Federal government has spent more than $20M on monitoring massive log of keywords

One of the things I miss most about my time in government is having this media monitoring service (media scans). Helpful for officials as well as the political level.

And the expanded monitoring of ethnic and social media made our jobs easier (hard to replicate this completely through services like Feedly):

“News monitoring is conducted to track key public policy issues that impact the government of Canada agenda and to assess the effectiveness of government of Canada communications,” Raymond Rivet, director of corporate and media affairs for the Privy Council Office, said in an email.

“To identify reporting that is relevant to the government of Canada, suppliers use search terms as an aid to identifying reporting that may be of interest.”

Opposition party critics for various portfolios are also part of the media monitoring search terms from several departments, as are the names of dozens of journalists.

And don’t ask the Canadian Security Intelligence Service CSIS about its media monitoring activities. The agency has refused to release details of any contracts, ostensibly for security reasons.

About 300 of the roughly 1,100 pages of media monitoring search terms are from Citizenship and Immigration, and the massive department of Employment and Social Development, whose minister Jason Kenney, is also the minister for multiculturalism.

Of the government’s more than $20-million in media monitoring contracts since December 2012, one of the largest individual contracts was for ethnic media monitoring.

Federal government has spent more than $20M on monitoring massive log of keywords

Robyn Urback on the HPV vaccine: What’s worse than pre-marital sex? Cancer. That’s what

Robyn Urback on HPV vaccination and opposition by Catholic leaders:

Yet according to a letter penned by Church leaders and distributed to parents of children enrolled Calgary’s Catholic school board, the medical efficacy of the HPV vaccine is still up for debate.

“There is no consensus among those involved in public health in Canada that HPV vaccination is the most prudent strategy in terms of allocating health care resources to address the goal of preventing deaths resulting from cervical cancer,” according to the bishops’ mendacious claim. “We encourage parents to learn the medical facts.”

The bulk of the letter is not concerned with medical facts, however, but rather the propensity for such a vaccination to encourage pre-marital sex. “A school-based approach to vaccination sends a message that early sexual intercourse is allowed, as long as one uses ‘protection,’” the bishops write. “We…would prefer to equip [young people] for proper decision-making.

The problem with that line of reasoning is that while the HPV vaccine has proven nearly 100% effective in preventing cervical precancers caused by four strains of HPV, Catholic teaching over the past, oh, 2000 years, has proven considerably less effective in preventing pre-marital sex. Indeed, equipping young people for “proper decision-making,” prevents neither pre-marital sex, nor HPV infection. It simply leaves young people who have the misfortune of dogmatic-minded guardians at particular risk of catching an infection proven to lead to certain types of cancers.

Robyn Urback on the HPV vaccine: What’s worse than pre-marital sex? Cancer. That’s what

More Americans Favor Mixing Religion And Politics, Survey Says : The Two-Way : NPR

Religion has always been an important force in US politics, more so than in Canada (roughly a quarter of Canadians in the 2011 National Household Survey reported as “nones,” 44 percent in British Columbia):

As we [Pew] reported two years ago, the percentage of those “nones” has grown in recent years, especially among younger Americans. In a 2012 Pew survey, 1 in 5 in the U.S. said he was “religiously unaffiliated,” a group that includes those who say they have no particular religion as well as self-described atheists and agnostics. Among those under 30 years of age, fully one-third said that religion played “little or no role” in their lives.

Other findings in the latest poll: a slight drop in support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry, with 49 percent of Americans in favor and 41 percent opposed; a 5-point dip in support from a February Pew Research poll, but about the same level as in 2013, Pew says. However, Pew notes: “It is too early to know if this modest decline is an anomaly or the beginning of a reversal or leveling off in attitudes toward gay marriage after years of steadily increasing public acceptance.”

There has also been a rise in the number who view homosexuality as a sin 50 percent from 45 percent a year ago. While almost half 49 percent of those surveyed say they believe that businesses such as caterers and florists should not be allowed to reject same-sex couples as customers, nearly as many 47 percent said they approved of such a practice.

More Americans Favor Mixing Religion And Politics, Survey Says : The Two-Way : NPR.

Islamic States call to kill westerners has terrorism experts divided | World news | theguardian.com

One of the better commentators putting the latest ISIS/ISIL threats into context:

Rodger Shanahan, non-resident fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy and a former army officer, told Guardian Australia the video was “not earth shattering”, as Al-Adnani has been saying this sort of thing for years, but the specific mention of Australia had caught the media’s eye.

“My view is that if you give these people oxygen it encourages them to do it more often, that’s the whole point,” said Shanahan.

“It’s a pretty good debate to have: if this had not been widely reported, would it really have amounted to anything other than security agencies noting Australia being mentioned specifically by the IS spokesperson?”

“But if you go back over the last couple of speeches there are general references to the west, the Europeans, the Christians. There’s no change of direction at all. It’s just a continuation of what he’s put out there, but nobody has paid particular attention to it in the past.”

Shanahan said that while security agencies have to take it seriously, anyone who might pay attention to the message in the video is already thinking that way.

“The utility of it in terms of attracting more recruits, I don’t think it’s of utility at all. In terms of interest because it mentions us and Canada and France, yes, it’s interesting, but it’s not an earth shattering thing.”

Islamic States call to kill westerners has terrorism experts divided | World news | theguardian.com.

Australian PM warns of strict penalties for returning extremists

Interesting that the Australian PM made no mention of revoking Australian citizenship. Just punishment in Australian jails, despite earlier signs the Australian government was considering revocation (George Brandis won’t say if Australians fighting in Syria will lose citizenship):

“If you fight with a terrorist group, if you seek to return to this country, as far as this government is concerned, you will be arrested, you will be prosecuted and you will be jailed for a very long time indeed,” Abbott told Parliament.

At least 60 Australians were fighting in Iraq and Syria with Islamic State and another al-Qaida offshoot, Jabhat al-Nursa, also known as the Nusra Front, the prime minister said.

He revealed that more than 60 Australian would-be fighters had had their passports cancelled on secret service advice to prevent them from flying to the Mideast.

Dozens of suspected fighters have already returned to Australia from the battlefields. Security agencies fear that they now pose a domestic terrorist threat.

Australian PM warns of strict penalties for returning extremists.

Unlike Canadian Minister Alexander, who declined to provide numbers on the number of Canadian passports cancelled, PM Abbott was open – 60 passports cancelled:

Outside the Commons, Alexander cited privacy and security concerns for his refusal to release numbers.

“It’s an administrative issue, it’s an operational issue,” he said in response to questions from reporters after question period.

“There are privacy considerations. We will not be saying how many have been revoked … but we have the power to do that.”

Despite a barrage of follow-up questions, Alexander held his ground and denied that he was “afraid” to give a number.

“We will uphold a longstanding practice, which is not to go into the details of operational national security matters,” he insisted.

“That’s absolutely reasonable.”

But Australia’s definition of “reasonable” in disclosing the numbers strikes me as more reasonable:

Revoking ISIS passports: Government refuses to disclose numbers

Jonathan Kay: The one place in Canada where racism is still tolerated: native reserves

Jon Kay tackles the thorny integration vs accommodation issue with respect to First Nation reserves:

On the other hand, let’s give the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake their due, shall we? In the modern context, what is the point of the reserve system except to give natives a space that provides them with a measure of autonomy and cultural “authenticity”? Having embraced the notion that one’s bloodline dictates ones rights a notion dismissed as racist in every other context of public discussion and policy formation, Canadian liberals have been forced to accept its noxious corollary — which is that the presence of white people in the midst of reserves comprises a sort of cultural pollutant.

This is the reason politicians and public figures are so loathe to take a strong stand against the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake and other native groups that strike militant postures on behalf of native identity: Such criticisms implicitly strike at the very heart of the utopian liberal notion that natives flourish best among their own, in protected, demographically homogenous enclaves that are geographically rooted in their traditional lands.

In every other context, Canadian liberals zealously embrace the idea of diversity and multiculturalism. In liberal cities such as Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, the sight of people of every skin colour living side by side, including as husband and wife, is taken as a neighbourhood’s badge of enlightenment. But if the neighbourhood happens to be a native reserve, the exact opposite premise holds sway: Run whitey out of town.

Eventually, Canadians are going to have to make up their mind on the diversity-versus-segregation question. It’s simply untenable to say that while the United Colors of Benetton are ideal for whites, natives should be free to construct miniature societies based on racist principles that were decisively rejected by Abolitionists two centuries ago. It’s an embarrassment to Canadian values and a cruelty upon those natives who have committed no crime except to fall in love with someone of a different skin colour.

Lawrence Hill in his Massey Lectures in Blood picks up a similar theme from an identity perspective (see Blood by Lawrence Hill):

Jonathan Kay: The one place in Canada where racism is still tolerated: native reserves

Canada quiet on shariah law in Brunei

The age-old problem of balancing human rights with trade interests, whether it be China, Saudi Arabia or Brunei:

Critics say Canada is turning a blind eye toward the enactment of shariah law by Brunei, a small Southeast Asian country that the Harper governments trade strategy has prioritized.

Brunei announced its decision to adopt a shariah-based penal code in the fall of 2013, and began to phase in the new legal system gradually in May of this year. Citizens of Brunei are currently subject to fines and imprisonment for a range of “indecent acts,” including pregnancy out of wedlock and failure to attend Friday prayers.

The government in Bandar Seri Begawan is expected to phase in tougher, corporal punishments in 2015, including floggings for consuming alcohol and amputations for theft. A third phase establishing stoning as an acceptable form of execution for rape, adultery, and homosexuality is planned, but Brunei’s Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, has yet to declare when the third phase will be introduced.

Brunei’s shift towards shariah law has become a cause célèbre for LGBT groups, human rights activists, and high-profile celebrities who have launched a boycott of the Dorchester luxury hotel chain, which is owned by the Brunei government’s investment agency.

The International Commission of Jurists has called the new laws “clearly incompatible with international human rights law,” while Amnesty International has said the decision will send the small, oil-rich Southeast Asian country “back to the dark ages when it comes to human rights.”

“It constitutes an authoritarian move towards brutal medieval punishments that have no place in the modern, 21st century world,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, wrote in an email to Embassy.

Canada quiet on shariah law in Brunei | Embassy – Canadas Foreign Policy Newspaper.

Bill tabled to ban refugees from social assistance

In keeping with the overall messaging and tone of the Government with respect to refugees and concerns about abuse.

As always, is this based on anecdote or are there reasonably firm numbers to back this concern? Or is it similar to birth tourism where in the end the evidence didn’t support the rhetoric?

Chisu, a Romanian-born Canadian, retired Canadian forces major and a first-term MP, was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Immigration Minister Chris Alexander declined to tell the Star’s inquiry if he would support the bill and referred any inquiry to Chisu.

While the bill says no minimum residency requirement would be allowed for Canadian citizens, permanent residents or victims of trafficking on a temporary resident permit, advocates are alarmed by the groups that are omitted and could suffer the effects of the bill.

They include refugee claimants still awaiting a decision; people whose bid for asylum failed; people who may be deported but are waiting for pre-removal risk assessments; people who have been allowed to stay in Canada on “humanitarian and compassionate” grounds, and sponsored spouses already in Canada.

Lastly, have there been consults with the provinces, as this pertains to their jurisdiction? Likely not yet, as it is a private members bill.

Hopefully, the Government has learned some lessons for the various mix-ups in PMB’s pertaining to criminal justice.

Bill tabled to ban refugees from social assistance | Toronto Star.

Jon Kay: Canadian Human Rights Commission must establish a special human-rights tribunal to address human-rights complaints pertaining to the presentation of human-rights issues at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights

Funny and ironic piece by Jonathan Kay who captures some of the absurdity of  identity politics and the criticism regarding the Canadian Museum for Human Rights:

The response of Canadian identity groups to the museum overall is perhaps best epitomized by a statement put out by the Ukrainian Canadian Congress last year, complaining that the museum’s treatment of Stalin’s forced starvation of millions of Ukrainians was fatally undercut by the fact that a panel on the subject was located too close to the public toilets. (Whose exhibit should be closest to the toilets? The Rwandans? The Cambodians? The Armenians? The Ukrainian Canadian Congress hasn’t told us.)

…If the true goal of the Canadians Museum of Human Rights is to create a “national hub for human rights learning and discovery,” shouldn’t visitors to the museum not be able to file a human rights complaint at the museum itself?

The museum boasts of providing visitors with “an immersive, interactive experience that offers both the inspiration and tools to make a difference in the lives of others.” What could be more “interactive” than a special in-museum kiosque that invited visitor to sue the museum itself under applicable Canadian human rights law?

In special circumstances, visitors to the museum might even be permitted to sue each other — Indians versus “wealthy children of settlers,” and Jews vs. Ukrainians, for instance. Following on the 2013 Ukrainian-Canadian protest described above, human-rights complainants at the museum might also seek injunctive relief to prevent fellow museum-goers from using the bathrooms. Where human rights are at stake, no remedy should be off-limits.

In time, the number of successful human-rights claims against the Canadian Museum of Human Rights might become so enormous that these cases would, themselves, become the subject of an entirely new museum — the Canadian Human Rights Museum-Related Human Rights Museum. And since this, too, would be built on “stolen land,” and would necessarily include some cases and exclude others, the cycle of human rights violation, complaint, litigation and resolution would be guaranteed to blossom anew.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission must establish a special human-rights tribunal to address human-rights complaints pertaining to the presentation of human-rights issues at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights

Plan to revoke passports raises concerns

Waldman is correct to highlight that this power could be applied arbitrarily but given that court safeguards exist, and given that there are some Canadians engaged in extremist activities in Syria and Iraq, it seems a prudent measure. See earlier Canadian government revoking passports of citizens trying to join extremist groups for background.

Not the same level as revoking citizenship:

Lorne Waldman, the head of the Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, says he’s worried the government might use its powers arbitrarily.

Waldman likened the practice to Canada’s secretive no-fly list, which civil liberties groups have argued violates the right to due process.

In the case of passport revocation, Waldman says there are at least legal avenues available for people to appeal such a decision through the courts.

But he said there should be assurances that power is used fairly by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander.

“The Passport Order gives the minister the right to deny passports if there were issues of national security,” Waldman said Sunday.

“Now, that’s pretty vague and pretty broad, and the minister is going to have to justify it in some way or another.”

Plan to revoke passports raises concerns