Boris Johnson pledges to “more intensely” fight climate change in Canada Day video

First published at True North on July 1, 2021.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is calling on Canada and Britain to ramp up their efforts in the fight against climate change, green development, and promoting human rights around the world.

In a Canada Day video posted to Twitter, Johnson lauded Canada’s and the United Kingdom’s close ties before turning to global challenges he sees the two countries as being well suited to tackle together.

“We cherish the same freedoms, we stand for the same ideals, and by and large we believe in the same causes,” Johnson said. So let’s work together even more intensely to build back better after COVID, protect our planet from climate change, promote clean and green development around the world, achieve a fantastic new free trade agreement as swiftly as possible, make sure that we do that deal on cheese, and stand up for freedom, democracy and human rights wherever they’re threatened.”

Johnson said Canada is the only country in the world that sits alongside the United Kingdom in the G7, G20, NATO, Commonwealth, and the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, adding that “family” is a more appropriate descriptor than “friend” or “ally.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has, himself, often used the “build back better” line, a United Nations mantra which has become a common refrain from global leaders in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

At the June G7 meeting in Cornwall, hosted by the United Kingdom, leaders committed to a global infrastructure plan they called Build Back Better World.

Johnson’s Canada Day greeting comes four months before his government is set to host a massive climate change conference, COP26, in Glasgow.

Trudeau and Johnson had a bilateral meeting at the G7 conference in which they “discussed taking bold action on climate change in the lead-up to COP26, including the international transition away from coal,” according to a readout from Trudeau’s office.

COP26 will bring tens of thousands of delegates from governments and non-governmental organizations to Scotland in November to finalize the rules of the Paris Agreement and “accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis.”

While Canada has not announced its plans for COP26, which starts November 1, the country is expected to send a large contingent given the Trudeau government’s previous commitment to fulfilling the Paris agreement.

Last week, Canada’s Senate passed Bill C-12, a bill requiring the federal government to set national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in five year intervals to keep the country on track to its broader goal of having “net zero emissions” by 2050.

Because the bill sets statutory targets rather than a specific plan to meet them, it has been criticized for its potential to unleash an untold economic toll.

“We don’t know the decarbonization plan. We don’t know the cost of various decarbonization options, nor the technologies required to achieve them,” Macdonald-Laurier Institute senior fellow Jack Mintz wrote last year. “If other countries fail to achieve the same objective despite their ‘commitments,’ we could incur considerable economic loss with little benefit in reducing climate change threats.”

Free speech is the hill to die on

First published at True North on June 28, 2021.

It took seven years for Stephen Harper’s Conservative government to repeal section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act. After an eight year reprieve, it’s coming back.

This section allowed the weaponization of the Canadian Human Rights Commission against unpopular speech under the auspices of combating “hate speech.” Activists leveled complaints against Maclean’s magazine and Mark Steyn, Ezra Levant and the Western Standard, and countless others without the means or notoriety to fight back. Indeed, this is why section 13 prosecutions had a 100% conviction rate until the last few years.

It took the human rights commissions underestimating their enemies to expose, and ultimately undermine, their regime of speech restrictions. It was still several years before the Conservatives summoned the political will to take section 13 out to the woodshed. Even then, it was a private member’s bill, not a government bill, that did it.

Now, the Liberal government is quite proudly trying to revive section 13, tabling – in the final House of Commons sitting before summer – Bill C-36, which purportedly addresses “hate propaganda, hate crimes and hate speech.”

In the five days since the Liberals tabled this pro-censorship bill, there’s been not a word about it from Conservative leader Erin O’Toole.

Conservative justice critic Rob Moore put out a statement saying the “bill will not target hate speech – just ensure bureaucrats in Ottawa are bogged down with frivolous complaints about tweets.”

Moore’s concern for the bureaucracy’s workload notwithstanding, it’s clear he and the Conservatives are missing the point.

Section 13 isn’t wrong because of its mechanics – it’s wrong because it limits free speech. C-36 exploits people’s ignorance of what “hate speech” means, and more importantly, that there already exists a criminal threshold for it.

If reinstated, the new section 13 will prohibit the use of the internet to communicate “hate speech…in a context in which the hate speech is likely to foment detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

Those grounds range from race and sexual orientation to religion and gender identity.

The bill includes a “clarification” that speech is not prohibited “solely because it expresses mere dislike or disdain or it discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends.”

Should this bill get to committee, there will no doubt be plenty of haggling over where the government is supposed to plot certain slurs or polemics on the spectrum of “mere dislike” to “vilification,” but engaging in these debates will be an admission of defeat.

As a free speech absolutist, I can take comfort in not needing to draw an arbitrary line. Liberties extend to such a point as they threaten someone else’s liberties. This is why threats of violence and defamation have existing criminal and civil remedies, respectively, in law. There is no right to be liked by your fellow man. The duty to love your neighbour is a moral one, not a legal one.

Canvass the activists supporting a restoration of section 13 and you’ll find many of them seek to establish approved positions on various issues, thus shrinking the bounds of discourse.

Is it hate speech if someone says homosexuality is a sin? What if one says transgender women should not be able to compete in women’s sports? How about uttering “I hate Christians”?

The Liberals point to horrific hate-motivated attacks and lay the blame at hateful rhetoric. Race-motivated attacks and vandalism of mosques, synagogues and churches are consequences of people’s own hatred, not of free speech. Moreover, speech that is truly repugnant is rejected by society and the people in it, making state limitations unnecessary.

C-36 infringes on the mother of all freedoms – free speech. Without freedom of speech, we lack the ability to advance arguments on anything else that matters.

Politics is full of compromise. This is especially true of Canadian Conservative politics, whose motto ought to be “This isn’t the hill to die on.” As my friend Mark Steyn has often said, eventually you run out of hills.

If the Conservatives – and any other politicians, for that matter – are not prepared to stand up for free speech, anything else they seek to do is irrelevant.

There was a time when this would have been a no-brainer. After all, in the heyday of the human rights hate speech regime in the aughts, there were principled stands from several Liberal politicians, as well as left-leaning authors, journalists and columnists – all of whom seemed to understand that supporting free speech is not an endorsement of every expression of free speech.

This is no longer the case. “Free speech” is maligned as anachronistic and oppressive, and those who stand up for it are forced to defend the worst applications of individuals’ right to speak freely.

This is no doubt contributing to the Conservative cowardice on this issue. It was easy for Conservatives to be the party of free speech in the face of Liberal Bill C-10, which vastly expands government’s ability to regulate the internet. It’s harder when defending free speech means defending the speech that makes – and often should make – a society uncomfortable.

UN conference to demand more aggressive climate action from countries

First published at True North on June 17, 2021.

As the United Nations gears up for its massive COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this fall, the event’s chair is calling for more “ambitious” emissions reductions plans from national governments.

At a virtual press conference marking the end of a UN Climate Change conference Thursday afternoon, COP26 president Alok Sharma said it’s clear there’s “much further to go” when it comes to national climate change policies.

“We must use the full weight of some of the world’s major economies to push down global emissions so that we are able to keep 1.5 degrees alive,” Sharma said.

The Paris climate agreement reached at the end of COP21 in 2015 set a target for limiting global warming to less than two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels by 2100, while “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C.”

Countries could not agree during negotiations to a hard 1.5 degree Celsius target, hence the softer language. Canada’s then-environment minister Catherine McKenna was among those pushing for the more aggressive 1.5 degree goal.

It seems the goalposts for the upcoming summit have been firmly planted at 1.5 degrees, with Sharma calling it “vital to the very many millions of people around the world who are facing the challenge of climate change head on.”

COP26 will bring tens of thousands of delegates from governments and non-governmental organizations to Scotland in November to finalize the rules of the Paris Agreement and “accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis.” The summit was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure it could be held in-person and not virtually.

Among the conference’s goals is to get firm emission reduction commitments from countries through a range of measures, including pivoting to renewable energy and switching to electric vehicles.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used Canada’s endorsement of the Paris Agreement as justification to impose a national carbon tax in 2018, and steadily increase the tax over subsequent years.

In April, Trudeau hiked the Canadian government’s emissions reduction target to 40% to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, a goal Trudeau said amounted to Canada’s “highest possible ambition in light of its current national circumstances.”

Despite this, Canada’s emissions have increased since signing the Paris Agreement, and have stayed relatively flat per capita.

Canada accounts for just 1.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In its emphasis on the 1.5 degree Celsius target, COP26 is pushing states beyond the Paris Agreement, which the United Nations now says is inadequate to tackle climate change.

A UN report published earlier this year said global carbon dioxide emissions must decline by 45% from their 2010 levels by 2030 to meet the 1.5 degree, or by 25% to meet the 2 degree target. 

While 196 countries signed the Paris Agreement, the UN report found these countries’ combined impacts are on track to cut emissions by just 1%.

UCP MLA calls on Canada to respond to Israeli “violence” against Palestinians

First published at True North on May 17, 2021.

An Alberta UCP MLA is accusing Israel of “fundamental human rights violations” and calling on the Canadian government to intervene in its conflict with Hamas.

In a statement posted to Facebook Sunday evening, Calgary-Cross MLA Mickey Amery condemned what he called “violence against innocent and unarmed Palestinian worshippers and civilians.”

“The recent events unfolding at and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque are truly disturbing. The escalation and use of violence against innocent and unarmed Palestinian worshippers and civilians at Islam’s 3rd holiest site is indefensible,” Amery said. “The Government of Alberta does not have a foreign affairs policy, but as a humanitarian, a father, a husband and on behalf of those I represent as MLA for Calgary-Cross, I fully condemn this violence.”

Amery tagged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau, calling on the federal government “to speak up, to intervene, and to work to restore peace to the region immediately.”

Amery did not mention Israel by name in his post, or address any of Hamas’ violence towards Israel. His office did not respond to a request for comment asking if he also condemns Hamas.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Premier Jason Kenney said Amery does not speak for him or the UCP.

“Provinces do not have foreign policies. Canada only has one foreign policy,” Kenney said. “My views about that conflict are very well known from my two decades in the federal parliament and my 10 years in the federal cabinet. But I make a very deliberate point of not freelancing into foreign policy.”

Kenney added that he was “concerned” about reports of anti-Semitic threats and behavior across the country, including in Edmonton. He referenced a video posted Monday morning by a Jewish man in Edmonton claiming he was questioned by a group of demonstrators as to whether any “Jews” lived in the area.

Amery wasn’t the only UCP official to criticize Israel. Calgary-North MLA Muhammad Yaseen said in a Facebook post it was “heartbreaking to see the escalating violence and breach of fundamental human rights in the Middle East, specifically in Gaza and the West Bank.”

“The loss of life of innocent men, women and children is never acceptable, even in war,” he said.

In response to an inquiry from True North as to whether Yaseen similarly condemns Hamas, an aide requested a phone number but did not call or otherwise respond.

Hamas militants continue to fire rockets into Israel as the latest flare-up reaches the one-week mark. Israel has been criticized by activists for airstrikes against Hamas targets in Gaza in residential areas, despite Israel’s provision of advance notice for evacuation.

Alberta to relax some quarantine and isolation requirements for vaccinated people

First published at True North on May 17, 2021.

The Alberta government will soon be announcing relaxed quarantine and self-isolation guidelines for vaccinated Albertans, Premier Jason Kenney said.

Kenney alluded to a forthcoming announcement at a press conference Monday afternoon.

“I anticipate later this week we’ll be announcing potentially a relaxation of self-isolation and quarantine requirements with respect to people–based on whether they’ve had a first or second dose of the vaccine–that will reflect the lower level of threat, or lower level of risk that they pose,” Kenney said.

Current provincial guidelines require Albertans who have been exposed to COVID-19 to quarantine for 14 days even if they have tested negative for the virus themselves. While Alberta does not mandate a quarantine for interprovincial travel, Albertans are subject to the federally mandated 14-day quarantine if they enter Alberta from outside the country.

Kenney ruled out further exemptions to public health guidelines for vaccinated people, such as allowing them to gather with other vaccinated people, saying that the speed of Alberta’s vaccination rollout makes it “simpler” to keep the same restrictions in place for everyone.

“Our overall vaccine numbers are now moving so quickly that I think it would be a lot simpler for us to focus just on overall population immunity,” Kenney said, noting that 50% of eligible Albertans will have been vaccinated with one dose by tomorrow, with 800,000 appointments booked.

Kenney anticipated 70% of the eligible population will be vaccinated by June, allowing for a “broad reopening later this summer.”

“If we were to tie specific public health measures to whether you’ve been vaccinated, like, let’s say, wearing a mask, then what happens?” Kenney said. “Do employers have to go around and validate whether the people who are not wearing masks have been vaccinated? Did they get their first dose? When was it? It creates a huge amount of administrative and enforcement complexity and probably friction and unforeseen problems that we’d rather not get into.”

Kenney’s concerns were echoed by Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw who said that lifting restrictions specifically for vaccinated people would require Albertans to disclose private health information.

“If we were to create different rules for people who were vaccinated and those who were not, it would require the production of some kind of proof of immunity or disclosure of personal health information for the purposes of that activity, and there’s been a very clear direction set in this province that that kind of disclosure of health information will not be required of Albertans,” Hinshaw said.

There are 186 patients with COVID-19 being treated in Alberta’s intensive care units, which is a record high for the province, Alberta Health Services CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said Monday.