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MPs consider contempt charges for Canadian company linked to Cambridge Analytica after raucous committee meeting

Aggregate IQ executives came to answer questions before a Canadian parliamentary committee. Then they had the misfortune of dealing with a well-connected British Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham:

At Tuesday’s committee meeting, MPs pressed Silvester and Massingham on their company’s work during the Brexit referendum, for which they are currently under investigation in the UK over possible violations of campaign spending limits. Under questioning from Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, Silvester and Massingham insisted they had fully cooperated with the UK information commissioner Elizabeth Denham. But as another committee member, Liberal MP Frank Baylis, took over the questioning, Erskine-Smith received a text message on his phone from Denham which contradicted the pair’s testimony.

Erskine-Smith handed his phone to Baylis, who read the text aloud.  “AIQ refused to answer her specific questions relating to data usage during the referendum campaign, to the point that the UK is considering taking further legal action to secure the information she needs,” Denham’s message said.

Silvester replied that he had been truthful in all his answers and said he would be keen to follow up with Denham if she had more questions.

It’s definitely a bold move to inform parliamentarians, operating in a friendly but foreign jurisdiction, that they’re being misled by one of their witnesses. So long as such communications don’t overstep boundaries — such as enabling a government official to engage in a public witchhunt of a given person or group — these sorts of communications seem essential when dealing with groups which have spread themselves across multiple jurisdictions and are demonstrably behaving untruthfully.

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2018.1.15

With another poll coming out warning how indebted Canadian are, and the personal and national risks of carrying so much debt, I’m glad that I spent so much time (and money!) last year shedding my consumer debts. I’m not looking forward to increases to student loan carrying costs but they’re manageable and won’t risk my quality of life. But I was in a privileged situation: I really don’t know what society is going to have to do to help people who have accumulated far too much debt, though increasing the borrowing costs might at least disincentivized people from accumulating large quantities of new debt.

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Supreme Court of Canada to Decide on Protection of Journalistic Material

From CBC News:

The materials at issue relate to three stories Makuch wrote in 2014 on a Calgary man, Farah Shirdon, 22, charged in absentia with various terrorism-related offences. The articles were largely based on conversations Makuch had with Shirdon, who was said to be in Iraq, via the online instant messaging app Kik Messenger.

With court permission, RCMP sought access to Makuch’s screen captures and logs of those chats. Makuch refused to hand them over.

RCMP and the Crown argued successfully at two levels of court that access to the chat logs were essential to the ongoing investigation into Shirdon, who may or may not be dead. They maintained that journalists have no special rights to withhold crucial information.

Backed by alarmed media and free-expression groups, Makuch and Vice Media argued unsuccessfully that the RCMP demand would put a damper on the willingness of sources to speak to journalists.

The conflicting views will now be tested before the Supreme Court.

This case matters for numerous reasons.

First, there has been a real drying up of certain sources, which has prevented journalists in Canada from bringing material to public light. Such material doesn’t just pertain to terrorism and foreign combatants but, also, white collar crime, political scandals, cybercrime issues, and more. The Canadian public is being badly served by the Crown’s continued pursuit of this case.

Second, this case threatens to further diminish relations between the state and non-state actors who may, as a result, be (further) biased against state authorities. It’s important to be critical of the government and especially aspects of the government which can dramatically reshape citizens’ life opportunities. But should the press gallery adopt an unwarranted and more critical and combative tone towards the government there could be a deleterious impact on the trust Canadians have in their government . By extension, this could lead to a further decline in the willingness to see the government as something that tries to represent the citizenry writ large. That kind of democratic malaise is dangerous to ongoing governance and a threat to the legitimization of all kinds of state activities.

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As effective encryption spreads, it may well be that the future of SIGINT lies increasingly in “end point” operations and other activities designed to cripple or bypass that encryption, and some of those activities could certainly benefit from HUMINT assistance. But there are also pitfalls to that approach. Using on-the-scene people in foreign jurisdictions can mean putting individuals at extreme risk, and such operations also have increased potential to go wrong in ways that could expose Canada to extreme embarrassment and even retaliation. If the government is contemplating going down that road, it should probably be open with parliament and the public about its intentions.

Informed consent. Because it’s 2017.

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On Minimum Sentences in Canada

Michael Spratt writes:

The evidence on the lack of effectiveness and costs of minimum sentence is clear. In 2016, Wilson-Raybould said that minimum sentences were a priority. After almost a year of inaction, that priority is manifest in a concern about public opinion?

But perhaps this should not be a surprise given that in 2016 The Canadian Press reported that the Liberals were eyeing a “politically viable strategy” to bring changes to minimum sentences.

After a decade of ideological criminal justice policy at the hands of the Harper government, swift and principled action is imperative. Inaction means unjust court results, less safe streets, increased court delays and ballooning costs.

Minimum sentences represent the lowest-hanging fruit for meaningful justice reform. Their counterproductive and negative impacts are well documented.

This is not a matter for debate. The solutions are known and uncomplicated.

All we need now is a justice minister with the principle and conviction to take action. Unfortunately, it seems that piece is still missing.

I heartily agree: these types of sentencing rules must be abolished and discretion returned to the bench.

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Naqvi: Solution to Court Delays – Call off your Crowns

There can be no debate — delays in our justice system are a very bad thing. With every week, month and year of delay, memories fade, the quality of evidence degrades and victims are denied legal closure.

And, often intentionally overlooked is the reality that court delays mean that accused persons who are presumed (and often are) innocent suffer ongoing stigma, stress, loss of employment, oppressive bail conditions and incarceration waiting for their trial dates.

Let’s get one thing straight — there is not one accused person being held in our Dicken-sian provincial jails who is intentionally delaying their day in court. There is simply no benefit to do so. Ontario’s remand centres are violent, overcrowded, humanity-destroying hellscapes, which are completely devoid of any rehabilitation programming or basic human comforts.

Canadians only realize how broken the legal system is when they, or someone they know, is sucked into it.

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Privacy and Policing in a Digital World

As the federal government holds public consultations on what changes should be made to Bill C-51, the controversial anti-terrorism legislation passed by the Conservative government, various police agencies such as the RCMP and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police have petitioned to gain new powers to access telephone and internet data. Meanwhile nearly half of Canadians believe they should have the right to complete digital privacy. The Agenda examines the question of how to balance privacy rights with effective policing in the digital realm.

I was part of a panel that discussed some of the powers that the Government of Canada is opening for discussion as part of its National Security consultation, which ends on December 15, 2016. If you want to provide comments to the government, see: https://www.canada.ca/en/services/defence/nationalsecurity/consultation-national-security.html