Friday, June 22, 2007

No-fly list should be the last straw for Canadians concerned about their rights

The no-fly list should mark a turning point, the time when Canadians push back at increasingly intrusive - and dubious - security measures.
"Passenger Protect" is under way in Canada. Every time you go to take a flight, the airline will check your name against a secret list compiled by the Transportation Department.
If your name is on the list, you'll be barred from flying. (Or if someone with the same name is on the list.)
You can't find out if you're on the list. That's a secret. It's also a secret how many people are suspects. The government says between 500 and 2,000 so far. The number is growing.
And there's no set criteria - no requirement that people on the list have committed crimes; no need for evidence; no independent review.
And no chance to clear your name, because you never know you've been blacklisted.
The Transportation Department consults CSIS and the RCMP to see who should be listed. Names are proposed and added to the list, which is available to all airlines operating in Canada.
The government says it also might be shared with other nations and their security agencies. Bad luck for someone who - like Maher Arar - ends up in Syria or some other country, pegged as a potential terrorist based on bad information, or a confused informant.
The government insists that only people who are serious threats will go on the list.
But if these people are so dangerous, why are we only restricting their ability to fly? Aren't they being watched? And wouldn't people who are real threats have already considered the possibility that they might be on the list, and instead send someone else on a flight?
In fact, if you plan to attack an airplane, wouldn't it make sense to book a trial flight first, to see if the government is on to you?
Of course, the most dangerous people won't likely be on the list. They aren't in the U.S., because security officials think that would make it too easy for potential terrorists to check on whether they have been detected. They just have to try to take a flight; if they're turned away, they can go underground.
The no-fly list in its present form, even if it were useful, would be unacceptable.
But it's not useful. The only person who could be caught would be a sloppy, stupid and lazy potential attacker. The kind of person who would be caught anyway.
For that tiny, illusory promise of increased safety, Canadians are being asked to give up our basic rights and freedoms.
We're presumed innocent in this country. If the state has concerns about our actions, it can certainly keep files on us.
But when it wants to interfere with a citizen's life, the state has to show evidence and give the accused a chance to respond.
That most basic protection is being sacrificed. Based on a secret accusation - a mistake, malicious charges by an enemy, misidentification - people will be denied the right to fly and put at risk of arrest in some other country.
There is an appeal. But your name could be on a list today and you wouldn't know it. You might find out on the day you try to fly to your daughter's wedding and are turned away.
Since 9/11 most of the things that have made our lives worse have come from our governments' response to terror threats, not from external enemies. From the small, like the increased difficulty in travelling; to the dramatic, like our troops involvement in the Afghan war.
We've tolerated the changes, hopeful they were needed to keep us safe.
But it's time to stop. When our government proposes to create lists of enemies and deny them the right to travel - and in the process accomplish little in terms of real safety - things have gone too far.
Footnote: Why do we have a no-fly list? Because it will please the U.S., the only other country with a similar program. It will give the illusion of increased safety. And because security forces always want to compile lists of suspect people and find ways to use them. It is the politicians who are supposed to guard citizens' rights.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Premier's interference steers B.C. Lotteries wrong way

Investors get nervous when a company director becomes so concerned about its direction that he resigns.
Directors are usually onside, or they leave quietly when their term ends. If they bolt, it's considered bad news.
John Bell has just bolted. He resigned as a director of the B.C. Lottery Corp. last _week. Bell, a consultant, was among the B.C. Liberals' early appointments to the board back in 2001, in the months following their election win.
Bell says his resignation wasn't related to the devastating B.C. ombudsman's report on the failure of both the lottery corporation and the government to protect customers from fraud.
"I am leaving the board due to differences of opinion subsequent to the report's release.," he said in a news release.
Which leaves a couple of likely explanations. Either Bell disagreed with the board's decision - made under some political pressure - to fire corporation CEO Vic Poleschuk in the wake of the report.
Or he balked at the board's willingness to hire an interim CEO pushed on it by Premier Gordon Campbell.
It's tough to see how Poleschuk could have stayed, given the ombudsman's report. It found a failure to establish procedures that would protect people who bought lottery tickets from fraud; a lack of meaningful response when people raised complaints; and an empty, misleading response when the problem became public last fall.
Though then again, it's tough to see how others in government - including Solicitor General John Les - have kept their jobs. The failure of the Gambling Policy and Enforcement Branch to do anything about the problem over the last five years is just as serious. And the branch was just as misleading in its response to the initial reports of fraud risk.
If Bell has concerns about the choice of an interim CEO, they would be justified.
Faced with a major crisis and the need to re-establish public trust, the board should have been looking hard for an interim CEO who would take on the job without any baggage. Maybe a retired corporate type from outside the gambling industry.
Instead, it picked Dana Hayden, who had been Premier Gordon Campbell's deputy minister of strategic policy. Campbell said he had suggested the board hire her; the board apparently considered a suggestion from the premier a pretty good recommendation.
Hayden has a good reputation and she has held senior positions under both the NDP and Liberal governments in her 23-year career in the B.C. government.
But it is a bad hire for a board serious about regaining the public trust.
Just as it shows poor judgment for the premier to have influenced - or instructed - the board to hire someone from his office. The Liberals have made much of the need for independent directors, managing Crown corporations free from political interference. Now, the premier has ignored the principle with the kind of appointment he would have fiercely condemned in opposition.
Campbell points to Hayden's past experiences as CEO of the Crown Agencies Secretariat, the government branch that oversees and supports B.C. Lotteries and other government-owned companies. But that's a negative under the circumstances. These problems developed despite the role being played by the secretariat.
More critically, the lottery board's responsibility is to fix the serious problems identified by the ombudsman and restore fading public confidence in the gambling industry in B.C. That means rooting out the past problems, identifying weaknesses and fixing them.
The premier's interest - inevitably - will be seen as being focused on minimizing political damage from the scandal.
So it doesn't matter how Hayden approaches the job. The fact that she worked in the premier's office and was Campbell's choice creates a damaging perception.
The public's confidence in the B.C. Lottery Corp, is critical. Without it, the government's plan to create more gamblers and persuade them each to lose more money won't work.
And its first steps in the wake of the lottery scandal are taking it in the wrong direction.
Footnote: The next item tough day for the board will likely come when it reveals whether Poleschuk receives a severance payment that could reach $500,000. The corporation has said so far no decision has been made. But if the money gets paid, expect some tough questions about why an executive who has been terminated is eligible for a payout.