Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Human Rights In Bermuda

I have written before about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but today I write not to make any particular argument, but to urge those who may be reading and who share a commitment to universal human rights without concern for who you love to come and show your support on the 25th of May  from 13:00 - 14:00.

The organizer gives a bit of background:
"On Tuesday May 1, within two days of returning home from school, I was given 15 minutes to leave Windsong Guest Apartments after its owner canceled my reservation, refused to accept my money, and attempted to slam the door in my face. She told me I could go "stay with my girlfriend." I ended up outside of the apartments with my two suitcases, angry and in tears.

Regardless of how you feel about homosexuality, respect is respect and fair is fair. I am organizing Home is Where the Hatred Is in order to raise awareness about discrimination against gay people on the island. From 1:00-2:00pm, we will stand in front of City Hall asking for our lawmakers to take complaints of discrimination seriously and to move towards an amendment of the Human Rights Act quickly.

I have contacted the Human Rights Comission to lodge a complaint, but because sexual orientation is NOT a protected ground under the Human Rights Act, the Human Rights Commission can't do anything about it. With sexual orientation in the HRA, people who have been discriminated against on the basis of their sexual preference - gay or straight - would be able to file a complaint against offenders and have justice done.

Thanks for your committment to equality and non-discrimination. Let Bermuda's decision makers that we won't be bullied out of our beautiful home by hateful, hurtful people. See you at City Hall."
Lets send a message that we've waited long enough and leave no doubt in the minds of our parliamentarians that we expect action now.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Someone Get This Man A Spine!

It seems that Ms. Cox's lack of spine as Finance Minister has spread (or perhaps jumped) to our Transport Minister Terry Liste. Despite a good portion seemingly in favour of Government standing up to the BIU they have backed down, reinstated the man who's firing caused the whole thing AND agreed to pay the drivers for the shift they missed on strike on Thursday. It is absolutely ridiculous!

The only thing more ridiculous is Mr. Lister's attempt to explain himself.

On why the legal avenue was not taken he said:
“The decision was on us. We were in the position where we would have started taking bus drivers and putting them in front of the courts. An individual was wrong but a 100 people in front of a judge? Sometimes you have to think for yourself and sometimes you have to think about other people.”
Which amounts to as much as saying that he didn't want to inconvenience the bus drivers who had just walked out on strike for no good reason. Lets be honest here, the BIU is PLP constituency and he didn't want to piss off his party's die hard voters, he might as well admit it.

On whether this sets a worrying precedent he said:
“That precedent is a risk and something Cabinet will have to make a decision on, when we go forward.”
Well ladies and gentlemen there you have it, prime 100% politrick. Talk a lot and say a little. I'll answer the question for him, yes and no. It didn't set the precedent because that was already there, he has simply added to it.

On why Government had done exactly the opposite of what the people wanted (Democracy at work right?):
“valid to ask, and a question that must be put to the Government as a whole”
Translated: We have no excuse, please don't ever ask us this question again.

And finally:
“For us to have to endure a full frontal assault and win, we would only have won against a strike. We would not have won the hearts and minds. Right now is not the time to have a disgruntled team.”
A disgruntled team? What team is that exactly? Is it perhaps the PLP base that he is talking about? It certainly seems that way to me. So what we have here is nothing more than putting shameless politics ahead of principles and what is actually good for the country. Letting the BIU have/do whatever it wants is not good for Bermuda, we need a government that will knock them down a few levels.

I'm no anti-union man, all labour has the right to organize itself and fight for its rights and better conditions, but there is such thing as a union that is too powerful. The BIU is one such union and until its deflated a bit I have a feeling that this with happen again and again.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

In What World?

In case any one is wondering, private school students do actually ride the bus. Contrary to popular belief (and the apparent belief of Decosta in the afternoon) they're not all born with silver spoon's in their mouth and not all have a chauffeur to take them to and from school every day.

This has been a public information announcement paid for by Common Sense

Thursday, February 3, 2011

If Only The World Had More Of This

It's images like this that give me hope for humanity.

Depicted in this photo, an image from an anonymous source on the ground in Egypt, is a team of Egyptian Christians forming a massive human shield to protect their Muslim countrymen as they prayed during the violent protests yesterday. Beauty amid the chaos.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Right Move

While not officially confirmed by the two parties, sources from the BDA and UBP have apparently reported to the Royal Gazette that there is a merge in their future.

A number of things would be necessary if such a merge were to be successful: A new leader who is both well respected and well spoken, the new post-merge party would require such a leader to allow it to define itself and not be defined as the New-BP by the PLP as the BDA was; A new structure, somewhere in between the openness of the BDA and the traditional structure of the UBP; A clear statement (or re-statement) of the political views of the party, to avoid the disaster that was the launch of the BDA; And finally (as much as I hate to admit it) potentially a new name, I'm completely opposed in principle to a change in name, but if that's what it would take to make the new party a viable choice for future government then that's what needs to be done.

It will be very interesting to get more information as this situation develops, but I think that it is certainly a positive development.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Just Don't Understand

How can this:
"Commodities broker Seaboard Overseas Ltd is to close its Bermuda office with loss of 12 jobs.

The Royal Gazette understands that the operation will be relocated to the Isle of Man, following the closure of the Bermuda office on April 30.

The posts to go are held by seven Bermudians and five expatriates. The company, which is based in Schroders House, on Front Street, has had a presence on the Island for some three decades... A source with knowledge of the situation said the decision to relocate was taken for a number of reasons, including the rising cost of doing business, the restrictions imposed by work permit time limits and the comparative advantages of the Isle of Man",
and this:
"The Progressive Labour Party now has more support than at any time since winning the 2007 general election, according to a new poll"
be in the newspaper on the exact same day?

I have written previously that I'm completely in favour of giving Paula Cox a chance to prove herself as Premier, but the Progressive Labour Party has been in power for over a decade now. When does Bermuda put its foot down and say they've had long enough to prove themselves?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Reform? Ha!

Straight from the horse's mouth:
"Out of a commitment to putting Teaching and Learning at the forefront of the Ministry of Education's mission, Minister Dame Jennifer Smith announced more education reform on Friday
Dame Jennifer reassigned Mrs. Wendy McDonnell, former Commissioner of Education. Mrs. McDonnell will no longer focus on day to day operations. She will now lead the transformation of the Bermuda Public School System"
Are you as underwhelmed as I am?

One day there will be meaningful education reform

I hope.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

More On Defamation

It is incredible to me that there is a pervasive inability to distinguish between the open and frank discussion necessary in a properly functioning democracy and the abuse of the right to freedom of speech.

In general an abuse of a right involves using the right in such a way as it infringes on the rights of others. The simplest way to illustrate this point is the example: “Your right to swing your fist stops where my face begins”. This is what laws restricting rights are for: protecting others.

In terms of freedom of speech you have to add one exception to the principle: whether the action is in the public interest (i.e. all political discussions), but even then there are many times when that particular restriction on freedom of speech can be applied legitimately.

In Bermuda such legitimate restrictions do exist in our Criminal Code, with numerous safeguards. The Royal Gazette has registered their opinion that “Only dictators determined to quell all dissent can have a use for a law like this” but let’s have a look at the law and see if that assessment really holds water.

"211         (1)          It is lawful to publish a fair comment respecting—
(a)          any of the matters with respect to which the publication of a fair report in
(b)          good faith for the information of the public is by section 210 declared to be lawful;
(c)           the public conduct of any person who takes part in public affairs,(i.e. Politicians) or respecting the character of any such person, so far as his character appears in that conduct; the conduct of any public officer or public servant in the discharge of his public functions, or respecting the character of any such person, so far as his character appears in that conduct;
(d)          the merits of any case, civil or criminal, which has been decided by any court of justice, or respecting the conduct of any person as a judge, party, witness, counsel or officer of the court, in any such case, or respecting the character of any such person, so far as his character appears in that conduct;
(e)          any published book or other literary production, or respecting the character of the author, so far as his character appears by such book or production;
(f)           any composition or work of art, or performance publicly exhibited, or respecting the character of the author or performer or exhibitor, so far as his character appears from the matter exhibited;
(g)          any public entertainment or sports, or respecting the character of any person conducting or taking part therein, so far as his character appears from the matter of the entertainment or sports, or the manner of conducting the same; or
(h)          any communication made to the public on any subject.
212         It is lawful to publish defamatory matter if the matter is true, and if it is for the
public benefit that the publication complained of should be made."

So here we have a law that protects, among other things, all political discussion and truths that are in the public’s best interest to be shared. Doesn’t it really seem like the Royal Gazette and I are talking about the same law does it?

For the benefit of truly understanding the implications of the argument being made by the Royal Gazette let’s assume that they are correct and that it is wrong to restrict freedom of speech in this way. Wording this argument in a different way: We should have the right to make “Any imputation concerning any person, or any member of his family, whether living or dead, by which the reputation of that person is likely to be injured, or by which he is likely to be injured in his profession, occupation or trade, or by which other persons are likely to be induced to shun, or avoid, or ridicule, or despise him” regardless of whether or not what we are saying is true or if it is in the public interest to say it because to remove such a right is an unacceptable restriction of freedom of speech. What does that actually mean?

Well it seems as though not even the one making that argument (i.e. the RG) knows what it actually means. While with their right hand they defend that right, with their left they suggest that it isn’t really a right at all. In fact they explicitly say “He [The alleged “victim”] can still bring a civil action. That was the right course at the beginning and it is the right course now.” Indicating clearly that they believe one should be punished if one is guilty of defamation and that it therefore isn’t a right (since one is not punished for exercising a right). So what is it that they really think? Does it really come down to a disagreement with the word crime?

I think partly yes. The other part seems to come from a disagreement with the punishment (the possibility of imprisonment rather than a monetary punishment) which, in itself, is no reason to declare the law unconstitutional or wrong. Coming back to the issue with the “c word” I find it difficult to understand  why civil action is preferred in this case over criminal. In both cases the idea is to prevent defamation by providing a punishment, in both cases lawyers are involved and in both cases the test for guilt is pretty much the same from what I understand. The only difference is that one path requires the alleged victim to understand the law and to have the money or guts to take their defamer on, the other doesn't.

We need to decide, as a country, what we believe is right. This does not come down to freedom of opinion as the Royal Gazette sought to portray it. It is about protecting people from unrestricted abuse of a right. Let’s accept it, there is no such thing as a right that remains a right no matter what extreme we wish to take it to, there is always a line. That line is at the point where we begin to infringe on the rights of others.  That is what this issue is really about. Do we believe that it is wrong to defame someone? Do we believe it is right that someone is punished for defaming someone? If the answer to both questions is yes then it’s the punishment that we must debate, not whether it is a crime or not since the answer to that question is clear if prejudice is put aside.

It would be a terrible shame if the Supreme Court were to declare this law unconstitutional.

Monday, January 17, 2011

That's The Spirit!

What does one do when charged with a crime which one is almost certainly guilty of?

Challenge the constitutionality of the law making crime illegal obviously... Or so the lawyer of Charles Richardson (charged with defamation) thinks.

Never mind that even many states in the country with arguably the most intense obsession with freedom of speech (the USA) accepts defamation as an illegal abuse of that freedom,  apparently this lawyer has uncovered a fundamental kernel of truth that we have all missed. I can't wait to watch this one play out.

For what it's worth, I welcome this new challenge to the ridiculous and tyrannical idea that our rights don't extend to the point at which they allow us to harm others. It's about time that I have the right to make
"any imputation concerning any person, or any member of his family, whether living or dead, by which the reputation of that person is likely to be injured, or by which he is likely to be injured in his profession, occupation or trade, or by which other persons are likely to be induced to shun, or avoid, or ridicule, or despise him." - Criminal Code 1907 Section 205 (2)
Without that right this country is no better than a authoritarian dictatorship!

Next target for this crusading protector of justice?

The right to shout fire in a crowded theatre.