Don’t wait for legal reform — push for it

roderick-macdonald

Roderick Macdonald was a contrarian and innovator who shaped legal reform in Canada.

Most Canadians probably think legal reform is something best left to lawyers and politicians. Reflect on that for a few minutes and ask yourself if you want to leave it entirely up to them. Consider to whom they might be beholden and don’t leave it up to others to make the kind of country you want.

In the Internet age, there is greater opportunity to participate in democracy and participate in discussions. The Internet is  to us as the agora was to ancient Greece. It is an amazing medium, but some people are using it to great harm and our justice system doesn’t seem to be able to keep pace.

As Hilary Beaumont wrote in her excellent article in The Coast there are people using the Internet to commit crimes that police say are beyond the current scope of the law. In some cases that’s true, but in many cases police and prosecutors just need the mental dexterity to apply existing laws to new crimes that fit under their umbrella.

I’m a firm believer in democracy, despite its flaws, but there is a lack of accountability and transparency in our government and bureaucracy. There is also an overwhelming urge to dither instead acting clearly and decisively to do the right thing. You should never be afraid to do the right thing under the circumstances. If you’re afraid of future consequences, then you adjust your actions to mitigate or eliminate those.

After writing about the publication ban in the Rehtaeh Parsons case, someone contacted me and offered to help. It was great to hear a total stranger offer me words of encouragement and legal support if I needed it. He also shared with me some new inspiration: former McGill University law professor Roderick Macdonald.

In May, Macdonald gave what was perhaps his last interview at a symposium in Montreal, and a few of his comments are worthy of a valedictory address for a man who had a profound impact on legal reform in our country.

“Many, many people believe that the law is a one-way projection of authority from lawmakers or law-givers to citizens, who are merely passive respondents to what the commands of the people in authority are. The best way to achieve a harmonious and peaceful society is to recognize that people have within themselves the capacity to do what is appropriate under the circumstances, and that the law should be designed to facilitate their agency.”

Now that a growing number of people have broken the publication ban in the Rehtaeh Parsons case, Glen Canning has asked the Attorney General and the Public Prosecution Service of Nova Scotia to issue a pronouncement saying they will not prosecute. We wait, but hopefully they will make a decision before the next court appearance. Meanwhile, media outside Canada, including one of the world’s most respected newspapers — The Guardian — are covering it and using Rehtaeh’s name in their coverage.

Hopefully, they’re convinced the ban has been broken. If they’re not convinced, then keep doing your part to break it. It’s about nothing more than making sure public officials are held accountable for their actions — or inaction — and for this to be done with public scrutiny.

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Radio interview about publication ban

Rick Howe had me on his show this afternoon. I agreed not to mention Rehtaeh Parsons’ name during the interview, but that is the case we are talking about.

If you’d like to listen, here’s a link.

Publication ban is pointless

Canning Parsons

Glen Canning (left) and Leah Parsons have fought to keep their daughter’s name alive.

One of the beauties of being a freelancer is that I don’t have to worry about consulting lawyers or publishers, I can just follow my gut and do what a journalist is supposed to do.

To paraphrase the Mr. Dooley character of American humorist Finley Peter Dunne: It’s the job of journalists to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.”

Sometimes, you get the opportunity to do both and when those opportunities arise, you must seize them. Yesterday, more than any other day, it was important to use Rehtaeh Parsons’ name.

The guilty plea of one of the accused was validation for her and her family. Any journalist with a sense of public good would recognize that you’d need to link yesterday’s development back to April 2013, when the whole world knew her name and the eyes of the world were on Nova Scotia because of the failure of our justice system to lay any charges.

There was a clear purpose to my post and I’m not content to wait for politicians to change the law. I’m going to point out its flaws, why it needs to be amended, and why it should not apply in this case. I also consulted with Rehtaeh Parsons’ parents – Leah Parsons and Glen Canning — and got a blessing from both of them to break the ban.

Also, reading the judge’s decision from May gave me confidence that it was a pretty safe path if I chose my steps carefully. I was not flouting it just for the sake of flouting it. Former colleague Stephen Kimber, a professor of journalism at King’s College, suggested in a Facebook discussion that “there’s a danger when we start violating bans because we believe it’s wrong in one particular instance.”

“What if another reporter decides to name an alleged rape victim, or a child abuse victim because they think it’s justified. Do we get to decide when the law applies and when it doesn’t? And, given that everyone already knows who the victim is in this case, is it really necessary to break the ban to make the argument it is wrong here, or to write in a way that makes the connections for the reader without specifically naming the victim?”

In this case, I take to heart the comments made by Judge Jamie Campbell when he wrote in his decision: “It’s a ban that everyone wants, just not in this case.”

To see Judge Campbell’s decision, click here.

Clearly, it’s a good law, but it just doesn’t work in this instance. A judge, our director of public prosecutions, and our Attorney General had an opportunity to fix that, but none took the opportunities available to them for various reasons. You say that “everyone” knows her name, but I think that only those closely connected to the case would make the crucial connection if not for the efforts of the victim’s parents — Glen Canning and Leah Parsons — who have been breaking the ban.

I’m not claiming the right for me or any other journalist to decide when the law applies and when it doesn’t. But remember, both of Rehtaeh’s parents opposed the ban and the Crown fought it, too. Also, when the Crown reviews a complaint — if there is one — they will consider the intent of Parliament in drafting the law, the wishes of the parents, and whether the public interest is served in prosecuting.

Precisely the things that I considered before writing the post.

Police brutality in Russia

Pussy Riot members whipped by police

I have not watched much of the Olympics. Partly, it’s a lack of interest but mostly it’s because I am not a TV watcher. If the Olympics did not happen, the world would carry on. As much as I admire the Olympic ideals, the event has strayed a tidy step from its roots.

That said, I don’t think anyone who takes an interest in the Olympics or does anything less than calling for a boycott of the Olympics can be so summarily categorized as a supporter of the Russian regime. You can enjoy and appreciate the Olympics while not supporting the behaviour we see in the video (see link above.) Polemics rarely settle issues and often start arguments.

The Olympics have brought a lot of attention on Russia. This plague of human rights abuses did not start in the run-up to the Olympics — it has been going on for years. The Olympics have shone a bright light of scrutiny on Russia. The picture is ugly to be sure, but awareness is the first step to a cure. The remedy will take a long time and I hope the suffering will be mitigated by some more progressive thinking.

Change — whenever it happens — would quite likely have taken much longer without the Olympics. For inspiration, look to South Africa. I remember thinking that Apartheid would never end there. With scrutiny and pressure from the international community, the seemingly impossible happened.

I admire the bravery of the protestors in Russia. Their courage is beyond compare.

Nova Scotia embraces red tide, elects Liberal government

New Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil

New Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil

Nova Scotia voters are strutting tonight like drunken revellers who feel like they are about to get lucky. I just hope that strut doesn’t turn into walk of shame in the next 4 years.

The Liberals have created high expectations, much like the NDP did in 2009, and they will be hard-pressed to meet them in this climate of cynicism. When only 56 per cent of voters turn out, that tells me that 44 per cent of the population thinks that there is so little difference between the parties that it doesn’t matter who gets elected. I would like to see a political party eschew the partisan barbs and start appealing to voters because they will make the right long-term decisions for the province, not short-term promises to get elected.

Can the Liberals govern differently than most governments in Nova Scotia have governed in the past? Should we expect different and will we get it?

The slate is clean. Prove yourselves.

Packed house on opening day

Photo by Devaan Ingraham / www.devaaningraham.com

Temptress! Sophia Smart (Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons) turns on the charm and Richard Clod (Rob McIntyre) is sure it is against regulations in this scene from Department of Common Sense. Photo by Devaan Ingraham

As a playwright, your job is done before rehearsals begin and long before the curtain rises on a play. When it’s your first play, though, the work is never done. The cast of Department of Common Sense have put so much sweat and toil into this play that they deserve an audience to give them a little extra energy. That’s where my new role of producer comes into play because one of my responsibilities in that role is publicity.

We had great media coverage leading up to our first performance as part of the 23rd Atlantic Fringe Festival in Halifax, and I was delighted to see a packed house for the cast. It was a bit of a steam bath at DANSpace — one audience member quipped it would be great for hot yoga — but the cast persevered and delivered a great show that people enjoyed. It was hot, not as hot as the picture of Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons (above), but still hot. Kudos to my friend Devaan Ingraham for this great production still.

We learned after the show that Stephen Cooke of The Chronicle Herald attended the play. I waited anxiously for the review — the first time a newspaper had reviewed my play — and I celebrated with a beer after I read this.

I think the cast, and our director Nick Jupp, should take another bow.

Department of Common Sense

DCS-production still-6

When I used to work in government, I would often joke about ridiculous ideas or policies needing to be vetted by the Department of Common Sense. No such department exists — unfortunately — except in my first play.

I took one of my favourite stories from my time in government and I turned it into a play. When I would go to parties and tell this story, people’s jaws would drop, but, as absurd as it was, they did believe it because governments and bureaucrats can do some pretty stupid things. Sometimes, it can be enough to make you want a stiff drink, like the character of Adele Courage above in a scene from the play.

I took that story and built a play around it. It’s a fictional tale of a straight-talking, tequila-sipping government minister who gets two whip-smart women on his staff to take on a persnickety bureaucrat in a battle of wills and wits.

It will make you shake your head in dismay, nod your head in understanding, or seethe with anger. It might make you do all three, but it is sure to make you laugh. We have a fabulous cast including Lianne Perry, Mark Adam, Fiona Kirkpatrick Parsons, Rob McIntyre, Neil Van Horne and Fiona MacKinnon. Nick Jupp did a great job as our director and had a hand in the development of the script when he acted as a dramaturge for me when I took part in the Theatre Arts Guild’s inaugural Playwrights’ Festival.

To learn more about my play, check out this link to the play’s blog or see our Facebook page.

It will be on stage for six shows during the 23rd Atlantic Fringe Festival. Check out the Atlantic Fringe and support local theatre. Hope you enjoy the show.