Wishing for peace in the Balkans

Forensics Experts Work On Exhuming And Identifying Srebrenica Victims

Remains at a mass grave in the former Yugoslavia.

For the last six months, I’ve been researching and learning much about the Balkans. I’ve had the pleasure to meet some amazing people who have kindly shared their pleasant memories and bravely shared their painful ones. They say those who don’t know the past are condemned to repeat it. One thing that I have learned is that people from the former Yugoslavia are keenly aware of their history and, to paraphrase the words of a tearful Serbian woman watching the news in the 1990s, nationalism keeps rearing its ugly head and history keeps repeating itself.

One thing I have learned is that the majority of people in the region want peace. They are still struggling to rebuild 20 years after the civil war ended. Corruption and a grey economy stifle the rebuilding effort, and in Bosnia, a clunky three-headed political system ensures partisan bickering and posturing takes up more energy and thought than progress.

There are a couple of movies coming out about the wars in the region. I haven’t seen them, but I hope that they don’t inflame a fragile peace. For a generation, the people of Yugoslavia lived together in a country where their ethnic differences were either ignored or celebrated — not the justification for cold-blooded killing.

It is impossible to forget what happened to your family. It is important, for your sake, to know the past, but, for the sake of your children, it’s equally important to forgive, and avoid the tragedies of the past.

Ghomeshi should be forced to testify

jian-ghomeshi-goes-to-trial-620x349

Jian Ghomeshi, and others accused of sexual assault, should have to testify and face cross-examination.

It flies in the face of a basic tenet of law, and there’s a section of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that will prevent this from happening, but Ghomeshi should really have to go on the hot seat. He is the one on trial, after all.

Instead, the women who have accused him of sexual assault are the ones facing rigorous cross-examination. Some would say they are being grilled by Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein.

It’s all well and good to have a fair trial and make sure you don’t sent an innocent person to jail, but we have a problem in Canada.

An estimated 90 per cent of sexual assaults go unreported and of the 10 per cent that are reported, only 25 per cent lead to a conviction. That’s an alarming failure rate and it’s not because women are imagining they’ve been raped or sexually assaulted.

What can the federal government do to turn the tables? They could pass a law that would force those accused of sexual assault to testify and be cross-examined. Section 11 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would normally prevent someone from being compelled to testify in a case in which they are the accused, but there is a trump card the federal government can play.

If Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government is serious about solving the problem of unsolved and unreported sexual assaults in this country, it should pass a law forcing accused rapists to testify and have their comments and personal histories sifted through and torn apart. The federal government could do this if it invoked Section 33 of the Charter. Also known as the Notwithstanding Clause, it would allow such a law to stand for five years at a time at which time the federal government could let it lapse if it’s not working, or renew it if it is.

When you’re faced with a problem that has reached such epic proportions, you need to get creative and you need to get serious. How much would such a measure help? I don’t know, but it won’t hurt. It would certainly wipe the smug look off a lot of faces and knowing they’ll have to sit in the hot seat could act as a deterrent.

The other solution is to teach men not to rape, but that only works on the nice guys, so let’s roll out the Notwithstanding Clause and use it to fix a problem.

Nova Scotia Power parent company doubles in size

The Nova Scotia power generating station at Tufts Cove on the Dartmouth waterfront.

The Nova Scotia power generating station at Tufts Cove on the Dartmouth waterfront.

While most Nova Scotians were getting ready to celebrate the last long weekend of summer, executives at Emera Inc. were stuck in the office working late on Friday.

Don’t feel too bad, though, the hard-working executives at Emera are richly rewarded. CEO Chris Huskilson earned a cool $4.6 million last year, so it’s not unreasonable to expect him to put in a few hours of overtime – even on a Friday before Labour Day weekend.

Emera, which is the parent company of Nova Scotia’s venerable electrical utility, was announcing a bit of a milestone. It had a conference call at 7 p.m. Friday evening, but once that conference call was over, I’m hoping that they popped the cork on a bottle of champagne (or better yet, Nova 7) and celebrated.

On Friday, Emera Inc. doubled in size. It purchased Florida-based TECO Energy Inc. for $10.4 billion, a price that includes $6.5 billion for the company and the assumption of $3.9 billion in debt, according to Bloomberg. TECO investors will receive $27.55 per share – a 48 per cent premium based on the company’s July 15 closing price.

It is Emera’s biggest purchase and means that it will have assets of $20 billion, with U.S. operations making up 71 per cent of its earnings.

Timothy Winter, an analyst at Gabelli & Co. in Rye, N.Y., gave an interesting quote to Bloomberg on Friday.

“It is a healthy price,” he said before adding that Emera, along with other Canadian utilities show a common trait when making foreign acquisitions: They “tend to pay a reasonable price to make shareholders happy.”

Isn’t that nice? Not only does Emera Inc. ensure that its shareholders are happy, they make sure that when they takeover an electrical utility in Florida, their shareholders are happy, too. Print that quote off and when that cold north wind blows this winter, read it to get that nice warm fuzzy feeling you won’t get from your electric baseboard heater.

It’s an amazing move for the once little-holding company that could, so I wondered why they issued their news release at 4:45 p.m. on Friday before a long weekend. This isn’t the sort of deal that gets whipped up in an afternoon or even a week, so I know that the timing of that release was carefully chosen.

Cynical journalists have long suspected that people trying to hide “bad news” always release it on the Friday afternoon before a long weekend. Since I cannot imagine why Emera would want to downplay its purchase of TECO Energy, I am left to assume that this is just another example of Canadian modesty.

Instead of trumpeting their corporate exploit, the demure Emera executives chose to time the announcement for when it would generate the least amount of news coverage. No doubt, they must have been blushing when they still received attention from the CBC, The Chronicle Herald, Bloomberg, and the Tampa Bay Times.

Emera Inc. is an amazing and improbable success story that would make Rumpelstiltskin proud. Rumpelstiltskin, an imp-like creature who could spin straw into gold in the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, would admire Huskilson, the genius who orchestrated the latter stages of Nova Scotia Power’s transition from a money-losing Crown corporation that amassed $4 billion in debt to what it is today, just 23 years after privatization.

Thankfully, Nova Scotian taxpayers were off the hook for that debt as it netted about $4 billion from the sale of Nova Scotia Power in 1992, but wouldn’t it be great if instead of a Florida utility’s debt getting paid off, some of Nova Scotia’s $15-billion provincial debt could have been paid? And wouldn’t it also be great if instead of investing in foreign utilities, Emera would invest in Nova Scotia and accelerate Nova Scotia’s Power’s switch to renewable energy?

There’s no doubt in my mind that unless it was freed from bureaucratic shackles, Nova Scotia Power would not have become the revenue-generating entity that it is today. There is also no doubt in my mind that were it not for legal requirements to generate renewable energy, the utility would have continued burning coal – or whatever fuel was cheapest – regardless of the consequences to the environment and the climate.

So, while global warming forces people in Florida to either crank up their air conditioners or run sump pumps to empty their flooded basements after yet another hurricane, be confident in the knowledge that a Nova Scotia-based company is making money for Emera shareholders off of that. Remember, too, that while Nova Scotia Power’s rate of return is regulated, the effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not and that global warming continues unabated. While ocean levels are rising, the water in the ocean is getting more acidic because it is absorbing more carbon, and glaciers are melting, the switch to renewable energy lags behind where it needs to be.

Finally, when you get that disconnection notice in the mail this winter, don’t seethe with anger. Suck it up and pay it off, even if it means going hungry or not buying warm winter coats for your kids.

You are supporting that once-little holding company that could. Channel your inner jingoist and revel in the fact that a Canadian-based company has bought a big American utility like TECO Energy and is now one of the 20 largest energy utilities in North America.

I’m sure Emera won’t stop there, either. It is building an empire that could potentially span the globe, or at least the parts of it that don’t have salty fog.

Scotland bans genetically modified crops

Barley growing in a field in Scotland.

Barley growing in a field in Scotland.

I just visited Scotland and thought it was a beautiful country. There was lots of lush farmland and clean water. I was glad to hear that they recently banned genetically modified crops, but some people weren’t. Read this link for a sampling of that.

When it comes to genetically modified crops, they are fully understood by most and misrepresented by a few and I think misrepresentation comes from both sides of the debate, which is part of the problem for people trying to find facts.

So, who is doing the misrepresenting? That’s the million-dollar question, which I confess, I do not have the definitive answer to. I do have some pretty strong suspicions, though. First of all, let’s take a look at what genetically modified crops means. It can be anything from creating a hybrid variety of cherry known as the Bing cherry to creating a seed that is patented and must be used only a with a patented chemical herbicide. Bing cherries are named after the Chinese cherry farmer in Oregon who worked on the creation of the hybrid tree. (Look it up). They’re pretty innocuous, as long as you wash any chemical residue off them. The main problem that I have with GM crops is that they create a reliance on mechanization, chemicals and favour agribusiness over agriculture. (To solve hunger, I think we need more of the latter, BTW.) A GM crop designed to withstand glyphosates found in herbicides such as Roundup is not a food that I feel comfortable eating. Why? Because I don’t trust Monsanto, the makers of Agent Orange, DDT, and PCBs. They said they were safe. They said they were tested, and eventually they were proven to be liars by real science, not the kind of science that is funded by a big company so they can market a product and claim it’s safe. There are two types of “science” and until I see a report from impartial, independent scientists that says GM crops, and all that they entail, are safe, I remain skeptical. I don’t like when anybody misrepresents the facts to try to get me to think a certain way. This article examines the struggle that is going on to separate the wheat from the chaff. It’s not fear-mongering, but it also explains why the IARC cannot accept industry submitted studies in its review. It’s like believing the fox when he tells you he’s perfectly safe around your hens and that you should just let him into the yard.

Further recommended reading.

Honour Rehtaeh Parsons’ memory by publishing her name

Nova Scotia Attorney General Lena Metlege Diab

Nova Scotia Attorney General Lena Metlege Diab

Today would have been Rehtaeh Parsons’ 19th birthday, so I’m going to celebrate by breaking the publication ban again.

Despite overwhelming public support to publish her name without restriction, Nova Scotia’s Attorney General, Lena Metlege Diab has refused to apply a power available to her.

It’s in Section 6 of the Public Prosecutions Act, which allows the Attorney General to order that there will be no prosecution of people who publish Rehtaeh Parsons’ name in connection with the court case against two boys who took and distributed a degrading picture of her while she was vomiting out a window.

It’s a simple way around a statutory publication ban that a judge had no choice but to impose.

On two occasions, Metlege Diab has punted the decision to Martin Herschorn, the Director of Public Prosecutions. He has said in letters to Glen Canning and Nancy Rubin, a lawyer representing four media outlets that challenged to ban, that to use this power would be “unprecedented for this Service, and inappropriate in this context.”

When Herschorn uses the word “unprecedented” it implies that there has to have been a case like this in the past for them to be able to act, but that is not so. All that is required is the legal authority and it is there in black and white in Section 6 of the Public Prosecutions Act. Furthermore, it is not Herschorn’s power to exercise, it is Metlege Diab’s.

As for Herschorn’s repeated use of the word “inappropriate,” well, in the oft-quoted words of film character Inigo Montoya “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It is perfectly appropriate. There is no better time to use this power than now. It is perfectly suited for this case and if another similar case came along, it should be used then, too.

Right now, there is a chill. The media are reluctant to use Rehtaeh Parsons’ name and important discussions are not happening because of this ban. Nova Scotia’s Liberal government is failing the public by refusing to act.

In announcing a decision that The Chronicle Herald and many others would not face prosecution, Metlege Diab would be applauded.

If she can’t see the wisdom in using this power, she should at least see the popularity and, like any good politician, she should follow the votes.

Note: There is a petition circulating. To sign it, click here. If you’d like to let Metlege Diab know your thoughts on this, please sign it. You can also send her a message on Twitter at @LenaDiabMLA or send her an e-mail at justmin@gov.ns.ca.

Sexting advocate claims injustice in Rehtaeh Parsons case – despite guilty pleas

A screen capture of a comment Parker Donham made on Facebook about the child pornography charges -- after the first of two guilty pleas.

A screen capture of a comment Parker Donham made on Facebook about the child pornography charges — after the first of two guilty pleas. On Monday, a second boy pleaded guilty to distributing the photo that was used to shame and bully Rehtaeh Parsons.

Sexting advocate Parker Donham says an injustice has been committed against the two boys who pleaded guilty in the Rehtaeh Parsons case and is using the publicity around the case to champion for changes to an “overly broad law.”

Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? No, I’m not kidding you, it’s true. I might be guilty of putting a little spin on that lede, but it’s exactly what Parker does. If anyone tells you a journalist does not put spin on their copy, don’t believe them. Parker does and he takes spin to Spinal Tap levels.

Don’t take my word for it, go read Parker’s blog titled Moral Panic Makes Bad Law.

In promoting his blog on Facebook, Parker suggests that the court cases in which two boys pleaded guilty involved “a trumped up charge to appease media demands that the boys be punished.”

One might think Parker is just following the advice of the late great George Carlin to “question everything.” If you’re an adherent to that philosophy, you should also question Parker, especially because he is prone to making erroneous assumptions in addition to applying copious amounts of spin to his arguments.

Exhibit 1: He assumes there is no evidence to support sexual assault charges when the agreed statement of facts read in court suggest otherwise. He was not in court either day and seemingly is not aware of these agreed statements of fact. These facts might not convict, but there is other evidence available, and more could have been obtained by police if they simply did their job properly.

Exhibit 2: In his blog, Parker writes that child pornography law is a result of “moral panic” that is leading to “a flurry of child pornography charges against youngsters guilty only of entirely consensual sexting.”

When making that claim, Parker links to this post about a case in British Columbia.

On a more careful examination of the case Parker cites, we realize that while the sexting might have been consensual originally, the criminal charges arose from actions that took place after a relationship ended and could in no way be described as consensual.

For a more accurate description of that case read this. Parker didn’t link to that, or provide more details, because it doesn’t fit his narrative. He is constructing a paper dragon and the only valid argument he is making is that what happened in the Rehtaeh Parsons case does not fit the definition of child pornography that most of us have come to understand.

Of course it is not “child porn” according to that definition, but don’t get sidetracked by our contrarian crusader’s argument. Consider these key points instead:

  1. What the boys did fits the legal definition of child pornography as set down by Parliament. A judge has ruled thus on two occasions. For someone so concerned about the rule of law, Parker should give this more credence. If he doesn’t like these rulings, he should ask Parliament to change the name of the law. Remember, Parker has said what the boys did was “disgraceful and reprehensible.” Presumably, he also thinks it should be prohibited by law as he has said he would have even supported voyeurism charges under Section 162 of the Criminal Code. As best as I can tell, Parker’s only valid objection is the labelling of the crime. This is hardly something that supports an assertion that in “injustice” has been done.
  2. The facts known to police would support laying at least one charge of sexual assault, perhaps two, with a reasonable likelihood of conviction. If you don’t know what this evidence is, open your eyes and keep an open mind. “There are two sides to every story” is something we keep hearing in this case. The truth is somewhere in between the two sides — but not in the middle. That’s because some people simply don’t understand the laws concerning sexual consent in this country. This is the discussion we should be having. It is of monumental importance.
  3. Additionally, this information should have been used by police to elicit more evidence to support those charges, and perhaps others, but the police investigation was woefully inadequate and misdirected, according to Leah Parsons and Glen Canning. Their complaints have sufficient merit that it has prompted the province to hire Murray Segal, the former Deputy Attorney General and Chief Prosecutor of Ontario, to review the way the police and the Public Prosecution Service handled the case. Segal’s review is on hold, but will resume when these criminal proceedings conclude in January.
  4. Whatever legitimate concerns Parker might have about sexting being criminalized pale in comparison to the more pressing concerns this case is about: cyber-bullying, sexual consent, and suicide prevention. Furthermore, to bring them up in connection with this case and suggest that an injustice has been done against the boys is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen an intelligent person write.
  5. The police, prosecutors and judiciary in this province do not do anything to “appease an enraged public and media.” They do their job and when they fail, they can enrage the public and media which prompts them to actually do their job. That is why we have freedom of the press, to hold our public officials accountable. We don’t have freedom of the press to conscript them into lynch mobs and that is certainly not what happened here. If the police and Crown laid a charge to appease an “enraged press and public,” it makes no sense that they would lay a charge that would automatically invoke a publication ban when another law, voyeurism, was available to them. A more likely motive for the “child porn” charge is that there would be a statutory publication ban – not one that would leave a judge with some discretion. This creates a disconnect from the court proceedings to the handling of the case between November 2011 and April 2013 – the handling that will be under review. The media and public would most certainly have preferred a voyeurism charge so that Rehtaeh Parsons’ name could be published without restriction.

Sometimes, being a contrarian is a good thing. We need contrarians because they challenge us to think and question the zeitgeist. However, this is a cautionary tale about how being a knee-jerk contrarian can put you far out on a ledge — in an untenable position maintained only by stubbornness, not reason.

In a parting cheap shot at journalists who are doing their job and ensuring that public officials are held accountable, Parker writes in his Facebook teaser for the blog post: “This is not the Nova Scotia news media’s finest hour” and refers to some as “journocutors.”

Not our finest hour? Parker, none of us claims to be as perfect as you, but at least we are not creating a distraction from the more important discussions that actually pertain to this case.

If there is fault here, it is with you for creating this attention-seeking distraction. Most importantly, though, the fault lies with the public institutions that failed Rehtaeh Parsons, and not with the media and the public that is seeking justice.

Now, let’s get back to our more important discussions.