All stories filed under legal...
- 2006-06-05: Canada under attack?
- 2006-07-10: Robbed
- 2007-02-20: The CN strike explained
- 2007-11-22: Tasers: a substitute for guns, not policing
- 2019-11-18: A podcast with Michael Geist on technology and politics
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All stories filed under legal...
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A podcast with Michael Geist on technology and politics
Over the few years I had the responsibility of representing Laurentides--Labelle in Parliament, I spent a great deal of time and effort talking about technology and their related issues within politics.
One of the people I had the opportunity to meet along the way is Professor Michael Geist, Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, who I had been following for years.
After my defeat, he invited me to his office for a conversation about the experience of being a technologist in national politics, and you can listen to the conversation on his blog:
Tasers: a substitute for guns, not policing
With yet another taser-associated incident in the news this morning, the usefulness and purpose of the weapon must be examined.
The two fundamental questions about tasers for me are:
1: What is it intended to do? What ability is the weapon intended to provide that is not otherwise available to a police officer?
2: What does it actually do? That is, how has it affected police, suspect, and bystander related injuries and fatalities since its introduction six years ago?
The first seems, on the surface, very straightforward. In my view, a taser is specifically designed to replace a gun. If the officer would otherwise be forced to shoot and kill the suspect, the taser is a viable alternative that will only debilitate and hurt the suspect. It's laudable, it's useful, it, theoretically, reduces deaths.
So the important question is the second one. What are the actual effects of this weapon? Judging by news headlines recently, police are using the taser with little delay or avoidance, treating it more like a cannister of pepper spray or a pair of handcuffs than as a substitute for their firearms. People are getting hurt, and while they are not necessarily dying of electrocution, many are still dying in connection to the weapon.
I do not have the answer to the question, but how do injuries and deaths of suspects especially, but also of police officers themselves and of bystanders compare now to the period before the taser was introduced? If it can be reasonably ascertained that fewer people are getting hurt or killed now than before, then we can assume that tasers, while occasionally misused, are an improvement. If the 17 deaths, plus the one in Nova Scotia this morning, associated with taser use are substantially more than would otherwise have happened, then tasers are definitely the wrong way to go or are being seriously misused or overused.
The rules of engagement relating to tasers must be made public and reviewed to understand at what point police are authorised or expected to fire their tasers. More importantly, there needs to be an understanding by those using the weapon that it is a potentially lethal weapon and that it should only be used as a substitute for lethal force.
The CN strike explained
Now well into its second week, and ruled legal by the Canada Industrial Relations Board, the strike paralysing Canadian National deserves some explanation.
First off, Canadian National has the best operating ratio of any Class 1 railway in North America. The operating ratio is the amount spent against the amount earned. In the case of CN, it is around 60 cents spent for every dollar earned. But, while it is a factor, this strike is not about money.
The most important factor is working conditions. The current working conditions are not particularly bad, but CN wants to change them to set railway working standards back a century: CN expects its train crews to work 12 hours on, 8 hours off every day, around the clock, around the calendar, and CN wants to take away an employee's right to go home at least every second shift, as they now do.
Typically, a train crew will be ordered at, for example, Toronto. They will run their train to Sarnia, be put up for a few hours in a hotel, and returned to Toronto on a train going the other way. If they don't make it in one direction in 12 hours, they are sent the rest of the way by taxi. Then they can go home until the next time they're needed. Under the rules CN wants to put in place, the crew would get to Sarnia, and then be ordered to run to London, back to Sarnia, across to Niagara Falls, back to Sarnia, and, if they are lucky, back to Toronto where, depending on how long it took them to get back, they might actually be able to get home and see their family who has now not seen them for a week.
The resulting pay increase for conductors would be on the order of about 40%, because it would be about 40% more hours than they work now. But virtually no employees think the increased hours and money is worth sacrificing their families. A large proportion of conductors are already divorced from the demands put on by this line of work, and those that still have their families don't want to lose them.
But if you think a 12 hour work day and 8 hours off isn't harsh enough, CN wants to take away the bulk of a crew's lunch break. While this particular change mostly affects yard crews - the crews that shunt trains in freight yards, rather than between cities, the latter of which have a microwave and a fridge on their train and can eat on the go - it is still an insult to all conductors. CN would like to reduce the crew's lunch break to 20 minutes.
For anyone who works in an office, a 20 minute lunch break is already very short. When your 20 minute lunch break also includes the time to stop your train, park it, walk over to a building where you can heat your lunch, sit down, eat, digest, return to your train, and get it going again, you can start to see the problem. 20 minutes is unrealistic.
Aside from being downright inhumane, operating train crews at the legal maximum work hours is completely unsafe. A railway conductor, contrary to the popular view that he just sits on his engine and has a nice trip, does backbreaking work, sometimes having to carry an 80 pound knuckle - the bit that connects train cars together - back two miles to the other end of the train, possibly in a snow, ice, or rain storm and/or in +40°C or -40°C weather, and then has to install it and walk back. Most trains have to stop along their trip and work, that is, set off train cars at businesses and pick up others, involving plenty of hard labour. The job is no picnic, and is tiring at the best of times. Demanding that the crews work to their very limits is asking for disaster.
The conductors are also demanding a 4.5% pay raise for two years, and a 4% pay raise on the third of a contract. This may seem high to many of us, but it is in line with many of the pay raises already given to other CN employees during their contract negotiations over the past few years.
With the strike itself explained, there's another whole dynamic to it that has not been widely covered.
The union responsible for this strike is the UTU - the United Transportation Union's Canadian chapter. There is a dispute between UTU International and its Canadian chapter. UTU International says the strike is not legal by its constitution and has fired its Canadian executives. The Canadian chapter says it is legal by the Canadian UTU constitution, but UTU international holds the purse strings, and that means: CN conductors are not getting strike pay. This dispute can trace back to an alleged friendship between the head of UTU International and the head of Canadian National, an American by the name of E. Hunter Harrison.
Yes, the working conditions CN wants to impose are so harsh that CN's conductors have walked off the job without even collecting strike pay. It is a matter of principal for the conductors and they will stay off the job as long as it takes to get CN to back down from its completely unrealistic demands.
The effects of this strike are far reaching. Businesses across the country are having to slow down or stop work because their products are not moving. Manufacturers are not able to get the supplies they need to manufacture their products. Many are shipping by truck at far greater expense due to the absence of rail. But the danger is the manufacturing sector of the economy completely grinding to a halt. CN's smaller national rival, Canadian Pacific, is not able to help in a lot of situations as the rail networks were built to provide local monopolies to each company. The result is that CP simply cannot get to most of CN's customers to help out. CP does not even operate east of Montreal in Canada.
The way CN is coping with this strike is to put all sorts of managers on the trains, many of whom have no idea how to do these jobs. In the first week, there were several derailments and accidents, far above the norm, across the country. Ironic as the strike started the same day CTV's W5 aired a story about CN's already high number of derailments. The number of trains running is severely reduced, and the way they are operating is changing. CN's freight yards are getting clogged, and the network is slowly crumpling. Even if the strike ends today, it will be a while before things are back to normal. GO trains are operating as normal but the CN crews operating them are donating a huge portion of their pay for doing so to charity as their contribution. The union has reserved the right to cancel almost all GO service with 72 hours notice, but the fact that they have not done so is a sign that the unionised labourers at CN have a strong conscience.
All we can do is hope that CN, which had gambled on the CIRB ruling this strike illegal, comes to the bargaining table and offers realistic working conditions to its employees. It is time for this strike to end before the cause of rail transportation itself is hurt beyond repair. CN is not only threatening to set working conditions back to those of the 19th century, but is threatening to put more trucks on the road at a time when it is imperative that we get them off.
Meanwhile, if you see a CN picket line, go give them your support. Canada prides itself on being a progressive country, let's show that we mean it.
I have been told that a conservative is a Canadian who has been car-jacked.
Last weekend, my wife took our car, an Olds station wagon of the 8-seat type no-one likes to make any more, to a wedding in Kitchener. The old car developed a new issue and was unable to make the trip home from the wedding.
My wife called CAA, and the car was towed back to our mechanic in Guelph.
Some time between when we dropped the car at the garage and Tuesday morning following the long weekend, someone broke into our car using an appropriate tool inserted into the passenger side door, not breaking any windows or punching the locks. The thief made off with two radio scanners that I use for trainspotting, one attached to the dashboard, and one that I grab and take with me when I get out of the car. They went through the trouble of unwiring the antenna from the roof, unplugging the power cable from the extension cord on the floor, and cutting the string used to hold the scanner in place.
They left my GPS, camera tripod, CB radio, and an assortment of other odds and ends in spite of having clearly spent a good amount of time removing my scanners.
When I got my car back Tuesday afternoon with the mass air sensor replaced, I found it down one antenna, all the wires unplugged, and a small amount of disarray in the car.
I filed a report with the police and checked the local pawn shops, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lot more I can do.
Who does these things? And why?
The professionalism of this robbery - not damaging the car, taking only the valuable radios and antenna, leaving the rest - suggests that it isn't local drug addicts looking to pawn stuff off for their next quick fix.
Perhaps they were intent on using the scanners to monitor the police, which would be futile in this area as they are consumer grade analogue scanners and the police use encrypted digital radios around here.
What can be done about this kind of crime? What problems have we allowed into our society to allow people to grow into thieves in the first place?
I don't believe the police have the time to seriously investigate "petty" crimes like this, so the people who do them can proceed with impunity until caught red-handed.
Will stiffer penalties solve anything? Some people would have us believe so, but it fails to address the fundamental question of why these thefts take place in the first place. It also means more resources are allocated to keeping people who are caught in jail, but doesn't do anything about the people who get away without being caught.
I suppose I have a lot of thinking to do.
Canada under attack?
Over the weekend, 17 people were arrested for an alleged terrorist bomb plot ring in and around Toronto.
So big was the news that on Saturday night, the World this Wekend on CBC radio did not cover a single other topic.
I have four problems with this story, and its handling in the media and by politicians: