Whose scandal is worse?

Whose scandal is worse?
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It been a dirty couple of weeks in Canadian politics. Though a series of dubious deeds and underhanded tricks, both the Liberals and the Conservatives have found themselves embroiled in the midst of high-profile scandals, both of which threaten to sow even more political cynicism and disgust among the long-suffering Canadian electorate.

Scandal number one is the so-called “Vikileaks” controversy, which is perhaps best understood as a sort of Canadian SOPA protest gone wrong.

The growing movement among ignorant politicians to control and tame the Internet did not spare Canada, and early last month Prime Minister Harper’s public safety minister, Victor Toews, introduced a piece of legislation to Parliament known as the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act (or “Bill C-30”). It immediately jumped onto all the front pages.

In an effort to, well, protect children from Internet predators, the government announced it would henceforth be demanding all ISP and cellphone companies to install monitoring equipment for real-time surveillance of their users, with the understanding that such firms would then be expected to hand over any incriminating records when law enforcement asked. Logic dictated that this would allow police to apprehend people doing bad stuff online with greater speed and efficiency, though I’m sure it doesn’t take much thought to realize how severely such a law would compromise everyone else’s privacy in the process.

Now the Act was obviously a very complicated thing — as most modern lawyer-crafted legislation invariably is — and it’s possible that many of the more troubling powers it handed government would have been used differently in practice than they appeared on paper. But Minister Toews did nothing to help his case when he refused to engage with the growing chorus of skeptics, choosing instead to frame the entire discussion as an absolutist all-or-nothing battle between the righteous forces of law-and-order and the creepy world of Internet perverts.

“You can either stand with us or with the child pornographers,” he said at one point, in a quote that echoed ’round the nation as a symbol of the Harper administration’s unrelenting crusade to bring the Internet under its control.

Online, Toews became this greatly demonized figure, with Canadian users on Facebook and Twitter and Reddit and 4chan and the other usual places churning out all manner of demonizing screeds and graphics and websites and cartoons about the man. Just as SOPA did in the States, PCIPA brought the most fiery civil libertarians and free speech advocates out of the woodwork, creating a state of open war between cyber activists and the political establishment. The stakes were raised dramatically when someone registered the Twitter handle @vikileaks, and began giving the Minister a supposed taste of his own medicine. “Vic wants to know about you,” the anonymous account began, “Let’s get to know about Vic.”

The barrage of tweets that followed were basically the greatest hits of Vic Toews’ publicly accessible data, including a string of damning quotes from his divorce affidavits, in which his ex-wife accused him of being an unapologetic philanderer. And it worked, I guess.

On February 17, Toews’ office announced that PCIPA would be given an early committee review in order to reddress some of his critics’ concerns. A few days later, Toews himself, in what cynics scoffed was a suspiciously well-timed change of heart, claimed to be “surprised” by much of what his own legislation contained upon closer examination, and vowed to fix it.

Suspicions lingered regarding who was behind the mysterious @vikileaks account, however, and the IP was eventually traced to within Parliament itself. Following an investigation by the Speaker’s office, a staffer working for the Liberal Party was outed as the culprit, leading to an embarrassing moment for party leader Bob Rae, who was forced to publicly apologize to Toews in the House of Commons on Monday.

Scandal number two was a more brazen instance of political skulduggery, but also one with a vaguer scope and less clear consequences.

During last year’s federal election, we now know, a number of citizens in various electoral ridings reported receiving suspicious phone calls allegedly from Elections Canada.

“You know that place you thought you were supposed to be voting at? Yeah, it’s a different place now,” said the pre-recorded voices on the other line, before proceeding to redirect voters to new, more out-of-the way polling stations in crappy neighbourhoods with bad parking. When they actually arrived, however, the places were empty. Other voters received calls from jerkish people claiming to be Liberal or NDP campaign staff, who would either call at all hours of the day and night or simply be rude, annoying, and pushy.

Last week, the National Post, in a thorough investigative report, broke that one of the offending “robo-callers,” which encouraged voters in the riding of Ontario Liberal MP Frank Valeriote to cast ballots at a non-existent polling place, could be traced to an Edmonton call centre under the employ of the Conservative Party’s national re-election campaign. Following the story’s publication, the former communications director for Marty Burke, the Tory challenger in the Valeriote riding, was abruptly fired from his current job with the Conservatives, in a suspiciously-timed incident that seemed to imply that the party was at least somewhat involved with the rogue calls.

Though this is basically the entirety of the scandal at the moment, it hasn’t taken long for the opposition parties to draw their own preferred conclusions and assume all of the misleading or harassing calls of Election ’11 had some degree of Tory ties. Maybe they were even part of a national, coordinated, out-and-out conspiracy to rig the election. Wouldn’t that be something!

The national media and the opposition are now actively soliciting stories of deceptive or harassing phone calls from ridings all across Canada, and so far voters in at least 50 districts have claimed to have been victimized. This is a number significantly lower than the 127 ridings in which voting places were actually changed mid-campaign, and probably much lower still than the number of ridings where the official phone calls from robots or campaign staff were teeth-grindingly annoying. A good rule of thumb is that when Elizabeth May starts claiming the alleged conspiracy targeted her, too, the whole thing has probably jumped the shark.

Still, even if the ongoing investigation ultimately concludes that the scandal was entirely isolated in the riding of Mr. Valeriote, an active effort by Conservative Party organizers to suppress turnout in a close race (Mr. Valeriote still won despite everything, by the way) the incident will nevertheless permanently alter perceptions of “what the Conservatives are capable of.” Just as Vikileaks has already done for the Liberals.

The media is obviously having a field day with both stories at the moment, but it remains to be seen how long public interest will last. Despite much indignant outrage from the press, voters are already well aware what their elected officials are capable of, and, if declining turnout is any indication, expect nothing less.




^ 51 Comments...

  1. Benjamin

    Are you really comparing some Liberal staffer with a fake twitter account to an alleged practice of systematic voter suppression?

  2. taylor

    Yeah, exactly. Divulging public divorce records is a pretty mean thing to do, but it pales in comparison with accusations that the governing party actively supporting a fraudulent voter suppression scheme.

  3. ThePsudo

    Would you retain that opinion if new evidence came to light that the election tampering was the work of an independent staffer and the legislation tampering was party-backed? In other words, is the nature of the corruption of more importance than the extent of party involvement?

    Just curious.

  4. taylor

    Yes, I would "retain" my opinion (American phrase? Never heard that before), because then it would be, basically, one independent entity acting pretty illegally and one independent entity acting like a jerk. Former is far worse.

  5. ThePsudo

    Retain, sustain, maintain… it's all roughly the same meaning. My tenancy for odd word choice is a personal quirk, not a national or regional trend.

    As for your actual reasoning, I don't particularly disagree with any of it. Illegal behavior deserves legal consequences that a mere character attack does not, just as you said. Still, I don't like how effective and unopposable character assassination has become.

  6. taylor

    OK, just wondering on the "retain" thing.

    I'd say this proved how opposoble it was: For someone who had done nothing even remotely illegal, the Twitter account was pulled down mighty fast, and it prompted an immediate and contrite apology from the Opposition Leader in Commons which risked killing any momentum from the other scandal. Really, pretty much anything you would expect.

  7. ThePsudo

    One scandal was traced to a party staffer who was propagandizing to affect political outcomes possibly with the knowledge or consent of his bosses, and the other is a scandal traced to a party staffer who was propagandizing to affect political outcomes possibly with the knowledge or consent of his bosses. One fiddled with elections, the other with bill authoring — both essential parts of the legislative process. Neither matters if the other is sufficiently corrupt.

    Without confirmation of official party connections, the only major moral difference I see is that VikiLeaks selectively told true things whereas the robocaller lied outright.

  8. TheTrudo

    Widespread election fraud is worse than libel against a single person.

  9. ThePsudo

    It doesn't matter how elections are handled if the connection between elected officials and the writing of legislation is severed.

    Also, "widespread" is subjective and relative. Was there more election fraud than legislative author tampering? How would you even compare those things?

  10. Ricardo

    It's not libel if it is true, which it all was (and publicly available). Vikileaks committed no crime while the robocalls did.

  11. ThePsudo

    Did VikiLeaks do anything that should be a crime? Is this another case of technology outpacing the law?

    Regardless of law, is VikiLeaks the kind of thing that is good for political discourse and good governance?

  12. taylor

    For the first question, no. I'm a lawyer, and I've worked with records in the past: They're public for a reason. Some states in the USA have been redacting personal numbers, I agree with that. But for reasons of precedent and for general public benefit, the records have to remain public. I think the public should be better educated by lawyers about the fact that it is a public record accessible to anyone with a couple of bucks and time (As, say, Warren Kinsella has sadly discovered).

    Second, I'd lean no. Unnecessary, though..

  13. ThePsudo

    I wasn't really questioning whether public records should be public, but rather whether selective truth constitutes slander or libel. If I told a story about a man breaking into another's house and shooting him without warning, I present a very clear picture of what happened. If I left out the part where it was bin ladin who was shot in his house by an opposing, accountable military in wartime, should the law recognize that as truth for what was included or a lie for what was left out?

    I am genuinely asking; I don't know how the law treats that question, or how it should. I expect, as a lawyer, you'd have greater insight than me.

  14. J.J. McCullough

    I think "systematic" is a very strong word to use at this point. I do agree that voter suppression is a worse crime (in that it's actually a crime), but I do think the episodes are comparable. You two have rogue staffers playing by their own rules as part of a deeply cynical ends-justifies-the-means political culture. That's what I was trying to engage with.

  15. M. Lefebvre

    Vikileaks is a gross public attack on a public person. The Robocalls are an attack on democracy itself.

  16. ThePsudo

    Vikileaks is a gross public attack on a public person for the purpose of altering law. The influence on law should not be ignored. Having one party blackmail the other party's officials into only authoring certain kinds of law is a subversion of the political process, not just a personal attack. Maybe that's what happened, maybe not. Either way, it's a real concern.

  17. Ricardo

    Blackmail requires revealing information to the public until a demand is met. All the info in Vikileaks was on public file already but simply not broadcasted, and Vikileaks never explicitly made any demands. Under your definition of blackmail, tons of investigative reporting would be illegal.

  18. ThePsudo

    I intended "blackmail" in a layman's way, not as a legal term. More precisely, it is an emotionally manipulative character attack. If the guy had had a spotless history, the bill might have escaped unharmed by the tactic; does that mean it would have been any better of an idea? Though not illegal, the VikiLeaks tactic is deserving of condemnation.

    Think of how many behaviors are clearly wrong, but not illegal due to the insurmountable logistics of law enforcement against them. I think VikiLeaks falls into that category. When that kind of behavior alters legislative outcomes, it is reasonable to be concerned.

  19. Svan

    You're splitting hairs in an effort to say they are the same? I think most people understand that these two events can be broken down into a similar moral substance and still be able to conclude that one is much more severe than the other. So long as what the Vikileaker says is true and can be verified then why shouldn't people know of it? Similarly, if voting locations have mysteriously been shuffled voters should be aware of that as well. However, using things that are true to inform how you are politically represented is VERY different from intentionally tricking people out of their suffrage.

    There is some merit to the idea that a large demographic of people shouldn't be time-locked to a specific candidate if post-election they become so helpless entrapped by personal albatrosses that their baggage stops the train at the station for years to come. The political process shouldn't hinge on the kind of calculated image campaign of an election. I don't know Canadian government that well, but if this Law is truly necessary then it shouldn't be a problem for unpalatable public characters to take a backseat .

    Unless the thinking goes that no one is truly capable of making sane legislation under a microscope. I suppose that is possible, but the I would hope the functionality of the Canadian government is not so unstable serious legislation becomes abandoned over honest details of marital spats.

  20. ThePsudo

    I'm not saying they're the same. In one of my first posts, I declared a "major moral difference" between them based on VikiLeaks being generally (though selectively) honest, and the robocaller outright lying. I think people are condemning the robocaller the right amount, but not condemning VikiLeaks enough. The gap between them should be smaller, but I'm not calling them equal.

    Cherry-picking facts is a kind of deception. Maybe people should know public details IN CONTEXT, but VikiLeaks is specifically designed to evade that context and show this legislator in the worst possible light. He's not a great guy, which makes it easier for them, but it's still an underhanded tactic being used to alter the legislative process.

    One could argue that the fact he was in office and wrote such a bad law at all proves a failing of the democratic side of the political machine. But throwing wrenches at political machinations behind Ottawa's curtain doesn't particular fix anything that's wrong.

  21. Guest

    "VikiLeaks is specifically designed to evade that context and show this legislator in the worst possible light"
    Sure, but isn't the point to demonstrate how invasion of privacy is a bad thing because people can take stuff out of context, rather than show the person in a bad light, the bad light is just there to make the news. A newspaper could print all that stuff all day and get away with it legally, the scandal is that it's being done by the LP staffer.

  22. M. Lefebvre

    Nearly all political speech is ultimately for the purpose of altering law!

  23. Richard

    He is. Not only that, but, as I followed it, the Vic Toews saga was centred primarily on the content of the far-reaching legislation, its hyperbolic defense in parliament, and Bill C-30's potential implications, and only distally and secondarily on the fact that a liberal staffer was found to be behind the 'vikileaks' twitter account. Obviously, in JJ's eyes, this footnote to the Bill C-30 story is entirely comparable in tenor, significance, and scale with allegations of systemic electoral fraud.

    False equivalencies are easy to draw when the analysis is sufficiently vulgar and the nuances have been ideologically filtered out.

  24. ThePsudo

    Both cases are pretty wrong, but it's easier to empathize with VikiLeaks. It's slightly more honest, seemingly has less connection to party officials, and opposed an atrocious defense of a lousy law. On the other hand, the VikiLeaks thing substantially changed the language of an actual bill, whereas the robocaller thing failed to affect the outcome of the election. VikiLeaks sets an example of underhanded behavior actually working, and may motivate copycat character assassins. It's unlikely that the same could be said of the robocaller's example; people don't emulate failures so much.

  25. taylor

    It was internal Conservative pressure that changed the bill, not Vikileaks.

    Not only a convenient Tory excuse, but really, it makes far more sense. Everyone in Ottawa was pretty knowledgeable about how messed up Towes' divorce was.

  26. ThePsudo

    You don't think political pressure from a surprised public had anything to do with it?

  27. taylor

    Not really. The public doesn't really get that upset about things here. They kinda just shrug and move on. It's a tad unhealthy (as I think J.J. implies in his articles/cartoons).

    Conservatives, after losing for 10 years basically by default and even before, electing leaders who only really pandered, are loyal to Harper. Harper realizes that this loyalty is because, even though he has his limitations, he's on the right general track. Any real criticism from within is treated pretty seriously.

  28. Gastel

    I guess that's why the Sponsorship Scandal DIDN'T destroy the Liberal party? Because Canadians are so tolerant of scandal?

    In this case I find the scandal around Vikileaks to be more the horrible comparison that Vic Toews made about Canadians not for this bill are for child pornographers, and then he lied about saying it a day later when he was recorded in the House of Commons. The Vikileak after story was unfortunate, but really only dug up publicly accessible information and made it known to the public rather than just to the Parliament. Not good, but a good protest and demonstration of the bill's ultimate goal.

    The election tampering though, does have an uncertain future. I would wager that it will be suppressed and forgotten about by the time we have another election. But that's what is scary. If the reports are true in that one riding, or it turns out it happened in more than one riding, then our basic electoral process is in question and we will only suffer more voter apathy. I think this is a much bigger issue than Vikileaks, but I think it will get much less attention.

  29. taylor

    In all honesty, J.J., I think this is your worst comparison cartoon since you had Michaelle Jean making fun of a disabled veteran.

  30. J.J. McCullough

    I loved that one!

  31. taylor

    It was like using a sledgehammer to kill an ant.

    But it did have a certain charm…

  32. J.J. McCullough

    I'm just impressed you've been around that long.

  33. pmagee

    Pseudo, go find personal fulfillment somewhere else than the comment section of a Canadian underground political cartoonist's website. You are, indeed, all that and a bag of chips. Plain chips though, not that spicy all-dressed kind. You're like vanilla ice cream on an overcast January day. Now sit in that easy chair, content with your domineering crapulence, and pen some vitriolic letters-to-the-editor of your local newspaper.

    PS JJ the noses on your characters are resoundingly phallic.

  34. ThePsudo

    Where do you get your personal fulfillment? Maybe I should shop there.

  35. OldsVistaCruiser

    Here in the States, when you use the term "Tory", it's synonymous with "traitor.' It comes from our nation's Revolutionary War, when those who remained loyal to King George III were called "Tories". Actually, those Tories were conservatives who opposed American independence – most of today's U.S. conservatives who try to co-opt the (primarily) liberal "Founding Fathers" as their own don't realize that their counterparts 236 years ago opposed the very notion of a free nation.

  36. taylor

    Actually, the Americans were the "traitors." Rightly or wrongly, they were the revolutionaries.

  37. Yannick

    Traitor to the traitor cause?

  38. taylor

    Guess that would be Benedict Arnold. ;-)

  39. ThePsudo

    According to Edmund Burke, the conservative British politician from the American Revolutionary era and pretty much the origin of philosophical conservatism, the American Revolution was motivated primarily by conservativism. The American colonies were used to one kind of treatment from it's government and when that treatment changed, they threw off that government. They were liberal in the sense of favorable to liberty, but they were conservative in the sense that they were not particularly in favor of altering their lifestyle.

  40. JonasB

    Canadian politics is much more rigid and formal than American politics, so public attempts at character assassination (vikileaks) qualifies as a scandal. I think it's of lesser severity than the robocall thing, which is at best an /isolated/ attempt at voter suppression and at worst part of a long-ranging conspiracy. I personally think the robocall scandal was isolated, and that the other calls reported were either unrelated or the result of the callers being exactly who they claimed to be but having poor manners.

  41. Alcofribas

    Psudo and JJ: Human Interest Question

    I see that JJ caricatured ThePsudo. Do you guys know each other in the real world?

  42. J.J. McCullough

    No, he lives in the States. But I did stick a cameo of him in one of my toons a while ago for fun.

  43. ThePsudo

    I'm just a long-time fan. I tried to arrange a face-to-face meet-up once, but it didn't work out.

  44. PTBO

    This cartoon is an good example of Conservative Party kool-aid drinking- can you imagine if the Liberals of the 90s had a similar scandal? The reform party would have gone nuts (and rightly so). Its not like this a one time scandal by the Tories- its part of a long running pattern in their political operation: http://thetyee.ca/Opinion/2012/02/29/Tories-Dirty

    I used to think the CPC was better then the Libs- esp. in minority because they would less corrupt but in reality and hindsight it appears that the Tories are even worse then the Cretien Liberals. These Tories consistantly sell out Canada anyway- these aren't your Danny Williams PCs (that's a respectable Conservative) these are namby pamby quislings with a severe allergy to facts.

  45. taylor

    You're accusing the Conservatives of being contemptuous of democracy, then proposing they act like Danny Williams?

  46. Kyle

    While I agree that it was an underhanded attack on the character of a person, not his relevant conduct or the bill he was defending, I'm a little surprised that there's much outrage at all over the vikileaks scandal. Anthony Weiner and Newt Gingrich put up with much worse than that on a daily basis south of the border, and no one seems upset about such issues being aired.

  47. ThePsudo

    Rumor has it that Canadians don't typically stoop to the level of such American-style personal attacks. They just come out of the woodwork to defend those who do.

  48. Dryhad

    Looking over these comments I see a lot of "Vikileaks was bad, but the other one was worse".

    Screw that. Vikileaks was not bad at all. There is absolutely nothing wrong with publically posting public information. There is no injustice there that is not inherent to any political scandal, by which I mean the injustice of public opinion (the electorate is, in general, hypocritical and will go into a rage over the slightest hint of vice from a politician). To say that Vikileaks is a nasty thing to do is like saying voting against Mr Toews in an election is a nasty thing to do. It's just part of politics, get over it.

  49. spaaaaaaaaaaan

    I think the Conservatives have a far bigger downside from their scandal. Their general opacity, muzzling of internal voices and independent bodies, and belligerence towards outside inspection make the narrative of the issue being 'systemic' a lot more believable.

  50. JFD.

    Wow, I have been reading you for a long long time, glad you are back BTW. And you are so so wrong here. Towes was taking away our privacy under the guise of "child pornography" and accused those of defending privacy as siding with child pornographers. Vikileaks was an individual responding to that. Period.

    The election scandal, robocalls and call center scripts, took time, money, effort and organization. a good old fashioned conspiracy. A conspiracy to take over Canadian democracy.

    You should feel shame for comparing the two. I was really looking forward to reading your comic this week, I wanted to see how you would make fun of it. I am disappointed that this is your attempt at humor.