Thursday, July 31, 2014

CCLA Calls for Press Access to Omar Khadr

July 30th, 2014

We understand that for two years, members of the press have been denied requests to interview Omar Khadr, by Correctional Service Canada. At the same time, many statements about Mr. Khadr have been made by government officials to the media. The Toronto Star, CBC, and White Pine pictures have filed an action for judicial review of Correctional Service Canada. We believe that the public has a right to hear from Mr. Khadr.

The CCLA has always taken the position that freedom of the press and freedom of expression are cornerstone rights in a democracy. In our view, freedom of expression includes not only Mr Khadr’s rights to express himself, but also the public’s right to hear from Mr. Khadr. Indeed, the communication of ideas, including informed analysis and reporting by the media, is an indicator of a healthy functioning democracy. In this particular case, the Government has repeatedly expressed its views on Mr. Khadr’s case and it is only fair play in a democracy that other voices — including Mr Khadr’s himself — have equal air time.

Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen who at age 15, was accused of throwing a grenade that killed US Sgt. First Class Christopher Speer. After over 10 years in custody in Guantanamo Bay, Mr. Khadr confessed to this act, was subsequently transferred to Canada, and later recanted his confession claiming it was done to facilitate his transfer to Canada and his disbelief that he would be afforded fair trial or due process in US military court processes. The CCLA had argued that Mr. Khadr’s alleged offences had occurred when he was a youth and therefore the international law rules applying to child soldiers must apply — for more information on CCLA’s positions click here.

Mr. Khadr has expressed his intention to speak to the media. We understand that US Sgt. First Class Layne Morris, who was blinded in one eye during the same 2002 battle, has stated that he would like to hear from Mr. Khadr. In our view the public interest and public safety is best served in this case by upholding Mr Khadr’s right to express himself and the the public’s right to know and hear from Mr Khadr.

For more information on CCLA’s position on Omar Khadr’s case see here:

Omar Khadr Has the Right to Return to a Canadian Prison (Huffington Post article by Sukanya Pillay)

Saudi Crocodile Tears Over Gaza

See also:

Arab Leaders, Viewing Hamas as Worse Than Israel, Stay Silent

Egypt leads Arab regimes in facilitating Israel’s assault on Gaza

Saudi, Egypt and Israel work together in Gaza attack

Egypt adds insult to injury by sending Gaza expired aid packages

Egyptian media wages incitement campaign against Palestinians as Gaza burns

Attack on Gaza by Saudi Royal Appointment

Monday, July 28, 2014

Where have all the censuses gone? A Problem with Digital Data

Posted: 28 Jul 2014 

By Thomas Peace

This post is a little late in coming, but hopefully it will be useful for those of us working in pre-twentieth century North American history or with online resources. About a year ago, I discovered that one of the most useful reference resources I use, Statistics Canada’s E-Stat tables of the Censuses of Canada, 1665-1871 had been removed from their website. Living in a country where the current federal government has a bit of a history mucking around with censuses and data collection (for good examples see here, here and here), the removal of this resource upset me. Why had I not heard about E-Stat’s impending demise? Where could I retrieve the valuable and accessible data formerly available for download through this website? And (of course) what type of subtle political purpose could be behind the removal of data from Canada’s early censuses?

In providing the Censuses of Canada, 1665-1871 in downloadable datasets, E-Stat made it incredibly easy to gather demographic data about Canada’s early history. Although this information has been available in print for well over a century, presenting the information in digital form provided the opportunity to manipulate the data without needing to constantly replicate the data entry. It also made it much easier to assign census information to students, giving them an opportunity to practice basic historical demography and statistics. Western University provides a concise description of what was available through this project. You can get a good sense of what used to be available from Censuses of Canada, 1665-1871 based on what Statistics Canada has left active from the project. Here you’ll find basic demographic data about early Canada and even lesson plans and learning resources that draw upon the material. You will not find the specific census data that used to be featured on the site. What has been left online remains an excellent resource for students, but it is a fraction of its former scope.

Now to be clear (to use the words of so many federal cabinet ministers), there was some warning about the impending demise of E-Stat. Although few historians seem to have known the project was coming to an end (likely because the resource targets the school system rather than historical researchers and university professors), other professional associations were aware of the changes. The Canadian Society for the Study of Education, for example, posted a letter to teachers informing them of the upcoming changes to Statistics Canada’s education program and the end of E-Stat. Written by Mary Townsend, the Chief of Education Outreach at Statistics Canada, the letter clearly indicated that Statistics Canada’s Education Outreach Program would end in June 2012 with E-Stat being fully removed from Statistics Canada’s website on July 1 2013.

Although some people were aware of these changes, I was not alone in my ignorance. Indeed, still today, many university libraries continue to hyperlink to non-existent URLs at Statistics Canada and/or continue to have E-Stat listed in their library resources. The University of Toronto, for example, sends its students to this resource, though through their other censuses you can follow a hyperlink to a digital copy of the nineteenth century publication. Western University is similar. You can get to E-stat through their library catalogue only to click through a series of links, arriving at a Statistics Canada page informing you that the project was discontinued. These universities are not alone. A quick internet search reveals that many institutions and digital-history projects continue to use hyperlinks that lead to the now-defunct E-Stat program.

Even Statistics Canada seems a little unclear about what happened to the data. Some universities, such as Kwantlen Polytechnic University, still link to a live Statistics Canada website that suggests the E-Stat data is still accessible. Following through with the links brings you to the same dead pages. Furthermore when the program closed, interested parties like the Canadian Society for the Study of Education were told that many of the resources would migrate to a new site dedicated to learning resources. Today, is itself a dead link. When I first contacted Statistics Canada to find out where this data had gone, I was told that much of E-Stat had moved over to the new CANSIM program. Working through the steps they initially sent, I was unable to find the resource. Contacting them again, I was told that historical census data was no longer available through Statistics Canada’s website. I would need to access the information through a depository library.

The only place this data seems to be available in its former form is through Queen’s University (where a number of universities such as the University of British Columbia, University of Saskatchewan and Laurier University direct their students). Through their Maps, Data and Government Information Centre, the old Censuses of Canada, 1665-1871 datasets are available. Jeff Moon, the director of Queen’s Research Data Centre, explained to me that following the decision to remove this resource, the Data Liberation Initiative (DLI) - a partnership between post secondary institutions and Statistics Canada - lobbied the government agency to continue providing access. This meant that the files running the Censuses of Canada were placed on DLI’s FTP site. Unfortunately, this site is not accessible to the public, prompting Moon and his colleague Alexandra Cooper to make the resource available through Queen’s University’s library system. Aside from the nineteenth century volumes – copies of which are available through the Internet Archive and Google Books – this website is the only place where these digitized datasets are available to the public.

Given that this data still exists and remains freely accessible for download, perhaps this isn’t the crisis to which I alluded in my introduction. If we reflect a little more deeply, however, it should give us pause. First, what happened with E-stat reflects broader changes in the Government of Canada’s management of information. Indeed, earlier this summer on this site, Veronica Strong-Boag pointed to a recently created website in the United States that digitally preserves Parks Canada documents. She situates the creation of this Canadian-focused but not Canadian-based resource within the context of severe government cutbacks that have hampered access to publicly-funded (and formerly accessible) information. Strong-Boag is not alone. This spring Amanda Wakaruk, the Government Information librarian at the University of Alberta wrote adetailed article outlining the severity of mismanaged cutbacks and digitization strategies. Throughout her article, she emphasizes the profound loss of data brought about by Canadian Government policies. She writes:

[The Web Renewal Action Plan], would remove up to 60% of web content before July 31st, 2013. At the time, of course, we had no official documents or communication confirming or denying these claims. What we were told, directly, was that Statistics Canada was planning to remove publications less than 2-3 years old from their website. In addition, we were seeing web content disappear on an almost daily basis.

Parks Canada removed hundreds of lesson plans from its website, the Aboriginal Portal of Canada was closed with two weeks’ notice, access to tables of 1665-1871 Census statistics disappeared with the decommissioning of E-Stat, and we started to notice serious lapses in content on once trusted websites (i.e. ministerial speeches were no longer being added to departmental websites). To make matters worse, we were learning about restricted access to publications which used to be freely available.

Within this much broader context, the decision to selectively remove the data from the Censuses of Canada, 1665-1871while retaining the site’s general infrastructure and lesson plans seems a little more sinister and intentional. For a government that seems to push for “open data” and engagement with Canada’s past, Statistics Canada’s decision seems confusing. Though their involvement with the DLI should be applauded, if freeing up web space was seen as an important policy, why the decision to only remove the specific data that might actually help us learn something about the past, while retaining the more general information? Why not get rid of it all? And why not make this resource accessible through an allied government agency like the Open Data program or Library and Archives Canada rather than the closed DLI FTP?

The end of E-Stat also points to a fundamental problem outlined by others on this website (see Ian Milligan’s posts here andhere): digital data is not permanent; resources come and go, and we need to be vigilant about, and protective of, the online resources that we value. Thankfully, Cooper and Moon’s work at Queen’s University has preserved the census datasets that were formerly part of E-Stat. Without their initiative this valuable digital information would be lost.

What this experience amply demonstrates, then, is the profound need for a deliberate digitization preservation strategy. What the closure of E-Stat and many other initiatives suggest is that on this front there needs to be considerable improvement in the Canadian Government’s behaviour and that of its agencies. The rhetoric of digitization was a useful distraction while Daniel Caron was systematically dismantling Library and Archives Canada, but now it’s time for the Government of Canada to begin a much more strategic initiative, ensuring that the data generated by tax payers of the past is continued for the public of the future.

Thomas Peace is an Assistant Professor at Huron University College

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Queer politics: the debate



Queer politics are influential in LGBT liberation movements. Should this be embraced or is it an obstacle to taking the fight forward? We present the cases for and against.

The gay and lesbian rights movement has never been made up of simply gays and lesbians - it's always been an alliance of activists with a whole host of sexualities and gender identities. The Stonewall riots are often referred to as riots of gays and lesbians, but actually many of the rioters were trans.

Queer is nothing new; it's not some recent invention by activists deciding to divide the movement. Queer has been about for a long time. During the 1990s a group called Queer Nation held demonstrations and actions in the US.

So what are people's problems with the term Queer? The first panicked remark that most of us will hear is that "Queer is an offensive word, that's what the bigots call us - how can we call ourselves that?!" Now this argument (apart from the obvious flaw of us even considering being worried about what a bigot calls us) lacks an understanding of bigotry.

What the advocates of this argument need to realise is that a bigot hates us for what we are, and any term we call ourselves will be an insult that they will use, because to be us is an insult in their eyes. A bigot isn't going to double check which words we define ourselves with before launching a tirade of abuse. How many of us have had "gay boy" shouted at us? Yet many people against the use of the word Queer will have no such problem defining as gay! The "offensive" argument is nonsensical at best, and hardly an appropriate argument from a political standpoint.

The pigeonhole labelling system for sexuality and gender suits capitalism just fine. We box ourselves up into groups and create clear differences - all the better for capitalism to brand us. We split ourselves off into these groups and kid ourselves we are too different to be together - all the better for capitalism to divide and control us.

Queer breaks down these boundaries, these differences. By refusing to pigeonhole our sexuality and gender we are also refusing to be branded. It is a statement of rejection of being assimilated after "coming out" and it rejects being branded at all. Some make a big fuss about how Queer is indefinable, but this is part of the point, and part of what makes it so good.

Queer activism is within the LGBT movement: it's building links with the feminist fight, it's providing an alternative to the assimilatory offer ings of many gay scenes, it's fighting the commercialisation of our Pride and it's providing an identity to those who think gender and sexuality are a bit more complicated than a tick box.

Many say the now slightly cliched line "I'm not gay as in happy, I'm Queer as in fuck you!", but that in a sense captures the heart of it. Queer is not about being happy with the current set-up, it's not about being happy about being assimilated into a heterosexist capitalist culture, it's about being angry (because we do still have a lot to be angry about), it's about being radical, and it's about fighting for liberation.

Some have said that Queer represents a split in the movement. Well, that is true to a degree, but there is no need for the surprise - it is not as if the "straight" dominated movements are so unified!

The fact that Queer, according to some of its critics, is somehow the invention of the lofty middle class, yet also a term so horrifically offensive to the same society that the middle class seeks to thrive in, seems at times a little bizarre.

When we "come out" (as whatever we may identify as), in a sense we free ourselves from the branded roles of gender and sexuality imposed on us by society. However, this has led to the commercialisation of gay scenes and the gay community. This should come as no surprise to us - it's the same capitalist tactic of taking everything good we have and everything we have achieved and corrupting it, branding it and selling it back to us, all the while telling us how liberated we are. Everyone knows the value of the "pink pound"!

In this climate Queer is becoming a rallying flag for all those who are left out of the commercial gay man dominated scenes. "Queeruptions" appear at world Prides and elsewhere to provide a radical political alternative to the depoliticised and often commercialised events that are many modern-day Prides. If we were to compare a Pride such as Manchester, run by some of the same people who run Marketing Manchester, with Queeruption, which often hold events in squatted buildings and have workshops on radical Queer and left politics - which one seems the more middle class?

Queer is anti-capitalist. It's just a shame that more anti-capitalists aren't pro-Queer.

Boycott Israel - Immortal Technique, Don Martin, Tumi, Eltipo Este, Tonto Noiza (LYRICS)

See also this story