Day: January 22, 2019

B.C. must face its scandalous ways—wood-splitter and all

British Columbia is home to a history of scandals and boondoggles that would make the Borgias blush: raids of the legislature, “fast” ferries that hardly ever sailed, a plan to target ethnic communities that mixed partisan politics with the public service, money laundered through casinos, and far more. It’s a cliché to call the province the “wild west,” but it’s a cliché for good reason. It is the Wild West, with an emphasis on wild.

On Monday, the Speaker of the House, Darryl Plecas, released a report detailing alleged misspending by two legislature officials—Sergeant-at-Arms Gary Lenz and Clerk of the House Craig James. The 76-page report includes details of personal spending billed to the taxpayer, including overseas junkets with the $1,200 suit to match and a $3,200 wood-splitter (split that wood in style!). And those are just the amuse bouche. According to Plecas’s careful documentation, other abuses include double-billing for vacation time, Fridays off, $5,000 in magazine subscriptions, and a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of alcohol that vanished from the legislature in the bed of James’s pickup truck. The report also includes notes cases of possible “retributive or otherwise unjustified” termination. James and Lenz, who say they had not seen the report prior to its release, say the allegations are “completely false and untrue.”


In the realm of logic and reasoning, a statement cannot be both true and untrue. Assuming logic and reasoning apply to politics in B.C., admittedly a bit of a leap, someone is wrong about whether the spending and human resource practices of James and Lenz are in violation of…something? There’s the twist. The RCMP, who is investigating, have not deemed the matter criminal—although more allegations are expected—and it’s possible that some, much or even all of what the report reveals is consistent with—or not explicitly proscribed bythe rules of the legislative assembly.

The warped thing, well, one of the warped things, about this whole mess is that the damage is already done and it can’t be undone, regardless of whether this turns out to be a criminal matter or a violation of the legislature’s rules. Of course, it matters whether the allegations are true, whether they are criminal, or whether the rules of the legislature were officially violated. But in any case, the whole mess has already made politics in B.C., in rough shape as a rule, worse. Whatever the ultimate case may be, the accusations and the details of the report will undermine trust in the assembly and its staff. Voters will sink deeper into cynicism. Political operatives will mobilize to use the affair for electoral gain. Citizens and residents will lump everyone in public life together as crooked cheats who are merely in it to win it—the cash and the perks, that is. Never mind that most those who enter politics or the public service do so for reasons that have nothing to do with personal enrichment. The standards of personal conduct in public life are higher than most, so violations of the rules or perceived violations of the rules do immediate, significant, and lasting damage. And there’s plenty of that here.

RELATED: B.C.’s wild election is an opportunity for major democratic changes

When writing about ethics in politics, I often use the example of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons. Specifically, I call upon the scene where King Henry VIII is pressing Sir Thomas More to publicly endorse his divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Nearly everyone backs Henry, so More wonders why the king should care about his humble opinion: “Because you’re honest,” says Henry, “and what’s more to the purpose, you’re known to be honest.”

In political life, being honest, and being known to be honest, being known to be above-board and beyond reproach, is essential. When the public trust is violated, the damage cascades, it moves out beyond the centre, the place of its origin, and touches far flung places. That’s why it’s important for everyone to play by the rules—and, ideally, to aim even higher, slightly above the rules. And, certainly, never below them. In the latest B.C. scandal, it looks like plenty of folks aimed well below the mark.

The current fiasco in the legislature stretches back months and years (raising the critical question: Why are we just learning about it now and how were the shenanigans it permitted to go on for so long?), and so the digging that will follow as more information is collected and shared publicly will include months and years of dirty details. For the good of the province, officials must now clear the decks—release everything they possibly can, as soon as they possibly can. Punishments, if guilt is proven, should be swift and severe. At the same time, the legislative assembly ought to review its own rules and protocols and introduce more rigorous mechanisms for accountability to prevent anything like this ever happening again. (Plecas offers a two-page path forward at the end of his report; when the scandal-gawking is over, it might serve as a starting point.)

RELATED: The battle to clean up B.C.

None of these measures will fix what has happened—even if justice is served, distrust and cynicism will remain—but s thorough and open investigation followed by changes in how the legislature does business can limit the damage that might come, and prevent, or at least limit any further undermining of public trust in B.C.’s battered political institutions.

There is no “good” end to this mess. Either rules were breached or they were not. If they were, then officials have misbehaved very, very badly. If they were not, then either the speaker and his office have invented or misinterpreted what they’ve seen and launched an embarrassing public spectacle (extremely unlikely), or the rules are woefully inadequate—lax and disrespectful of the public purse and those who fill it with their tax dollars. There is, however, a better or worse end depending on the lessons officials learn. Better entails structural changes, whatever may come from the investigation. So let’s hope for better. The people of B.C. deserve the better option and they ought to demand it.


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By The Wall of Law January 22, 2019 Off

Tokyo court rejects Ex-Nissan chair Ghosn’s bail request

TOKYO — A Tokyo court rejected former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn’s latest request for bail on Tuesday, more than two months after his arrest.

A statement from the Tokyo District Court announcing its decision gave no explanation for prolonging a detention of the 64-year-old star executive, which has drawn international scrutiny of Japan’s justice system.

Ghosn had promised to wear an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet, give up his passport and pay for security guards approved by prosecutors in his latest attempt to gain release from a Tokyo detention centre.

His family said they will appeal.

Ghosn has been in custody since Nov. 19. He had a bail hearing Monday. A Tokyo court rejected an earlier request for bail last week.

Ghosn, who led Nissan Motor Co. for two decades, has been charged with falsifying financial reports in underreporting his compensation from Nissan over eight years, and with breach of trust, centring on allegations Ghosn had Nissan temporarily shoulder his personal investment losses and pay a Saudi businessman.

Ghosn has said he is innocent, explaining that the alleged compensation was never decided, Nissan didn’t suffer losses and the payment was for legitimate services.

His wife Carole Ghosn appealed for his release through Human Rights Watch earlier this month, saying Ghosn’s treatment has been harsh and unfair.

Her views echo widespread criticism of Japan’s criminal justice system both inside and outside Japan. Suspects who insist they are innocent get held longer. Suspects are held in a cell and routinely grilled daily by investigators without a lawyer present, although lawyers are allowed to visit.

Ghosn’s lawyer Motonari Ohtsuru has acknowledged Ghosn’s release may not come until the trial, which may be six months away. A date for the trial has not been set.

Nissan officials say an internal investigation has found that Ghosn had schemes to hide his income and that he used company money and assets for personal gain.

A special committee Nissan set up after Ghosn’s arrest to strengthen governance held its first meeting Sunday. Seiichiro Nishioka, a former judge and co-chair, told reporters after the meeting that Ghosn had shown questionable ethics, and too much power within the company had been focused in one person. The committee’s findings are due by late March.

Ghosn’s pay was long a sticking point in Japan, where executives generally get paid far less than their American and other Western counterparts. Ghosn insisted he deserved his higher pay because of his achievements, saying he could have left for another job.

Nissan was on the verge of bankruptcy when alliance partner Renault SA of France sent in Ghosn to help revive it in 1999. Under Ghosn’s leadership, Nissan turned itself around and became one of the most successful auto groups in the world. Ghosn also helped Nissan pioneer ecological auto technology. The Nissan Leaf is the top-selling electric car.


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Yuri Kageyama, The Associated Press

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By The Wall of Law January 22, 2019 Off

In the news today, Jan. 22

Four stories in the news for Tuesday, Jan. 22



Canadians will finally see Health Canada’s modern spin on healthy eating today. Health Minister Ginette Petipas Taylor will unveil an overhauled Canada Food Guide in Montreal this morning. The guide is expected to have a bigger focus on plant-based sources of proteins, a change that has already sparked concern among industry players, including dairy and beef farmers. When the food guide review began several years ago, Health Canada officials said the facelift would be based on input from scientists and health experts as well as feedback from Canadians.



The Speaker of the British Columbia legislature alleges in a report that the clerk and sergeant-at-arms engaged in flagrant overspending, questionable expenses and inappropriate payouts of cash “totalling in the millions of dollars.” Darryl Plecas’s report was released Monday after it was reviewed by members of the Legislative Assembly Management Committee. The report says that based on what he had seen and heard, Plecas believed there was a real possibility crimes may have been committed and he felt obligated to contact the RCMP. Sergeant-at-arms Gary Lenz and clerk of the house Craig James were suspended and escorted out of the legislature in November without any explanation.



The mother of a little girl who North Vancouver police say died when she was poisoned by snake venom says she’ll remember baby Aleka as happy, bubbly and someone who loved to play tricks. Two-year-old Aleka Esa-Bella Scheyk Gonzales died on May 19, 2014, and RCMP say tests confirmed that snake venom was the cause of her death. Henry Thomas, 51, has been arrested and charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life. The girl’s mother, Venessa Gonzales, said the man was a friend, but she refused to say more about him.



Canada’s ambassador to France says this country’s yellow-vest protest movement bears little resemblance to the “gilets jaunes” who started it all in France. Isabelle Hudon says the movement in Canada appears to have been appropriated by far-right extremists espousing racist, anti-immigrant views and even indulging in death threats against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. By contrast, she says the yellow vests in France started last November with a protest against a fuel tax and mushroomed into a more generalized protest against the heavy tax burden imposed on the middle class. While violent individuals have been involved in the French protests, some of which have devolved into riots, Hudon says she’s never seen the protests there linked to race or immigration.



— Alberta Premier Rachel Notley will provide an update today on a new private-sector energy investment.

— The trial continues today of Brian Kyle Thomas, who is charged with second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Winnipeg transit bus driver Irvine Jubal Fraser in February 2017.

— Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques will launch an interactive web-based activity today using pictures taken from space.

— Statistics Canada will release its wholesale trade figures and its monthly survey of manufacturing for November.

The Canadian Press

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By The Wall of Law January 22, 2019 Off

Acclaimed poet Ian Williams says first novel “Reproduction” is like a child

Ian Williams says “Reproduction” is the closest thing he has to a child.

The Vancouver-based writer has spent six years swaddling his first novel in the cocoon of his care as he unspooled a labyrinthine tale of boy meets girl, meets cross-cultural chosen family.

With “Reproduction” (Random House Canada) set to hit bookstores Tuesday, Williams said he feels like a parent watching his toddler waddle off into kindergarten – torn between the impulse to protect his creation from the outside world, and the pride of knowing his novelistic offspring can survive on its own.

“Already, I feel him spinning away into other social circles, and not just in the little warm embrace of my love,” said Williams.

Williams, a 39-year-old creative writing professor at the University of British Columbia and a Griffin Poetry Prize trustee, said each of the books he’s written can be read as a chapter in the progress of a life.

With his debut poetry collection, “You Know Who You Are,” in his early 20s, Williams said he was coming to terms with his identity as a black man. That was followed by his 2011 Danuta Gleed Literary Award-winning short story collection “Not Anyone’s Anything,” in which Williams said he was letting go of the adolescent self-delusion that he was special.

In “Personals,” shortlisted for the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize, he explored the search for external connection through poetic riffs on the personal ad.

When he first set out to write “Reproduction” in his early 30s, Williams said he was seized by a fascination with how children come into the world, a symptom of the “biological clock” that is often ascribed to women, but he believes affects men too.

At its core, Williams said, “Reproduction” is a love story. It begins with a simple geometry problem: “If two people travelling in a straight line meet in a hospital room, is that a vertex or an intersection?”

But this isn’t your average one-plus-one romantic equation. His artistic goal, embedded in the book’s “biology,” was to write a novel that could “reproduce itself” with a plot that sprawls exponentially outwards.

Let’s break down the math.

The novel is comprised of four parts, set in the multicultural petri dish of Brampton, the Toronto suburb where Williams was raised, over four decades between the late 1970s and the present day.

In part one, Felicia, a sober-minded teenager from a small island nation, and Edgar, the listless heir to a German family fortune, meet in the hospital room where their mothers lay dying. The first act of their relationship unfolds over 23 subsections — which, as Williams explains, is the number of chromosome pairs contained in human DNA — culminating in the birth of their son, Armistice, or Army.

In part two, Felicia and a teenaged Army move in with Oliver, a Portuguese divorcee, and his children, including the sexually precocious Heather. The four (two times two) central characters become unrelated relatives over 16 (four times four) subsections, until violence upends the family dynamic.

Part three follows the fallout over 256 (16 times 16) subsections told from each member of the main quartet’s point of view as a new life enters the world.

In part four, Williams realized he didn’t have room to keep multiplying the story by itself, so he invoked another form of reproduction — cancer. This manifests on the page with subscript and superscript interruptions that begin to sprout up like tumours mid-sentence, until the unchecked growth threatens to overtake the main text.

Williams said the book’s Rashomon-like toggling between characters’ perspectives allowed him to explore identity as it is both experienced and projected by others.

As a man writing as a feminist, Williams said he tried to be cognizant of the limits in his ability to understand the female experience, while faithfully representing the inequities women face and male responsibility in that.

Williams said he also wanted to show how “ordinary” the racialized experience can be without the intrusion of outside biases.

“When we enter the public domain, there’s like this wave of radiation that greets us,” he said. “But left to ourselves, we don’t construct our identities in terms of race.”

One day, Williams hopes to have a child that isn’t just a bound bundle of pages. But until then, he is proud of the book he’s raised. Sure, at more than 450 pages, “Reproduction” is a little on the chubby side, and maybe it gets into trouble every now and again. But Williams said the novel is well loved, and it shows.

“I really feel like this book has become its own thing and its own person, and I just needed to be patient and to listen and to guide it,” said Williams. “He will have his own life, right now. And that life is separate from me.”

Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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By The Wall of Law January 22, 2019 Off



WASHINGTON — A suburban Montreal high school is leading the cheers north of the border for graduate Kamala Harris, the California senator and former prosecutor who confirmed Monday she’s seeking to become the first black woman elected president of the United States.

“Run Kamala Run!!” Westmount High School’s social-media feeds gushed after Harris confirmed what much of the rest of the U.S. had assumed: she plans on being the Democrat who pries President Donald Trump out of the White House in 2020.

In a memoir Harris describes the heartache of moving from Oakland to chilly Montreal so her mother Shyamala Gopalan, a breast-cancer researcher, could take a job at McGill University.

“The thought of moving away from sunny California in February, in the middle of the school year, to a French-speaking foreign city covered in 12 feet of snow was distressing, to say the least,” she writes in “The Truth We Hold: an American Journey,” released earlier this month.

Her initial foray into Notre-Dame-des-Neiges, a school for native French-speakers, was a challenge: “I used to joke that I felt like a duck, because all day long at our new school I’d be saying, ‘Quoi? Quoi? Quoi?’ ”

By the time she was enrolled at Westmount, Harris had mostly adjusted to her life in Quebec, recalling fondly how her by-then divorced parents both attended her graduation, her mother resplendent in a bright red dress and heels.

“We’re super happy, we’re super proud — we’re always happy when a Westmount grad does well,” said teacher Sabrina Jafralie, whose school counts songwriter Leonard Cohen, former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day and prime ministerial spouse Mila Mulroney among its famous alumni.

“I think she’s a role model for all of us. Coming from a great school like Westmount, possibly to the White House, is a great story to tell.”

It’s no accident that Harris, whose mother is from India and father from Jamaica, chose Martin Luther King Jr. Day to confirm her plans, which she did during an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

“My parents were very active in the civil-rights movement, and that’s the language that I grew up hearing,” she said.

“(King) was aspirational like our country is aspirational. We know that we’ve not yet reached those ideals. But our strength is that we fight to reach those ideals … We are a country that, yes, we are flawed, we are not perfect, but we are a great country when we think about the principles upon which we are founded.”

Harris was far from the only Democratic hopeful, declared or otherwise, who was out and about on what would have been the civil-rights leader’s 90th birthday — evidence that thorny issues of race, gender and ethnic tensions will be prominent in the coming primary battles among an already dense and growing field of candidates.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2016 challenger to eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, attended a church service and a rally Monday in South Carolina, where he fell short two years ago and will need support from black voters to contend again.

In this Saturday, Jan. 19, 2019, photo demonstrators hold posters of Kamala Harris 2020 during the Women’s March in Los Angeles. Harris, a first-term senator and former California attorney general known for her rigorous questioning of President Donald Trump’s nominees, entered the Democratic presidential race on Monday, Jan. 21.(AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

“It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a president of the United States who is a racist,” Sanders told rallygoers.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, both in the race, also attended public MLK events, as did a number of other “maybe” names, including former vice-president and presumptive front-runner Joe Biden, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Gillibrand said “white women like me” must share the burden of fighting for equality. Warren offered a constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to vote. And Biden, who lingered on his close relationship with former boss Barack Obama, lamented his support for a crime bill in 1994 that imposed harsher sentences for crack-cocaine possession.

Harris, too, faces tough questions on issues of justice.

As a California district attorney and later as the state’s attorney general, Harris frequently opposed or ignored criminal justice reform measures aimed at levelling a playing field critics say is unfairly tilted against black defendants, the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent wrote last week in the New York Times.

During a question-and-answer session at Howard University in Washington, Harris acknowledged having regrets about some decisions during her tenure. But her office also introduced a number of initiatives to address racial profiling and bias in law enforcement, as well as sentencing reforms, she said.

“Instead of deciding either you’re soft on crime or tough on crime, let’s understand that if we’re going to be smart with the taxpayer’s dollars, let’s get people out of the system instead of cycling through the revolving door of jail,” she said. “One of my biggest regrets is that I’ve not had more time to do more, but it’s my intention to keep fighting for it.”

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By The Wall of Law January 22, 2019 Off