Category Archives: Blog

Let Me Tell You Why

Someone blows up a bus or a building or a bunch of people, and then everywhere, every time, a universal, almost archetypal cry goes up asking, “Why? Why?! How could anyone do such a thing? What kind of a person would do this? Why?!” And the question is always repeated everywhere in the media, too, even as they splash the blood and guts across every screen and page: “Why?!”

And it’s an understandable question. You might ask it yourself sometime.

When soldiers in airplanes blast your neighbourhood into the stone age and everyone you know and love is mangled or killed, you might ask, “Why?”

When your child is caught under the bombed rubble, unreachable, screaming to her death, you could ask, “Why?”

When you’re stumbling alone through the burning city with your skin dripping off your charred bones, you probably will ask, “Why?”


Well, I can tell you why.

Let me tell you why.

Because we glorify killing. Around the world, humans have glorified killing. We build monuments to warriors and honour them on anniversaries of battles.

And we teach our children to kill. We tell them that war can be important, noble and beautiful. We tell them killing can bring peace. Killing can be a moral, righteous act, and sometimes it’s the best way to protect yourself, your loved ones and your country — even the only way. Killing can be an expression of the deepest love. Killing can be God’s work. We tell them war has toppled evil, godless tyrants and liberated legions of the enslaved and downtrodden. We tell them that often through history the real, final solution has not been widespread changes of heart, not insight, not creative cures, not concession, not diplomacy, surrender or compromise; we say killing was the cure. Killing has been a natural, normal act throughout human history, we tell them, and preparing to kill is sober and wise.

We even advertise it. Would you let a serial murderer praise the greatness of killing on a series of primetime television commercials about being the best you can be?

Yes, you would. You do.

And we’ll pay them to kill. We take teenagers who may be lonely or depressed, who may have behavioural problems, who may have sexual confusions, who may be spiritually vacuous or filled with religious or political propaganda, who may not be particularly intelligent or sensitive, who may know little of life, who may drink alcohol often, who are simply teenagers, who may have grown up in a culture obsessed with portrayals of gratuitous violence either aggrandized or imaginatively, grotesquely splattered, and we encourage them and pay them to enter into training to learn to kill on command without questioning.

Then finally we act surprised. We act shocked and outraged when our soldiers rape women and murder children. When they torture with glee, when they wantonly massacre families, we all wonder in supportive togetherness, “Why?”

Of course, there’s nothing at all surprising about it. Let’s get this straight: We practise and endorse an official policy of training hormone-charged, out-of-control kids to kill. Duh.

And then we support and encourage each other in reacting with utter shock when some of these kids end up uncontrollably killing. What th-?? How stupid are we, exactly?

And of course, basically, this whole charade of pretending we don’t understand the true nature and consequences of what we ourselves believe and do makes us look like such pathetic, stupid, ugly, violent hypocrites, that some people sometimes become overwhelmed with a desire to kill us.

Kind of obvious really, isn’t it?

So that’s why.

Next time, you’ll understand.

City of Vancouver CCTV Policy Documents

For interested researchers, here is the City of Vancouver’s Privacy Impact Assessment for its Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) surveillance camera systems, written in 2009. And here’s the City of Vancouver REM CCTV Policy, active as of 2012, but written in 2005. I obtained these through freedom of information requests. For more background on these documents and the contradictions they expose, see my article in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, which also discusses the 2009 report to Vancouver Council about the CCTV project.

RCMP: We’ve Never Spoken about Our ALPR Program

After eleven months of asking for “all documents of all types” about their Automatic Licence Plate Recognition vehicle surveilliance program, and four months with my complaint in process with the federal Information Commissioner, this week the RCMP Access to Information and Privacy staff finally sent me documents!!!

A handful of documents that is… Well, the RCMP had managed to get my request limited to a small number of requests for specific documents. And here’s what I finally got:

  • A copy of a report about ALPR written by several professors and already available on the internet.
  • Several letters to and from the federal Privacy Commissioner’s office, which the Privacy Commissioner’s office gave to me two months ago.
  • A 2-page “terms and conditions” document for use of ALPR which RCMP staff had already given me four months ago.
  • One redacted print-out of one ALPR database record, along with a statement that to get the rest of the data records from Victoria alone would cost me $8,660 in search fees.

That’s it. That’s all.

And to top it off, according to RCMP Access to Information staff, do you know how many emails about ALPR have been sent to or received by Sgt. Warren Nelson, the head of the ALPR program in BC, over the last 7 years as the program has expanded from a few cars to 42 cars? ZERO.

That’s right. Apparently, Nelson hasn’t even written those emails about ALPR to me that I seem to have copies of. Or else, RCMP ATIP staff have determined that emails to journalists are not public information…

And guess how many meetings the RCMP have had at which ALPR was discussed in the past seven years? You guessed it: ZERO. Or else, they’ve simply never taken any minutes, even once.

Finally, there is, according to the RCMP, no up-to-date operational manual for the RCMP’s ALPR system.

This is a blatant and egregious breaking of the law by the RCMP with regard to public access to information.

It boggles the mind that BC Minister of Justice Shirley Bond just signed the whole province up for another 20 years of this, without getting any oversight and accountability mechanisms built in.







Please Help Me Understand: What’s Weaver DOING!?

Climate scientist Andrew Weaver is fond of (rightly) lambasting the media for generally poor coverage of climate science. For the coverage of his most recent report about the oil sands, though, he has only himself to blame. I had to spend two hours studying and engaging in a back and forth with his co-author Neil Swart to figure out the real facts behind Weaver’s own sensationalist and misleading public claims about his findings.

Let’s get one thing straight, first: Climate change is clearly occurring, and Andrew Weaver is a better climate scientist than I am. He’s also a lot more famous. However, Weaver keeps wading with his opinions into areas of communications, media and politics where, in my estimation, he’s consistently doing a bad job. This latest media storm he’s caused is a perfect example.

Here’s the headline from Weaver’s own February 21, 2012 article on Huffington post: “My New Study: Coal is 1500 Times Worse for the Environment than Oil Sands“. I probably don’t need to tell very many people how much international airplay this has gotten. ‘Gosh, if that’s true, the oil sands suddenly seem squeaky clean!’ Guess who’s loving and promoting that message?

Just a few problems with Weaver’s “science” and “facts” here.

The report he wrote with student Neil Swart, which Swart was kind enough to forward to me in its entirety along with supplemental analyses they’d done, actually only focuses on carbon emissions, not “environment” impacts — they admit that themselves right up front in the report. “It is important to recognize that our estimates do not include greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide and do not address other potentially deleterious environmental, health and social side effects of oil-sand production.” So that means, Weaver has included that word “environment” in his Huffington blog headline merely for sensationalist effect. Okay, maybe skewing the facts in the headline and then clarifying further down is sometimes understandable for a scrappy journalist trying to draw attention to some obscure, little local issue; but when you’re one of the world’s most prominent scientists writing about one of the most important scientific issues of our time?

Second, it turns out the only reason coal is “1500 times worse” in terms of emissions is because, well, there’s somewhere approaching 1500 times as much coal on the whole planet as there is oil in Canada’s oil sands. Again, Weaver and Swart admit this right in their commentary: Yes, coal produces slightly more carbon emissions than tar sands oil, but “Coal’s significance is due to the large tonnage available,” they write. During my exchange about it with Swart yesterday, he confirmed their number came from multiplying a slightly higher per-unit emissions rate from coal times the earth’s much vaster stores of coal: “The 1500 number would be a combination of these two things, the large tonnage being the dominant factor.”

As for those slightly higher per-unit carbon emissions from coal, even that number is dubious. The way Weaver and Swart calculated it, they subtract the carbon emissions generated by the coal being burned to help extract and process tar sands bitumen into usable oil. Weaver writes in his blog that they did that because the coal “shouldn’t be double-counted.” In this context, though, following this logic, we would then also have to say that a coal-fired electrical plant generates zero carbon emissions, because we “shoudn’t double-count” the coal.

And by the way Weaver frames his whole argument, in the end, he’s explaining that tar sands oil will increase global temperatures 0.36C — an amount he would normally be crying holy catastrophe about, but in this context he seems to be suggesting is so minimal compared to what all the coal in the world could do that we scarcely need to be concerned about it or about the tar sands.

I’m sure that’s not exactly what Weaver wants the public “takeaway” to be, and he does try to talk his way out of it, but by that point the damage is done.

Whether he’s shilling for the environmentally toxic BC Liberal party, or pumping nuclear energy, or claiming tar sands oil is ‘better for the environment’, this seems to be a persistent problem for Weaver. He’s just not very politically or media-savvy, and he often even undermines his own scientific credibility when he wades into battles in these arenas.

A message to Andrew Weaver, then: The next time you have something to say in public, get a good communications advisor and political strategist to help you. Out of respect for your climate science work, I’m sure many would do it pro-bono. So please, just do it; for the good of the planet.

RCMP & VicPD ALPR Documents Released

My article “Hidden Surveillance”, which investigates the RCMP and Victoria Police Department’s Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) program, has been released in the February issue of Focus magazine and is now available online here. My thanks to Kevin McArthur of Stormtide and, Christopher Parsons, along with Kris Constable of PrivaSecTech and everyone at IdeasMeetings for their help, interest, perspectives and encouragement along the way. As a supplement to the article, below are documents attained so far from my provincial Freedom of Information and federal Access to Information requests. (In the U.K., such programs are often called Automatic Number Plate Recognition, or ANPR.)

The RCMP Privacy Impact Assessment (October 2009) for its Automatic Licence Plate Recognition program. (A new PIA is apparently at the draft stage as of January 2012).

Victoria Police Department correspondence and other records on its ALPR program: Pages 1-31. Pages 32-55. Pages 56-101.

The 2011 Letter of Agreement, Terms and Conditions for ALPR use between the RCMP and other police agencies (two pages).

A one-page spreadsheet from the RCMP summarizing police actions taken in response to ALPR hits throughout BC from 2007-2011.

For serious researchers, here are the detailed ALPR hit logs from the Victoria Police Department: June-July 2010. July-October 2010. November-December 2010. January-February 2011. February-May 2011. May-September 2011.