Terror incidents in Quebec, Ottawa touches all Canadians

By Patrick Vaillancourt, Senior Columnist

Formerly published in The Other Press. October 27, 2014

On the morning of October 22, my phone got awfully busy with Twitter notifications: alerts from news networks. Everything seemed to be abuzz, and the peace that was 7 a.m. in Vancouver was halted with the headline: Terrorist strikes Parliament Hill. It would be the second “terrorist” act last week, but the latter one would make headlines worldwide because it struck at the very heart of Canada’s democracy. This wasn’t a simple shooting, but an act of aggression against every citizen of this country and the shared values that make us distinctly Canadian.

WarMemorial Shooting

I share with all Canadians a sentiment of anger, disbelief, and sadness at these events. Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those killed in last week’s attacks: Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent of Quebec and Corporal Nathan Cirillo of Ontario.

While many in the world have commented that, in comparison to other terror attacks around the world, the events of last week constitute a mild attack, such a distinction doesn’t comfort Canadians, nor does it bring our soldiers back. As bad as the deaths of our two uniformed military men were, I’m glad it wasn’t any worse—and it could have been much worse.

The attack on Parliament Hill, for example, was exceptionally bold. The gunman was less than 50 yards away from the committee rooms being occupied by the federal political parties for their weekly caucus meetings. All of our elected officials, the Prime Minister included, would have been walking the same halls roamed by the gunman only one hour later, once the caucus meetings were concluded.

It’s in times like these that our vast country seems to shrink, where people from Vancouver Island to the Maritimes share in the anguish felt by those in the country’s heartland. The outpouring of emotion was as real on the streets of Victoria as it was in the streets of Ottawa, and I, having adopted Vancouver as my home 11 years ago, was all-too-mindful of the day’s events in Ottawa—it happens to be my hometown.

But it’s also in times like these that people tend to unjustly seek someone or some group to blame.  Canadians should come together, understanding that included in the Canadian family are persons of various background and ethnicities, of differing faiths and creeds. These events were perpetrated by two men hell-bent on causing death and destruction and ruled by hate. They conveniently invoke their own bastardized version of Islam to rationalize their activities. We must reflect carefully, understanding that Islam didn’t kill our soldiers—two sociopaths did.

We’re a nation of diversity, and we all call Canada home because we share in its ideals. As we continue to process this heinous act, let’s remember to keep our country’s values of diversity and tolerance in mind. Let us, as Warrant Officer Vincent and Corporal Cirillo have for us, stand on guard for each other.

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.