On free assembly and bringing Taber into the current century.

There are no rights more critical than our individual ones. Infringements on individual rights have to be countered and exposed as soon as they crop up. The erosion of individual rights is almost always an incremental thing and when it happens on even a micro level as it is happening in Taber Alberta, it is a big and important issue.

Depiction of Taber Mayor, Council and Police Chief.

Depiction of Taber Mayor, Council and Police Chief.

The Mayor and police chief of the city of Taber appeared on numerous news sites whining about the ridicule and bad press that they have been getting over their ridiculous bylaws. Sorry but those imbeciles implemented a backwoods, hillbilly style local bylaw that is simply a gross violation of a number of individual rights. Did they really think that people would quietly let them get away with trying to set back individual rights in their town by centuries? I know that I and others who value civil liberties will not let this crackpot law go. The Mayor and his supporters would be well served to repeal this idiocy before it goes to the courts and is tossed out which will doubtless lead to even more ridicule of their community. Sadly, the Mayor and police chief of Taber appear to be suffering under a deficit of common sense so it will likely take the time of a court and judge to explain to these fools that their bylaw is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

In this article we see Taber Mayor Henk De Vlieger and police chief Alf Rudd pissing and moaning (oops is that a swear?) about the backlash that their primitive bylaw has generated.

While the Mayor and Chief flaccidly try to point to other jurisdictions that have bylaws against spitting and noise, they skirt over the part where their bylaw outlaws the gathering of more than 3 people if a peace officer should make the arbitrary decision that that they may disturb the peace. This is a gross violation of free assembly and simply cannot be allowed to stand.

Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms pretty explicitly protects free assembly and association.

We are a spoiled society in that we have had these critical rights protected for a long time and many of us have forgotten how hard some people had to fight to win these rights for us. We can’t let those rights erode now.

One of the first things that any dictatorship will do is limit the right of free association and assembly. This keeps any opposition from organizing and stops visible public protest. In the days before modern communications laws banning assembly were very effective in halting things such as union organization or the organization of political movements. How could you begin to halt a dictatorship if you couldn’t gather more than three people together at any given time?

This law in Taber will be shot down. The only questions now are when and how. It is up to the sad little leadership in that backward city to determine how much more mockery they are willing to endure in protecting this legal atrocity before it is inevitably tossed out. I fully intend to be putting elements of this bylaw to the test soon if the fools in Taber won’t get rid of it soon. Do they really want me down there?

Perhaps they should ask Nenshi how much joy I can bring to a city council and Mayor when I feel they are improperly applying laws.

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Recall legislation would have settled questions with disgraced MLA Mike Allen

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There are few more effective ways to destroy a political career than to get busted in a sex scandal. Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo MLA Mike Allen pretty much eliminated any real political future for himself when he got arrested in a prostitution sting while on government business in Minnesota. Whether charges get laid or not, the damage is pretty much done at this point.

While Allen has resigned from the Progressive Conservative caucus and all committees (to save Redford the task of kicking him out of those roles), as of this writing Mike Allen is still sitting as a member of the legislative assembly.

In light of this scandal there really are only two possible paths in Allen’s future; he can resign from the legislature altogether or he can sit in shame as an independent lame member who gets the odd opportunity to ask a question during sessions.

I can only see two reasons why Allen would choose to remain in the legislature for the remainder of his term. Mike Allen may simply really really need the job and the money and is willing to endure the shame of sitting in there or Allen may remain in his seat as a favor to Redford to ensure a by-election does not add yet another Wildrose MLA to the opposition that has been so effectively bringing the Redford administration to task this last year.

If we had recall legislation in Alberta Mike Allen could have had a third option ahead of him. Allen could have legitimized his place in the legislature by withstanding an effort to recall him or even have won his seat again in a by-election triggered by a recall.

People usually view recall as a means to get rid of an MLA who no longer enjoys much support among their constituents but it should be remembered that recall can vindicate a member who is caught in a controversy as well.

Recall is a mechanism that allows the electorate to potentially get rid of an elected official should they have done something so odious while elected that a large segment of the electorate feels that this person should no longer be able to serve out the rest of their term. Mike Allen’s prostitution bust is a perfect example of this. The situation and perception of Mike Allen as a person has dramatically changed and many within Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo may now feel that they do not want somebody who indulges in such activities to represent them any longer. The package that was presented to voters in that constituency just over a year ago looks much different today and voters may want a new choice.

I have seen some people defending Mike Allen and speaking to how well he has served the community in a municipal role and then as an MLA. Some people have expressed the view that Allen’s transgression is not serious enough to warrant his resignation as an MLA. The decision of how serious this issue is can only be left to the electorate and not to straw polls and pundits. Recall legislation would have allowed for this.

Mike Allen may remain in his seat and weakly try to claim that he has heard from constituents that they want him to remain. I suspect that most of Alberta would look at such claims with a jaundiced eye at best.

Recall legislation must be crafted so that the bar is not set unreasonably high nor so low that it is done frivolously. This has been managed in many jurisdictions before and there is no reason that it couldn’t be brought into legislation effectively within Alberta.

Only though a full accounting to his electorate can Mike Allen now claim to be entitled to his seat as an MLA. It is too bad that we don’t have the means in an effective recall legislation to have given Allen the chance to have vindicated himself through his constituents. A failed recall effort would shut down any further claims that Allen is not entitled to remain in his seat as an MLA.

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On the Zimmerman verdict.

I have been working predominantly in the USA for the last few months. As you can imagine, the Zimmerman trial has been pretty big news down here lately and I have found the coverage of it to be fascinating. Down the road I will likely have one of my more long-winded rants on this but as I am on the tail end of a field stretch I will let somebody more learned than I on the Florida justice system cover things.

A Florida lawyer has posted a great rant on the post-verdict reaction to Zimmerman’s acquittal. I particularly like how he addresses those who are commenting who clearly did not actually follow the trial along with his shots at the horrific media coverage along with the piss-poor “experts” who really should never grace a television screen again. Strongly recommended reading for those watching this issue.

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Intolerable!

 ::August 26 Update::

Mariko Dormer has been charged as the person beating the dogs in the video. Lets hope she gets the jail time possible and that she clearly deserves. It is time to set an example. http://calgary.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=991412&binId=1.1201914&playlistPageNum=1

Animal abuse is horrific in any circumstances. I am getting more than a little sick and tired of hearing reports of abuse coming from dog grooming and daycare facilities that clearly are not monitoring their staff and operations well enough.

At Chasin Tails an employee beat a boxer puppy until it was vomiting blood. This was caught on video last year. At the same doggie daycare, a dog died shortly after having being picked up a few months ago though to be fair the investigation was not complete at the time of this story.

Today I see a video being released of a groomer at Fur Kids (1009 10 St. SW) Calgary where a groomer is beating dogs with a hairbrush and a vacuum cleaner. In this case it took a distraught employee to secretly videotape the beatings and expose them. How many beatings were happening off camera? Is it really possible that the owners had utterly no clue about this? The responsibility is theirs in any case.

Were it not for video evidence neither of the above stories would have come to light.

We entrust our pets to these establishments. To many of us our pets are family members and abuse of them is not to be tolerated.

Canada needs stronger animal abuse laws without doubt. Aside from the law, we as consumers can help reduce abuse by refusing to patronize these establishments when abuse cases pop up.

I understand that not all employees or owners of these establishments abuse animals. It is the responsibility of people in these establishments to expose and end abuse as soon as it is encountered though. If we as consumers are more inclined to vote with our wallets we can encourage these people to run better facilities.

Shop carefully when choosing a place to entrust your pets people. If the above businesses go broke, perhaps the remaining ones will feel more inspired to ensure that their standards of animal care remain high. We need to shame animal abusers where legislation is failing to stop them.

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Good intent is nice but we have to look at outcomes.

One thing we love to do collectively as Canadians is to bury our heads in the sand when we don’t like the realities of issues and policies around us. We implement simplistic feel-good policies that may have the best of intentions and viciously protect these policies from all attempts by people who may want to inject a dose of reality into them. If somebody dares to question these flakey policies, inevitably they will be accused of supporting whatever ill these policies were created to ease.

I will start by laying out the vapid and inevitable response I will get for touching on the issue of native incarceration rates:

Oh so you are OK with the gross over representation of natives in our prisons!

There. Now I will begin by responding that I am indeed not at all happy with the disproportionate number of natives incarcerated in Canada. What I am even more unhappy about is our continued support of countless initiatives in alternative sentencing based on race when they are so clearly a catastrophic failure.

Since the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples wrapped up nearly 20 years ago, our justice system has been scrambling to find ways to reduce the aboriginal incarceration rate in Canada. All sorts of resources and time have been directed towards training judges and instructing them directly to take “indianess”: into account when sentencing. “Sentencing circles” have been created for natives to try and avoid conventional courts. Countless healing lodges have been opened and maintained throughout Canada.

“Gladue” reports are brought into court to try to find every possible way to avoid sentencing natives to jail.

Despite all of these efforts to avoid sentencing natives to jail; Aboriginal incarceration rates have doubled in the last 20 years! While natives make up about 4% of Canada’s population, they currently make up over 23% of our prison population.

The image below from Statistics Canada rather starkly lays out just how badly all of these initiatives are failing. How colossal must a legislative failure get before we re-examine the base principles of the legislation?

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Yes, we must examine and address the issue of aboriginal incarceration in Canada. I think we can pretty clearly conclude at this point though that the issue is not in our courts or sentencing. To reach that conclusion though a person does have to set aside the intent of those policies and look objectively at how they are doing.

Race based policy is what led to the separated, miserable and dysfunctional native cultures in Canada. Despite that hard reality, people still insist on trying to fix this problem with even more race based policy. As has been covered here before: the reserve system is a failure by every possible measure! Crime is certainly no exception among these measures.

The reason that such a higher number of natives end up in our prisons is not that our courts are sentencing natives incorrectly, it is that natives are committing a disproportionately higher number of crimes in Canada. That is an ugly reality to face but it has to be done if we ever hope to solve some of these issues.

We must look deeper than our court system. When a native finds him/herself before a judge, the damage has already been done. What we need to look at is what drives such a high number of natives to crime. When we look at things that way, things get more simple yet complex at the same time.

The cause of the problem is actually very simple. Canada has a system of entrenched racial apartheid in reserves that is fostered and served by the racist Indian Act. As long as we keep people separated physically and legislatively from the rest of the world based on race, we will have the culture of misery and dependency that we see now. Crime is simply one of the many issues erupting from this sick system.

The solution is more complex. The reserve system and the Indian Act must both be abolished. To get there we need more people to pay attention to the devastation that our system of apartheid is creating and we need people prepared to battle the entrenched parasites in the Indian Industry who will fight tooth and nail to protect their self-interest in the system. The Indian Industry is loaded with high-level bureaucrats, scads of lawyers and countless “consultants” who bleed millions and millions from the entire native system. These people will not let their lucrative schemes built on the backs of natives go easily. Cries of racism, lawsuits and idiotic “scholarly” papers will be released in hopes of maintaining this status quo of native misery. It will take some tough legislators to face that down but it must happen eventually.

We need to look at all of our laws and systems with a critical eye. Set aside the intent that built these institutions and ask yourself: “is this working?”. When it comes to native affairs, most often the answer is a resounding “no”. Once we stop with the clearly proven failures in policy, we may have a chance to work towards some policy that actually works.

Good intent is nice but it really doesn’t get us anywhere on it’s own.

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Real transparency is what we need.

Buzz words come and go. I almost get nauseated when I hear the vapid overuse of the terms “vibrant” and “sustainable” these days particularly when they appear to be tossed into political speech with no context. The word transparency has been a popular word too and it has been terribly abused. Last spring while Alison Redford was claiming a balanced budget on her campaign of misinformation, she also used the word “transparency” constantly.

We know that Redford was lying about balancing the budget, and in light of Alberta’s transparency rating a couple months ago, it is clear that Redford was only paying lip service to that concept in the last provincial election too. Alberta is one of the least transparent provinces in the country.

True transparency is simple. With modern communications and databasing, there really is little excuse for exorbitant FOIP fees. It is not as if a government employee has to dig into a cavernous archive of micro-fiche any longer and provide a paper copy for an information request. Aside from some personnel employment specifics and some discussions that need to remain in-camera for competitive reasons, there really is no reason that Albertans should not be able to access damn near any government information at any time online.

We will have some election financing reforms coming in today. Hopefully some meaningful reforms come in this legislation. Our provincial government fired a Chief Electoral Officer the last time he dared to suggest changes to our electoral system so my faith in this corrupted government’s will to actually change things.

If we do see some good reforms in new legislation, it will only be because of the deep corruption that has been exposed in our current government with over 80 cases of apparent illegal contributions to the Progressive Conservatives having come to light. Transparency exposed these aspects of government corruption rather than any legislation and it took some very heavy digging by a determined CBC reporter to expose most of this. Most people simply do not have the time and resources to get all that information.

Redford showed that she is happy to gleefully spit in the face of the spirit of electoral finance legislation when her party happily pocketed what appears to have been a single cheque from Katz for $430,000 and then got to work on laundering it out to fit within the grossly loose contribution laws. This demonstrates again how legislation will have little effect on our current corrupted government.

Public exposure and shaming has far more deterrent effect on our government than any legislation will. As we have seen in the legislature yesterday and in the last election, the Redford government will lie blatantly and without hesitation in order to maintain their grip on power. With real transparency though, their lies can and will be exposed immediately.

When we see a government so deeply corrupt that the Premier’s own sister is laundering tax dollars back to the Progressive Conservative Party, I think we can say with confidence that we will not see true reform or transparency coming from this corrupted regime.

What I am saying is twofold;

Alberta needs a true and massive reform that will give real transparency of government spending and actions to the public.

Alberta will never get that transparency from a government as corrupted as our current one. We need to replace the governing party.

We don’t need legislation for immediate transparency though. We simply need open truthful dialog from our leaders. Below though, is the video of Alison Redford hiding from our provincial legislature and hiding from the press as the corruption involving her sister was exposed:

 

What a cowardly Premier we are saddled with. The biggest scandal of the year is surfacing and she hasn’t even the glimmer of courage or leadership to at least speak to this mess of her creating.

Transparency is to corrupted people such as the Redford Sisters as sunlight is to vampires.

Let’s keep working to dislodge the Progressive Conservative Party from the reigns of power in Alberta. We also must ensure that the incoming government has ironclad policies that will force real transparency upon the government and that putting those policies in place is a prime priority. Only then will we be able to keep corruption effectively out of our provincial administration.

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Abuse of electoral laws doesn’t bother you? How about tax evasion?

Understandably most people don’t really pay close attention to or study provincial electoral laws. They are dry and the way our Redford government has repeatedly stretched and abused them, surely many are wondering if we have electoral financing laws at all.

Personally, I would not be wholely against the lifting of all limits, ending the grossly generous tax-credit system for political contributions and simply focussing on ensuring full transparency of all fundraising. In the meantime however, we do have some laws regarding electoral financing and they should be abided by and equally applied to all parties. If the Redford government has not outright taken part in breaking our electoral financing laws, they certainly have been complicit in a gross and massive abuse of the spirit of the laws.

There was a similar situation a few years ago when the Wildrose Party was in it’s incarnation as the Alberta Alliance (yes they are technically the same party)., The Thorsteinson family had made unusually large contributions which rang the alarm bells of Elections Alberta. An investigation ensued which even involved the RCMP appearing in the party office demanding documents. Is the RCMP demanding documents from Katz, his family and the long list of associates that apparently all donated to the Redford government? With heavy pressure from opposition parties, Elections Alberta has almost grudgingly launched an investigation into the Katz scandal. Nothing less than such a police search of the PC offices would ensure equal application of the laws in this case.

If indeed it is true that one cheque for $430,000 was presented to the Progressive Conservative Party by Katz (the Globe has not been sued yet so I suspect that is true), then it will have to be proven that all of the people listed had shared access to accounts in such a way that they could all have come from one source such as this apparent cheque. That is the sort of thing that covers a married couple for example should they both donate through one cheque.

My wife Jane has done some incredible work in digging out who was supposedly at the source of all those donations and has documented it here.

Now is it really within the realm of credibility that all of those people had a shared account? Do you really believe that coincidentally so many tight associates and family members of Katz suddenly decided to donate the maximum legal amount individually to the Progressive Conservatives? Do you really believe Redford when she says she didn’t know anything about over 25% of her campaign funding from a single source? It would take a great deal of substance abuse to believe any of that.

There are couple of big “Ifs” in there though. If there was indeed over a dozen cheques writted from all of these individuals and it can be proven that it was their own money and not laundered by Katz through them then there is no problem. If there was a giant chain of joint accounts that led to the one account that wrote a single cheque for $430,000 (if it was indeed one cheque), then there is not a problem. Seems pretty unlikely though.

Now if this was indeed all from Katz and he gets away with it, we may as well dump our electoral financing laws altogether. Think of it this way, lets say I won the lottery and decided that I wanted to donate a million dollars to the Wildrose Party. All I would have to do is go to my local bar and shout out “Who wants a free guaranteed $1000 tax credit for their return this year?”. I could then just gather names and addresses from people and donate on their behalf. If I say only donated $5,000 per person using one million dollars, I could get 200 people tax credits equalling $200,000 taken from provincial tax revenue fraudulently. Possibly even more if I drop the donation to $2,500 each.

While PC apologists keep trying to dismiss this issue, the gravity of it simply can’t be understated. Leaving aside the clear appearance of influence peddling to a man who has a great deal to gain or lose through government actions, we have what could be a case of mass tax fraud.

The speaker of the legislature keeps trying to halt discussion of this as it being a partisan issue. Well Mr. Speaker, may opposition members speak about potential tax evasion? How many more excuses can the Speaker generate to quell debate on this issue?

This investigation is too important to get swept under the rug. We have to keep the noise up to keep this from going away before all of the facts are exposed.

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Let’s face reality, prostitution is simply never going away.

 This afternoon I decided to take a walk down Center Street North to Lina’s Market to grab some groceries  (strongly recommend that place to anybody for Italian food by the way). I was thinking of blogging further on the deteriorating condition of Center Street North as City Hall continues to sit on it’s hands with whether or not they will run an LRT line up Center Street in the future. This indecision by City Hall has left a large tract of the city in a development limbo which is leading to an increase in crime and a fast growing stretch of slum in what used to be a nice part of the city. Who in their right mind would maintain or develop a property when there is potential that it could soon be expropriated and torn down at any time?

 Walking is better way to get a look at how things are. I drive Center Street quite often but getting out on foot one can see much more closely and clearly how things are doing. Needless to say, in my hike I found that things were indeed even worse than I had thought. Virtually every house on Center that has not already been boarded up or torn down is in brutal disrepair. With an indifference to property maintenance and improvement, landlords have rented to predominantly the seediest of tenants. Crack houses are blossoming and who knows what else is going on in those firetraps along the street.

It is not only  rather undesirable people inhabiting these properties, undesirable businesses have been moving in as well. The are many many houses with sheets over the windows, a lighted “open” sign and the word “massage” painted on the window. A few years back I was quite naive and never really paid much attention to the massage parlours fronting for prostitution in the city and never really realized how many there were. In the 2009 Calgary Glenmore by-election I was tasked with trying to find a space for a campaign headquarters. In one strip-mall, I had found what I thought to be a good office space that we could use. I brought another person along to have a look and he immediately said that it was inappropriate. I was confused and asked why. He pointed to the office next to it which had it’s windows painted over and nothing aside from a lit “open” sign. He explained that it was a massage parlour providing prostitution. We found a better location and the campaign carried on. Media often came by to our headquarters and I can’t help but wonder what sort of awkward scenes may have ensued had we rented the first spot I had found as some “client” of the rub-and-tug next door comes out and bumps into a camera crew.

 I am digressing as is my wont. Either way, that experience led me to peripherally watch for those businesses and when you look for them it is quite surprising just how prolific they are in the city. There are many legitimate businesses providing massage of course. They are pretty easy to identify as they will be sure to trumpet that their massage services are therapeutic and advertise the credentials of their practitioners. I am sure that legitimate massage practitioners want more than anybody to ensure that the clients they get want no services aside from a proper massage.

 Along with these “massage” businesses, street prostitutes are beginning to appear. Our former community association president had frequent and disturbing prostitution issues right outside of his house. I was propositioned while simply sitting in my truck waiting for Jane to come out of a convenience store. It was surprising in her boldness and disturbing personally in that she felt I looked like a potential customer.

 Now in walking back today, I passed the the Northminster United Church on Center and 32nd Avenue. This church provides daycare to children and has a fenced play area right out front. I was mortified and outright disgusted to note a discarded condom while walking past the church parking lot. I can only guess that some creep had utilized the church parking lot to use the services of one of the local prostitutes. This activity, the location where it was carried out in and the bio hazard that was left behind really drives home why prostitution presents a great threat to residential communities and why it needs to be brought under control.

In light of these kinds of problems the kneejerk response is invariably to call for a police crackdown on prostitution in the area. While increased law enforcement may indeed reduce the overt prostitution in my area, it will not end it. The prostitutes, their pimps and their clientele will simply slide over into another district and the problem will be shared with a whole new crowd of innocent residents.

Afganistan has some of the strongest laws against prostitution in the world. Despite that, it is still happening there. If being potentially executed or being incarcerated for decades won’t stop prostitution can we finally safely assume that increased law enforcement is not the solution to this problem?

 I am sure if one interviewed 50 prostitutes they would find 50 different stories as to why they entered that line of work. Whether the person had addiction issues, poverty issues, mental health issues or even they possibly simply like that kind of work, some people will be drawn to taking the route of prostitution in order to make money. The legality of the issue really does not factor into things.

We have to learn to accept that there will always be an element of people who want to pay for sexual services and there will be an element of people providing those services. If we can be realistic and work from that basis we can work towards mitigating the real damages that prostitution causes.

It is not the act of the prostitution in itself that causes the most damages to communities. The problem is the involvement of the criminal element in the trade bringing associated crime with it. Pimps and gangs thrive on the abuse of women in prostitution and prostitutes working without pimp and gang protection can find themselves abused by their clientele. Drug use usually comes hand in hand with prostitution. In following with supply and demand, one can rest assured that dealers are always nearby and ready to supply addicted prostitutes as they earn their funds. These dealers will happily sell to our children as well and cause more neighborhood risks as their violent turf wars occasionally erupt. Massage parlours are notorious for practicing human slavery as dependent immigrant women find themselves trapped in those places. Underage girls can be found on the streets and in these brothels too. Disease is rampantly spread in this unregulated and illegal industry as well.

 The vast majority of the associated problems with illegal prostitution can be eliminated if we simply accepted reality and legalized and regulated prostitution. A red light district can be established well away from residential areas. Sex trade workers can be properly screened for diseases and it can be ensured that they are of legal age and willingly participating in the trade. Pimps can be eliminated and both clients and prostitutes can have their safety ensured in a protected environment. Taxes could be paid by businesses as well of course.

It is true that many addicted or otherwise troubled prostitutes would not qualify to work in a controlled brothel. These people would find the industry in street prostitution to be far less lucrative though as I imagine that most of those who frequent prostitutes would prefer to go to a safe and legal facility rather than take on the associated risks that come from patronizing street hookers. Police could focus on the remaining illegal and unregulated prostitution activities which could greatly help in reducing the practice. It can be hoped that with illegal prostitution being less lucrative the troubled people participating in in may be more likely to seek help to get off the streets.

 Legalizing prostitution will hardly solve all problems by any stretch of the imagination. Considering that the practice has been happening for millenia though we have to accept that it is not going away and we really should work on a realistic approach to this practice. This facade of enforcement and illegality is simply making things worse and pretty much everybody is losing here.

Essentially, if a person is of the age of majority it is none of our business what they legally chose to do with their own bodies. Supporting the legalization of prostitution does not mean one condones the practice, it simply means accepting reality. Nobody wants their daughters to make a living that way and paying for services cant be the most healthy sexual practice for men. One can oppose the law without condoning the practice.

The late great George Carlin covered this in a great rant. It is laden with expletives though and I do suggest that people not play this video at work or around kids.

Lets deal with this issue realistically. I am tiring of seeing the damage that the current setup for prostitution is doing to both people and my community. This hybrid of legal/illegal prostitution is simply a failure for all of us.

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A real issue, the wrong approach.

While loafing around the house shaking off jet lag, I saw some tweets rambling about an issue developing on 17th ave SW in Calgary between a foodie group and Alderman John Mar on an empty property lot. I was of course compelled to jump in the jeep to pop down and have a look for myself.

Below is the one picture that I took from the protestor’s facebook page; “Potatoes for the PEOPLE”  The rest of the pictures in this posting are my own. The “No Trespassing” sign appears to have since disappeared or been covered and the presence of that sign is indeed at the crux of this issue.

Now there is indeed a real issue with abandoned lots and buildings in Calgary. Nobody wants to live next to or even near a derelict building or lot. Unmaintained spaces are magnets for crime and drug use and they simply are ugly to look at. Fire hazards, unsavory people and discarded drug paraphernalia all present potential dangers to people in areas with many derelict spaces in them.

A lady named Donna Clarke lives next to an empty lot and she has spearheaded a protest on this. As a resident of Highland Park in Calgary I really can sympathize with Ms. Clarke on this one. Due to parts of my neighborhood being in something of a development limbo (I expand on that a little here), we have a stretch of Center Street North that is loaded with houses in varying states of decay which has led to crime problems in our neighborhood and many new local hazards (it looks like crap too).

Below is a house in disrepair and likely soon to be condemned on Center Street.

Here is a house that has been condemned. It looks like a neighbor has taken advantage of this to park his work trucks. The house though is a firetrap and a magnet for crime. The picture was taken from a pair of empty lots from houses already condemned and torn down by the city.

 

On another pair of empty lots, people are taking advantage of the abandonment by using the sites as impromptu garbage dumps.

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I have taken and posted the above pictures to establish that I am very familiar with this sort of issue and do strongly feel that we need to work as a city to reduce and avoid the buildup of derelict properties in our city. It is a serious issue and it impacts all parts of the city.

Now I will have to give credit to Donna for how she has carefully and cleverly framed her protest about the abandoned lot next to her home. Donna has with volunteers placed and painted used tires throughout the lot and is planting potatoes in these makeshift planters which will theoretically be bound for food banks should they be allowed to reach a stage of harvest. This is clever in that her protest against an empty lot is now tied in with urban art and food issues. I am seeing currently on social media that Alderman John Mar is unfairly being accused of opposing feeding the hungry and supporting the arts due to his asking that the law be enforced on this trespass.

It makes it a lose/lose situation as Mar is being derelict in his duty as a city councilor if he looks the other way on lawbreaking and he is being criticised as a cruel man for doing his job in calling bylaw enforcement and the police to deal with the trespass.

In the background, volunteers can be seen painting the dilapidated and admittedly ugly fence in bright colors.

Now getting back to the first picture and where the real problem is in all this; it is private property that was clearly marked as a “no trespassing’ area.

Whether you like what a neighbor is doing with their property or not, it simply is not acceptable or legal to jump on to their property and change it to suit your own taste. While the brightly colored fence may appear better to most eyes, we can’t presume that the owner wants it that way. Admittedly the owner likely could not care less what color the fence is but that is not the point here; it is neither Donna’s nor anybody else’s for that matter. The fence along with the lot itself is private property meaning that only the owner has the right to determine the colors and utilization of the dirt.

The abandoned lot is an eyesore and again I sympathize with Donna in her disdain for it. She does indeed live right next door. Still this issue is not even close to being so pressing in that it justifies setting aside our very important laws against trespassing and property rights. While it can be frustrating and painfully slow, we must deal with these things legislatively and properly. While it may appear to be a harmless protest, vigilante spud-farming simply can’t happen for a myriad of reasons not the least of which the precedent it would set if allowed to occur on private property.

According to both Donna and Councilor Mar, the city has indeed been working on this issue. Not long ago the lot was occupied by a crack house that was eventually condemned and demolished. Apparently the landowner has been fined as well. The city is not ignoring this lot even if the process appears slow.

When I arrived at the site, Councilor Mar was there and was engaged in discussion with Donna Clarke as pictured below.

Agree or disagree with his approach, Mar is indeed going there in person and engaging. Donna is rational and personable as well. It is not like her and her volunteers are presenting some profound threat to society at large.

Now I am going to go into a bit of a slippery slope argument here and will detail why I think it is particularly justified in this case.

The third person that can be seen in the picture is Tavis Ford. Tavis was one of the more prominent participants in the “Occupy” Calgary protest where squatters set up camp in Olympic Plaza for months. Tavis is a bright and personable activist. It was sort of nice to have a brief chat with him today as opposed to our encounters in an environment that was rather more tense during the “Occupy” thing.

The presence of Tavis is significant in this circumstance. For those familiar with the Calgary “Occupy” group, go here to look at the people involved in this “Potatoes for the people” group.  For those not familiar with the names (I don’t blame you), what we can see listed there are pretty much all of the prominent activists and those who supported them in the Calgary “Occupy” protest last fall. I occasionally have a look into the “occupy” facebook group and it can be seen that the core supporters have been infighting and seeking a new cause to try and reignite what they put together last fall. In other words, these are people with nothing better to do than squat on land illegally and they will not hesitate to do so.

People are saying Councilor Mar acted too fast in calling bylaw enforcement for this trespass. I say we can’t act quickly enough. Rest assured, we are not far at all from having illegal tents popping up on this land and then the nightmare of removing squatters will quickly eclipse the current headache of removing some tires. This is a very very real possibility here.

Donna Clarke pointed out that next to the lot is an abandoned funeral home which has had to be boarded up repeatedly due to people breaking in. I took a picture of what appeared to be bullet holes in the top window of that building which unfortunately did not turn out. I can’t think of what else would make holes that high up on a building. Ms. Clarke told me of a recent stabbing nearby that could be related to the derelict properties. Donna Clarke’s issue is real and it needs to be addressed before things degrade further. I do hope that things change there soon.

That all being said, laws must be respected and enforced. I do hope the lot is cleared out ASAP. Trespassing is not the answer.

Update:

As Chris McMillan (provincial NDP candidate in Calgary Mountainview) has been debating with me claiming nothing was done wrong unless the owner had made a bylaw complaint, I thought I would nip that BS in the bud.

Trespassing is simply illegal. The owner does not need to be presentto prevent it. The property lines need to be clearly defined and signs clearly posted. The property in question is clearly fenced and was posted “No trespassing”

The law can be found here.

It may be noted that under subsection 3 (4) it is illegal to obscure a “no trespassing” sign as well.

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What is with the prohibitionists these days?

What we have been seeing is a trend of incremental prohibitionism. The Progressive Conservative government has been constantly bringing in intrusive business legislation and taxing the hell out of anything they see as sinful. It is clear who the social conservatives are in Alberta and anybody pointing fingers at the Wildrose Party is way off base.

I wrote on Redford’s prohibitionism here.

I covered Redford’s nanny state social engineering here.

Redford has shown that she has embraced a mandate to engineer our actions in what she has determined to be “for our own good”, and she will not hesitate to step on some rights to do it. This has now had the consequence of emboldening others who would like to see big government legislate our personal actions even further.

Police Chief Rick Hanson is speaking out hoping that government raises the drinking age.

5 young Calgarians have died in the last year from illegal ecstasy overdoses and Chief Hanson wants police to chase first year university students who may dare have a beer!

 Get your head out of your ass Hanson. You complain about lack of police resources every budget year yet you want to have officers running around charging 18 year olds for drinking? Your police can’t be that strapped if these are your priorities. Take care of the youth dying from illegal drug use before you come back to us to try and broaden the age of prohibition.

 As I saw pointed out in other comments, 18 year olds can enlist in the army and die for our country. 18 year olds can vote in elections and 18 year olds can work and pay full taxes. 18 year olds can marry. The age of majority is 18. Get over it and let them drink.

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