Brickbats and bouquets: best and worst of 2003

People Who Made a Difference – Good and Bad – to Your Freedoms in 2003


Famed Harvard Law Professor Alan Derschowitz for abandoning his civil libertarian roots and suggesting to Canadians that they ought to adopt national identification cards (easy for him to say – the US won’t do it). Worse, Professor Derschowitz commended torture to Canadians as a legitimate investigative tool!

Joining Professor Derschowitz in the push for national identification cards is former Immigration Minister Denis Coderre, who persisted in his desire for the cards despite the fact that the idea was universally panned by privacy experts, privacy commissioners and even the Parliamentary Committee reviewing the idea. Here’s an idea – issue the cards, but only two of them. One for Coderre, and one for Derschowitz.

The Government of Canada for failing to prevent Maher Arar’s deportation to Syria, where he was tortured. Further brickbats for the governments continued reluctance to let the public, and Arar, know what really happened. Its is past time for a public inquiry, Prime Minister Martin! Didn’t you read our open letter to you in the Globe and Mail?

Joint brickbats to Canadian Alliance (now Conservative) member Larry Spencer and Liberal former cabinet minister David Kilgour for their comments disparaging same-sex marriage and gays/lesbians. Spencer wants gay sex made illegal and thinks that homosexual men are pedophiles who are actively out to “seduce and recruit” school age boys, while Kilgour said that legalizing same-sex marriage could result in “mothers marrying sons and all kinds of things.” Both men later retreated from these statements. We wondered, though, whether these two should consider marrying each other?

Another set of brickbats goes out to Principal John Moffat of the Windsor House School and the North Vancouver School District. Principal Moffat banned teaching about the Middle East after receiving a complaint from a parent and the school district failed to ensure adequate protection for the freedom to teach. We realize that world events can make us sensitive to certain subjects, but isn’t that an argument for learning about them, not closing our eyes? And don’t the students have a right to learn?

Another multiple brickbat for former Health Minister Anne McLellan, Health Canada and the Government of Canada for its awful handling of the issue of medical marijuana. Courts keep telling Health Canada that their overly cumbersome and restrictive regulations are unconstitutional because they force sick people to either go without their medicine or buy it from black market sources. Health Canada keeps fighting against access, delays reform until the last possible moment, then does less than the courts require, wasting taxpayer funds and judicial resources. Why? Because smoking marijuana may not be completely risk-free for long-term heavy users. No kidding? Funny, but with other medicines we call potential risks “side effects.” And pardon us if we don’t see the logic in worrying about the long-term health risks for people who are sick, in serious pain and sometimes dying of terminal illnesses.

Brickbats to lawyer Ian Donaldson, and his client Constable Brandon Steele (one of the infamous Stanley Park Six) for describing the victims of the police officers’ crime as “part of a plague.” Last time we checked, being assaulted by police could lead to medical problems, but was not – hopefully – a disease you could catch.

Brickbats to former Justice Minister Martin Cauchon for introducing two poorly thought out pieces of legislation (neither of which, thankfully, were enacted). The legislation in question sought to remove the defense of artistic merit from the laws banning child pornography – casting a chill over artists throughout Canada (representatives of whom spoke out, along with the BCCLA, against the new law) and added a confusing and ill-defined crime of sexual exploitation of young persons. The other bad bill was the so-called marijuana “decriminalization” bill, which actually increased penalties for cultivation (to levels higher than financing terrorism!) and would have fined many more people than currently prosecuted for possession. Mr. Cauchon should, perhaps, have a couple tokes before he sits down to draft criminal legislation!

Demonstrating that we believe in equality between the branches of government, a brickbat goes to the majority of the Supreme Court of Canada for refusing to strike down the prohibition of marijuana. The majority was silent on whether prohibition is a good policy, preferring to simply defer to Parliament, which first promised reform thirty years ago. Justices Arbour, Le Bel and Deschamps, who dissented and would have stricken the prohibition on possession, are exempted from the brickbat. In fact, we’d love to send them a bouquet of B.C.’s finest flowers!

Finally, a small brickbat for the Richmond School Board that, despite crafting an otherwise decent school video surveillance policy, still refused to place an absolute restriction on the use of the cameras in washrooms. Does anyone actually want to watch that video?


A big bouquet to Troy Peters, the rookie VPD officer that blew the whistle on the Stanley Park Six – the officers that drove citizens to Stanley Park and assaulted them. It must have been a tough decision and that it was the right one may not make it any easier.

Maher Arar and Monia Mazigh, Arar’s wife, for their courage in speaking out and holding the government’s feet to the fire. We all want to know what really happened in the Arar case, and likely no one more than the Arar family, but it takes real courage to take a stand against one’s own government when you know that you are going to be subjected to all manner of scurrilous allegations and innuendo.

A bouquet for Judy Kornfeld, librarian at Langara College in Vancouver. When the Langara Student Government refused to permit an Israeli Arab to speak on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its student union building (oops, did we forget to give them a brickbat for that?), Ms. Kornfeld stepped into the breach and made a room available in the library for the talk. By the way, the talk was lively and well-attended but went off without incident, proving again that controversial discussions are best had in the open.

A multiple bouquet to Inspector Ken Frail, VPD Chief Jamie Graham and Mayor Larry Campbell for, respectively, proposing, endorsing and approving the VPD’s new “do not respond” policy for routine drug overdoses. Vancouver is now the first city in Canada to adopt this sensible policy, which encourages timely reporting of overdoses by assuring drug users that medical personnel, not police, will respond to their calls. Turns out, you see, that drug users present at overdoses were fearful of calling for assistance because police might respond and lay criminal charges against them.

Along those lines, everyone involved with the Vancouver Safe Injection Site deserves bouquets for their hard work and persistence. Vancouver took a big step toward demonstrating the benefits of sensible drug policy modeled on public health frameworks when the official site opened. Keep up the good work!

And, finally, from the “they got a brickbat, but also deserve a bouquet” files:

The Government of Canada did some things right this year, including introducing private sector privacy legislation, which will help protect personal information held in the databanks of private corporations. In addition, the government created the Citizens Assembly in order to explore changes to our electoral system designed to enhance democratic participation in Canadian politics.

The Richmond School Board also deserves a bouquet for their video surveillance policy because (despite the shortcoming listed above), they crafted a policy that is far more sensitive to privacy than that implemented in other jurisdictions. Thanks for listening to us!