Tidbits
News you may have missed...

web posted June 13, 1999

Anglophone runs afoul of Quebec's language law...on the web

Photographer Michael Calomiris has run afoul of the law. It's not that the authorities find the images in his Web gallery objectionable. It's his language they find offensive.

In Quebec, Calomiris found, it is illegal to run a commercial Web site in English. For that matter, one can't run a site in any other language other than French -- unless the author also provides the same content in French.

Calomiris, who lives in the town of Chomedy, was given one month, until June 7, to either remove his site or create a duplicate French-language version. He did neither. Now he faces a fine equivalent to US$477, which doubles every time he receives another citation and refuses to comply.

"When I created the site, my aim was global, not local," said Calomiris, who went public with his troubles during the first week of June, a month after receiving his latest warning from the government of Quebec.

"We have a lot of customers in the United States, and those are the people I want to reach. They don't care if it's French."

But the provincial government does. Under the Charter of the French Language, Quebec is one of the few governments that regulates the language of Internet commerce.

Section 52 of the law specifies that if any company does business in Quebec, its "catalogues, brochures, flyers, commercial directories, and publications of that nature" must be in French. Other languages are permissible, but French is required.

"Other governments want to restrict content," said Gerald Paquette, a spokesman for l'Office de la Langue Francaise (OLF), the agency that enforces the language law. "We're not interested in that, but we are interested in protecting the French language."

As a French-speaking province in a predominantly English-speaking country, Quebec has enacted legislation aimed at protecting its language. This affects everything from street signs to computer keyboards. However, the law makes no mention of Web sites and electronic documents.

That is a key omission, said Anthony Housefather, vice president of the English rights group Alliance Quebec. And not only that, it's beyond the pale.

"The provincial government is going way beyond the law," he said. "We would say that they're acting outside of their legal jurisdiction and presuming to have powers that they don't have."

Not surprisingly, the government doesn't see it that way. Paquette said that the wording gives the government all the latitude it needs to enforce the language of commercial Web sites.

"When you use a Web site as a medium for business information, it's no different than using printed material," he said. "If you're using your Web site to communicate with customers in Quebec, then you are required to obey the law just like everyone else. It's that simple."

Though Calomiris speculates that he has been the victim of an under-employed provincial bureaucrat looking to make work for himself, Paquette said that the government doesn't surf the Net looking for English Web sites. "There has to be a complaint, and we follow up on that," he said.

Housefather is suspicious about why the Quebec government only seems to target small businesses.

In June, 1997, the province singled out Microbytes, a Montreal-area computer dealer, for its English-only Web site. In that case, the OLF threatened to revoke the firm's certificate of "francization," a legal requirement for businesses with more than 50 employees. The owner relented, and removed the offending Web page.

"They go after the people who they think will be cowed," Housefather said.

"They don't go after the big multinationals who can just threaten to leave the province. And very few small companies react -- they'll just comply quietly. The OLF tries to make them think that if they don't, something terrible will happen. So you don't usually hear about this kind of crackdown."

David Jones, president of the online free expression group Electronic Frontier Canada, agrees.

"What happened to Calomiris and Microbytes will happen again and again if they keep going after the little guys and no one raises a stink," he said.

Calomiris has vowed to fight the order in court. If he loses, he will pay a fine that increases the longer it takes him to comply.

Housefather said that this kind of challenge is exactly what is necessary to have the law judged unconstitutional. "It's the kind of thing that we have to make a big fuss about."

Lawyers urge probe of NATO

A group of independent lawyers pressed the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal on June 9 to investigate allegations that NATO committed war crimes in its bombing campaign.

Chief prosecutor Louise Arbour, a Canadian judge, met privately with lawyers from Britain, Canada, Greece and Switzerland to discuss evidence they claimed showed the alliance violated "international criminal law in causing civilian death, injury and destruction" in bombing that began March 24.

The tribunal has focused its actions so far on the behaviour of Yugoslav forces and the country's leaders, indicting President Slobodan Milosevic and four senior associates. But the U.N. court has made it clear it also will evaluate the credibility of any evidence implicating the Western military alliance.

"No person is excluded from the authority of the tribunal," said tribunal spokesperson Paul Risley.

Arbour and the lawyers discussed the formal launching of an investigation, Risley said. He did not elaborate on what kind of evidence, if any, the tribunal might have in hand.

The group made the presentation on behalf of the Movement for the Advancement of International Criminal Law in Britain, the American Association of Jurists and unspecified peace groups.

Included in the presentation were allegations against U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana.

"We have plenty of compelling evidence of war crimes committed by the bombing of Yugoslavia," said one of the lawyers, Alexander Lykourezos of Greece.

He said the charges involved "the mass destruction of the civil infrastructure and general destruction of country" and specifically stemmed from the bombing of bridges and a building that housed Serbian television.

The meeting came as the tribunal prepared to send its investigators for the first time into Kosovo along with a peacekeeping force. The investigators will be gathering evidence of Yugoslav war crimes to buttress reports from refugees of widespread murder, rape and plundering.

There was no immediate reaction from NATO.

It appeared unlikely the tribunal would do any more than the World Court, which dismissed as unfounded Belgrade's contentions that the NATO bombing raids amounted to a genocidal campaign.

Flat tax would work in Canada, says Alberta treasurer

A flat income tax would boost any province's economy, not just those with resource revenues to fall back on, Alberta Treasurer Stockwell Day said June 9.

Day also warned that governments that ignore growing calls to cut taxes will face the wrath of voters at election time. In the Alberta budget last March, Day announced the Conservative government will uncouple provincial personal income taxes from the federal tax rate no later than 2002.

Instead of paying taxes based on a percentage of the federal rate, Albertans will pay a flat 11 per cent of their taxable income to the province.

The timetable for implementation is linked to income levels from provincial oil and gas royalties. Day said the change could be made a year sooner if current oil prices remain above the government's conservative estimate of $13 US a barrel.

But a resource royalty cushion isn't necessary to push ahead with a flat tax, said Day.

"I think a single-rate tax, which is what we're talking about, works in any jurisdiction, whether you've got other sources of revenue as a government or not," he said in an interview after speaking to a business group here.

The theory behind a flat tax, like other tax cuts, is that it increases economic activity, which puts more money in government coffers. Businesses are more likely to invest and working people will strive to earn more if they believe the government won't penalize them through progressively higher taxes, said Day.

"Any time your working population is being taxed less and being taxed more fairly, that's always going to stimulate the economy," he said.

Canadians are getting an appetite for lower taxes after seeing their impact on the Alberta and Ontario economies, Day said.

Day noted Prime Minister Jean Chrétien is playing down the impact of tax cuts in Ontario Premier Mike Harris's re-election earlier this month. It's a signal, he said, that Ottawa has no plans to cut taxes.

Canadian MP Robinson disciplined for messing with God

God came between New Democrat MP Svend Robinson and his party on June 9 when he was disciplined for presenting a petition that did not reflect the party's views on deity.

Robinson was moved to the backbenches of the party's seating in the Commons for not consulting his colleagues before presenting a petition the day before from 1 000 people who wanted the word God removed from Canada's Constitution.

The petition attracted much media attention - before and after Robinson presented it - prompting calls to the party from people looking for clarification on its position.

New Democrat Leader Alexa McDonough made a statement in the Commons reaffirming that the party does not want references to God removed from the Constitution.

Robinson, MP for Burnaby-Douglas, B.C., said in a letter to McDonough he brought the petition forward because he was asked to by some constituents.

He was roundly rebuked for standing up in the House and reading the petition, instead of simply filing it with the clerk of the House.

During his presentation, Robinson was jeered by other MPs. No NDP MPs showed up to hear him.

"Mr. Robinson is a very experienced politician, he knows that one can table a petition without drawing a lot of public attention to it," said McDonough outside the Commons.

"He also is quite aware that he was advancing in this instance a position that was immensely controversial and rejected by the party."

She added that Robinson had not advised her or other colleagues he planned to bring the petition forward, which is why he was reprimanded. She would not say whether anyone tried to talk him out of it.

Robinson has also since apologized, she added, and it's time to move on.

In the letter, Robinson said he regretted and underestimated "the storm of reaction that my decision to table this petition would provoke both in the media and beyond.

"I deeply regret the pain and difficulty that my decision . . . has caused for you and my other caucus colleagues, and for our party across the country."

Robinson also said in his letter that while he was opposed to the inclusion of the "supremacy of God" in the Constitution during a debate on the issue in 1981, he did not agree with the alternate wording proposed in the petition.

His colleagues were miffed about the incident.

"It's worse than poor political judgment, I think it's absolutely stupid," said Kamloops, B.C. MP Nelson Riis.

"That was not the party's position. He had no right to raise this in the way that he did, and we find it to be disgusting."

Lorne Nystrom, MP for Qu'Appelle, Sask., called it political insensitivity "to do what he did without consulting his colleagues ahead of time because when you do that it reflects on the party as a whole."

McDonough said Robinson would not lose his critic status. The party would reconsider bringing him back to the front benches when the House reconvenes in the fall.

Clinton denies reports of New York home; greeted by protests

Could-be Senate candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton put to rest rumors on June 10 that she has bought or leased a New York residence, saying "I have heard so many stories about apartments and houses that I've bought and I only wish that were true, but that hasn't happened yet."

Instead, the first lady told NBC's "Today" show that she is "going around collecting offers of people's guest rooms and extra beds and pull-out couches" as she continues her visits to the state while deciding whether to run for New York's Senate seat in 2000.

Clinton made her eleventh trip to New York this year, and her first one since announcing that she would form an exploratory committee next month -- a move considered a big step toward a race for the Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-New York).

During a stop the day before she got a taste of the kind of opposition she would face in such a campaign as she was greeted at a Lockheed Martin plant near Binghamton by three dozen protestors carrying "carpetbagger go home" signs.

The first lady downplayed such protests to reporters as a "fact of political life." As an Illinois native who spent most of her adult life in Arkansas, Mrs. Clinton has never lived in New York.

Following her visit to the Lockheed Martin plant the first lady continued on to a fund-raiser for Rep. Maurice Hinchey at a Binghamton hotel attended by 300 people.

Also present outside the fund-raiser location were another dozen or so demonstrators and windows in the office building overlooking the hotel were adorned with several anti-Clinton signs. One read: "Hillary Clinton is not qualified."

Anti-Hillary Clinton protesters brought signs to protest the first lady's anticipated run for a Senate seat in New York. Marsha Berry, a spokeswoman for the first lady, said the protesters "seemed more coordinated" than during past appearances by the first lady in New York.

Military judge rules Marines to be tried for refusing anthrax vaccine

A military judge ruled on June 11 that five Marines who refused to take anthrax vaccinations must face separate courts-martial.

Lt. Col. Ken Martin also sharply limited the evidence that the defense may use at the trials.

Saying he was "not going to second-guess the secretary of defense," Martin denied a defense request to call more than three dozen witnesses to testify about the vaccine's safety and effectiveness.

The five have pleaded innocent to charges of refusing to obey an order. If convicted, they face up to six months in jail, bad conduct discharges, fines and reduction to the rank of private.

The defendants are among about 200 U.S. military personnel who have refused Pentagon-ordered vaccinations intended to protect them in case anthrax is used in biological warfare. They have raised questions about possible side effects, including sterility.

The defense had said it wanted to put the vaccine on trial.

"While this was not entirely unexpected, the judge has severely limited the scope of what we will be able to argue," said Mark Zaid, a civilian attorney for the men. "We won't be able to call in people to challenge its safety, which is what we wanted to do."

Facing trial are Jason Austin, 22, of Fritch, Texas; Michael McIntyre, 22, of Mount Vernon, Wash.; Jared Johnston, 19, of Henryetta, Okla.; Michael Metzig, 20, of San Diego; and Jared Schwartz, 20, Henderson, Ky.

Three Chinese dissidents taken away, group says

Three dissidents meeting in a public square in southern China were taken away by plainclothes security agents and their whereabouts remain unknown, a human rights group said.

Li Jinhong, Liu Shili and Chen Guojin were meeting with two other democracy campaigners in front of the railroad station in Chenzhou city, Hunan province, when 10 to 20 people dragged them away on the afternoon of June 11, the New York-based Human Rights in China reported.

Their colleagues have been unable to determine where the three were taken, and police have not notified their families, the group said, citing a letter it received by fax from a Hunan democracy group.

"The Chinese police already so wantonly seize people. In broad daylight, without reason or warrant, at their pleasure, they arrest and jail dissidents just like hunting animals in the forest," said the letter, a copy of which was released by Human Rights in China.

The communist government has intensified harassment of the relentlessly persecuted dissident community to ensure the trouble-free passing of two sensitive anniversaries: the crushing of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement on June 4, 1989, and 50 years of communist rule on Oct. 1.

Li Jinhong, an accountant in a Hunan bank, took part in the 1989 movement and spent four years in prison. He has been in and out of trouble with police ever since, Human Rights in China said.

Peng Ming ran a weekly debating forum that claimed to have 11 000 members nationwide. He was arrested in January at a suburban Beijing nightclub and charged with soliciting a prostitute -- a charge he claims was trumped up. Police have the authority to send criminal suspects to labor or detention camps for up to three years without trial.

Canada's Reform Party to continue towards united right wing

Ultimate success or failure may be less important for the Reform party now than the high profile campaign it will wage to unite Canada's right wing. Reform party members have voted 60.5 per cent in favour of pursuing the United Alternative.

Members were asked to answer the question, yes or no: "Do you want the Reform party of Canada to continue with the United Alternative process?"

A decision one way or the other required a majority of votes, plus a majority in six of 10 provinces. A minimum 25 per cent of the party's almost 60 000 members had to vote to make it official.

Eight of nine provinces supported UA. There was no recorded vote from Prince Edward Island. Saskatchewan and the Territories voted against it.

A total of 32 099 ballots were cast, representing 49.7 per cent of the party membership; 19 417 voted for it and 12 682 were against.

The referendum came after more than 1 500 delegates from across Canada, about 60 per cent of them Reformers, gathered at a February convention in Ottawa.

They approved six resolutions; one supported creation of a new party of the right. Merging Reformers and Tories was rejected.

I'm running for president, says Bush

During his first formal swing across Iowa on June 12, Texas Gov. George W. Bush said he will take the plunge and seek the 2000 Republican presidential nomination.

"I have come here today to say this -- I'm running for president of the United States," he said. "There's no turning back, and I intend to be the next president of the United States."

Bush, 52, whom polls show is the front-runner for the GOP nomination at this early stage of the campaign, formed a presidential exploratory committee in March. But he had held off on formally campaigning until after the recent adjournment of the Texas legislature.

Until his Iowa announcement, he had also remained somewhat coy about his political plans, though his White House bid was considered a virtual certainty. The two-term governor and son of former President George Bush said he will formally announce his candidacy in the fall.

Aboard a campaign plane named "Great Expectations," Bush embarked on a four-day trip to Iowa and New Hampshire, which will hold, respectively, the nation's first precinct caucuses and presidential primary early next year.

Joking with reporters on the plane, Bush grabbed a microphone and announced, "Please store your expectations securely in the overhead bins, as they might shift during the trip and may fall and hurt someone -- especially me."

In Iowa, Bush hammered away on his trademark theme of "compassionate conservatism," arguing that Republicans can cut taxes, trim welfare rolls, reduce crime, improve schools and promote personal responsibility without appearing intolerant.

"Is compassion beneath us? Is mercy below us? Should our party be led by someone who boasts of a hard heart? I am running because my party must match a conservative mind with a compassionate heart," Bush said.

"I am confident that Americans view compassion as a noble goal, the calling of a nation where the strong are just and the weak are valued," he said. "I'm proud to be a compassionate conservative. I welcome the label. And on this ground I will make my stand."

The latest CNN/Time poll shows that fully two-thirds of Republican voters surveyed believe Bush will be the nominee, although 69 percent said they don't yet know enough about Bush to decide if he will make a good president.

Among Republican voters, 54 percent of those polled said they would support Bush, while his closest competitor, former American Red Cross President and Cabinet Secretary Elizabeth Dole, garnered the support of only 14 percent.

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9

 

Current Issue

Archive Main | 1999

Musings - ESR's blog

E-mail ESR

 


Home