Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal
Doesn't Anyone Get Angry Anymore?

Our Ambivalence to the Insolence of Authority
Beryl P. Wajsman 16 August 2004  

“The condition upon which man hath received liberty is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.”

~ Mr. Justice John Philpot Curran, “On the Right of Election”, Dublin, 1800




Three stories over the past few days highlight once again how ambivalent Canadians are to the insolent exercise of authority. Hopefully it is just the dog days of summer and not another affirmation of the brain death of the Canadian polity.


In Nova Scotia Prime Minister Martin stated unequivocally that he “…accepts Health Canada’s word…” that three high-profile whistleblowers fired in July were let go for “insubordination” and not for the scientists’ history of criticizing government policies. Well, now that the Prime Minister has put any questions to bed we can all sleep soundly. Of course small matters like transparency and due process should not bother anyone.


The inconsistencies of this government promising to introduce new legislation to protect whistleblowers; then formulating a law which came under severe criticism because it called for whistleblowers to report to their superiors first; then not even getting that law passed—and now supporting these arbitrary dismissals are too glaring to ignore.


Two of the scientists, Shiv Chopra and Margaret Haywood, originally went public in the 1990’s against a bovine growth hormone intended to increase milk production in cows that they claimed threatened Canada’s food chain. The third, Gerard Lambert, joined Chopra and Haywood in writing a letter to then Health Minister Anne McLellan following the discovery of mad cow disease in Canada. Insubordination indeed.


In Ottawa the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police proposed that surcharges be added to our phone bills to finance police wiretaps. Not just against terror suspects but against all criminals. This has to rank on a par with the lamentable suggestion of Quebec’s former Minister of Justice who suggested that certain prisoners pay for their time in jail.


Two fundamental questions need be raised about governance in this country. We all understand that our security apparatus needs certain powers to fight terrorists. But if our governments don’t have the budgets for policing, where the hell are our tax dollars going? Secondly, and perhaps as importantly, we need to remember that the most difficult task for all liberal democracies in fighting the enemies of freedom is not to become like them. We have to remember what we are fighting for. Clearly, national security considerations call for the expansion of certain police powers, but when it comes to the invasion of our privacy in all other realms we had better exercise great caution.


We would do well to recall that the expansion of our domestic electronic surveillance provisions in the Criminal Code in the late 1970’s occurred before the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 and was a source of great controversy. They probably would not have passed if introduced after the Charter. Prime Minister Trudeau himself demanded that then Minister of Justice Otto Lang narrow the use of the proposed wiretap law and increase notice and judicial review procedures. Many legal authorities testified before the Commons Justice committee on this issue including former U.S. Attorney-General Ramsey Clark. When the Chairman of the Committee asked Mr. Clark whether it was not appropriate to increase state wiretap powers since criminals had begun using electronic devices, Mr. Clark responded that many criminals practiced murder but he did not think that was an appropriate tool for the state.


Thankfully, Tom Copeland, spokesperson for the Canadian Association of Internet Providers, responded to the Police Chiefs by pointing out that if this idea was implemented Canadians “…would demand a great deal more explanation…” about where wiretaps were used and how they affected their constitutional and privacy rights. In the final analysis, with demands for access to information growing, this idea may actually hinder police work not help it.


The third story concerned the CRTC again. Corus Entertainment, the new owner of CKAC Radio in Montreal, is seeking permission to turn the station into an all-sports format. This would end almost 80 years of news leadership by CKAC in Quebec. CKAC news and talk programs have the widest audience with some 800,000 listeners. Additionally, Corus’ request would mean that 17 of 20 news people at the station would be fired, news programs would be reduced to 6 hours from 16, and all public –affairs programming would be abolished. To his credit, FTQ President Henri Masse has publicly come out against the request.


Coming so soon after the CRTC’s extraordinary incursion into the management of our expression by it’s recent cancellation of Quebec City’s CHOI-FM license, are we now to see the CRTC engaging in market manipulation as well. It was the CRTC after all that demanded that CKAC’s previous owner, Astral Media, divest itself of the station ostensibly to protect against media concentration. Yet Corus is the largest radio station conglomerate in Canada and owns 12 stations in Quebec including, surprise, surprise, Montreal’s only all news station CINW which is consistently flagging in the ratings.



The gift of our liberties is conditional upon constant vigilance. In its abscence power operates without restraint of consequence. And the outcome of that is inevitably our own servitude.