Friday, October 17, 2014

Rattling The Birdcage: CRA Audit of "Bird Watchers" is Spot-On

If you've been anywhere near the #CdnPoli Twittersphere over the past couple of days, you've heard a lot of chirping about it:the Canada Revenue Agency is investigating a bunch of bird watchers for political activity. Sounds ridiculous, right?

Well, not nearly so much. And it took Greg Renouf to reveal it.

I don't want to steal too much of Greg's thunder. I highly recommend visiting Genuine Witty and reading his story. I am, however, going to quote a specific snippet and add to his analysis.

From Greg's post:

"I spent the first minute of my investigation into this story by looking up the website for the Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists and making my way to the About page. Once I arrived at the page it became immediately apparent this is more than just a group of “birdwatchers”- they’re a group that’s taken on the task of protecting and preserving wildlife. Shortly into my second minute I read the last line of the group’s objectives: 

'to support public interest in nature and its preservation by supporting the enactment of wise legislation and by other means that fall within the scope of the Corporation.'

The first problem is that supporting the 'enactment of wise legislation' is a whole lot more than simple birdwatching. The next problem here is that “supporting legislation” is not a charitable activity- but there’s no problem with that- unless they’re spending more than 10% of their resources on that activity. We’ll have to leave that up to the CRA to decide- that said, if you search the KWFN on Google News, they certainly do spend a lot of time pushing this mandate."

Greg's right. The Income Tax Act stipulates that purely political activity is to be limited to 10% of an organization's spending, and may not be a primary aim of the organization. Educational activity on political matters, however, is permitted; it's how think tanks qualify for charitable and non-profit status.

"Supporting the enactment of wise legislation" is inherently political. If KWFN had instead stipulated that "informing public policy" is a central goal of their organization, they'd clearly be in the clear. Clearly.

But this is a matter of semantics, right? Right? KWFN could be stating "supporting wise legislation" -- as in specific pieces of legislation they deem to be wise -- but then simply educating people as to the potential "wisdom" of this legislation, then letting people make up their own mind about those issues, right? Right?

Sorry. But no. From a column appearing in the KWFN newsletter:

"Ontario may be facing a spring election and time is running out to pass Bill 83 [an act protecting speech on environmental issues from SLAPP lawsuits]. Please ask your MPP and political leaders to pass this law."

A column educating readers about the potential benefits of Bill 83 without asking them to support it -- entrusting to them the task of making up their own minds about it, as educated people are wont to do -- would have been well within the rules stipulated by the Income Tax Act, which the CRA is obligated to enforce, This column, advising KWFN members to take specific political action in support of a specific bill, absolutely does not.

It looks like the KWFN are not entirely innocent victims after all. The Canada Revenue Agency's audit is entirely justified. In fact, it's entirely reasonable to wonder how they've gone this long without an audit, or how they received charitable status in the first place.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Phantom Menace, Pt II: Media Party's Outrage is Heavily Misplaced

No, it's not Attack of the Clones.

Previously on Bad Company I tackled the alarm raised about a series of emails exchanged between a consortium of Canadian media outlets about the use of copyrighted news footage in political advertisements. In 1988 a court case ruled that networks could not refuse to run an ad on copyright grounds, but the consortium is still threatening to do it in 2015.

Perhaps in response to or in anticipation of this, the Conservative Party has proposed to amend the Canada Copyright Act to allow for use of copyrighted news footage in political advertisements.

The Media Party immediately blew a gasket. And while the unequivocally unexplosive emails exchanged between various media bigwigs show no sign of collusion for political ends -- to my reading they seem genuinely and not-at-all-wrongly concerned about their copyrights -- the hands of media commentators are not nearly so clean.

Media commentators, on the other hand are frequently being downright hackish. They're overlooking the not-so-finer points of the matter and falling all over themselves to find something nefarious in all of this. Their greatest enabler so far has been copyright law expert Michael Geist. I don't dispute his expertise in copyright law, but his reading of elections law leaves a lot to be desired in his analysis of this amendment to the Copyright Act.

From Geist's column:

"...the proposal is very narrow. It would only apply to political parties, politicians, candidates, and their agents. The creation of an exception that only allows a select few to benefit is not a provision that can be defended on freedom of political speech grounds. We are all entitled to exercise our political speech rights. A new exception that guards against copyright stifling such speech should apply to all."

Really? Well, no. Let's look at the relevant section of the document Geist cites as his source:
Readers may want to do what Geist seems to have not done: read the bullet point before the one that refers to political parties.

"Proposed changes... would allow free use of 'news' content in political advertisements intended to promote or oppose a politician or political party or a position on a related issue."

That happens to be the Elections Act definition of third-party advertising. A registered third party is any group authorized to advertise in an election in support or opposition to a political party, or to promote or oppose a position on a related issue. Under the Elections Act, registered third parties are treated very much the same as a political party: they must have an official agent, report their expenses to Elections Canada, and are subject to spending limits.

In other words, for the purpose of the election, the registered third party is just that: a registered. Third. Party. Albeit a party that runs no candidates for election.

So while perhaps the next bullet point talks specifically about political parties, it's also helpful to note that it does so purely as a means of example -- that's what the "i.e." is meant to specify.

Don't expect anyone in the media party to correct this obvious mistake by Geist. As it turns out, Geist's error, even if they recognize it or not, helps them build up the idea that this is some nefarious hijacking of copyright law for political purposes. The fact that the amendment simply changes the Copyright Act (the legislation) to catch up to LPC vs CBC & CTV, 1988 (the case law) seems to be either entirely lost on them, or is simply being ignored. It wouldn't be the first time either transpired, especially where the Conservative Party happens to be involved.

And while the use of an ominbus budget bill to amend this legislation is a choice that is entirely open to be questioned (while omnibus bills are frequently used for such legislative "house-keeping," budget bills should contain the budget, and nothing else), that does not make the changes, in themselves, the sign of a malevolent or fascist government (as Don Martin recently suggested).

No matter how you slice it, there is more smoke than fire involved in this issue. It's just as simple as that.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Phatnom Menace: Attack Ads, the Media Party & the Collusion Scandal That Isn't

So this is happening: the Conservative Party is planning to introduce legislation amending the Canada Copyright Act to exempt political ads from copyrights held by newsmedia. And the Media Party is up in arms over it. Right? Right?

Well, yes and no. Yes, they are up in arms. No, it's not really a political thing.

Recently, emails exchanged between representatives of several news outlets were released. Some people are pretending that these emails are damning evidence of collusion between those news outlets, perhaps for political ends.

If that's the argument intended, then the emails will disappoint. Far from explosive, they're really a quite-banal series of continuous consultations between various news outlets trying to discuss how they will protect their copyrighted material.

The ultimate result of this correspondence was the following letter:
It's actually very underwhelming stuff. Apparently they're concerned that the use of their footage in political ads will raise questions about their independence. Never mind that all sorts of people already raise all sorts of questions about the political independence of the news media: conservatives complain that the news media is too left-wing, and the left complains that it isn't left-wing enough.

The only thing in these emails that comes even close to being provocative, let alone damning or explosive, is this email from CBC's McGuire:
There may inevitably be questions about what construes an "out-of-context" use and whether or not there is sufficient context to justify that. (For example, partisan Liberals love to cite "context" in regards to Justin Trudeau's expressed admiration for China's basic dictatorship, but there is no context present that would make an aspiring democratic leader's admiration for a dictatorship acceptable.)

There are plenty of questions that McGuire and company should feel themselves compelled to answer. Such as: is use of their footage to expose the relevant shortcomings of a political candidate -- as was done to Stephen Dion (who, regardless of how bitterly Liberals may lament it was not a leader) not in the public interest? And can media outlets actually refuse to air an ad because it happens to use footage that may (or may not, as the case may be) belong to another news outlet? Previous case history (LPC v CBC, CTV, 1988) seems to indicate that they don't. Political ads were deemed to be in the public interest.

Are the media party simply taking this stand to protect Justin Trudeau? Their emails make mention of the coming 2015 election only by way of acknowledgement of its approach. And again, the case history -- the Liberal Party suing in 1988 to force CTV and CBC to air their attack ads -- seems to indicate this is not a matter of their political preferences.

In short, this story just is not what some people are making it out to be.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Quick and the Dead: BCHRC's Showdown With Its Own Legitimacy

For as long as Human Rights Commissions have been controversial in Canada, it has frequently been said that no HRC would ever help a Christian.

It's been said that discrimination against Christians is an institutionally-accepted form of discrimination. But in the case of Bethany Paquette vs Amaruk Wilderness Group (aka an epic bunch of Norwegian assholes), that notion will be tested.

It hasn't been very often that a HRC news story in Canada has featured any actual, demonstrable discrimination. But this one has. This isn't t say that HRCs rarely deal with cases of genuine discrimination, but that those cases rarely make headlines. But this one has.

Bethany Paquette applied tfor a job with Amaruk Wilderness Group. Paquette is an experienced river rafting guide. She applied for a job as -- get this -- a guide. But she also has something that soured the deal: a biology degree from Trinity Western University.

So apparently it wasn't enough for Olaf Amundsen, a self-aggrandizing buffoon in the company's human resources department (as it were) to merely tell Paquette that she wasn't qualified for the job. (This would apparently be untrue, based on Paquette's experience.) Instead he felt compelled to write her an email abusing her for what he simply presumed were her religious beliefs.

"Unlike Trinity Western University, we embrace diversity, and the right of people to sleep with or marry whoever they want," he declared. But as it turns out, Amundsen is quite the bigot himself. "The Norse background of most of the guys at the management level means that we are not a Christian organization, and most of us actually see Christianity as having destroyed our culture, tradition and way of life."

Ironically, that's an allegation made against LFBT persons by those Christians who happen to believe in discriminating against them.  Mr Amundsen isn't nearly as different from such people as he'd like to believe.

If you read the law strictly, by the letter, Mr Amundsen and his friends at Amaruk are, to use a parlance he and his cohorts will appreciate, fucked. It's unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of their religion in matters of employment. Mr Amundsen may think himself clever enough to try to skate around it -- claiming that he was merely expressing his opinion after rejecting an allegedly-unqualified applicant. But Paquette;s qualifications put the lie to that. Mr Amundsen is entirely transparent, and dead to rights. Even the Britisch Columbia Civil Liberties Union seems to think as much.

He's not even necessarily wrong about some things. When he states that Trinity Western University's values covenant -- which requires students at the university to publicly affirm a belief in traditional marriage in order to be permitted to attend the university -- is discriminatory.

It's also inherently coercive. So for Amundsen to ascribe such beliefs to Paquette -- whether she believes in such things or not -- is presumptive. To then churn these presumptions out in an email laden with bigoted remarks about Christianity is, in a word, stupid.

Then again bigots such as Amundsen are rarely intellectual giants.

If the letter of the law is more important to the BCHRC than the individual biases of HRC commissioners, then Olaf Amundsen and Amaruk Winderness Group are, to put it most simply, fucked.

Unless, of course, all the people who have said that a Human Rights Commission would never help a Christian, even in cases of actual discrimination, are right. But if they are, then these institutions have no legitimacy at all, and must be abolished.

Your move, BCHRC.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Fighting Them Over There So We Don't Have to Fight Them Over Here

In regards to fighting terrorism and Islamic extremism, it's the oldest line in the book, so much so that it's at risk of being dismissed as an exhausted old cliche: we're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them over here.

There's actually good reason why this line is so frequently discounted as utterly hackneyed: it's been uttered by ever proponent f of the War on Terror who, when challenged on the necessity of the conflict, had no better answer. We're fighting them over there in Afghanistan, in Iraq, so we don't have to fight them over here.

With the United States, Britain, Canada and others set to open a new offensive against ISIS in Iraq, that line will be repeated again. But this time it's more true than ever before.

Let's look back a week: British aid worker Alan Henning -- not a soldier -- was beheaded by ISIS in cold blood. In response, The Independent ran a solid black font page. It read: "On Friday a decent, caring human being was murdered in cold blood. Our thoughts are with his family. He was killed on camera for the sole purpose of propaganda. Here is the news, no the propaganda."

It's a heartbreaking story. And sadly for Britain, it's not the first cold-blooded murder they've experienced at the hands of such extremists.

Let's look back a year: Just a little more than a year, actually. Lee Rigby is murdered in the streets of London, hacked to death by two Muslim extremists. Unlike Henning, Rigby was a soldier. Off duty, unarmed, beset upon by a pair of extremists with machetes in broad daylight. They then stood by Fusilier Drummer Rigby's corpse and professed their extremist beliefs until police arrived and promptly shot them (though unfortunately did not shoot them dead).

It was the most brazen terror attack in British history. Not during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, not even on 7/7 did terrorists so readily stand by their handiwork.

And the Rigby murder was not an isolated incident. They're threatening to do it again, right in the streets of Britain.

Peace-loving Muslims -- the ones who came to Britain to escape the barbarism of these extremists, the ones so frequently overlooked at times like these -- reacted now as they did then: with outrage over these heinous acts. They know as well as anyone what fighting this kind of savagery really means. As with their extremist counterparts we may not necessarily know them to see them, but we will know them by their actions. If they haven't already, they will let us know where we stand. We should be wise enough to embrace them when they do.

Canada would at least seem to have been far more fortunate. Islamic terror plots here have been thwarted. The RCMP and CSIS will likely have to be every bit as vigilant as they have been to date in order to ensure this remains the case. Judging from Britain's example we can't expect to continue to be so fortunate by fate alone.

We know who we're fighting. We've seen their handiwork. And we fight them in Iraq so that we don't have to fight them here.

It's not a cliche anymore.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Whip Out Your Ideas, Justin Trudeau: Let's See How Big They Are

“Why aren’t we talking more about the kind of humanitarian aid that Canada can and must be engaged in, rather than trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are?” Justin Trudeau asks.

Hoo boy. Leave it to the Liberal leader so simultaneously dump on the professionalism of the Royal Canadian Air Force -- as if they specialize in global pissing contests -- and provide an idea that, while it seems on the surface to be the sort of sunny response to a global situation that Liberals are known for, also turns out to be entirely half-baked.

Not that he really has any ideas.

In the course of a speech given to the Liberal-organized Canada 2020 conference, the only thing Trudeau would commit to in terms of ideas is that he hasn't made up his mind. He has no idea how to respond to the ISIS threat in the Middle East. He has no ideas, but he insists that Canadians shouldn't listen to the ideas of the other guys.

Good gawd. This is the guy who wants to be Canada's next Prime Minister. Who Liberals want to be Canada's next Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will roll out his government's proposal on how Canada will deal with ISIS tomorrow. The debate will be on Friday. Yet he and his party are acting as if they'd rather debate the matter this minute... with a leader who hasn't made up his mind yet.

This could only come from the Liberal Party and be passed off as if it were a tenable position. They've learned the easy way to not expect a lot of Canadians to think even once, let alone twice, about the base fatuousness of this position. Perhaps with good reason: one cannot think about the shortcomings of even the meagre offerings Trudeau has already mustered and still maintain that narcissistic sense of unjustified intellectual vanity that so often comes with being a Liberal.

Suppose that Canada were to do as Trudeau suggests, and send only a humanitarian mission to Iraq. How has ISIS already embraced aid workers there? They beheaded British aid worker David Haines. So if we provide aid to the two million people currently displaced within Iraq -- as well we should -- but do so without any boots on the ground to protect aid workers, what happens?

ISIS takes the heads of any aid workers they can get their hands on, and probably kills a good number of the people who those aid workers are intended to help. Hell, ISIS has placed that genocide on their agenda already.

Then ISIS takes aid supplies and turns it to their own use. Whether he intended to or not, Justin Trudeau would have just provided aid and comfort to the enemy. Not by treason, but by naivete.

No wonder Justin Trudeau won't talk about any ideas he may have. And I wouldn't expect him to anytime soon. No. Instead, he'll talk about the past: he'll talk about how Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2003 (when he wasn't yet Prime Minister) being taken by bad intel regarding the status of Saddam Hussein's ongoing quest to procure weapons of mass destruction.

Two million refugees in Iraq would happily -- if not cheerfully -- explain the difference between the 2003 and 2014 scenarios to Justin Trudeau if given the opportunity.

It's not likely that Trudeau is talking to many of them. No, he's too busy impugning the professionalism of the RCAF and making juvenile dick jokes to get around to that.

It's with the detail that the polls are currently in Justin Trudeau's favour that one of his vaunted advisors -- perhaps General Andrew Leslie -- should pull him aside and tell him to get his head in the game. Should he become Prime Minister he won't have the luxury of kicking back and making penis jokes while global events unfold. If, right now, he wants to become Prime Minister then he'd better start showing Canadians he's ready for it.

The time is now, Justin Trudeau. If you have any fully-baked ideas for how Canada should respond to ISIS, whip 'em out. Show us how big they are. But they'd better be bigger and better than what you've produced to date.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The CCPA CRA Audit Explained, As it Were

So, the Canada Revenue Agency is auditing the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for potential violations of the Income Tax Act related to charitable or non-profit organizations. The operating suspicion is that the CCPA has engaged primarily in political activities, as opposed to educational activities.

That's ridiculous, right?

Well... maybe not so much.

Writing in the Huffington Post, CCPA "economist" Toby Sanger sets out to challenge Prime Minister Stephen Harper's assertion that corporate tax cuts have not harmed Canada's overall corporate tax haul.

As it turns out, Sanger's argument hinges on the following graph:
Comically, the graph actually directly contradicts Sanger's claim. Pay close attention to how corporate income tax revenues interacted with CIT rate cuts between 2008 and 2014. Notice anything? Such as, say... modest yearly growth?

Certainly, Sanger can demonstrate an absolute decline in CIT haul between 2006 and 2014. Apparently the reader is supposed to simply presume that this is attributable to CIT rate cuts. Yet Sanger seems to have left out one crucial event that undoubtedly, undeniably affected Canada's CIT haul: the 2008 recession.

Go ahead: search Sanger's screed for the word "recession." You won't find it. It's not there.

How can an allegedly-seasoned economist like Sanger simply not mention the recession?

I think the answer is remarkably simple: mentioning the 2008 recession would remind readers that there is more to the absolute decline in CIT haul than simply CIT rates. Once the drastic drop between CIT hauls in 2006 and 2008 is revealed to be attributable to factors other than CIT rate cuts, the very premise of Sanger's article evaporates. And my bet is that Sanger knows this.

According to the Income Tax Act, charitable and non-profit organizations are tax-exempt if they engage in educational activities. But in deliberately excluding not only pertinent information -- but in fact the most pertinent information -- from his article, Sanger has crafted a piece that is not educational or even informational, but is in fact disinformational.

As such, it is inherently political.

And while neither Toby Sanger nor the Huffington Post saw fit to disclose his involvement with the CCPA, the question is still begged: does the nature of Sanger's work in the Huffington Post reflect the nature of his work for the CCPA?

If it does, the Canada Revenue Agency's audit of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives is in fact well-justified... and it will likely not end well for the CCPA.