Harper government wants unfettered access to media clips for attack ads

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. October 20, 2014

If you are an avid watcher of Canadian politics, you may be asking yourself: “What happened to all the attack ads against Justin Trudeau?” I was wondering that myself a few days ago, and came across some startling findings.

It seems broadcasters have had enough of the Conservative Party’s attack ads. Not because of the nature of the ads themselves, but rather, because of who owns some of the content prominently featured in those advertisements.

For years, the Conservative advertising machine has demolished successive Liberal leaders. It began with Stéphane Dion, then Michael Ignatieff. Now, a year away from the next expected federal election, the Conservatives are trailing in the polls and it seems that attack ads meant to steer voters away from Justin Trudeau have failed. If you believe the polls, Trudeau is poised to lead the Liberals to a historic comeback to the government benches once election night comes to a close.

This has the Conservatives scrambling to find a way to discredit the Liberal leader. After years of allowing political parties to broadcast attack ads on national airwaves, the major Canadian broadcasters got together to let all political parties know that they are calling a halt to it, saying they will not air advertisements that feature clips of their own broadcasts for political purposes without the express consent of the copyright holder. That means, should Trudeau make a gaffe during a CBC interview (as he did with the CF-18 story), the Conservatives would need to get the CBC’s permission to use the media clip in a political ad.

In response, the Harper government is planning to change the Copyright Act to remove “the need for broadcasters to authorize the use of their news content.” Does the Conservative Party actually want to suggest stealing the intellectual property of Canadian television stations, which own clips and broadcast interviews that are widely used to attack other party leaders in the media? It’s a double standard, which, if passed, will allow a political party to use a clip without consent, develop an ad, and send it right back to the broadcaster they stole from to have it aired nationally. Talk about insult to injury.

As a writer, I’m very passionate about intellectual property, and have an interest in preserving my rights as a producer of content. If I were producing content with the expectation that someone could just take it without my knowledge or authorization, there isn’t much of an incentive for me to produce high-quality writing. Why make the job easier for the thief?

That is exactly what could happen in political punditry. Fearing that a segment may be used for an attack ad, journalists may stop asking the tough questions we demand answers to from our elected leaders, opting instead to have the safe conversations that couldn’t possibly be featured in a smear campaign.

These copyright changes are more than just legalizing the theft of intellectual property; it will lead to a kind of censorship in journalism this country cannot afford to have.

Many of Queen’s servants turning to Tinder, Grindr to meet local people

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. October 20, 2014

Security at the British Royal houses across the United Kingdom has been tightened in response to reports released last week that servants in the royal houses are inviting guests to stay with them overnight.

Royal servants are apparently turning to “hook-up” apps such as Grindr and Tinder to unwind after a tiring day of serving the British monarch. The demands of a position as a royal servant mean that, for the most part, the servants reside in quarters near Buckingham Palace, if not in the palace itself.

There are approximately 800 staffers, who are housed at the Royal Mews and at St. James Palace, only a few hundred metres away from the Queen’s official London residence.

Staffers have previously enjoyed a fair amount of freedom to invite family and friends, even spouses and partners, to their quarters within palace walls. Palace security has long-maintained a tradition of not vetting or screening the guests of staffers. However, security officials have grown increasingly concerned about overnight guests who are unfamiliar to staffers, such as those one would meet in an unconventional setting—in this case online.

Tinder is a geosocial network which allows a user to meet local men or women as potential love interests, but has been heavily criticized for promoting casual sex among virtual strangers. Grindr follows the same principle as Tinder, but is reserved for men who are gay, bi-sexual, or curious.

One unnamed palace source told the Daily Mail last week, “There are real and serious security concerns at Buckingham Palace about members of staff use of dating apps such as Tinder, which can be rather sleazy.”

The source went on to say that police working security for Buckingham Palace are “particularly unhappy about the number of guests of servants staying overnight, especially when they have only just met on Tinder.”

Dai Davies, former chief superintendent and the former head of the Royal protection service, told the Daily Mail that the presence of these unchecked guests “makes a complete mockery of the security structure” at the Royal household. Davies believes that security officials will be more vigilant in vetting the guests of royal servants, especially since the United Kingdom is under the second-highest terrorism threat alert level.

There has been no official comment from Buckingham Palace or the Queen, but a palace spokesperson has suggested that there is a specific protocol staffers must follow in inviting guests to their quarters, which includes signing guests in and out.

Organizers say money raised wasn’t enough

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. October 20, 2014

The City of Vancouver planned to host a public New Year’s Eve bash for the first time in over two decades, but plans for a party to ring in 2015 have officially been halted.

News broke on October 9 that organizers had cancelled the event, citing that they were unable to raise enough money from sponsorships by their October 1 deadline.

The cancellation of the event comes in the midst of a municipal election campaign, and has put incumbent Mayor Gregor Robertson on the spot after he made headlines in December 2013 announcing that the city would have a “family-friendly event” to ring-in 2015. Robertson is currently seeking a third term as Vancouver mayor in the upcoming November 15 elections.

The Vancouver New Year’s Eve Celebration Society, the non-profit group tasked with raising the money and organizing the event, is now looking toward putting on the event to ring in 2016.

“While we couldn’t pull the funding together in time for this year, we’re hopeful additional community and corporate supporters will come to the table with funding over the coming year,” said Charles Gauthier, chair of the society, in a public statement.

The event was to be held at Jack Poole Plaza, complete with musical acts, food trucks, the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, and a fireworks display.

The group managed to raise two-thirds of the money required to go ahead with the party, but says that they will not put on a celebration without having all of the $300,000 in funds they require. Gauthier believes that the celebration needs to be fully funded in order to present the event at its best.

“We just felt if we don’t do it well, it will be much more challenging in terms of attracting corporate sponsorship in ensuing years,” Gauthier told Metro News last week.

Gauthier downplayed the possibility of having the event this year even if the remaining funding were to come in, saying that planners would have had to book popular musical acts well in advance.

The city has been hounded by the public for years about New Year’s Eve festivities, especially since Vancouver prides itself on being a world-class destination for street festivals.

“Vancouver’s vibrant festivals, parades, and major events throughout the year are a highlight for locals and visitors alike, but there is a definite need for a significant family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration,” said Robertson in a release.

Vancouver residents will have to do their own event-planning for New Year’s Eve again this year, but may have a central place to congregate next year should the event go ahead. Planners are confident that they will secure all of the funding to make the event happen by the end of 2015.