Inside Politics

Leslie MacKinnon Bio

Leslie MacKinnon

Leslie MacKinnon has been working in news and current affairs since newsrooms used teletype, televison was shot on film and radio tape was edited with a razor blade. She saw through The Journal's long run on CBC-TV, and since then has worked in Halifax, Toronto and Ottawa in the CBC's various permutations. Right now, she's a TV news reporter in the political bureau, and likes certain parts of Ottawa - the canal, the Hill - a lot.

Etobicoke Centre ruling has impact on future elections

The Supreme Court ruling Thursday on the 2011 election outcome in the Toronto riding of Etobicoke Centre means the experience of exercising your right to vote might change.

And any voter or candidate who wants to challenge a future election result over irregularities in voting procedures, as the Canada Election Act allows, might think about hiring a private detective.

In May, defeated Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj convinced a lower court to reject 79 ballots in Etobicoke Centre because of record-keeping irregularities at the polling stations, enough to overcome the 26-vote margin by which Conservative MP Ted Opitz won.

The Supreme Court effectively restored those ballots, finding no irregularities at all, despite improperly completed or missing paperwork for voters either not on the voters' list or lacking proper ID.

The ruling was a split 4-3 decision, with the minority judges, including the Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, disagreeing with the majority on virtually every point.

Jean-Pierre Kingsley, formerly the chief electoral officer of Elections Canada for 17 years, called it a far-reaching judgment.

Read more... after the jump

Wrzesnewskyj vs. Elections Canada over 'clerical errors'

In a supplementary factum filed in court late Friday, Borys Wrzesnewskyj's lawyers blast Elections Canada for taking what they call a partisan position, rather than the position of neutrality they say Elections Canada originally promised, in Wrzesnewsky's application to overturn the election results in his riding.
On April 16, Elections Canada filed a document that said the constitutional right to vote trumps any "clerical errors" that may be made when voters register to vote, and have their identities "vouched for" in the absence of proper identification.
Wrezesnewskyj's lawyers say this directly contradicts the stance Elections Canada took a few years ago when it defended new voter identification requirements against a Charter challenge that argued that voters' rights were being thwarted by the demand to produce certain kinds of identification documents at the polling booth.
More, after the jump:

Video captures hours following soldier's suicide

In the Military Police Complaints Commission's cramped hearing room Thursday morning a hushed audience of lawyers and reporters watched a half-hour video.

The video is part of a military investigation into the suicide by hanging of Cpl. Stuart Langridge who killed himself on March 15th, 2008.

The images show Cpl. Langridge's body suspended from a bar in his room at Edmonton Garrison barracks. The camera zooms in on his face and neck, and then circles around the room cataloguing Langridge's possessions, down to the T-shirts in his drawer.

A family's fight for a soldier's honour

Sheila and Shaun Fynes' anguish spill out over the thousands of pages of evidence filed at the Military Police Complaints Commission. In conversations that go on for hours, where they don't so much answer questions as finish each other's sentences, they keep repeating, "You don't understand how angry we are."

Paying for our own surveillance

"We're talking Skype, we're talking web forums, it's a huge catchall, Facebook, Google, all of them. Facebook provides all the services that a TSP would: there's chat, the wall post... If you provide a communications service to the public in some sense, then you will be captured by this bill."

So who will pay? The public will pay.

Rule creates fear of flying for transgendered

Boarding a plane is more inconvenient than it used to be, but most of us do it without thinking: show your government issued photo ID and find your seat.

For transgendered people, it's a different story. Relatively new regulations adopted by Transport Canada state that no-one can board an airplane if "the passenger does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents."

Christin Milloy flew into the U.S. days ago. She says she actually got on a plane even though her ID says she's male. Although she appears as a young attractive woman, she still somewhat resembles her old photo: "Whether the regulation's being adhered to, or not, the regulation is wrong, and to say that (because) no-one is actually following it makes it OK is a bit of twisted logic."

mi-zelda.jpgFlying is out of the question for Zelda Marshall, who describes herself as "bi-gendered". (Zelda Marshall is the female name she uses; she doesn't want to reveal her male name or photo).

When travelling to Toronto for a conference, Marshall would rather be in her female identity.

And, as Zelda there is no way she resembles her photo ID. Zelda is biologically male, is known as a male at work, and is married to a woman.

"I don't have hair as a male. Having hair makes me different already, and make-up, absolutely!"

Zelda concedes that she could fly using her male identity.

NDP MP Randall Garrison suspects the new regulation was born out of "fear of men in burkas."

However, if his private member's bill passes, it would enshrine gender identity and gender expression in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and would likely force Transport Canada to change its gender regulation.

Zelda Marshall says flying is impossible in his female persona. (Erik Fauré photo)

A virtually similar bill to Garrison's was passed by the House of Commons last session, with 5 Conservative MPs, including two cabinet ministers (James Moore and Lawrence Cannon), among those voting for it. But that bill died on the Order Paper when the election was called.

In the meantime, Transport Canada doesn't think there's much of a problem.

According to a spokesperson: "Any passenger whose physical appearance does not correspond to their identification can continue to board an airplane by supplying a letter from a heath care professional explaining the discrepancy. We have no records of any individual being denied boarding in Canada because they are transgender or transsexual."

But Zelda Marshall doesn't think a medical certificate would be issued in her case, since she has "no desire to go under the knife."

Christin Milloy flat out refuses to provide proof of surgical transition. "My genitalia is none of the government's business."

Other countries might show the way. Australians can mark their passports with an M, an F, or an X, for "intersexual" -- people who are not entirely male or female. And in the U.S., transgendered people can change the gender on their passports without having to prove that they've had a sex-change operation.

Randall Garrison, who used to teach before he entered politics, wonders why it matters here.

"Some of my students were quite androgynous. It took me a while as an instructor to realize that it doesn't matter, why do I have to know what gender they are?"

UPDATED: Please see correction notice after the jump.

The push for Open Government - up to a point

Ottawa's six-week consultation period (which included Christmas and New Year's) on "open government" ends on Monday. A good question is: what came out of this call for feedback about how to make government more "accessible to Canadians"?

Interested parties were invited to make submissions to the open government website. But the bonus, and by far the most attention-getting element, was a Twitter town hall in December hosted by the President of the Treasury Board Tony Clement. While some participants marvelled about how many were joining in, one tweet seemed to sum up the chat: "Great effort w/ #opengovchat but limit of 140 characters and ideological bullying limiting the debates potential."

Vincent Gogolek of FIPA, the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, uses the phrase "shiny gee-gaws" to describe an event like this. "Everyone thinks it's so cool that the minister tweets, and talks about 'crowdsourcing' and other techie buzz, but, it's like the government's saying: Look at the shiny new gee-gaw that we have here, and ignore the smell coming from the access to information system."

As far as access to information goes, it's mostly a non-starter on the open government website, other than the fact that summaries of completed ATI requests are now posted there.

And the government hasn't implemented most of the reforms it promised for Canada's 30-year-old outdated access to information law, which included giving the Information Commissioner more powers and enshrining an override that public interest be put before before government secrecy.

During the Twitter town hall, Vincent Gogolek tweeted a suggestion to the effect that minister's offices and staff should be under the ATI act. "Oddly enough they were quiet on that. Now Tony Clement, he's a busy guy, he can't respond to everyone."

Nothing is more crucial to open government than a country's commitment to access to information. Internationally, access to information is beginning to be recognized as a human right, as a part of freedom of expression.

But in Canada, says John Hinds of the Canadian Newspaper Association, the culture seems to be: "We have to jump through hoops to get information, rather than endorse the idea that information should be available and the law should be a last resort."

There's a plethora of other voices that have found fault with Canada's access to information legislation.

In September the Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault appeared before the parliamentary committee dealing with access to say that over the past 10 years there's been a steady decline in the timeliness and disclosure of information by federal institutions. She was asked by an opposition member whether the minister's office and staff exemption (for ATI requests) creates a "black hole" for documents. "Yes, I think that is a major risk," Legault said.

In its annual audit of Canada's freedom of information system, the Canadian Newspaper Association gave the federal government a grade of D for timeliness of disclosure, and a C for completeness of disclosure. Compared to some provinces, this was "one of the worst performances" according to the report.

What does this say about the push for open government announced by Stockwell Day a year ago? Gogolek says, "It's going to be in terms of platforms, in data sets, things it can do very easily."

Already, more than a quarter-million data sets have been posted online, the stuff of trivia games and information lovers everywhere. There is, for instance, a registry of all Canadian civil aircraft, as well as a history of federal ridings since Confederation. This kind of document dump, according to Gogolek, is useful for data-miners or app developers.

And no-one's saying this release, if not deluge, of information is a bad thing.

Tony Mendel of the Centre for Law and Democracy says the push for open government is, "what I would call the soft side. So they're pushing government to put more stuff online proactively, to make it available in user friendly formats.

"That's all great and it has a lot of economic and social value. The hard side of it is the request side of access to information. There, we have not seen any interest from the government in amending the access to information line."

A report on the findings of the public consultation will be published on the open government website in March.

Canada gets moving on Open Government

It was no surprise that when the United States invited Canada to join an Obama-launched initiative called the Open Government Project, Canada promptly accepted.

That was about two years ago. Now, with members meeting in Brazil this week, Canada has announced new steps to meet its commitments under the OGP.

UPDATED: Two Canadian officials attended the first OGP meeting in Brazil, which concluded Thursday.

More after the jump...

Moore shifts money from bureaucracy to the arts

James Moore, the Minister of Heritage, told the Canadian Heritage committee Thursday that the arts are good for the economy and pointed out that Canada is the only G8 country that actually increased funding for arts and culture during the recession.

Is Movember a partisan issue?

Members of Parliament who participate in Movember have split up into partisan teams, and at the top of the fundraising tally is the NDP. The NDP team (New-De-MO-crats) has raised, so far, more than $26,000, shooting it heads and shoulders above the Liberals at $13,000 and the Conservatives at $8,000.

More after the jump...