Tag Archives: politics

Open letter to Government of Canada against new online harms rules

Dear members of the Canadian government’s “Digital Citizen Initiative,”
I am writing to express my alarm and disapproval over the proposed “online harms rules” legislation that the Canadian government now proposes—a combination, it seems, of the worst, most rights-violating regulations adopted in other jurisdictions, many of which aren’t exactly known as bastions of democracy and expressive freedoms.
Your proposed legislation’s combination of
* prohibitions of broad and poorly defined speech categories;
* disproportionate penalties for insufficient blocking; and
* requirement of rapid compliance without time for adequate assessment or counter-notifications
all guarantee that the major tech firms, on which the onus of your proposed regulations falls, will block all kinds of legitimate speech — and will disproportionately affect marginalized and minorities to persons and communities, as has been shown where such rules have been implemented elsewhere. (See @doctorow’s analysis and that by U Ottawa professor Michael Geist.) Online harms rules have proven a human rights disaster in other jurisdictions; France’s rules were recently ruled as unconstitutional.
I urge you to take this whole proposal either back to the proverbial drawing board—or entirely off the table. The Canadian government surely has bigger and more urgent priorities then over-regulating and preferentially censoring citizens’ constitutional expressive rights and freedoms.
Sincerely
– Mark A. McCutcheon
Professor, Literary Studies
Chair, Centre for Humanities
Athabasca University

[PS: Have your say—contact the Government of Canada’s “Digital Citizen Initiative” to tell them what you think of the new online harms rules legislation.]

“The TPP will invalidate millions of dollars of tax-payer funded research in Canada”

Following the annual conference of the Association of Canadian College & University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) at Congress in Calgary, ACCUTE has posted to its English Matters blog a condensed version of my conference talk on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (#TPP):

“The TPP will invalidate millions of dollars of tax-payer funded research in Canada”: Implications of the TPP for Canadian literature and literary studies

The article identifies many major authors whose entry to the Canadian public domain the TPP will interfere with; and it highlights a few publishing and research projects that the TPP will kill, thus posing a waste of public funds and a cost to Canadians’ social literacy and access to knowledge.
The article ends with links and resources for how to “stop the TPP and the mess it would make of the Canadian public domain (not to mention the Internet).”
A full version has been sent to Canada’s Minister of International Trade, and submitted to the Government of Canada’s Public Consultations on the TPP.

Open letter to PM Trudeau about the #TPP and the need for public input on it

What follows is a letter I’ve just sent to Prime Minister Trudeau, International Trade Minister Freeland, and several MPs, about my concerns with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the need for meaningful public consultation on it. (This letter is adapted from a template provided by the Council of Canadians for mobilizing public action on this Charter-trumping, corporate-rights deal.)

TO: Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister; Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade

CC: Rona Ambrose, Leader of the Conservative Party; Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the NDP; Rhéal Fortin, Leader of the Bloc Québécois; Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party

Subject: Please hold meaningful public consultations on the TPP

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Freeland,

Concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), you have promised to consult meaningfully with Canadians and act on what you hear. I commend you for this promise, and take you up on it now that the agreement is public.

I have serious concerns about the TPP. Your previously stated support for it contradicts your stated commitments to strengthening the middle class, the arts, and Canadian democracy. The TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms would privilege and entrench corporate rights over citizens’ Charter rights (see Dr Ariel Katz’s recent column in the Toronto Star); it would exacerbate the middle class’ destruction; and it would, in effect, impose US laws to trump Canada’s own. 

As a professor who researches copyright, I have particular concerns with not only the TPP’s ISDS provisions, but more specifically with its Intellectual Property (IP) chapter. That chapter will needlessly cost Canada billions in pharmacare by toughening patent protections for vital medicines. That chapter will also seriously damage Canadian arts and culture by extending the term of copyright protection from 50 years after the creator’s death to 70 years. 50 years is already far longer than what economists argue is necessary to incentivize new creation, which is more like 12-14 years at most (see the UK government’s 2011 Hargreaves report, p. 19). There’s no economic justification (beyond sheer corporate greed) to lock down culture and impoverish the public domain for generations to come. Furthermore, that chapter will reintroduce Internet-censoring and access-denying provisions much like those of the USA’s 2011 SOPA bill that was roundly defeated after global public outcry.

Therefore, the TPP requires rigorous, independent review to assess whether it is in Canadians’ best interests.

Specifically, I request that you:

    1. Ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer to conduct a comprehensive, independent analysis of the TPP text. The analysis must assess the deal’s impact on human rights, health, employment, environment and democracy.

    2. Hold public hearings in each province and territory across Canada as well as separate and meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities and First Nations. No agreement can be ratified without full consent.

    3. Protect any progress made in Paris at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) from the investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) in the TPP. Furthermore, ISDS must be excised from the TPP.

Thank you for considering these comments and exhortations.

Sincerely,

Mark A. McCutcheon, PhD

Link

a political lipogram about #elxn42

“An ‘Anti-Niqab’ Campaign is Anti-Canadian” is a lipogram about Conservatives in Canada’s current federal election, which I’ve written and published at Medium.
A lipogram is a poem with specific language constraints; this lipogram uses only the vowels A and I. For instance, the poem opens as follows:

Barbaric capitalists and patriarchal partisans spin fascist charisma, baiting and panicking nativist Canadians with rabid, atavistic claims: against migrants; against statisticians’ gravitas (as if trivia)…

Read the whole piece at Medium.

In support of Chief Theresa Spence and #IdleNoMore

Chief Theresa Spence (detail). Photo by Regina Notarsandsnobelomonte Southwind

Chief Theresa Spence (detail). Photo by Regina Notarsandsnobelomonte Southwind

From The Guardian: “The grassroots IdleNoMore movement of aboriginal people offers a more sustainable future for all Canadians. Canada’s placid winter surface has been broken by unprecedented protests by its aboriginal peoples. In just a few weeks, a small campaign launched against the Conservative government’s budget bill by four aboriginal women has expanded and transformed into a season of discontent: a cultural and political resurgence.”

“I won’t soon forget this clash between these two very different kinds of resolve, one so sealed off, closed in; the other cracked wide open, a conduit for the pain of the world.”

“Termination in this context means the ending of First Nations pre-existing sovereign status through federal coercion of First Nations into Land Claims and Self-Government Final Agreements that convert First Nations into municipalities, their reserves into fee simple lands and extinguishment of their Inherent, Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. To do this the Harper government announced three new policy measures…”

“@PMHarper has been completely silent about Chief Spence and Idle No More, while cracking jokes about everything from the CBC to Chinchillas. (Update: Just after 4p.m. EST today, @PMHarper Tweeted “mmm… bacon,” accompanied by a video clip from the Simpsons. No, seriously.)”

“First Nations officially put Prime Minister Harper on notice. They plan to file a legal injunction to stop him from ratifying FIPA, the secretive and extreme Canada-China investors’ deal.”

It’s worth noting that, unlike former PM Paul Martin (quoted in the Guardian article), PM Harper is on record denying colonialism in Canada: “We are one of the most stable regimes in history. There are very few countries that can say for nearly 150 years they’ve had the same political system without any social breakdown, political upheaval or invasion. We are unique in that regard. We also have no history of colonialism.” He made the comment at a press conference at the G20 Pittsburgh Summit in September 2009; it’s quoted in Colonial Reckoning, National Reconciliation, a special 2009 issue of English Studies in Canada 35.1 (2009).

(Emphasis added; thanks to WG for this reference.)

“Political correctness”: decoding a vicious, pernicious code word

I always cringe when I hear the phrase “political correctness” being used. It’s a deeply coded phrase, and what it encodes is a stubborn, neoconservative cultural politics, a politics of entitlement and disrespect. And yet that politics is so deeply coded that one encounters the phrase being used by people who should know better; and maybe they will learn to avoid the phrase, if they take the time to get caught up on its context and complexity. If I never see it being taken out and waved around in public discourse again, it will be too soon.

In the late 1980s and ’90s, North American academia – and the Humanities and social sciences sector more specifically – found itself in a war of words and policies not only among its own stakeholders, but also with policymakers, and with corporate news media – which, let’s remember, held far more cultural and discursive sway then, before the popularization of the Internet in the mid-’90s. This encounter became known as the “Culture Wars.” In his critical retrospective, Lunar Perspectives: Field Notes from the Culture Wars, U of Guelph Professor Emeritus Michael Keefer describes the Culture Wars as “a widespread perception of crisis in North American higher education, a perception stemming largely from the outcries over ‘political correctness’ in American and Canadian universities that began in the late 1980s” and continued until the mid-1990s (Keefer vi). Understood in retrospect as a “moral panic” created and fueled by neoconservative ideologues (e.g. Rush Limbaugh, George F. Will, Allan Bloom) to justify the defunding and privatizing of the Humanities and social sciences, the “PC furore” revolved around the coded buzzword “political correctness.”

“Political correctness” remains in use today, usually as a pejorative term that neoconservatives use to ridicule or criticize progressive or left-leaning events or persons, to conjure moral panic over freedom of speech, or to otherwise vilify criticism of inappropriate or untenable claims. Take this Maclean’s article from last year, for instance, which uses the phrase to dismiss the UN’s quite legitimate critique of Canada’s policy language of “visible minorities.”

One of the usual suspects

The phrase also gets an annual dusting-off during the holiday season in neoconservative news media reports of a purported “war on Christmas.” The phrase has nothing like the traction it had in the early 1990s – when you couldn’t swing a black and smoking Christmas tree without hitting some old white fart brandishing a new book denouncing the censorious menace of “PC” – but it has persisted, viciously and perniciously, in everyday speech, popular culture, and public discourse. “Political correctness” is still a card quickly played by conservative or otherwise privileged voices who complain of being “censored” – not just the usual rightwing media suspects, but also a curious and tenacious class of strident yet paranoid academics whose definitions of political correctness – as some kind of discursive “tyranny,” or liberal conspiracy, or “threat” to academic freedom – have helped establish the phrase as a rhetorical stick with which to beat progressive intellectuals. Or intellectuals generally, for that matter. I’m not linking to any such definitions or diatribes. Google “political correctness” if you want, and then take in the lunacy of even just the first page of results. But I will stoop to briefly administer some undeserved oxygen of publicity to a recent example in peer-reviewed scholarship – on account of its windy bombast, and its startling success in finding refereed publication some twenty years after this party more or less ended:

One of the abominations of our day, and there are many, is the beast of political correctness that has been turned loose on the world. Born of genuine humanitarian impulses, it now threatens to devour much of what is greatest in our literature and forever separate the children of our culture from what is essential to their humanity. (272)

Whoa, this opener makes PC sound like a Monsanto product. Actually, in this particular article, this chimerical “beast” threatens to suggest that Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a racist text, instead of just a “beautifully written” one that “should still be read” (278) – as though analyzing the book’s racism somehow means we shouldn’t, or haven’t.

But – its purported “beastliness” and “tyranny” aside – what does the phrase actually mean, as a phrase so cherished and widespread in neoconservative usage? “For the sake of reporters and columnists who might want to come clean and openly mock the virtues that would otherwise remain hidden by the PC label,” Keefer directs our attention to Wayne Booth’s “list of synonyms for political correctness”:

(1) decency; (2) legality; (3) moral or ethical standards; (4) justice, fairness, equality of opportunity; (5) tact, courtesy, concern about hurting people’s feelings unnecessarily; (6) generosity; (7) kindness; (8) courage in defending the underdog; (9) anti-bigotry; (10) anti-racism; (11) anti-anti-Semitism; (12) anti-fascism; (13) anti-sexism; (14) refusal to kneel to mammon; (15) sympathetic support for the jobless, the homeless, the impoverished, or the abused; (16) preservation of an environment in which human life might survive; (17) openness to the possibility that certain popular right-wing dogmas just might be erroneous. (qtd. in Keefer 11)

More plain-spoken versions of this definition appear as ripostes to a diatribe against political correctness that was published (unsurprisingly enough) on the Richard Dawkins Foundation website:

“Political Correctness” – Buzzword used to express the absurd notion that the majority is being dominated by the minorities. (foundationist)

Political correctness is formalised good manners. It has been a benefit to society. Before it became influential it was common to see overt racism, sexism, homophobia, jokes about the disabled and so on. Fortunately a culture of respect for diversity developed and with it a culture of disrespect for rudeness – political correctness. … The term ‘political correctness’ can be used as a verbal weapon by those who want to do extreme things, things which would attack equality and human rights. When others complain, the response ‘that’s just political correctness’ is supposed to be a conversation stopper, because political correctness is supposed to be wrong. Complaining about political correctness is as absurd as complaining about good manners. The response ‘that’s just political correctness’ usually translates as ‘that’s just being polite’. (Zara)

In other words, “political correctness” is a nasty way to describe talking nicely, as though talking nicely is nasty. This rhetorical duplicity, coupled with the privileged, dominant positions from which pronouncements on political correctness typically come, has made the phrase “political correctness” slippery, robust, and insidious. The phrase thus provides a present-day example of “political speech and writing” as “the defense of the indefensible,” as criticized by George Orwell, in his 1946 essay “Politics and the English language.” The phrase “political correctness” is a perfect example of a phrase whose cryptic complexity lets it smuggle into one’s speech or writing a formidable freight of covert (and perhaps, sometimes, unintended) meanings that can detract from or even derail the point of a statement in which it’s used, when it’s not being openly used to justify oppression.

Amidst the flame wars, troll rampages, and other hostilities that attend a digital mediascape much more populous and interactive than it was in the mid-1990s, it is a tragedy of English vocabulary and public discourse that one of the main progressive take-away points from the “political correctness” furore – that we be courteous, thoughtful, sensitive, inclusive, and above all respectful in our language – has been lost, body-snatched by a sneaky and vicious code word for the privileged, entitled, and bigoted to claim not only license but even moral high ground for their vituperative sound and fury.

Works cited

Booth, Wayne. “A politically correct letter to the newspaper.” Democratic Culture 3.1 (1994): 2.

Curtler, Hugh Mercer. “Political correctness and the attack on great literature.” Modern Age 51.3-4 (2009): 272-79.

Derry, Alex. “Political correctness gone mad?” Maclean’s 10 Aug. 2011

foundationist. Comment 2 re: “A challenge to the politically correct.” Richard Dawkins Foundation. 20 Apr. 2011

Keefer, Michael. Lunar Perspectives: Field Notes from the Culture Wars. Toronto: Anansi, 1996. Print.

Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language.” Horizon Apr. 1946. Rpt. in Stanford U. Web.

Zara, Steve. Comment 4 re: “A challenge to the politically correct.” Richard Dawkins Foundation. 20 Apr. 2011

Social media documented anomalies on Election Day

My first response to news of the #robocall scandal was “What took so long?” I remember reading – and relaying – the reports of anomalous and dubious doings on Election Day. Here are some relevant excerpts from my social media activity, followed by analysis and a call to action. First, from Twitter:

RT @WayeMason This is a criminal act | Messages provide false polling station info http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/messages-provide-false-polling-station-info/article2007127/ via @globeandmail

RT @stphnmaher Hope Elections Canada nails the rats “A major disruption”: fraudulent vote-suppression calls in Ont., BC. http://is.gd/Mlf4ZP

RT @kylemackie CBC News: Elections Canada battles prank calls to voters http://tinyurl.com/6d7y47k [WTF? Seriously. W. T. F.]

There was also this other illegal Election Day action, perpetrated by the PM himself:

Stephen Harper breaks election rules, campaigns on radio on election day. http://exm.nr/iBnkno #elxn41 #cdnpoli

Back to #robogate. The day after the election, a note appeared on Facebook: “6,201 reasons to get frustrated.” The note (which you need to sign in to FB to see) documents just how razor-thin the newly elected Harper majority is, by reviewing results from fourteen key ridings that the Conservatives narrowly won:

6,201. Friends, this is not the title of the newest Rush album. This is a number we need to remember over the course of the next four years and especially during the next election. 6,201 is the COMBINED margin of victory across the 14 most closely contested Conservative ridings in Canada. The COMBINED margin of victory. This is how close the election actually was. In each of these races the Conservatives had a margin of victory of less than 800 votes. Most margins were much, much smaller. See below for a statistical breakdown.

Of the fourteen ridings analyzed in this note, it now appears that ten were subjected to the robocall scam: Nipissing-Timiskaming, ON; Etobicoke Centre, ON; Elmwood-Transcona, MB; Don Valley West, ON; Mississauga East-Cooksville, ON; Winnipeg South-Centre, MB; Labrador, NL; Yukon; Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar, SK; and Bramalea-Gore-Malton, ON.

The Conservatives are well known to be light-years ahead of the other parties in voter data-mining. And they’ve demonstrated little but contempt for democracy, from the repeat prorogues to the contempt ruling. The extent of #robogate suggests an orchestrated, anti-democratic exploitation of Conservative-held data on voters and ridings. #Elxn41 was apparently a battlefront in our fragile young century’s information wars. There are numerous petitions to sign to demand a full inquiry and criminal investigation. Sign one today.

Photo adapted from an original used courtesy of Elections Canada.

Justin Bieber: Copyfighter!

Thanks to Samiah X for Bro-First with Bieber

This pre-Hallowe’en copyright news item had escaped my notice until now, but I’m belatedly pleased to welcome Justin Bieber to the ranks of culture-loving Copyfighters like fellow Canadian music icon Glenn Gould. (Bieber and Gould: now there’s a killer mash-up. Can’t you just hear it? I’m asking you, Gordon Pinsent.) Anyway, what happened was this:

In an interview this morning on Washington DC Hot 99.5 Radio, the Canadian singer affirmed that Internet users should have the right to reuse and remix music on YouTube.

Bieber said Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) should be “put away in cuffs” for sponsoring a bill that would make posting copyrighted clips a felony. […] when asked if he is comfortable with people posting videos singing his songs, he replied, “Are you kidding me? I check YouTube all the time and watch people singing my songs. I think it’s awesome.”

A tip of the hat, Mr. Bieber. Now go for a round of high-fives with your agent and record label reps. I’m sure they feel the same way.

Listen to the radio interview and read the report at TorrentFreak:
Justin Bieber: Sponsor of Anti-Piracy Bill Should Be “Locked Up.”

For more about the bill in question, S.978:

Open letter to the government about Bill C-11

[Sent with the Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights’ letter-writing app]

Bill C-11 must allow TPM circumvention for lawful purposes

Dear Ministers,
I would like to convey my concerns and suggestions for points of revision and amendment in regards to Bill C-11, The Copyright Modernization Act. Bill C-11 appears to be more flexible than the previous attempts at copyright reform, but it is fundamentally flawed by the inclusion of strict, anti-circumvention protections for TPMs or “digital locks.”
The anti-circumvention provisions included in Bill C-11 unduly incentivize corporate copyright owners and distributors in the content and culture industries to exercise inordinate control over Canadians’ uses of media and technology; it has been cogently argued that these provisions are not constitutional.
A solution to Bill C-11’s contentious core problem and the means to avoid the unintended consequences generated by the broad protection for digital locks is to amend the Bill to permit the circumvention of digital locks when done for lawful purposes. This approach is compliant with the WIPO Internet Treaties, provides legal protection for digital locks, and maintains a much better copyright balance between creators and users. Both the UK and the USA (among other countries) have qualified their recent copyright reform legislation to permit circumvention for lawful purposes.
Correspondingly, the ban on the distribution and marketing of devices or tools that can be used to lawfully circumvent must be eliminated, by removing paragraph 41.1(c) (and any associated references or any paragraphs in the Bill that would be rendered irrelevant by this change).
The government’s own briefing for ministers on C-11’s predecessor, Bill C-32, acknowledged that digital locks are not lawfully subject to copyright protection. I urge the government to act in consistency with its own statements on the inapplicability of copyright law to TPMs.
It is in the best interests of Canadian business, consumers, creators, educators, and citizens to amend Bill C-11 to clearly permit TPM circumvention for lawful uses, and to remove the all-encompassing ban on circumvention tools.

Sincerely,
Mark A. McCutcheon

Table by CCER, used under Creative Commons 2.5 license

Why C-11’s digital lock protection is a big, bad deal

Photo courtesy of Benj Mako Hill, used under CC 2.0 license

CBC News has run an excellent article that explains the implications of Bill C-11’s protection of digital locks (a.k.a. DRM for “digital rights management,” or TPM for “technological protection measures”). “If passed in its current form,” they write, the Copyright Modernization Act will:

  • Prohibit the circumventing of digital locks, even for legal purposes — such as the education or satire uses protected by other sections of the Act. This is one of the most controversial parts of the legislation. Many experts have criticized the government for not including an exemption that would allow for the bypassing of digital locks for legitimate purposes, such as the copying of parts of digitally locked textbooks to view on another device or for use in an assignment.
  • Prohibit the manufacture, importation and sale of technologies, devices and services designed primarily for the purpose of breaking digital locks. This includes technology designed to allow you to play foreign-bought DVDs on your North American player, for example.

The government’s rationale for keeping the TPM protection seems to suggest that consumers can always opt to purchase unlocked content and devices. But that’s simply untrue, and as many critics point out, legal protection of digital locks creates an incentive for media and tech companies to put them on more and more of what they sell.
For more examples of just how wide-reaching the effects of Bill C-11’s “constitutionally suspect” digital lock protection will be, see Michael Geist’s blog, which has started a “Daily Digital Lock Dissenter” series to catalogue its harms. He comes out swinging today on behalf of BC’s Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired, quoting its statement that TPMs “interfere with the use of some, if not all, of the adaptive technologies used by students with perceptual disabilities to access educational materials.”
It will be disastrous for Canadian industry, culture, and society should the government to insist on digital lock protection in C-11, especially since — as the CBC rightly notes — C-11 is, in most other respects, a balanced and even progressive bill.

References
“Copyright changes: how they’ll affect users of digital content.” CBC News 30 Sept. 2011.
Geist, Michael. “The Daily Digital Lock Dissenter, Day 1: The Provincial Resource Centre for the Visually Impaired.” Michael Geist [blog] 3 Oct. 2011.