Look alive, Calgary! It’s time to vote!

I’ve written before about the importance of voting, and I’m doing it again.

Calgary heads to the polls on Monday, October 21 to elect city council and school board trustees.

Moses has civil pride; he's a proud Calgarian

Moses has civil pride; he’s a proud Calgarian

The last Calgary election was in 2010 where we elected our famous Mayor Nenshi (full disclosure: I’ve always been a fan of the Purple Wave).

nenshi_darwin

The 2010 municipal election had an interesting race for the Mayor’s seat and voter turnout was 53%, which sounds sad, but is actually a huge improvement.  In 2007 voter turnout was 33%.  In 2004 it was 18%.  EIGHTEEN PERCENT.  Pathetic.

Pollsters say that voter turnout plummets when there isn’t an interesting race for mayor, which may turn out to be the case this year, since no one has decided to challenge Mayor Nenshi (yet – the deadline for nominations isn’t until September 23, though, so that could still change).

But in Calgary, that lack of attention just silly.  There are 15 seats on city council – the Mayor is one of 15 votes.  To get something done, 7 other city councillors would need to agree with him.  Or any group of 8 councillors can get something passed (or stalled).  So even if the mayoral race isn’t interesting, Calgarians need to pay close attention to their Ward races, too, especially noting the Ward 1 and 2 Aldermen are retiring.  (Click here for Ward information.)

Federal and provincial elections often get much more attention from voters, but I think it’s downright stupid to forego the municipal election.  I’ve heard people say they don’t notice much change in their lives as the Prime Minister’s office changes between parties, but that’s not the case with city government.  Municipal politics directly affect everyone’s day to day lives, including things like:

  • snow ploughs (very important in Calgary and a common thing to complain about!)
  • transit: routes, budgets, infrastructure maintenance
  • property taxes and budget surplusses
  • essential services (police, fire)
  • school board governance
  • emergency response, like when a giant flood takes your city by surprise, for example
  • garbage and recycling pick up and curb-side composting
  • residential speed limits, school zones, playground zones
  • city parks, their maintenance, locations, and rules
  • even the placement of crosswalks and the repair of streetlights
  • business and construction licences
  • social issues like shark fin and retail pet sale bans, smoking bylaws
  • hot button issues like bridges, secondary suites, airport tunnels and ring roads
  • animal bylaws: from dog and cat licenses, to impounded and adoptable animals, to dangerous dog assessments
  • other bylaws: neighbours annoying you with their noise/messy lawn/grow-op?  The city helps you with that.
  • city festivals like Canada Day fireworks and the Stampede Parade
  • road building and maintenance: if someone wants to bulldoze your house to put in an overpass, your city councillor is your representative for that
  • lots of other things not listed here

So from your daily commute to taking out the garbage to building a new garage on your property, you can see how city government impacts day to day life.

Which is why it’s important to vote!

You have 65 days, Calgary, to research your candidates and make a decision.

Full election information can be found on the city’s website here.

All candidate information will be official after Nomination Day, on September 24, but you can already see candidates getting their names out there and knocking on doors.  Put them to the test!  Tweet them, Facebook them, call them up, get involved and tell them what’s important to you! Find out whose platform you agree with and throw up a lawn sign if you want!

Election Day is October 21.

Or, if you’re a keener like me, the advance polls are October 9-13, 15, and 16 (I always go to advance polls – the lines are shorter).   You can also mail in your ballot if needed.

Alma is all about civic engagement; she even walked to polls with me for the last provincial election.

Alma is all about civic engagement – she even walked to polls with me for the last provincial election.

Get on it, Calgary!  This is important!

And if you need a little extra help, Mayor Nenshi has set up a Vote Pledge – just sign up and get emailed election information and reminders.

Nenshi's Vote Pledge

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Don’t Toews Me, Bro

I feel like I owe you an explanation.

Especially if you follow me on Twitter and want to know why in H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks I felt so inclined to Tweet you all a lovely photo of my lunch today.

Remember back on January 18th when everyone participated in a blackout in protest of the American Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)?

Well, just one day without Wikipedia and the  House Judiciary Committee postponed further discussion until a better solution is figured out.  It was great to see the online community band together to protest SOPA.  And now we’re doing it again – but with an essential Canadian ingredient: passive aggression.

First, there is Bill C-11, the copyright reform bill.  The major problem with C-11 is the inclusion of a digital lock provisions.

As explained in the Montreal Gazette:

“Bill C-11 would make it illegal to break digital locks on media like DVDs and CDs, even if it is to make copies of content for backup or personal storage purposes. In some cases, critics say, it would even make it illegal to alter the format of a DVD bought in another region to enable it to play on a computer or DVD player. […] It would make it illegal to jailbreak an iPhone, or to copy a movie or DVD to your hard drive; it defines what you can and can’t do with media that you bought.”

In addition to the digital provisions, concerns also arise about what it may mean for the copying of texts for educational and research purposes by students and instructors.

Source: Canadian Coalition for Electronic Rights (CCER.ca)

BIll C-11 has been slated to go to committee where it could undergo further revisions.

But what’s really heating up right now is Bill C-30 (formerly Bill C-51).

The bill has been dubbed the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act by the Conservative government, which I’m sure sounds very perplexing because who in their right mind would protest that?

You’re right: no one.  But the means to that end is the problem.

As explained by the Calgary Herald:

“The law would require Internet service providers (ISPs) to install equipment that would allow them to monitor and preserve the Internet surfing activities of their customers. The providers could then be asked by police to collect and preserve surfing data of anyone suspected in engaging in criminal activity.

[The bill] would make it easier for law enforcement authorities to activate tracking mechanisms within cellphones so they can know the whereabouts of suspected criminals. If they’re suspected of being international terrorists, the law would allow such tracking to go on for a year, rather than the current 60-day limit, according to a previous incarnation of the law introduced last year.”

That’s right.  The handing over of personal information, without a warrant.  And now your personal information is being collected and stored by the authorities.  What could go wrong?

theglobeandmail.com

Conservative MP and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who does not participate in gutter politics, has accused those in opposition to Bill C-30 as standing with the “child pornographers”.

Our fearless leader and Prime Minister, Stephen Harper – ever the beacon of party unity – followed up with: “with regard to child pornography, our party is totally against it and I encourage the NDP [opposition] to adopt the same position.”

NationalPost.com

And now, even after saying he will “entertain amendments”, our pal Vic is the receiving the brunt of the Bill C-30 backlash.

VIc wants to read through all your personal information?  Let him.  In fact, let’s help out and get started early!

That’s the reasoning between #tellviceverything and #donttoewsmebro on Twitter; if the Public Safety Minister is so concerned with our actions, let’s ensure he’s in the loop – about everything!

Twitter users (yours truly included) are copying the MP in Tweets (cc @toewsvic), and I’m given to understand others are also copying him on their personal emails, leaving him detailed voicemails, and faxing copies of their grocery lists (seriously? people still fax things?).

A step even further has been the release of Vic’s own less-flattering and personal (but already public) information into the Twittersphere by the anonymous @vikileaks30, presumably giving him a taste of his own medicine.

The drama escalates as the source of @vikileaks30 was traced to the House of Commons and the Progressive Conservatives blame their political opponents while Vic demands an inquiry. [Update: the @vikileaks30 account has voluntarily shut down with the final message “I am shutting down before any other innocent people are targeted. Please keep up the fight against #C30 Canada.”  An unaffiliated mirror account has appeared reiterating many, if not all, of the original posts: @vikileaksmirror.]

“As we have said over the last number of days, we are not interested in any details of [Toews’] private life,” said NDP MP Chris Charlton to the National Post. “His public statements are troubling enough.”

So if you’re also not a fan of potential warrantless collection of information and being lumped in with pedophiles – and are even less impressed by the unlikely case that the government will be able to keep that large store of personal information safe and confidential – make sure you sign the petition here: http://stopspying.ca/ and tell your MP.  And Mr. Toews, of course.

Actually, just tell Vic everything.

Liberal MP, Justin Trudeau

Shark Fin Free

Toronto is really two for two when it comes to the municipal bans these days.

First, Toronto City Council unanimously bans the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.

And now, by a vote of 38-4, they have made Toronto the latest shark fin free city in Canada (well, as of September 1, 2012, when the ban takes effect).

“A group gathers outside Toronto City Hall on Tuesday ahead of a council vote on a proposed ban on the trade of shark fins.” (Anu Singh/CBC)

Sure, this topic may seem a little out of place at the Soapbox.  But just watch; we’ll come full circle.

I don’t know if you’ve seen the documentary Sharkwater (and if you haven’t, drop everything and get to it), but the whole reason a shark fin ban is a good idea is because upwards of 70 million sharks are estimated to be killed annually for their fins.  And it’s not pretty – the fins are often removed and the sharks are returned to the water alive, finless.  Not to mention the countless other sea creatures that fall victim to the longlines in the process.  It’s a senseless practice, all in the name of shark fin soup.

And how is this cruel form of over-fishing accepted?

Because sharks are basically the aquatic version of the bully breed.  Who cares what harm may be done to these man-eating monsters?

Rob Stewart free diving with Caribbean reef sharks. Freeport Bahamas. Photo: Veruschka Matchett (sharkwater.com)

The film Sharkwater is an excellent counter to the blood-thirsty shark stereotype, and very akin to the way pitbull advocates combat their own misconceptions and BSL issues, Canadian Rob Stewart is trying to bring a little reality and perspective to popular opinion of sharks.

I mean, did you know you are more likely to get struck by lightning or killed in a sand hole collapse than killed by a shark?  264 million people enter the water in the United States each year – and only 23 people had unfavourable shark encounters in 2000 (and they all survived to tell the tale).

And I’d also like to say that personally, as a diver, the prospect of seeing a shark on a dive is awesome and exciting.  And I’d like them to have all of their fins, thank you.

Yours truly.

Here’s hoping more Canadian cities follow Toronto’s lead when it comes to both recent bans.

Though, I suppose there’s a little irony in that several cities – in the one province in Canada with a pitbull ban – have the backs (dorsals?) of another misunderstood creature.  BSL repeal, please.

In the meantime, be careful not to patronize any restaurants serving shark fin soup, and check for a shark fin free campaign in your area.

Information on Shark Fin Free Calgary can be found here – be sure to sign the petition!

Book Nerd Mecca

I am not allowed to buy books.

It came to my attention a couple of years ago that I was obtaining books faster than I was reading them – to the point that I owned 32 unread books.  So I put a moratorium on book purchasing.  For myself, anyway.  I left the loophole of receiving books as gifts wide open.

The other exception to the rule is the annual Servants Anonymous Society of Calgary Book Sale, which runs Friday through Sunday for two weekends in June.

The annual book sale is like a holiday I look forward to.  I took the day off work, made a mental list of books I’d like to look for, and made my way down for the sale opening this morning at 10:00.  I was greeted by a lengthy queue.

I’m not the only one excited for the book sale.

After paying my $2.00 entry and getting my hand stamp…

Pandemonium. Nerdy, polite, musty pandemonium.

Servants Anonymous has been doing the book sale for nine years now, and to their credit, it’s a pretty smooth operation.  The line-ups may seem long – to both enter and pay – but they do move quickly.  And it’s worth the wait.  All soft covers are $2.00 each (or ten for $15), hardcovers are $3.00 (or four for $10).  Children’s books and harlequin romances run even cheaper.

And if tonnes of books for crazy cheap isn’t good enough for you, all funds go to a good cause, supporting Servants Anonymous Society of Calgary and Postmedia Raise-a-Reader program.

Biographies

And there are as many boxes of books as you can imagine.

This guy is clearly a seasoned book sale veteran.

On the tables.  Under the tables.  Come prepared to search.

The classics section – my favourite.

And in addition to the main book sale melee, there is also an enclosed section for “special” books.  This section includes really old books, first editions, and signed copies.

Some “special” books. The children’s books in this section are awesome – old copies of Bobbsey Twins, Anne of Green Gables… you name it.

And this section is the reason I squirrel away some spending money specifically for the book sale every year.  Last year there was a beautiful, ornate latin Bible dated sometime in the 1700s.  The Religious Studies and Philosophy nerd in me was in love.  It was going for $500 so I left without it, but vowed never to let that happen again.

The extra special books are kept under glass.

This year there was no must-have (to me) priced in the hundreds, and while I toyed with taking home the very pretty One Touch of Nature (seen above) for $50, its real significance was lost on me, so I left it for someone else to appreciate.

18 books for $100

But I did happily come home with all the ones you see above.  Left pile from the general pool; the right stack from the “special” section.

The dog training selection was pretty limited, though they did seem to have well over a hundred copies of Marley & Me (also spotted in abundance: The Da Vinci Code; Eat, Pray, Love; The English Patient).  But I was able to pick up two Monks of New Skete books that – regardless of what you may think of them in particular – I’ve always wanted to read.

I’m also happy to have found A Fine Balance, which I looked for last year but didn’t find.  I’m told it will make me cry for days – challenge accepted.  And a 1935 copy of The Republic of Plato – who could turn that down?  Or a First Canadian Edition 1947 of Mrs. Mike, which I’d never heard of but was suggested to me by someone else sorting through books next to me, so I took the recommendation.

The most expensive book I brought home was this one, for $40:

Looks pretty unassuming.

Church Debts; Their Origin, Evils, and Cure (1851)

Random, I know.  But also super cool and it smells fantastic.  And I’m looking forward to reading it.

And even though that one was the most expensive, this one I got for $10 is my favourite:

The Lady of the Lake: A Poem in Six Cantos, by Sir Walter Scott

And this in particular is why it’s my favourite:

People don’t write inscriptions in books anymore, do they?

And so the ban on buying books remains… until next year.

Kindle schmindle.

Vote, Damnit!

Up until in what was probably sometime in 2008, I was a dedicated listener of a particular Calgary radio station.  With some notable exceptions (*cough*Nickelback*cough*), this radio station generally plays the kind of music I prefer and has a popular morning show I would listen to on my way to work.

But one fateful morning several years ago would be the last that I listened to that particular radio station.

Since 2006, the Progressive Conservatives headed up by Stephen Harper have been in charge with a minority government.  And regularly since then, the opposing parties have threatened at various times and in various ways to dramatically topple the government and either force another election (surprisingly, not responsible for the 2008 election) or take over with a minority coalition.

Cuddling kittens is just one way our Prime Minister proves he’s an average Joe. (See: http://thingsharperdoestoseemhuman.tumblr.com/)

This particular morning show – as many here are – was unabashedly in favour of the party you would expect a Calgarian show to be openly in favour of.  Which was fine, I suppose; I was mostly just listening for the music.

But then the namesake of this particular morning show said something unforgivable.

Rather than advocating for a particular party, politician, or platform, he suggested that if those hooligans in the opposition go forward with a motion of non-confidence and force an election, everyone should just stay home.  Don’t vote.  “Send a message”, he said.  Don’t participate in that treachery.

And since that morning, the dial on my car has been elsewhere on the FM bandwidth.  Because that is actually worse than the occasional Black Eyed Peas song.

To advocate voter apathy – even in an uneducated attempt to label it a defiant political statement – was the last straw on the morning show that devised the “ass cream sundae” as part of a listener contest.  Should I have drawn the line earlier?  Probably.

Pity my poor husband who had to put up with me, still ranting and raving when I got home that evening about how it was completely irresponsible of a public figure, even just the local celebrity kind, to be promoting voter apathy.  October 2008’s federal election saw a voter turnout at a record low: 58.8%.  Pathetic.

If you want to “send a message”, sitting at home watching Two and a Half Men reruns is no way to do it.  If you don’t show up to the polls, no government official sits up and thinks about it.  They just think you don’t care, because there is no way to discern your staying at home out of protest from those who actually don’t care.

Want to send a message?  Vote!

Vote for a party or particular MP you’d like to see in power.

Or see it the other way, and use your vote to count against a particular party you definitely do not want to see win a seat.  If you’re not sure how to do this, check out websites like Vote Swap and Project Democracy.

Hate them all?  Or the system generally?  You can still show up to the polls and reject your ballot.

Provincial elections in Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and the Yukon allow voters to show up at the polling station and actually refuse their ballots, keeping a tally of refused ballots.

For federal elections, the option is to reject your ballot.  This is different than spoiling your ballot.  Spoiling you ballot is to damage or deface it and to do so would run you a $500 fine if the nature of voting weren’t so inherently anonymous (unless you try to eat your ballot, which spoils both your ballot and your appetite).  So while you might get satisfaction out of folding yours into a paper airplane or writing a big “F-U” on it, those ballots don’t get counted and are just recycled away with other ones that are accidentally damaged.

To reject your ballot is different.  You can do so by submitting your ballot blank, by checking off two or more choices, or by writing in someone who is not a candidate.  Elections Canada actually tallies the rejected ballots, and in the 2008 election, 94,799 rejected ballots were counted (0.7%).

Though I suppose this method runs the risk of your ballot being lumped in with those honest/stupid mistakes that can also lead to rejected ballots, it still means you are politically involved.  Ballots are pretty straightforward and as idiot-proof as possible, so I might be so bold as to say the majority of those are intentional, which actually sends a message.

But the bottom line is: vote!

On Monday get off your ass and have your opinion counted if you didn’t already make it to the early polling stations.  Employers are required to give at least 3 consecutive hours so employees can make it to the polls.  Your card should be in the mail, but you don’t even need to be registered – just show up at your polling station on May 2 with your driver’s license.

I know, I know.  Canadian elections aren’t nearly as sexy as the campaigns put on by our neighbours to the south.  No one is asking for Stephen Harper’s birth certificate.  No one is calling Michael Ignatieff a “secret Muslim”.  And we have no noisy, crazy fringe groups naming themselves after 18th Century hot beverage disputes.

But it’s still important, and while they are trying (“hashtag fail”?), citizens in several other countries are fighting desperately for the right we take for granted.  It is our simple duty (how very Kantian) to spend at least an hour looking into the various parties and their candidates and determining where our priorities align.  Besides, the more you pay attention to current political events, the more interesting they become – even the French debate!

And like every major decision out there, there are a variety of online resources to help with this, not to mention the actual party websites themselves.

Want to vote with the party that best represents your animal welfare concerns?  WSPA asked each party about where they stand on animal-related issues, and you can see the results here.

Like to use online quizzes to best see which character from Friends you are or which party best represents your opinions?  CBC has a fun Vote Compass here.  Now, I’m not saying you should take the quiz and vote the results; I took the Vote Compass twice, got a different result each time and still plan to vote neither.

Apparently I’m a Chandler.

Listen.  I get it.  The same party wins by a landslide each time in my riding and it’s not the one I vote for.  But I’ve never missed an election, and this year will be the first time I wasn’t able to hit up the advanced polls like the keener that I am.  Actually, until Calgary’s 2010 municipal election, I had no idea what it felt like to have my chosen candidate actually win.  It was unsettlingly satisfying.

Yes, the first-past-the-post system sucks.  There are several blogs, websites, and undergrad poli-sci classes dedicated to the injustice that allows a party to govern with as little as 35% of the votes, and how 37% of the popular vote absurdly translates to 46% of the seats.

2008 Federal Election results as reported by trusty Wikipedia.

It’s a dumb system, I know, but that’s not grounds to stay home on Election Day.

Nothing’s going to change if you don’t have your vote counted.  On the other side of that same coin, if you like the status quo, you better get out there and vote to maintain it.

In short:  VOTE ON MONDAY.

February is ‘What’ Month?

Is it just me, or do an overwhelming number of causes seem to be staking their claim to the month of February?

Without raising awareness for any number of causes, February is already pretty busy with perhaps some of the most ridiculous cultural observances.  Groundhog Day is on the 2ndWorld Nutella Day is on the 5th (not ridiculous).  Valentine’s Day is on the 14th.  Family Day also brings the year’s first long weekend (also not ridiculous), and occasionally February has an extra day, which isn’t very remarkable and is mostly a just pain when it comes to calculating certain kinds of interest.

February 5: World Nutella Day

I don’t exactly know what it is about February that is so attractive for Random Cause Awareness, and I also don’t know why it just struck me this year, but there seems to be a lot going on these 28 days.  Is this because it provides for the shortest possible campaign?

First and foremost is Black History Month, which is not only the most legitimate cause staking claim to the month, but it’s also been in place since 1976.  The rules of shotgun are pretty clear.

Second most renowned would probably be American Heart Month, drawing attention to heart health and cardiovascular disease, and marketing the connection with Valentine imagery.

And as I’ve recently learned, people concerned with our teeth have also decided February is the month to target (not November – post-Halloween?), declaring it both National Dental Month and National Pet Dental Health Month.

So, while questions arise about whether or not an awareness month means we can or do neglect certain issues the rest of the year (I don’t know about you, but I brush and floss outside of February, too), I also wondered, what other ‘month’ is February?

As it turns out, lots.  Perhaps winter boredom means we have more time to dedicate to various causes?  Or perhaps certain companies have figured out that declaring a day or month in the name of something leads to easy and efficient marketing?  And is there something to be said about the plethora of odd February causes detracting from the few legitimate ones?

In any event, some of February’s highlights include:

Great American Pies Month
Library Lovers Month (maybe this should be year round)
National Bird Feeding Month
National Boost-Your-Self-Esteem Month (after those failed New Year’s resolutions?)
National Canned Food Month (because winter means less fresh food?)
National Care About Your Indoor Air Month
National Get To Know and Independent Real Estate Broker Month
National Grapefruit Month (canned?)
National Hot Breakfast Month
National Snack Food Month
National Chocolate Lover’s Month (buy yourself Valentine’s chocolate without the guilt?)
National Sweet Potato Month
National Time Management Month
National Weddings Month
Return Shopping Carts to the Supermarket Month
Spunky Old Broads Month

It’s getting a little ridiculous, isn’t it?

Now, instead of having to pick and choose where your focus will be throughout February, I think I’ve figured out a way to knock out all of less significant observances in one shot: one meal at a library with a spunky old broad who just happens to be a real estate broker, serving heart-shaped crepes with Nutella and canned grapefruit, and a side of sweet potato hash browns, finished off with a slice of pie and some pretzels.  While heading out to brush you and your pets’ teeth, you scatter some birdseed and breadcrumbs, and return a couple of shopping carts –all while wearing formal wedding attire.  I think completing all of the above would be some excellent time management, which, of course, should boost your self-esteem.

Done.

Burt Reynolds celebrates his birthday in February. Isn’t that interesting?

Freedom of Speech: Does not justify being a douche

A recent exchange of… let’s call them opinions… on my Facebook page got me thinking about the concept of free speech.

The short-form background is that I shared an article about the Salvation Army’s clear anti-gay agenda, and alluded to the fact that I will not and do not support this organization.  A Facebook… let’s say acquaintance… of mine then openly endorsed ol’ Sally Ann’s platform.  Upon clarifying this… opinion, I promptly deleted the comments.  I did not think Facebook was the appropriate forum to engage in such a debate nor did I want my profile associated with that kind of sentiment. 

Of course, my censorship of my profile was met in protest: “well, so much for freedom of speech!”

I deleted the protest, too.

Why?

The answer is two-fold: (1) Because the term “freedom of speech” is not actually a legitimate cover for racist, sexist or otherwise hateful remarks; and (2) because my personal profile doesn’t apply to this concept, even if it were valid.

Trusty Wikipedia tells me that “freedom of speech” generally is “the concept of the inherent human right to voice one’s opinion publicly without fear of censorship or punishment”.

Well, let me tell you, had I left that comment up there much longer, punishment certainly would have ensued.  I received a handful of texts and others messages about it by the time I’d even noticed it.

On top of the blanket notion of freedom of speech, is the Canadian definition.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees each citizen the freedom of thought, belief, expression, opinion and media.  But there’s a BUT: subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Read that last part again in case you’re not following.  “Reasonable limits prescribed by law.”

To elaborate, no, in Canada you actually are not entitled to spew any inane thing that pops into your head.  You can’t publish false information.  You can’t incite genocide.  You can’t promote hatred against other people based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic origin. 

We do not have an absolutist, American-style, First Amendment freedom of speech where even hate speech is generally permitted.  Certain types of speech have consequences under our Criminal Code.

Of course, let us pause for the obligatory Voltaire quote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”  Reciting this almost seems mandatory in discussions about freedom of speech does it not?  (Irony.)  However, in social situations, good sense and common courtesy should dictate that just because you can say something doesn’t always mean you should.  Lincoln is credited with saying “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

This brings me to the other almost cliché point to be made in the course of this discussion, which is that you still cannot “falsely [shout] fire in a crowded theatre”.  That’s Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., an American Supreme Court Justice who is long deceased.  On the American notion of free speech, it means there are still limits to speech that is dangerous, reckless, malicious or false, and that serves no conceivable useful purpose.  So no, you can’t incite riots below the border, either, and you can still be sued for slander and defamation.

So can you say whatever you want up here in the Great White North?  No, technically you cannot.  I imagine (hope) you can still say most of the things you want to say; we’re just asking that you keep your bigotry to yourself – talkin’ to you, Ms. Coulter.  We distinguish between discourse and discrimination.  This means that you certainly can walk around town with your unfavourable, controversial, or questionable ideas on a sandwich board if you like; you just can’t promote hatred or contempt towards others while doing so.  Given that Canadians are renowned for politeness, and tend to follow the British way of doing things, this really shouldn’t surprise anyone.

And while some of our neighbours to the south bemoan and ridicule our lack of a no-holds-barred freedom of speech policy, I can only smile as f-bombs and nudity abound on CBC on your average weeknight (warning: this may be hyperbole), while their censors block out “Goddamn”.

Do I think the Canadian fine print leaves us better off?  Hells yes.  I honestly do not believe I have missed out on any significant truths or revelations by being deprived of certain Holocaust-denying treatises and whatnot.  Yet, despite our free speech “restrictions”, I am still aware of these fringe groups and their general platforms, so obviously they’re not that restricted. 

Of course I’m not looking to silence differing opinions, but we need rational thought, discussion and discourse to be productive.  You may not (likely won’t) change anyone’s mind when debating those big-ticket, über-controversial issues, but if you stick to rational, logical arguments and information you might just learn something or teach someone.  Blind, short-sighted, shallow statements that stem from nothing but hate, prejudice and misinformation, however, can be left to the wayside.

The bottom line here?  “Freedom of speech” doesn’t actually apply the way certain folks wish/think it did, especially in Canada, so I’d really like to stop seeing the concept abused; it’s not a free pass for douchebaggery.

Additionally, the only jurisdiction my Facebook profile is under is the Law of Me, so I’ll censor as I see fit.  Being that my blog here has less of an association with my personal life and identity, I will let more things fly in the comments section, so I encourage you to test boundaries.  Unless you’re posting spam, that is – talking to you homeopathic medicine peddlers.

No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.
-Also Voltaire

An Open Letter to Mayor Nenshi et al.

After motivating myself with my most recent post, Preventing Puppy Mills, I have sent the following letter to all addressed.  I encourage any like-minded individuals to sign and send a copy of this – or a similar – letter themselves.  All the contact information you need is below.  Let’s make a change!

 

October 19, 2010

Mr. Naheed Nenshi
Office of the Mayor
The City of Calgary
P.O. Box 2100, Station
Calgary, Alberta   T2P 2M5Via E-mail: themayor@calgary.ca
Via Facsimile: 403-268-8130   
 
Aldermanic Offices (8001)
The City of Calgary
P.O. Box 2100, Station M
Calgary, Alberta   T2P 2M5
V
ia Facsimile: 403-268-8091 and
403-268-3823

 

Dear Sirs/Mesdames,

Congratulations to all for your recent election wins!  And congratulations on making this the most exciting civic election Calgary has seen in recent memory.

I know you’re all going to be very busy, adjusting to working together as a team, and tackling issues like the budget, Enmax, and the airport tunnel.  But once the dust settles and you’ve found your groove, I have a request.

As you may or may not know, this month Richmond, B.C. became the first Canadian city to agree to ban the sale of dogs and puppies in pet stores.  Their by-law is expected to be finally adopted in November and to take effect on April 30, 2011.

I would like Calgary to follow suit. 

I am requesting that our new city council work together on a by-law to prevent the sale of companion animals (dogs and cats) in pet stores.  This is a slight expansion on Richmond’s by-law, since I am proposing Calgary ban the sale of all companion animals in pet stores, not just dogs.

Calgary is a very progressive city when it comes to its By-Law and Animals Services, and we are held as an example world-wide on how we deal with our animal laws.  As our city’s population grows, the number of “aggressive dog incidents” is on the decline, and it is no coincidence; we hold owners responsible for their pets’ actions.  We don’t discriminate on size or breed, and our city is also a leader in pet licensing, with estimates stating over 90% of pet dogs in our city our licensed.

A by-law preventing the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores can only add to our résumé.

Preventing the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores does two things:

1.  It eliminates a medium through which puppy mills sell their dogs and “kitten factories” sell their kittens; and

2.  It prevents the impulse purchase of pets. 

Point (1) should be obvious.  Puppy mills and “kitten factories” are high volume breeders who have little to no regard to the mental and physical well being of both their “breeding stock” animals and the offspring they sell.  The animals are bred in sub-standard and inhumane conditions – often in dirty, cramped kennels, literally living in their own feces.  They experience zero socialisation with other animals or human beings, and are malnourished and over-bred.  There is no concern for hereditary health conditions or inbreeding; the goal is to produce and sell as many puppies and kittens as possible.  Look it up – the horrors will make your stomach churn.  These puppies and kittens are then taken from their parents well before the recommended 8-10 week age, resulting in inevitable behaviour issues, just so that they are young and cute for the pet store window.  The squalid conditions they are born in and the disregard for proper breeding standards often results in serious undiagnosed and hereditary medical health problems.  And then, once owners are faced with these unexpected problems, these animals usually end up in shelters.

This leads us to point (2), preventing impulse pet purchases, which will help reduce the population of rescue animals.  Pet owners who did not properly think through their purchase and what they were getting into are a large supplier of rescue dogs in the first instance. 

In addition, not allowing pet stores to sell companion animals will allow rescue organizations and reputable breeders to fill the niche.  Shelter adoptions will increase, and as a result euthanasia will decrease.  Albuquerque, New Mexico has noticed a shelter adoption increase of 23% and euthanasia decrease of 35% since enacting their ban in 2006.

No, bans like the proposed will not completely solve the problem, since the internet is still a popular tool used by puppy mills and the like, but it does remove one medium of sale while also creating public awareness.

And if we look to Richmond, B.C. as an example (and the several American cities with similar bans in place), such a by-law is generally met with widespread public support.  Granted, a couple of pet stores will undoubtedly voice their opposition, but Richmond’s Mayor Brodie said it best: “It seems to be acknowledged by all the parties that there is a problem with so-called puppy mills, that sell dogs in very high volumes and that are subjected to inhumane treatment.  So it’s a question of how do we deal with that. At the local level, there are only a few levers at our disposal, and we want to do what we can.”

I would like Calgary to do what it can.

For this, I would like to provide you with the section of Albuquerque’s Code of Ordinances on this issue as an example (Ch. 9, Article 2):

§ 9-2-4-4   SALE OR GIFT OF AN ANIMAL.

(A) Public Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of an Animal upon a street, sidewalk, public park, public right-of-way or other public property.  Adoption events approved by the Mayor, or any adoption events held by a Rescue Group or Rescue individual are exempt.

(B) Commercial Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of any Animal upon commercial property including parking lots, with or without the property owner’s permission.  [Permit] Holders are limited to the property the Permit was issued for.  Adoption events approved by the Mayor are exempt.

(C) Residential Property.  No Person shall display, sell, deliver, offer for sale, barter, auction, give away, or otherwise dispose of any Companion Animal puppies or kittens upon residential property without a Litter Permit.

(D) Sales Incentives.  No Person shall offer a live Animal as an incentive to purchase merchandise or as a premium, prize, award, or novelty.

(E) Advertising.  No Person shall advertise puppies or kittens for sale in any local periodical without a valid Litter Permit number conspicuously listed in the advertisement.   No Person shall advertise any Animal for sale in the City of Albuquerque using any roadside signs, flyers, handbills or billboards.

With this in mind, I request council consider a similar addition to Calgary’s by-laws.

I thank you very much for your time.

Yours truly,

Jen _________
Voter; Ward ___ Resident

 

Copies To:
Dale Hodges, Ward 1 Alderman, dalehodges@telus.net

Gord Lowe, Ward 2 Alderman, gord.lowe@calgary.ca; gordlowe@gordlowe.org

Jim Stevenson, Ward 3 Alderman, ward03@calgary.ca
Gael Macleod, Ward 4 Alderman, ward04@calgary.ca  
Ray Jones, Ward 5 Alderman, aldjones@telus.net
Richard Pootmans, Ward 6 Alderman, ward06@calgary.ca, richardp@richard4ward6.com
Druh Farrell, Ward 7 Alderman, ward07@calgary.ca
John Mar, Ward 8 Alderman, ward08@calgary.ca
Gian-Carlo Carra, Ward 9 Alderman, ward09@calgary.ca
Andre Chabot, Ward 10 Alderman, ward10@calgary.ca
Brian Pincott, Ward 11 Alderman, ward11@calgary.ca
Shane A. Keating, Ward 12 Alderman, ward12@calgary.ca, shane@shanekeating.ca
Diane Colley-Urquhart, Ward 13 Alderman, ward13@calgary.cadcolley@calgary.ca

Pe
ter Demong, Ward 14 Alderman, ward14@calgary.ca

City Clerk’s Office, cityclerk@calgary.ca

City of Calgary, Animal & By-Law Services, via facsimile: 403-268-4927

 Calgary Humane Society, humane.education@calgaryhumane.ca