Blanchet’s choice to block critics on Twitter limits free speech: experts


Dozens of people — including some MPs — say Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has blocked them on Twitter after they criticized his statements about Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, with some arguing they have a right to be heard.

Nour El Kadri, the president of the Canadian Arab Federation who was among those blocked by Blanchet on the social media platform, said people should be able to respond to accusations made by politicians.

Last week, after Alghabra, born to a Syrian family in Saudi Arabia, was sworn in as federal transport minister, the Bloc issued a release that sought to sow doubt about his association with what it called the “political Islam movement” due to the minister’s former role as head of the Canadian Arab Federation.

El Kadri tweeted at Blanchet to say the Canadian Arab Federation has been a secular organization under its constitution since it was founded in 1967.

“(I told him) it’s secular like Quebec that you’re asking for, then he blocked me,” he said.

“He started to block other people who were voicing opposing opinions.”

On Twitter, Blanchet argued against the idea that he was robbing anyone of their right to free expression.

“When I ‘block’ people, it’s because their posts don’t interest me (fake accounts, political staff, insults …),” he wrote in French last Thursday.

“That does not prevent them from publishing them. I just won’t see them, nor they mine,” he said, adding things are calmer this way.

Richard Moon, a law professor at the University of Windsor, said it is credible to claim that Blanchet infringed the charter-guaranteed right to freedom of expression of those who can no longer see or comment on his tweets.

While Twitter is not itself subject to the charter as a private entity, Moon said, when a politician uses it as a platform to make announcements and discuss political views, the politician’s account becomes a public platform.

“To exclude someone from responding or addressing because of their political views could then be understood as a restriction on their freedom of expression,” he said.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the pro-transparency group Democracy Watch, said Blanchet’s Twitter account is a public communication channel and he cannot decide arbitrarily to not allow voters to communicate with him there.

“Politicians are public employees, so they can’t just cut people off from seeing what they’re saying through one of their communication channels,” he said.

“The public has a right to see all their communications.”

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson faced a lawsuit in 2018 from local activists he had blocked on Twitter. The court action was dropped after Watson conceded his account is public and unblocked everyone he had blocked, so no legal precedent was set.

Blanchet has also blocked some fellow members of Parliament, including Quebec Liberal Greg Fergus, Ontario New Democrat Matthew Green and Manitoba New Democrat Leah Gazan.

Green said he found himself blocked when he criticized Blanchet’s statements that defended the right of universities’ professors to use the N-word.

Gazan accused Blanchet last week of racism and Islamophobia over his statement about Alghabra.

“When criticized, he refuses to engage in a conversation, and a conversation he clearly needs to have around his Islamophobia,” she said.

Source: Blanchet’s choice to block critics on Twitter limits free speech: experts

Liberal government’s new public appointment process fails to improve system, says Conacher

Like many such changes, the proof will only become apparent after a few years, when over 50 percent of GiC positions have been renewed or replaced.

From my perspective, the application of the diversity and inclusion agenda to appointments, hopefully accompanied by annual reporting, will help judge whether Duff Conacher or Alex Marland are correct in their initial assessments.

My take, given my focus on diversity issues, is that we will see an increase in women, visible minorities and indigenous peoples, along with other aspects of diversity, although the “values” of appointments will be largely aligned to the Liberals, just as the previous appointee values were aligned to the Conservatives.

For the baseline of current GiC appointments, see my article, Governor in Council Appointments – 2016 Baseline, or my book, “Because it’s 2015 …” Implementing Diversity and Inclusion, available as a free download (iPad/Mac version (iBooks)Windows (PDF) Version):

“The Conservatives, for most appointments, put an ad up on that website, sometimes put an ad in a newspaper, usually had a headhunter firm, for lack of a better term, do the search for candidates … the Conservatives kept on claiming ‘we’re doing this new way of appointments,’ but the key is the headhunting firm or whoever did the search would just put a list that was a completely advisory list to cabinet and cabinet or the prime minister could choose whomever they wanted,” said Mr. Conacher.

On Feb. 25, 2016, the Liberals quietly announced a new approach to governor in council appointments, which will “apply to the majority of non-judicial appointments, and will make hundreds of part-time positions subject to a formal selection process for the first time.”

“We are committed to raising the bar on openness and transparency in government to make sure that it remains focused on serving Canadians as effectively and efficiently as possible. Government must serve the public interest, and remain accountable to Canadians,” reads a quote from Mr. Trudeau on the release (there is no corresponding event or actual in-person announcement indicated).

As indicated online, the “new approach will” require all GIC opportunities to be advertised online, as well as in the Canada Gazette, and GIC candidates will complete an online profile of their personal background (including language and identity group) in order to try to ensure diversity in appointments.

“Additional online and/or print media may be used in some cases,” reads the website. “Each rigorous selection process will be based on advertised selection criteria developed for the position, and assessment of candidates against the criteria,” it reads, adding this assessment is then provided to the minister responsible.

Members of these selection committee “will be chosen to represent the interests of those who are responsible for decision-making on appointments (the minister, the prime minister), as well as individuals who bring a perspective on the specific interests and needs of the organization,” reads the frequently asked questions section.

The February release indicates this “will be” the new process for GIC appointments, and “the Governor in Council appointment process does not require the approval of Parliament,” said PMO press secretary Cameron Ahmad, when asked what’s required to formalize the new process posted online.

“The process is currently being implemented and applies to Governor in Council appointments. It was made public in February,” he said, adding “the Privy Council Office supports the prime minister with respect to governor in council appointments” when asked which department drafted the new process.

The Liberal government’s new “rigorous approach to appointments is based on the principals of open, transparent and merit-based selection processes that will support ministers in making appointment recommendations for positions in their portfolio,” said Mr. Ahmad, when asked why ultimate discretion to recommend to the GG lies with cabinet and the PM.

“The new approach raises the bar on openness and transparency in government and supports accountability to Canadians,” his response continued.

Mr. Conacher said the Liberal government’s new GIC process is ultimately “no different than what the Conservatives did,” and by allowing ministers or the PM to ignore selection committee recommendations it’s “maintained the patronage crony system.” He said he thinks the Liberals are reluctant to fully take decisions out of the hands of government because “the Liberals have a whole bunch of people who volunteered for 10 years while they lost three elections and some of those people want a reward.”

“This is one of the greatest areas of cabinet power,” said Mr. Conacher.

Mr. Conacher said instead, there should be a new process introduced federally similar to Ontario’s judicial appointments committee which has 13 members, six of whom are members of the public—though he said the “flaw” is seven members are from the ruling party. Mr. Conacher said with a minority of members from the ruling party and a majority from opposition parties, or require membership to be approved by all House leaders. This committee would “come up with a short list” of candidates and then cabinet would “have to choose from the short list.”

As well, he said all positions should be advertised widely online, including on popular public job sites (like Monster Jobs, for example).

Alex Marland, associate professor of politics at Memorial University, said if the “composition of the group of people making the [GIC appointment] recommendations have deep Liberal connections” it’s hard to “put a lot of faith that this is any more than window dressing.” But he also said he doesn’t worry about cabinet or the PM having discretion over such appointments.

“I actually think that’s necessary, because ultimately cabinet is accountable to Parliament, and ultimately cabinet has to run the government, so how could the government function if somebody is being recommended to a position and cabinet is bound to appoint someone who they realize the can’t possibly work with or who will undermine what they’re trying to do,” said Prof. Marland.

Prof. Marland said more transparency is good, and the fact that the process is publicly available “does reduce the possibility” for cronyism and at the end of the day, “you have to trust that these groups take their jobs seriously and will actually make recommendations that they believe are the right ones.”

The Liberals have also committed to review the judicial appointment process and in an email response to questions from The Hill Times, including on timing, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she “will work with interested stakeholders, including the judiciary, and Canadians on these appointments.”

“In the interim, our Government is moving forward on measures that will facilitate appointments to fill highly pressing judicial vacancies as soon as possible,” reads her response. There are currently about 46 vacant seats on the benches of federally appointed superior courts across Canada.

As well, back in December, the Liberals announced the creation of a new Senate appointment process with the Independent Advisory Board for Senate Appointments.

Source: Liberal government’s new public appointment process fails to improve system, says Conacher |

Open government plan slams door on Access to Information Act reform – Politics – CBC News

Not a surprise.

But a good place to start would be with full and timely implementation, both in law and spirit, of the current Act:

The plan disappointed Duff Conacher, a board member of Democracy Watch, whose organization encouraged about 2,000 people to submit letters to Clements department advocating an overhaul of the law.

The group says the acts built-in exemptions — coupled with Legault’s inability to force departments to comply with the law — leave important files under wraps.

“The loopholes allow government to hide the information that shows corrupt, wasteful, abusive actions,” Conacher said.

“The Conservatives have ignored the call from most groups involved in this issue across the country for a stronger Access to Information Act and an information commissioner with enforcement powers.”

The NDP and Liberals have put forward private members bills to update the access law, but the legislative efforts havent been embraced by the Conservatives.

The government is “doing absolutely nothing” to modernize the act, said NDP digital issues critic Charmaine Borg, calling the lack of action “very problematic” and not “a road to real openness.”

Clement said the government is concentrating on making progress on the existing access law.

“The structure of the act, I think, is basically a good structure.”

Open government plan slams door on Access to Information Act reform – Politics – CBC News.

Monarchy’s role in government: Most Canadians want fixes, but how? – The Globe and Mail

Good discussion of some of the issues around the monarchy and suggestions for more written clarity regarding the power of the prime minister in relation to the legislature. Other governments have done so without undermining the role of the monarchy; and the article also lists a number of other options that could go further.

Not likely to happen given any debate would be divisive but good to have a range of options laid out and discussed.

Monarchy’s role in government: Most Canadians want fixes, but how? – The Globe and Mail.