Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tarts and the Law

The ABA Journal reports that some US judges are asking women lawyers to stop wearing short skirts and low-cut blouses to work because the judges find it distracting.

You have to respect the dilemma of the judges, being forced to work with women who want to be treated like professionals but dress like sluts. However, fixing the problem is not trivial.

The ABA Journal provides a fashion web site called Corporette that provides dress code advice for female lawyers. Recent headlines include "Can Oxford Shoes Be Worn to Work?" and "Ponytails at the Office: Yay or Nay?"

But there's still a problem. Even if all female lawyers always wear conservative, unrevealing clothing, what will the judge do if an attractive witness appears? Or a provocativley clad accused? What about tarty looking spectators?

And even if all women in the court room don burkas, what if the judge is the kind of guy who likes to imagine an attractive body beneath clothing? Should we prohibit all fit, young, or big-breasted women from court rooms? What if the judge has a foot fetish? ...Force all women to wear boots?

All females in a court room could be made to sit behind a screen so that the judge isn't apt to get a hard-on looking at them, but then there's still the problem of that tempting female voice... It's just too much for a judge to listen to. We could try a voice-alteration device, or perhaps just prohibit women altogether.

Of course, another solution would be to decide that men who are unable to do their jobs around attractive women are unfit to do their jobs. Maybe only women are fit to be judges. And managers. And teachers. And counsellors. And people with any responsibility or authority.



New word suggested over at the comment section of ITQ's coverage of the Oliphant inquiry today.

Mulroneyism – A statement that is legally accurate, but that intends to mislead on the central issue.

Question: Did you have dealings with him?

Mulroneyism: We met for coffee a couple of times. (Truth: We had a secret business relationship and he gave me envelopes full of thousand-dollar bills during several clandestine meetings at which I also drank coffee.)

"Bollocks! That is such a Mulroneyism."
"What a liar you are. Everything that comes out of your mouth is a Mulroneyism."


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Unasked Question

An interesting twist at the Oliphant Inquiry: Brian Mulroney is pretending to have no knowledge or responsibility about his own taxes. He is saying, over and over, that he didn't negotiate the late payment of taxes on the money he got from Schreiber; he has no idea what went on in the negotiations; he claims to have not even told his lawyers the years in which he got the cash.

This seems totally bizarre (a person is, after all, responsible for their own taxes) until you put it together with something else he's told us: that in his 1996 deposition he misled the court about his dealings with Schreiber because he had no responsibility to volunteer information and he wasn't asked the right questions. In his mind, when he said he had had no dealings with Schreiber he meant re Airbus, and when he said his only dealings with Schreiber were to have coffee he had no responsibility to add and collect envelopes full of thousand-dollar bills.

Now it seems that he is "not volunteering" something again. A possible explanation is that he doesn't want to say under oath that he took no more than $225,000. In his mind, he may think it's perfectly legal for him to admit to taking $225,000, even if he really took a lot more - but he doesn't want to say he only took $225K.

How much more? I'd guess $5M. Way back when, in the investigation that led to the defamation suit, the RCMP thought Schreiber paid Mulroney $5M for securing the Airbus purchase. In that suit Mulroney testified that he had had no dealings with Schreiber. Then we learned that he'd got $225K from Schreiber (and, as it happens, forensic accountants believe that that money came from Airbus). Maybe the entire original allegation was true. Who knows. It doesn't seem like Oliphant is going to get to the bottom of it.

...Or it could be something else entirely. Mulroney has played this whole inquiry fast and loose. He is obviously in damage-minimization mode. He may lose his law license and have to pay some back taxes, but doesn't seem to be jeopardizing anything else, even though his flimsy excuses for his behavior don't pass the smell test. He has tried to obfuscate as much as possible (the phony "fourth article" in the Globe series by Kaplan; the near-tears he said were caused by reporters laughing at him (refuted by witnesses); the repeated self-righteous rants about conspirators. He seems to be playing to his supporters - those loyal enough to cling to anything in the hope he's innocent.


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rapid Transit, Like It Or Not...

Over a week ago, the Region of Waterloo unveiled its plans for rapid transit in our city, and yet they provided only a sketch of what they intend: for Waterloo, there are no details on the location of stations, direction of route, whether the tracks will be down the center or on the side of the streets, whether key intersections like Erb-King and Erb-Caroline will have gates, whether the Adult Recreation Center will remain, and so on. I have been trying to formulate a response to their proposal but have so far been unable to obtain details. Meantime the clock is ticking: they are planning on approving this massive $760M proposal in a little more than a month. There will be public meetings next week, but I will not be able to attend them.

So all I can do for now is reproduce this excellent article that was in the Record recently... and add to it that I attended all the public sessions last year, and everything he says is exactly true.

All aboard? Light rail transit plan is leaving the station way too early

May 14, 2009

One of the central conceits of Waterloo Region's new rapid transit plan is how widely the community has been consulted, and how everyone is solidly behind the idea.

Last week the region released a report favouring light rail transit over rapid buses. Included was a lengthy list of events, workshops, consultations and online efforts to explain the plan to residents. Later Regional Chair Ken Seiling added: "I don't recall ever a process where there's been as much public participation." Really?
One of the most striking aspects of the transit story is how few people have actually attended, workshopped, consulted or logged-on to the region's plans.

Last summer, for example, the region held 12 "focused public consultation meetings" at various locations across Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge. To get the word out, they mailed 9,500 invitations. A grand total of 72 people showed up. As part of the same process, the region also received "approximately 12" comment cards. (When numbers are this low, can precision be so difficult?)

Still, the region comfortably stated "the majority of public comments received ... indicated support for the rapid transit initiative, and a continued preference for light rail transit (LRT) over bus rapid transit (BRT)." It seems a rather heroic assumption.

Let's face it, if you're going to attend a transit meeting, or join a rapid transit Facebook page (190 friends so far!) you're probably a big fan of the idea already. Seiling certainly is.

But what about everyone else? I've been conducting my own entirely unscientific public consultation process. My findings suggest most folks have never even heard of the plan. Those that have figure it has nothing to do with them. They live in subdivisions, drive to work and rarely take transit.

But whether you plan to take the train or not, the light rail transit is going to have a huge impact on your life. Here are "approximately four" reasons why it's time everyone started paying attention:

Your taxes will go up: Yes, the province has agreed to pay two-thirds of the $790 million cost. And Ottawa will probably cover the rest. But just because someone is paying to build it, doesn't mean it's free.

Regional taxpayers must foot the bill for a host of prebuild costs. The responsibility for inevitable cost-overruns is unclear, since the province has a fixed budget for all transit projects in the province. And once it's built, operating costs are entirely our responsibility.

This makes the credibility of light rail transit ridership projections critical. The nuts and bolts of light rail transit costs will be a future column. For now, it's enough to point out that if a massive increase in riders fails to materialize, your taxes will go up even more.

Driving will become more difficult: Success for commuter trains requires that people stop driving their cars downtown. How to do that? By making driving difficult. The report calls these strategies "auto disincentives."

The preferred light rail transit option will reduce King Street to one car lane in each direction for much of the route. Drivers will thus be forced to abandon the region's "Main Street" as a major thoroughfare, to the chagrin of local businesses.

Parking will also become harder to find. "Additional parking supply is counter productive to increasing transit use," stated a 2005 report from the region. It called for an end to free employee parking downtown. And say goodbye to parallel parking on King.

Even if you never ride the light rail transit, it will have an enormous effect on how you get around. The region will soon have a vested interest in making car travel unpleasant and inefficient.

It will change your region forever: Waterloo Region today doesn't look like an area that requires rail transit. We have a widely dispersed residential profile and no single employment core.

Instead of meeting demonstrated needs, the light rail transit is about reshaping the area into something new -- a high-density urban metropolis. But this is not something most residents favour. Recall the battle last month when a group of Kitchener residents in the University/Fischer-Hallman area objected to a new highrise apartment among their single-family homes.

Lots of people like the idea of rapid transit because it sounds modern and fancy. Faced with the actual implications of these policies, they're not so keen. Many residents will come to regret the light rail transit's big footprint.

It will happen without your approval: The most rapid thing about the light rail transit is the approval process. Regional council aims to give its blessing by the end of June. Tenders could go out by mid-2010. The next municipal election isn't until the fall of 2010. This may be the biggest public works project in the history of Waterloo Region, but voters won't get a say until it's nearly over.

While a besotted council is fast-tracking its light rail transit plans, the overwhelming majority of residents haven't even started to think about it. Better hurry up. This train is about to leave the station.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Where's the Groundswell of Support for an NHL Team?

Over the last couple of years I have been happy, amused, delighted, and even tickled pink over Jim Balsillie's attempts to buy us an NHL team.

But let's face it, we shouldn't be thinking that Balsillie can do it alone. Hockey fans in southern Ontario need to stand up and throw some muscle behind this cause. Whether it's Waterloo, Hamilton or somewhere else, we can't just expect to be handed a team without working for it.

Our sports commentators aren't helping the movement by throwing misinformation into the public discourse. The biggest canard so far: the NHL is preventing another southern Ontario team only to protect the Maple Leafs.

Pulleeze... This is not just about southern Ontario. Only six out of 30 teams are in Canada, a proportion that is far far less than the percentage of fans or players who come from this country. There's no team in Quebec City or Winnipeg either. The NHL strategy is to increase TV viewers by putting teams in places that don't like hockey; people in southern Ontario are going to watch hockey regardless, is the argument, so we don't need a team. Of course that's hooey as well, as more people in southern Ontario will watch hockey if we had another team.

So come on hockey fans: do something.


The Tamil Protests

Tamil protests have been going on in downtown Toronto for a long time now - certainly throughout the last five months that I have been working there. Torontonians are getting fed up, and a media backlash is starting with the message that the negative public reaction is due to racism, xenophobia, anti-immigrant sentiments, or just plain insensitivity. The media is wrong.

The protests are way out of line. The blockage of the Gardiner Expressway last week was not the first time the protesters have blocked roadways. Back in January they formed a human chain down Front Street during a Friday rush hour, preventing people from getting home. I have had to walk past numerous huge rallies of protesters screaming aggressively, all with the disturbing aspect of including small children, even late at night. Many of the rallies have blocked sidewalks and roads.

Last week I walked past at least a hundred police officers in full riot gear, many imported from Durham Region, waiting at Front and York in case the protesters came that way. Presumably there were similar pockets of police throughout the downtown core. That's expensive and it diverts resources from important activities like preventing crime.

When people say that the protests are terrorist acts, they have a point. Downtown workers are being held up from getting home and are being subjected to aggressive behavior in an attempt to force our government to do something about the situation in Sri Lanka. (Although it's not clear that the Canadian government can do much of anything.) That's a mild form of terrorism, but it's the same strategy.

This is not a one-off demonstration that aims to get media attention. This is months and months of disruption. Among other things, it is counter-productive for the protesters, as it is turning public opinion against their cause.

And the cause is a lot more complicated than the fact that Tamils are dying in Sri Lanka. The Tamil Tigers (LTTE) is a vicious terrorist organization. It employs child soldiers, has killed thousands of people, and has links to al Quaeda - and it wants to become the government of part of the island of Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government is by most reports close to finally crushing the Tamil Tigers after decades of conflict; it has not taken enough precautions to protect the Tamil population while doing so, causing a huge humanitarian crisis. The humanitarian crisis should be decried, but the cause of the Tamil Tigers is hard to support, and the protesters seem to be supporting the Tamil Tigers, not just by carrying LTTE flags, but also by carrying signs saying that the LTTE is the legitimate government of parts of Sri Lanka.

We need to be careful not to assume that all protesters support the LTTE. We need to be careful not to assume that all in the Tamil community are protesters. And we need to be sensitive to humanitarian crises. But there is nothing racist or insensitive about not supporting every protest. I do not support the Tamil Tigers, and I do not support months of disruptive protests. If the conflict really is nearing its end in Sri Lanka, this may be a very bad weekend in Toronto.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Questions for Mulroney at the Oliphant Inquiry

Open Ended Questions
Over and over today, Mulroney testified that back in 1996 in his law suit against the government, he said he had no dealings with Schreiber because the lawyers didn't ask the right questions. The lawyers at the Oliphant inquiry should not make the same mistake. Citing his excuse that he wasn't asked a broad enough question in 1996, Wolson should request the latitude to ask Mulroney extremely broad, extremely carefully-worded questions with several iterations to make sure that Mulroney isn't slipping in any weasel words (like "I had had"). In all your life, Mr. Mulroney, did Mr. Schreiber ever give you any money other than the three payments at x, x and x? Have you ever received cash payment on any other occasions? Have you ever made a tax disclosure in a year after your taxes? When and how much and why? And so on.

Thousand Dollar Bills
The lawyers need to drill down on what Mulroney did with all those $1,000 bills. I believe he said he gave them to members of his family: When? What did they do with them? There were, after all, either 225 or 300 of them, and they're not easy to pass. What happened to the ones he claims to have put in a safety deposit box in New York?

If he says he can't remember, the only explanation could be that he deals in huge quantities of cash so regularly that those $1,000 bills blended in with the rest. In that case, Wolson should ask him probing questions about how often he handled such large quantities of cash, and why; and about other occasions on which he had $1,000 bills. Mulroney claims he didn't have to pay taxes on the money till he spent it; does that mean that he handed out the cash in 1999/2000, when he fessed up to CRA and paid his back taxes?

The "Retainer"
Mulroney has said that his interpretation of tax law was that he didn't have to pay tax on the $300,000 he got from Schreiber until he spent it, because it was a retainer. If that's true, why did he declare the money under a voluntary disclosure law that allows Canadians to come clean about unpaid tax? Why not just declare it in the usual way?

If the questions get smart enough, I wonder if Mulroney has a Plan B: probably a faked-up medical emergency. Just a guess.


Monday, May 11, 2009

A Likely Scenario

In the summer of 1993, rumors started circulating that Bruce Verchere, Mulroney's tax lawyer (and controller of his blind trust while PM) was skimming money from clients. On August 28, Verchere committed suicide. On August 27 Mulroney accepted his first bundle of $1000 bills from Karlheinz Schreiber.

So the big question - Why was Mulroney so stupid as to personally take envelopes of cash from an arms dealer? - could be explained this way: His bag man was dead. He wanted more money and had noone to get it for him, so he took a risk and collected it himself.

We will probably never know the truth of how much, if any, money Mulroney took "under the table" before Verchere's death. There are all sorts of indicators that he took other money:

- the Swiss bank accounts Britan and Devon that accontant Giorgio Pelossi says were opened for Mulroney by Schreiber
- the way Mulroney forced Air Canada to buy Airbus planes (including firing the entire board of Air Canada and appointing Airbus supporters)
- the overwhelming evidence that Mulroney pushed and pushed the Bear Head project for Schreiber, despite every government bureaucrat saying it was a bad plan
- the $20M "thank you" money routed through Schreiber from Airbus that hasn't been accounted for
- the $10M "thank you" money routed through Schreiber from Eurocopter and Thyssen
- the extraordinary and unprecedented access that Schreiber had to Mulroney while Mulroney was PM
- the large quantities of cash that moved through his basement safe at 24 Sussex
- the wild spending by Mila, in cash, amounting to tens of thousands of dollars a week while he was PM
- the million-plus Brian and Mila paid, in cash, to have their Westmount mansion restored in 1993-4

The Oliphant inquiry is ham-strung by only being able to investigate the Thyssen payments that Mulroney got from Schreiber. It's still a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of a crooked government.


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

August 28, 1993

From The Chronicle Herald today:
On Aug. 27, 1993, two months after Mr. Mulroney left office, but while he was still an MP, he met with Mr. Schreiber at Mirabel, where [Mulroney] received $75,000 or $100,000 in cash...

The next day, Mr. Schreiber received a fax from Mr. Doucet, this time asking directly about the Airbus commissions, along with a fax from Air Canada that showed the airline had purchased 34 planes.

"I sincerely hope that this evidence, many times stated before, is emphatically and categorically relayed to F.M." said the fax.

That same day, Mr. Verchere took his own life. Soon after, Mr. Moores called and speculated about Mr. Verchere stealing from Mr. Mulroney.

"Mulroney was poor like hell and needed badly this money," he says. "Then came this meeting at Mirabel. Then came the death of Verchere and Mulroney buys a villa, a huge villa in Westmount for $1.7 million. The rumour is he invested another million into the building. So where comes the money from? This is a joke somehow. If they say they want to clean up, and they don’t follow the money, they will never know what happened."

Fred Doucet is Mulroney's spokesman who set up the meetings between Mulroney and Schreiber where Schreiber gave Mulroney bundles of cash.

Verchere was Mulroney's accountant and tax lawyer and manager of his blind trust while Prime Minister. Verchere is a shady character known for hiding his client's money off-shore. He is almost certainly the Swiss connection - the lawyer who was referred to as taking charge of Mulroney's Swiss bank accounts.

F.M. may be Frank Moores, a Mulroney friend who lobbied for Thyssen and Airbus, and who paid out the bribe money from Schreiber on behalf of those companies.


Friday, May 01, 2009

The Ring Thing

A really characteristic thing about the Ring Cycle is seeing men in black suits standing around at intermission eating bananas. (They must carry them in their pockets.) Actually, everyone seems to eat at all the intervals. Concert halls that put on the Ring usually set up restaurants or sell picnic lunches in Ring intervals - at Lincoln Center they have caviar and toast points and multi-course meals. People carry in coolers and picnic baskets. I saw a man last night wolfing down a large packet of saltine crackers as if his life depended on it. It's true that the performances are mostly quite long (they generally start at 6 and end after 11), but they're really not so long as to require major refuelling.

Then there's the drinking. The entire audience seems to be buoyed along by endless flutes of champagne. At a break last night a woman barrelled over me to get to the aisle before the crowd got to their feet, and a few minutes later I saw her at the bar eagerly gulping a glass of bubbly. I myself was regrettably hung over after the previous evening of reuniting with Reuters colleagues (and drank a quintuple espresso at the first interval and a double espresso at the second), but I couldn't find anywhere in Lincoln Center that sold coffee at all, so had to resort to the Starbucks across the street.

That's another thing about the Ring: really long breaks. The first opera in the four-opera cycle has no intermission, and after that we make up for it by breaking twice a night - for as long as 45 minutes each time. Of course Wagner wanted the Ring Cycle to be populist entertainment, a change from some of the stodgy conventional opera that preceded him. The Ring has giants and dwarves, a dragon and a bear, incest and murder, romance (sister with brother, aunt with nephew), and more plot than a dozen normal operas - so it's fitting that we get a real entertaining evening out of it.

The audience at the Ring differs from other operas in ways I appreciate. It is what you'd call a mixed crowd. Everyone has paid an arm and a leg for their seats (mine were C$2,000 for one person for the four operas in the cycle) but we represent a wide strata of income. You have your designer ball gown types and then you have your hippie blue jean types. There is a nice mix of sneakers and stilleto heels. Unlike other operas, you never hear anyone snoring in the Ring: we are a united crowd in that we love this thing - and most of us have seen it many times, travelling long distances to do so.

My quibble (and it's a big one) at Lincoln Center is the people who buy cheap standing-room tickets and then move down into the main seats. Hector the mafioso usher seems to direct the operation, not only finding seats for the standing room crowd but keeping an eye out for better seats for them. That's not too bad, but there's a never-ending distraction of people filling in seats they think are empty and then refusing to move when the ticket-holder comes back - with arguments continuing even after the music has started.

The Met Ring I'm seeing this week is a 20 year old production that they're mounting for the last time. I would be sad to see it go except the next production, currently in development and scheduled some years hence, will be directed by Robert Lepage - and I am confident it will be the most exciting musical event of the 21st century.

Previous Rings I have seen have been modern, and have brought out Jungian themes and themes of pagan gods... this Met Ring is naturalistic in the best sense, especially given the amazing budget and resources of the Metropolitan Opera. We don't just have painted backdrops - we have huge soaring cliffs of (seemingly) natural rock, forests of giant trees, mammoth caves. When Brunhilde is surrounded by a ring of fire we have realistic flames and even cinders falling on the stage. The dragon is so big that it's eyes are nearly the size of the hero who slays it.

I never wanted to admit that the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto was not first flight, but now I must. When I heard Placido Domingo singing Siegmund in Die Walkurie I cried at the beauty. The intelligence in his creation of the character is not something I'm used to seeing at the opera. His Siegmund was so lonely and anguished - Domingo is 60-something but fully came across as a 20 year old, both in movement and voice. And the voice! Domingo retrained his voice some years ago, moving from Italian tenor to Helden tenor, and next year is going to sing his first baritone role in Simon Boccaneggra. (Update: The acting and singing of Katarina Dalayman as Brunnhilde in Gotterdamerung was equally spell-binding.)

All the singers, I'd say, are giving it their all in a way I'm not used to. Last night Siegfried moved from brute to lout with great gusto. The orchestra under the great James Levine seems to let loose also, rattling the rafters. It's awe-inspiring to witness the greatest artists in the world pulling out all the stops, especially when seated amongst 3,000 knowledgeable concert-goers who appreciate every second of it.