Fraud, perjury, child molestation, and now terrorism

There’s a particularly disturbing story developing in Northern Ireland:

The police, the Catholic Church and the state conspired to cover up a priest’s suspected role in one of the worst atrocities of the Northern Ireland Troubles, an investigation has found.

Forgetting for a moment the face-palmingly euphemistic name “North Ireland Troubles”, this is a poignant illustration of what happens when religious leaders collude with secular authority. Police found evidence implicating one Father James Chesney, and instead of acting on it, collaborated with politicians and the Church to cover up the evidence and move the suspected terrorist to another parish.

Now I’m sure some of you will think it’s unfair of me to pick on this organization based on acts that were committed 30 years ago, but you’d be missing my point. If the accused had been a member of a secular organization, there would have been no such cover-up or collusion. The Catholic Church wielded (and continues to wield) power that was sufficient to shield its members from any kind of justice. This is another example of the willingness of the RCC to subvert secular authority to preserve their veneer of respectability and shield their power from scrutiny.

Besides, this is not something that happened once 30 years ago and has been dealt with. The Church still refuses to co-operate with secular authority, demanding special exemption from justice at every turn like a petulant child protesting the punishment of a fair parent. When caught and forced to face up to their systemic corruption, they offer non-apologies in the hope of mollifying critics, simultaneously demonstrating that they don’t understand the nature of the problem, and virtually guaranteeing that it will continue in the future.

As disgusted as I am with the RCC for this latest atrocious betrayal of human decency and justice, they cannot accept the entirety of the blame:

[Ombudsman Al Hutchinson] said he told his superiors he was going to raid Fr Chesney’s parochial house within 30 minutes unless he was told to do otherwise. He said he had soldiers standing by in Magherafelt police station as back-up for the search and arrest operation. “They (senior officers) gave me an answer back within 15 minutes that things were under control, not to go. I was told, leave it alone, we’re looking after it. Then the next thing I heard was that he was transferred to Malin Head (in Donegal).”

The corruption was widespread enough to touch the police force, and the political establishment. The entire country was in turmoil, and authorities feared that arresting a priest would result in widespread violence and rioting, touching off a civil war. Perhaps it would have.

The problem is in allowing a group – any group, religious or otherwise – to hold that kind of unchecked power. There was no check on the Catholic Church either from within or externally. The religious authority held such control over both the people and the secular powers that it could thwart the judicial system at its whim. Secular authorities are subject to the approval of the populace (for good or ill), and in many cases are also limited by other branches of government. Religious authorities, however, are accountable only to themselves, and have demonstrated their ability to confuse “the good of the Church” with what is good for the people time after time. There is no mechanism of voting out the Pope, and the threats of excommunication and social ostracism (not to mention hellfire and other fun supernatural punishments) ensured that no citizen group could or would form to check the power of the Church.

Perhaps Ivan Stevenson of Northern Ireland says it best:

The Church is right in saying that they didn’t cover up an evil act. It would seem that the British government offered to do it for them. However, this doesn’t negate their moral responsibility to respond more appropriately. All in all it stinks of hypocrisy, considering recent disclosures relating to child abuse and whatever else lies festering in the closet. The Catholic Church’s self declared divine mandate to be the moral conscience of the world is nothing but the pompous, self-righteous posturing of a large group of very sad and desperate men.

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Update: Harper government actually stands up for science… wha?

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of our current Federal government. They are decidedly opposed to any use of science in decision-making, preferring instead to appeal to ideologies rather than reality. The study of science and logical positivism make you, on average, more liberal than conservative – preferring to side with what works rather than stapling yourself to what you agree with. As Stephen Colbert so succinctly put it, “Reality, as you know, has a strong liberal bias.”

That’s why I was shocked to read this news story:

The Canadian government will not fund a clinical trial of the so-called liberation therapy for multiple sclerosis at this time, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq says. Aglukkaq spoke to reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday, a day after a panel of North American experts announced they unanimously recommended against supporting a clinical trial of the treatment in Canada as yet. Aglukkaq commissioned the expert panel’s report from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which funds medical research, and the MS Society of Canada. “I feel the most prudent course of action at this time is to accept the recommendation of the country’s leading researchers,” Aglukkaq told a news conference (emphasis mine).

Did I say shocked? I should have said ‘floored and rended into a state of utter disbelief’. The Harper government (so called because he calls the shots, and everyone else runs his plays) actually relying on the expertise of people who know what they’re talking about? Surely I must be hallucinating. Particularly from a party that talks a big game about letting people make their own decisions, regardless of how unwise those decisions may be (a view apparently shared by my “nemesis”).

I’ve been skeptical of this ‘liberation therapy’ since it was first announced. My skepticism isn’t merely because it’s a stark departure from accepted practice, but because as a person who works in and is trained in health research, I recognize that many times these ‘radical’ approaches fail to stand up to rigorous scrutiny. A panel of experts recommended against CIHR fast-tracking large-scale clinical trials until smaller, well-controlled trials showed a benefit to the treatment. This is simple pragmatism to anyone in the health research community – it’s not a good idea to experiment on a large group of people unless you are reasonably sure they will actually benefit from it. Ethics boards actually demand this exact type of rigour before allowing research to go through. I am hopeful and optimistic that this treatment could potentially make a positive impact in the lives of people suffering from a horrible disease, but I temper my optimism with skepticism to say that I won’t advocate its use until we know for sure if it works or not.

So the Harper government thinks we should listen to the experts, and make our decisions based on that. Could this be a sign that they’re not as anti-science and ideological as I thought?

No, it’s not:

An RCMP report that evaluates the long-gun registry as cost-effective, efficient and an important tool for public safety hasn’t changed the mind of the Conservative MP behind a bill to scrap the registry. In an interview Tuesday on CBC TV’s Power and Politics with Evan Solomon, Candice Hoeppner says the report told her nothing new. “My position remains steadfast as does our party’s position,” she said. “We believe the long-gun registry needs to end. As legislators, that’s our job, to look at policy, to decide what’s in the best interests of Canadians and make those decisions. So, nothing has changed.”

So instead of experts using their training and experience to help decide what’s the best use of public funds to protect the lives and property of Canadians, Ms. Hoeppner thinks that political appointees are better suited to do it. Political appointees, I’ll add, that have no experience or training in anything other than politics. Even conservatives will have to agree that if someone’s going to be making our decisions for us, it would be better if they actually knew what they were talking about.

Then again, maybe they don’t have to agree at all:

An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal slams the federal government for its efforts to shut down Insite in downtown Vancouver, Canada’s only safe injection site for drug addicts… The paper points out that soon after it was elected, the Conservative government removed harm reduction as one of the four pillars of its National Anti-Drug Strategy. The four-pillar strategy, endorsed by the World Health Organization also includes treatment, enforcement and prevention.

I mean, just because a bunch of eggheads who have spent years of their lives studying the problem and potential solutions doesn’t mean that they know what they’re talking about, or that you should listen to them. It definitely doesn’t mean you should accept the evidence that’s right in front of your face.

No wait, that’s exactly what it means.

The tiiiiiimes they are a-changin’!

The 20th century, which saw some of the worst atrocities in the history of the world, also saw some of the greatest social victories. India accomplished its independence from Britain after a long and bloody struggle. A world was spurred to action to halt a racist and homicidal military political machine. Here in North America we saw the women’s suffrage movement finally force the establishment to officially recognize the fact that women are people, not property. Similarly, we saw many major battles won for black civil rights in North America, particularly in the United States, but also right here at home.

The latest battle seems to be the fight for gay rights. As LGBT people struggle to establish equal treatments and protections, the social zeitgeist seems to be moving in their favour. For example, this was front page news a couple weeks ago:

Vancouver Police announced charges Thursday against four men in two separate attacks on gays in Vancouver’s downtown core in recent weeks. Both attacks are being investigated as possible hate crimes, Const. Jana McGuinness said.

The fact that Vancouver has hate crimes is not exactly news, but the part that amazed me is not only that the arrests made front-page news, but how the police were able to apprehend the suspects so quickly:

In the Holtzman-Regier case, McGuinness said police got many tips from the public, especially after video footage of the suspects was released June 18. “It is so important that people get on the phone immediately and report these crimes to police,” she said. “The arrests are coming because we are getting the support and help of the public and we have victims who are willing to report these crimes.”

It seems that the days of victims of assault actually being victims is numbered. So too are the days when the public is willing to tolerate hate-motivated crimes against homosexuals. People are not content to perpetuate the status quo of systemic prejudice against this group of people (and, I hope, any group of people).

The part that I’m not wild about is the fact that the homophobic comments the attackers made can be admitted into court as aggravating factors, possibly netting a longer sentence. Similar to hate speech, I worry about hate crime legislation. I can almost understand the need to provide additional protection to groups that are particularly vulnerable to attack, but I am not a fan of legislating peoples’ feelings. If someone can show me data that hate crime legislation acts as an effective deterrent against assault, I’ll happily sign on; however, if they’re just a feel-good way to give longer prison terms to people whose views we don’t like then I have a big problem with that.

But yes, the social landscape appears to be becoming more equal. At least, if the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court is to be believed:

Two gay men who said they faced persecution in their home countries have the right to asylum in the UK, the Supreme Court has ruled. The panel of judges said it had agreed “unanimously” to allow the appeals from the men, from Cameroon and Iran.

The two men had to appeal their initial decision to the Supreme Court, because the initial ruling they received was that they wouldn’t face persecution if only they’d stop being so gay. Like, seriously guys. Why can’t you just hide your gayness in some kind of… enclosed space? Maybe like a bedroom? No, bedrooms are too big, and they have windows so people might be able to see. Maybe something smaller… with no windows… what could that be?

To my pleased shock and amazement, the presiding judge wrote a decision that I think will become a landmark in the gay rights struggle in the same way that Brown v. Board of Education is for the black civil rights movement:

Lord Hope, who read out the judgement, said: “To compel a homosexual person to pretend that his sexuality does not exist or suppress the behaviour by which to manifest itself is to deny his fundamental right to be who he is. Homosexuals are as much entitled to freedom of association with others who are of the same sexual orientation as people who are straight.”

That’s what equal rights means. Sadly, the government of Cameroon doesn’t seem to get that. If two straight people are allowed to walk down the street holding hands, or smooch on a sidewalk, or any number of things that couples like to do, then passing a set of laws forbidding gay people from doing those same behaviours is persecution. Saying that it’s only okay as long as you don’t get caught is ludicrous hypocrisy – akin to those people here in North America who complain about a gay agenda to ‘turn kids all queermosexual’, and that if they just stopped being so… well so gay all the time then they’d be safe from persecution. The problem isn’t with gay couples, the problem is with anyone who thinks that the rest of the world must conform to private bigotry.

Reaction to the G8/G20 summit

I’m a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing. It’s interesting to get a perspective (albeit a fictional one) on what happens in the halls of government, to see how the sausage gets made. One of my favourite episodes involves a meeting by the Director of Communications with a group of youth protesting the World Trade Organization. Toby wryly observes that it’s like “protest summer camp”, as the protesters are poorly-organized, lack a coherent message, and do not seem capable of dealing with someone in a position to actually do something. He mocks them both under his breath and openly to their faces. At the end of the episode, he confides to one of his fellow senior-level staffers that if he wasn’t working for the White House, he’d be out on the picket lines with them.

That’s how I feel about this weekend’s G8/G20 clusterfuck.

First off I want to say that, and I absolutely cannot stress this enough, VIOLENCE IS NOT SPEECH. The Charter protects the right of citizens to free expression. The goal of free speech is to have all ideas out in the open air, where they can be debated. The virtue of this approach is that ideas that are not necessarily popular cannot simply be shut down by the capricious whim of either the majority, or whoever happens to be in power at that moment. Of all of the rights that we have in this country, free speech/free expression is, in my mind, the most important one. It is what separates us from theocratic countries that use the power of the state to shut down political opposition and legitimate citizen movements.

Donning a black mask, running through the streets, smashing windows and setting fires, then abandoning those masks to avoid capture by police is the complete opposite of the idea of free speech. It is a violation of everything that is good about free speech protections. It is the face of a mass of cowardice and stupidity, and is an abject abuse of my rights as a citizen. If you think that smashing a window is a viable form of protest, then smash the shit out of the window – but stand by your actions. Smashing a window and then running tells the world nothing except that you are a selfish asshole who disregards the rights of others because it’s fun. Burning a cop car and then running tells the world that you are in no way willing to work with others to solve problems in society, you are just out for yourself in your infantile tantrum. Spraypainting “bomb the banks” and then running tells the world that you are a mindless anti-corporate bandwagon jumper who absolutely cannot be counted on to help make the world a better place.

I wish I was a better writer so that I could adequately express the complete and utter contempt in which I hold someone who hides behind a black mask and a gang in order to get away with trashing personal property. I am not a violent person, and I abhor the use of force to solve interpersonal problems, but if I was presented with a Black Bloc member and the opportunity to do so, I would beat the living snot out of the little over-entitled, pseudo-punk shits who ran like children when faced with the consequences of their actions. They are beneath contempt. Violent revolt is sometimes necessary in the development of a society, but it has to mean something. The violence this weekend was meaningless. It was a bunch of assholes who saw an opportunity for cheap laughs by burning property and assaulting people.

There are two great tragedies of this weekend’s events (aside from the abrogation of the rights of law-abiding citizens who were caught in police sweeps, having committed no crimes, which is an absolute tragedy in and of itself). The first is the fact that there were a number of people there who had legitimate cause to protest. They were exercising their rights as free citizens to voice opposition, and raise issues on the world stage. The acts of the black-clad assholes buried the efforts of legitimate protesters who were trying to make a positive difference in society. I may not agree with any number of the issues that the protesters wanted to bring up, but they were interested in presenting a principled stand and were willing to confront authority openly and courageously. The assholes ruined this opportunity, ensuring that nobody will ever hear the voice of the constructive. I commend Toronto mayor David Miller for accurately distinguishing between the protesters and the “thugs” (although I prefer the term assholes, he’s a politician and has to be a bit less colourful).

The second tragedy is one that is a bit more germane to the second topic of this blog: race. I took a look through photo galleries of the assholes, and played a game I like to play sometimes called “spot the black people”. The best part of the game is that among groups of people who are supposedly demonstrating on behalf of the poorest and most disenfranchised people on the planet, you’ll never spot those people among the group. You can’t talk about the victims of globalization and the global economy without talking about Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia. Look at the pictures – I challenge you to find a non-white face among the crowd. As difficult as it is to spot income, the group did not strike me as poorly-fed and impoverished people rising up against authority – they resembled a group of middle-class hypocrites who wear the trappings of poverty for street cred, while living off the largess of their parents. Here’s a hint: if you joined up with the Black Bloc because you got a Twitter Alert on your iPhone while you were serving cappuccinos at Starbucks, you aren’t fighting against the man. You’re just as responsible for the suffering of the poor as those who you claim to be demonstrating against – you are part of the system.

As Toronto recovers from this event, I cannot help but recall my own experience during the Vancouver Olympics this past February. I made a poor choice to walk down Georgia street on my way home, and was blocked by a massive protest march. For those of you not familiar with Vancouver, that would be like marching at Bay/Bloor. The streets were absolutely jammed with people shouting slogans and carrying signs. I immediately noticed the actions of police officers – they were there to ensure the safety of the marchers. They did not jeer, or harass/assault people who were exercising their rights to speech, even when it shut down the core of the city. Even when the protesters arrived at the blockades around the stadium, both sides kept their cool. It wasn’t until the next day when the assholes showed up and smashed the windows of the Bay at Georgia/Granville that any arrests or assaults took place. Vancouver had its own G8/G20 protest here this weekend. No arrests, no injuries, no problems. The few assholes who showed up to cause trouble were detained and identified, but no formal charges were laid (which is regrettable, but the cops don’t work for me).

I am deeply saddened and enraged by the actions of a cowardly bunch of callow fucks. There are real issues in the world to protest, real problems that need to be solved. If you want to fight against the forces of oppression, you have to be willing to stand up for your beliefs. Being a citizen comes with responsibilities, and when you smash shit with a mask on, not only do you abdicate those responsibilities, but you simultaneously abdicate any claim to the legitimacy of your position among reasonable people.

Almost as if on cue…

The day I post about religion, sex and hypocrisy, an anti-gay crusader gets busted for hiring a male prostitute to “carry his luggage” on an international trip. Again, they’re not even trying to make my job difficult.

I’d talk about it at length, but CLS over at Classically Liberal has done a great job already:

The young man to the left is looking for work: he is willing to trade value for value. Fair enough. His employment ad mentions his skills and sought after attributes. He offers “good times,” “escort for days” and is “uncut, versatile, nice ass.” He is “For a sensual meet or companionship” and promises to “do anything you say as long as you ask.” He says he is bisexual, has a “large” cock and has specialties: “Vanilla, Leather, Anal, Oral, Shaving, Spanking, Role Playing, Kissing, Toys, Feet.” He is also available for modeling, go-go dancing, stripping and massage. He is multi-talented clearly.

Apparently we are also supposed to believe his most sought after talent is carrying luggage.

Also be sure to check out CLS’s previous post on free speech and the religious double-standard. It’s good stuff.