne Speech.

It is not the content of these sorts of political messages that should be criticized, but rather the manner in which they are presented. PSAC had legitimate grounds to carry out the protest in this manner. They were flying a message which certainly conformed to the law and flew within legal boundaries. The message criticized the Prime Minister. At www.stephenharperhatesus.ca, PSAC argues that public service cuts will affect all Canadians.

The purpose of this column is not to argue which side is correct. Rather, we should all be worried at the RCMP’s curtailing of free speech. At the onset, the RCMP requested the pilot to land because they were flying in restricted air space. Yet the private company which provides air traffic services in Canada confirmed the plane never breached a restricted fly zone in Ottawa.

The pilot states that the RCMP told him that the message on the banner could be construed as hate speech. The RCMP denies that there was a political basis for grounding the plane, arguing only that it appeared to be flying at a low level and posed a security risk. If the pilot’s claim is true, and the RCMP did tell the pilot that his message could be interpreted as hate, it poses a great threat to public faith in in the RCMP. The police must have a high degree of independence from the government and should not intervene in political affairs. The Criminal Code section relating to hate dictates that public statements inciting hatred must be made against a group and that they be “likely to lead to a breach of the peace.” It is clear that PSAC’s banner does not fit this criterion.

Professor of law Kent Roach summarizes the concern nicely: “[…] the idea that the police are directed by the government of the day raises concerns about improper partisan concerns influencing or appearing to influence the machinery of justice.” It is crucial that decisions undertaken by the RCMP are not done to achieve a partisan advantage for the government.

This is not the first time the RCMP has been seemingly giving partisan advantages to political parties. In the 2006 election, the RCMP launched a probe of the Liberal announcement regarding income trusts. Slightly prior to the announcement, income trusts spiked, prompting an investigation into leaks. In response to a letter by an NDP critic, the RCMP released Ralph Goodale’s name to the public. The force later admitted that this was not keeping with past practices, which raised a question of bias. At the 1997 APEC summit, the RCMP were criticized for using pepper spray and strip searches against protesters. An inquiry found the government tried twice to interfere with police operations. At one point, the RCMP commissioned research which found numerous positive impacts for Insite, the safe-injection clinic in Vancouver. A media release was planned, but the RCMP backed out with only a few days’ notice. John Geddes argued in Maclean’s (2010)that coming forward with this information would have been politically awkward because of the Conservatives’ commitment to shut down Insite. At Stephen Harper’s campaign rallies during the 2011 federal election, the RCMP assisted the Conservatives in evicting people from campaign rallies based on partisan affiliation. The force agreed that it had overstepped its mandate in doing so; they did promise to restrict their involvement to matters involving security.

In instances of unfair police activity which gives a partisan advantage to a political actor, society must ask: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  Who will watch the watchmen?

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Guelph Mercury

Should Canada be at ease with its judicial activism?

The Canadian Constitution, the supreme law of the land, allows judges to invalidate laws that are unconstitutional.

Constitutionality rulings can be thorny, as they often involve significant value judgements that pit constitutional rights against the objectives of legislatures. For example, earlier this summer a British Columbia judge gave permission for a terminally ill woman to commit suicide with the assistance of a physician. The case is currently on appeal to the B.C. Court of Appeal.

Assisted suicide is a criminal offence and physicians are deterred from providing it by current law. Justice Lynn Smith, in her ruling on the constitutionality of the prohibition on physician-assisted suicide, noted Canadians travel to Switzerland for assisted suicide at high cost and possible risk of criminal prosecution for relatives.

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The Prince Arthur Herald

The role of student unions should be re-examined

Student unions are such a common part of our university careers that we tend to take them for granted. Student government often exists at all levels of the institution, ranging from the department, to the college or school, all the way to the collective student union. The student union levies fees on students and provides certain services in return. The representatives of the union are often directly elected by students (with usually abysmal voter turnout).

Unfortunately, student unions commonly engage in overtly political activity. Students should actively monitor their unions and speak out when they are engaging in questionable activity.  For example, Ontario’s radical student federation, the Canadian Federation of Students (Ontario) (CFS-O), was actively involved in planning the Quebec-Ontario Student Solidarity Tour. The phone number provided for the event linked directly to a CFS-O executive. The event was endorsed by a number of student unions, including those at Guelph, Queen’s, Windsor, and Ottawa. But it certainly was not by the people! At Guelph, students received no word of this decision until after the fact, and no attempt was made to consult the student body at large. The event involved student protest leaders with questionable politics. Guelph student union executives made a plea for students to join the strike movement, and even to donate money to student leaders fighting a legal challenge in Quebec.

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