One of my favourite movies from the last few years was A Winter’s Bone. Harsh, dark allegory in the small hills and hard lives of the Ozarks. Brilliant noir meets western sensibilities in a morality play about how norms, rules and power play out in the shadow of the law. Like the Coen brothers without any of Tarantino’s glib distance from what’s happening.
How dark are you willing to go? Snowtown (or, for North Americans unlikely to pick up the box of what sounds like a ski-weekend comedy, The Snowtown Murders) is a kind-of horror movie, sans both the genre’s exhausting titillation and its sense of the Gothic. Rather, a depressing window on the conditions under which criminality gets normalized. In that way like Breaking Bad, except it doesn’t try to win points by having protagonists you care about. Very violent, with some scenes of torture made all the more nauseating when you know the movie is based on real case history.
A “lighter” option (because it is about terror rather than horror) is Animal Kingdom. By making a movie about bank robbers without any bank robberies, the writers are able to create the perfect setting for a portrayal of the fear of living with people who you know are not only capable of profound violence, but also under constant threat of becoming its victims. That set up is executed perfectly, by having the camera rather than the dialogue do most of the heavy lifting. Had my adrenaline running to the point I actually had to pause it at points, even though there are no explosions, no quick cuts, no firefights, and only one (very subdued) chase scene.
Another great movie that lets the camera do most of the psychologizing is Martha Marcy Mae Marlene. Also some unsettling violence, but here most of it is implied rather than played out – save one startling scene that thankfully ends quickly. Provides an insider’s view of what it might feel like to join a cult, and in particular, of the way in which transgression is used to maintain group coherence, and what that means for members if and when they leave.
A cute, off-kilter take on cults, though one that provides less insight into what we are like as social beings is The Sound of My Voice. I dare you to watch the first 12 minutes (which you can, online) and not feel like you have to see the end game. Replaces the sociology of Martha Mae with the soft-focus metaphysics of a freshman dorm-room. Is she or isn’t she? The narrative provides just enough misdirection to make you feel at the end that the answer can only be “both.”
If dark and disturbing are not really your style, I guess I would ask a question: how do you feel about Wes Anderson? He made Rushmore and The Royal Tennenbaums. If you are into his style (and there is really no mistaking it), then rush to see Moonrise Kingdom. It provides all the twee, odd, strangely paced artifice and nostalgia, painted in pastels and tartans over the surface of every one of his films, though with less of the pathos that marked, say, Tennenbaums. Some people find his focus on art design rather than art frustrating, and can’t connect to films without the veneer of Hollywood “realism”; if you are not that person, then you will probably find more than a few things to like in this particular take on his one-man genre, a particular interation that dips more directly into the style of kids’ adventures books than anything else in his oeuvre, in some sense even more so than The Fantastic Mr. Fox. Though this one has nothing on par with the latter’s amazing wolf-on-the-hill scene.
An older movie that also borrows from the school of valorizing presentation over representation and flair over fervour, is Rian Johnson’s Brick. In its essence, it’s like a film school project on genre mixing, bringing together film noir’s mystery, caricature, hard knocks and careless violence with the lightness, nostalgia and dramatis personae of a cheesy high school romantic comedy. Except for a few moments where Johnson allows the awkwardness and doubt of actual teenagers to poke through the script’s surface, the mastery of the film lies precisely in how well these two elements are balanced, giving what is obviously pastiche the patina of reality.
Speaking of bank robberies, and of old movies, have you seen Inside Man? A Spike Lee joint that seems the most significant departure from his usual efforts to capture the lived realities of America’s black communities, the film proves that his skills go much deeper than just a commitment to faithful storytelling. By letting the narrative unfold both forward and backward toward the heist’s punchline, Lee is not only able to make a movie about the thrill of constructing and executing the job (a la Ocean’s Eleven) but also provides a mystery, or really two mysteries, one of which is as political as you would expect from one of his picture. Except for the spent payoff of knowing how the hell they pulled off the job, the whole thing held up under a recent second viewing, as well.
A movie that really lets the camera do a lot of the work, and some might say too much, is Meek’s Cutoff. For those who played it, the idea that this is “the best movie never made about the Oregon Trail video game” is sure to catch a few laughs; the movie, on the other hand, is unlikely to catch any. About the madness of heading of West in the early years, it seems to star the scenery more than any of the actors, portraying plains so flat and desolate that they allude to an unspoken intent to kill. Probably falls into the “too subtle” category, but only if you think there is supposed to be some point beyond simply portraying what it was like to be there for the people crazy enough to start the journey. Very. Slow.
The movie I am most excited for the release of this year is Upstream Color, not because I know next to anything about it, because it was made by Shane Carruth, and that he made Primer. Primer is like Rian Johnson’s most recent movie, Looper, in that it’s about time travel, except that it was made on less than 1% of the budget, is much smarter, and actually takes that subject matter seriously. Too often, science fiction gets caught up in chasing the possibilities of “what if?” in a way that ignores that all fiction works on exactly the same premise. Rather than chasing “aesthetics of the future” that almost always reveal more about present neuroses than presenting any real thought about how technological change, social change and design might interact, the film simply takes the “what if?” seriously, letting particular characters in a particular place respond to the disruption of a new technology. You could say that Carruth is also “too subtle” here, in the sense that catching the drift of the narrative probably requires a second or a third viewing, but that is a feature of a film that is unafraid to work with the real consequences – moral, metaphysical, psychological – of messing with one of the fundamental building blocks of our experience.
Rob Ford has been removed from office (or, as many of my friends have written on facebook “ROB FORD HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM OFFICE”). Let me tell you, that makes-a-somma people angry! Say, and this may surprise you, Christie Blatchford.
I haven’t been able to read past the fold, but that’s more than enough. Here’s her headline
Christie Blatchford: 383,501 Torontonians voted for Rob Ford — not one voted for the men behind his ouster
Let’s be clear about what happened in this decision. In fact, let’s let Ivor Tossell do it, because he gives the clearest breakdown of the actual run of events I’ve seen to date:
Rob Ford runs a football foundation. He tirelessly fundraises for it from people he meets, including developers and lobbyists, and lately he did it with city resources. This is against the rules. The city’s integrity commissioner entreated him over and over to follow these rules–another person telling him he can’t do this, can’t to that—but to no avail. And after years of breaking rules that merely put him on the hook for financial penalties, Ford finally broke the rule that cost him his job: He got up in council and argued that he shouldn’t have to pay just such a penalty. Then he voted against parting with the money. That’s a conflict of interest, and some of the finest lawyers in town weren’t able to convince the judge otherwise.
Given this context, the only way of reading Blatchford’s argument, I guess, is that politicians shouldn’t be be removed from office for breaking conflict of interest rules – because it’s undemocratic. This is weird, but common: People have this vision of a democratic system where you elect a supreme ruler for 5 years and dude gets to do whatever the hell he wants. That’s not how it works, nor how it should. Politicians, especially municipal politicians, are elected to do a job. Breaking certain rules are going to get you fired, though apparently gross incompetence and not showing up to work won’t. It seems totally reasonable to me that, where the employer has clear rules about not getting involved in decisions that impact your own finances, losing your job should be a possible consequence.
Lots of people who are happy to see Ford go have nonetheless hedged their glee with the caveat that “this isn’t the way that they want to see him go.” Some of the hand-wringing seems to side with the “it’s anti-democratic” side. Me? I have no qualms about politicians who break the rules getting kicked out of office before their term is up. Others, however, are worried about the potential political fall-out from the decision. No matter the reasons of those whose renditions of “Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead” are sung in slightly hushed tones, their argument is, on the one that ”the law’s the law” and so the judge had little choice but, on the other hand (thanks again, Ivor!): “The law is too crude an implement and deserves to be revisited.”
Again, I am not so sure. As easy as is to attack the lack of discretion the legislation gives the judge – it required him, once he found a breach which did not result from inadvertence, to “declare the seat vacant” – I am not sure that people have really thought through the alternatives. Many, I suppose, would like to see a law that gave the judge a wider set of penalties to draw from, based on the severity of the offence. The problem, of course, is that people very seldom violate a law like this so egregiously, so blatantly, so audaciously. Which means that, unlike in criminal law, there is very little precedent for a judge to rely on.
If the law had provided room for discretion, the judge would, essentially, have to decide himself what the penalty should be for Ford’s misconduct. Should it have been less because the amount in issue was “only” $3500? Should it have been more because the violation was so brazen, as in cases where “punitive damages” are applied? Should it have been less because it was done so clearly out in the open and not hidden, or does that mean it was brazen and contemptuous of the rules and everyone else’s compliance with them, and should be punished more? Should it have been more, or less, because he got involved in a decision on not paying money he owed, rather than on, say, awarding a contract to himself? These all seem like difficult questions to me, and were the judge had discretion, the answer provided would be fraught with even more political overtones. Can you imagine that anyone would have been happy with this decision if the judge had found Ford guilty and, say, “only” fined him $10000? Or if he had let Ford stay in office, but banned him from running in the next election? What decision could the judge have made in such a situation which would have seemed non-political? The judge himself – the full text of the decision is here – apparently would have liked more wiggle room:
The mandatory removal from office for contravening s. 5(1) of the MCIA is a very blunt instrument and has attracted justified criticism and calls for legislative reform
I am not so sure. Once you accept that courts can remove politicians from office for fraud, it seems to me that a “zero tolerance” approach is the only way to prevent the decision-making process from taking on terrible political proportions. The law is good enough as-is.
To be clear, I do wish that Rob Ford had not been removed from office in this way. Thanks to people like Christie Blatchford, this case will be used to attack the legal system and to boost the idea that the left, somehow, does not play fair. It may also, paradoxically, increase Ford’s chance of staying in office. But I also wish that Toronto’s mayor was not such a blustering, arrogant buffoon that he would break fundraising rules for city councillors, violate conflict of interest rules, ignore legal advice, and assume that the rules did not apply to him. It is the fact that he is, and that he did, which ultimately provides the fodder for Blatchford’s thoughtless, incoherent tirade. Not the judge. Not the conflict of interest law. Not the complainants in the case. Once more, Tossell nails it: Rob Ford got himself fired.
As for the meat of the decision, the only defences Ford had to rely on was that the rules weren’t actually the rules, that he broke them accidentally, or that the amount at issue was “insignificant.” Ford has said he will appeal. The judges rulings on the first two issues seem watertight. Which means, given that they have to rule under the existing law, they could keep Ford in office by deciding that the amount is “insignificant.” But let us be clear: this would be a court saying that, when a city official owes the city $3500, there are no consequences for him voting on whether he has to pay it or not. I imagine that many taxpayers wish they had the same luxury.
But back to Blatchford’s analysis,
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has been given the boot from office because an opportunistic citizen hired a smart and politically savvy lawyer who found a club of an arcane statute with which to tie the hands of a judge who was willing to play ball.
That’s the short and dirty version of the bombshell that has dropped
She seems to be saying : i. the people who wrote a law allowing city councillors who brazenly, purposefully violate conflict of interest laws were wrong to do so. ii. the people who brought this case to the courts to see if the law had been broken were wrong to do so; iii. the court system was wrong for hearing the case, despite having absolutely no discretion over what cases to hear. Each of these propositions seems wrong to me; I cannot read any further.
Saturday, in catches and glimpses, unordered: learning by doing • designing by making • art as its own language • art as its own, different way of interpreting the world • or each artform as a unique way of interpreting the world • Nancy Adler: strategic planning by design, rather than by analysis • or designing an option worth choosing, not choosing an option • or focusing on a positive vision, rather than a negative criticism • Tim McDonald: the difference between making buildings, and making buildings on paper • weight, balance and tension • don’t try to design an experience; art is not a meatgrinder to push people through • but also “I don’t design buildings, I design communities” • Marx and Hayek: emergent and planned, top-down and bottom-up, edge versus centre • drawing as a conversation with what comes to the surface • thinking with your hands • Richard Serra as an artist of weight • “have you ever seen a Rothko?” • depiction versus representation • Paul Klee ~ do not paint the thing, but what brought it into being • Phil Ochs: “Ah but in such an ugly time the true protest is beauty.” • art as a tool • the need for beauty in the mess of today’s world • cactus music • the sun and planets • and the music of the spheres • 250 cardboard boxes • abecedarians • clowning works by going to the essence; that is why it works without words • thinking so essentially all the time would be exhausting • the birth of the modern public • problem solving through dance • art as a tool • found phrases and found sounds • the gap between sound and music • “do you smell me?” • “thank you for sharing your privilege” • music and brain science • “I wish I could be friends with all of these people” • dancing around a conflict point • stone and water • circle, full circle • creation as an act of humility • How Should a Person Be and the value of recognizing ugliness • “really quite accomplished pieces” • eight dimensions of the actor’s work • having the patience and humility to let the ideas come to you • thinking with and without concepts • the role of language in thought • writing, dead and alive • you can just tell when writing is a lie • teaching writing by revealing lies • breaking social codes as the core of humour • and timing, always timing • music as a material, spatial medium • the role of collaboration in artistic discovery • letting what it will be unfold • the need for new ways of understanding the world • the hegemony of the word and the hegemony of the image • how collaboration changes art • the centrality of making art, not just experiencing • Mark Antaki: “Art thinks somatically, bodily.” • The Tempest • playing with the idea of performance and performativity by switching the actor half-way through the scene • the depth of the text • frenetic, but only when she is thinking with words • Karl Polanyi • Quebec Solidaire • day camp for art nerds • finding the wallness of the wall • architecture as a dynamic medium • and musical • Adorno v Heidegger • radical politics, in theory and practice • global leadership, “as if that were a thing” • language, art and dream as forms of thought • the combined and inseparable presence of two actors in one character • as I wrote, the poem revealed quite deep, intimate memories • Pop-pop • men who want to harness energy, which is to say, us • down here with the dancers • poetry, which wants to hitch a ride on the freight that words already carry • drawing without looking at the object • drawing without looking away from the object • disability studies, forcing us to re-examine our assumptions about ugliness • social structures and the structures of thought • the mess we are in • and who is “us”? • teaching an art form in three hours • progress, balance and beauty as regulatory ideals • capitalism and its agendas • what we need more of and what we need less of • the need to look at the world differently • “and of course, repetition” • the impact of framing on the experience of the audience • the impact of framing on the experience of the participants • “we have raised a lot of questions, but not found a lot of answers” • fresh-ground jasmine • spandrels • collaboration and meta-collaboration • picturing and planning versus making and finding • small failures and experimentation • capturing light, literally and metaphorically • don’t work towards an imagined user experience • let me paint you a picture • the productive possibilities of artistic thinking • artistic thinking as counter-narrative to economic rationalism • revealed rather than curated experience
Addenda: how could you teach an amateur as much about law in three hours as the facilitators did about art, given that they had to curate collaborative art-pieces to be completed for presentation once the time was up?
McGill’s very cool, very innovative, very cutely-named Institute for the Public Life of Art and Ideas (IPLAI, i.e. “I play”) is running a fascinating workshop this Saturday on Thinking Art, which I was lucky to grab a spot in. The session seems akin to the participatory, open-ended unconferences of the barcamp model, displacing the “talking-head parade” which provides the skeleton for most academic conferences. In inviting working artists to interact with university-based scholars, it also promises to draw on the creative possibilities of bringing together different professional communities, much like the very successful launch of HackingHealth last fall (with a shout-out here to fellow Sauvé Scholar Jeeshan Chowdhury, a lead on this project).
In its format, then, the event opens a wide door on the possibilities for productive meetings in a university setting and, more importantly from my perspective, on the relationship between academia and the public. While there was an application process, the sessions – which are animated by such well-knowns as dancer Margie Gillis - are open to anyone who thinks they have something to learn and to teach about the interaction between the arts and the humanities as ways of interacting with and understanding the world.
Which also indicates that nothing is lost in the content, either. When people think of innovation, they often think about tech; the session is built on the idea that imaginative thinking is an important element of responding to our changing world. That theme seems to be integrated into the entire design of the session. The day’s activities include art-making, performance and discussion, but the theme of what art-making and humanities research can offer each other provides an orienting principle. The push against tired, repetitive thinking was at the forefront of the application process, which asked potential participants “In what ways does art think?”
Working through my answer was both intellectually invigorating and painfully humbling:
The difficulty of such a question is that we do not usually understand concepts or categories as themselves capable of thinking. Rather, the metaphor works this way: we think using conceptual objects; thinking is the manipulation of the boxes and bags of thought; it is the climbing on the net of ideas, not the net itself; certainly neither the net nor the nodes can do the thinking; the box cannot unpack itself.
However: when Winston Churchill (of all people!) remarked that “first we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us” he pointed to the possibilities of art as artifact. The making of art in the world gives ideas substance, and while architecture or painting leaves a concrete residue, all art makes its mark on us. And we are thus manipulated. Put before us, we cannot control how art, too, shifts around the bags and boxes of thought; how it adjusts its weight upon the net. We can hardly avoid it. Even those standing guard against the risk that art might change them, inevitably adapt in response to each experience of art – and thereby change.
We might say, then, that art thinks by placing our own thought outside us, or before us. It thinks not only by acting as a distorted mirror but forcing us to act as mirrors ourselves. It shapes us just as we shape it. What we put of ourselves into us, it unpacks of itself in us, transformed.
Given that even the application was able to force me to think obliquely to my own habits makes me very optimistic about Saturday’s outcomes. The question, however, is what value such a session could have to a lawyer, or to someone studying legal institutions. They asked me that question, too. Here’s what I said:
I am interested in parallels between the ways that art creates artifacts of thought in the world, which then constrain and shapes our actions, and the way in which law does the same thing. Obviously there are differences. Our experience of law is inherently normative; it not only pushes upon our thoughts, but also places its weight on our conscience. What concerns me more is the dynamic relationship which exists between art as a reflection of our regularities of thought and action, and vice versa. The two obviously exist in an imperfect correspondence, and there is much of ‘culture’ as artifacts of shared, persistent belief which may not fall under the sweep of ‘art.’ Yet I think there is some parallel between art and law, in the factor of deliberate shaping, in the understanding that we can somehow have an impact on thoughts and behaviours which is determinate, or at least delimited. In particular, I am interested in how artists and lawmakers may think of their craft not as forcing us to think or act a certain way, but as providing tools to help others live well.
A friend asked me what I have to say about the results of the ‘historic’ Quebec election. It seems that the French press have slightly misread the tea-leaves on this one if those relying on such coverage see the victory as having some meaningful contribution to global independence movements.
After all, support for sovereignty among Quebecers is at historic lows after the separation question was narrowly defeated in a 1994 referendum. The newest generation of Francophone Quebecers is certainly still seized by the belief that Quebec’s distinct culture requires a high level of autonomy within the Canadian federation, but the focus is on determining the society’s own future, not leaving Canada.
Marois’ victory is historic in one sense – if she succeeds in forming a government with the minority of seats she won, she will become Quebec’s first “première ministre” (emphasis on the “being a lady”). It is also historic in another way, but probably not in the way you would imagine. Because of the first-past-the-post electoral system, Marois’ Parti-Quebecois (PQ) was able to win a plurality of seats despite receiving a lower percentage of the vote than previous elections where another party formed a majority government. Looking province-wide rather than seat-by-seat, it’s their second-lowest level of support in any election since 1973.
As for what it might mean, even if they had received a strong mandate: the PQ itself nominally supports independence, but their game is a long one, indeed: their goal is only to have a referendum on independence “at some point” and almost certainly not before the next election. They realize that there is insufficient support in the province to win a vote – so their main goal is to increase that support by getting into fights with the federal government. Another party, that promised an immediate referendum, received negligible support. Why then, was Marois able to form government? First, Quebec has been seized by a sizeable political corruption scandal, which goes at least as far back as the last PQ government, but which Jean Charest’s Liberals did nothing about during their ten years in power – save for being strongarmed into holding a public inquiry; unfortunately for them, voters assumed that the dirty laundry belonged to the people currently living in the house. Second, the province was seized by protests causing significant disruption which, though sparked by a student strike against a proposed tuition fee increases, eventually expanded to include concerns about civil liberties and a challenge to neoliberalism more generally. Opponents and supporters of the protests both felt that Charest’s government had failed them, either for being too heavy-handed, or not being heavy-handed enough. A new party, the CAQ, essentially billing itself as the law and order option bled much of Charest’s support away, despite being nominally sovereigntist. Despite the softness of her position, Marois was also able to attract supporters of the student strike to vote against Charest with her mixed message of solidarity with the students, bolstered by one student leader standing as a candidate for the party (successfully).
The second explanation of the victory is, unfortunately, also what makes the election historic. And not in a good way. It can easily be claimed that the PQ campaign marked the greatest amount of fear-mongering against linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities of any election in Quebec – at least in the last fifty years. One key plank of the PQ platform was the exclusion from any public employment – firefighters, clerks, teachers, doctors, police, administrators, secretaries, policy advisors; anything – of anyone wearing a visible religious symbol. We are talking about firing a significant number of public employees, essentially because of what religion they belong to. Another was disqualification from any elected office of anyone who does not speak French – presumably, despite the province’s large English minority population, a job which could be ably done by the electorate. The PQ then reversed and said this would only apply to new immigrants…sigh. The subtext here was a concern about those people (read: immigrants) who could not speak ‘proper’ French, i.e. who were not pure-laine. All of this, of course, was backed up by spurious claims about threats to the French language and Quebecois identity in the province.
These things might have scared away some voters. The PQ has traditionally been seen as a progressive alternative, and I know many anglophones who voted for another, left wing sovereigntist party, Quebec Solidaire, while holding their nose on the sovereignty issue. The PQ was obviously happy to be rid of anyone of this stripe who might have voted for them in the past. It was clear that the PQ’s strategy, and a successful one, was that any loss was significantly made up by the support of a base rallied by the worst forms of paranoid, parochial, pseudo-racialist nationalism, ensuring that they did not vote for another sovereigntist party, or simply choose to stay home. It seems to have worked; the only thing which prevents it from significantly tarnishing the great affection I have for my adopted province is that it worked, but only barely. The victory they were able to scrape out of deploying these tactics was a narrow one.
So, is the Greek government a massive overspender? Greek government spending as a portion of GDP is 49.5%. This compares to 56.2% for France, 43.8% for Canada, an OECD average of 44.5% and a Euro area average of 50.5%. That’s 2010 numbers. In 2007, Greece was at 46.6, France at 52.4%, Canada at 39.4% and the Euro area and OECD averages at 47% and 41.4%, respectively.
Are the Greeks, as suggested by many commentators, a lazy nation which retires early? Recent numbers from Eurostat on employment rates [direct link, pdf] show that Greek participation in the labour market until age 64 are not lower significantly lower than elsewhere in Europe. The overall employment rate for 20-64 year-olds is 59.6%, compared with a Euro area of 64%. Among 59-64 year-olds, the Greek rate is just over 3% lower than the Euro area’s 46% average. As this data shows, the source of the lower Greek numbers are caused by a lower participation rate for women: the employment rate for men is 1% higher than the 75% reached on average in the Euro area. The gap between Greece and Germany, which currently has a 71% employment rate among 20-64 year-olds would have a more significant impact on competitiveness if it weren’t for the significantly lower GDP per capita in Greece.
So it’s true that Greeks are retiring somewhat earlier than elsewhere in Europe – but one might consider them entitled, considering that they work more hours per year than anyone else in Europe. They work 25% more hours per year than the average European, 200 hours per year – the equivalent of five weeks work – longer than Americans. So, even taking into account the retired and unemployed, Greeks aged 20-64 are still working on average, 1222 hours per year, compared to a European average of 1040 hours per year. Lazy greeks, indeed.
The question then becomes, how did the government get into such dire financial straits? The answer is that the richest and best-paid in Greece don’t pay their taxes: Germany collects 37% of its GDP in taxes, Greece 29.4%. As of 2010, two thirds of Greek doctors self-reported incomes under 12 000 Euros - in a country with a GDP per capita of twice that amount – which entitled them to pay no tax at all. The Greek crisis is not about the average worker; it is about Greeks best-paid, and if they had been paying taxes for the last ten years, Greece would not be in the financial mess it is in right now. No doubt, the failure to collect those taxes falls on the shoulders of the government, but that is no justification for the amount of calumny which is continually heaped upon the Greek people for this mess.
In late October, parliament voted against adopting Bill C-300, which would have provided some level of human rights accountability for Canadian mining (and oil and gas) companies operating beyond Canadian borders. The bill, originally introduced by Liberal MP John McKay, was defeated 140-134 by the votes of a unanimously opposed Conservative party, and supported by the absence of numerous Liberal party members. Among those who chose not to appear was Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff.
The bill had passed two earlier Parliamentary votes. Most believe that the vote was a result of aggressive, last-minute lobbying from industry representatives, who claimed that firms (read “they themselves”) would be driven to incorporate elsewhere were the bill to become law.
What drastic measures would the law have imposed were a Canadian company involved in a ‘violation of international human rights standards’? As put concisely by Canadian Business Magazine, the project in question “…would become ineligible to receive financial services from EDC, and the Canada Pension Plan could no longer invest in [the Corporation's] securities.”
There may have been problems with the administrative scheme set up under the Bill, shortcomings which could have been overcome if more MPs had taken an interest in rendering the bill workable. One would expect that kind of effort from a party, and a leader, which have made their name promoting human rights values. Their decision can hardly be called disappointing, however, since that would require the result to be out of character. In practice, Ignatieff has made an art of supporting those values while undercutting the rights themselves.
How is it possible that human rights protection, seen as trumps in Canadian law, fell so easily to the wayside when it came to regulating business practice? Chris Brown, an international relations professor at LSE, has put the matter plainly: “The enforcement of rights by the international community has been determined, in practice, by the foreign-policy imperatives of the major powers, and political, commercial and financial considerations frequently get in the way of a high-priority, even-handed policy on human rights.”
The vote on C-300 draws that lesson squarely, but also sharpens the edge of its rule: in buying into a standard for the protection of human rights, even middle powers don’t feel that they can afford to pay for more than lip service.
Refs: Chris Brown, “Universal Human Rights? An Analysis of the ’Human-Rights Culture’ and its Critics” in Robert G Patman, ed, Universal Human Rights? (Houndmills [England]: Macmillan Press, 2000) 31, at 40