DRM discriminates against the visually impaired

DRM – Digital Rights Management, is the digital copyright protection placed on electronic media by the major manufacturers/distributors of content (movies, CDs, etc.).  And while some people argue that some copyright protection is reasonable, the rules regarding DRM are so one-sided and shortsighted that all impartial observers criticize them – for many reasons.

We can now add one more reason for valid and legitimate criticism:  DRM directly discriminates against the visually impaired:

‘Any digital text can be read aloud through text-to-speech, granting people with visual impairments the basic human right to read — unless there’s DRM in the way.

Tricking the technology used by Amazon, Apple, Adobe and Google to stop blind people from adding text-to-speech to their devices isn’t hard — but it is a felony, thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. A UN treaty intended to help people with visual, cognitive and sensory disabilities access copyrighted works has been all but killed by the big publishers.’

If you are new to this debate, I encourage you to get informed because there needs to be a balance of rights:  protecting the rights of the content creators/owners must not rob purchasers of said material from being able to access it in a format that they would like.

At the current time, the rules governing content purchased on electronic media are created by politicians on the advice of industry lobbyists – very powerful and rich industry lobbyists – without any weight being given to the needs, much less the rights, of the consumer.

More balance is needed or electronic vigilantes WILL gain widespread public support.

The Robin Hood myth has survived many centuries for a reason.  Unless the society wishes for hactivists to become the next incarnation of the Robin Hood character, fixing the deeply flawed and corrupt copyright governance is a necessary first step!

Concerned Citizen seeks justice – again

Next year will be the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta.  While the significance of this document is no longer taught in schools, we should all take a moment and recall some of the reasons for its being.  And while I am no historian or legal expert (my training is in science, not law), I have learned a bit about our heritage as the Children of the Magna Carta.

One of the many reasons why this Great Charter is so important is that it ensures that the ‘King’s justice’ will be available to all the citizens, not just the select few who are rich or high born.  For this purpose, the Charter establishes local courts where individual citizens can have their grievances heard and ruled on, thus truly bringing the rule of law to all of the citizenry.

I cannot stress the importance of this:  it is one of the foundational principles of our civilization.

In a real sense, it establishes the governance through which individuals, regardless of their means or position in society, can seek legal redress for their grievances.  In other words, in establishes the means through which every citizen can be a true equal in the eyes of the law.

Having grown up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, I have lived in a society where all kinds of laws to protect human rights exist, but there are no means in the system for ordinary citizens to attain them.  The necessary result of this kind of system is tyranny:  if you have no means of legally seeking a remedy to wrongs, the laws that assure you of your rights are meaningless.

This is why, in Canada (as in other Magna Carta descended societies), there is a system of governance in place for simple citizens who are unable to afford fancy lawyers to seek justice through our courts.  And THAT is how all citizens are equals before the law.

And so it is – in theory.

In reality, it has become exceedingly difficult and prohibitively expensive for one of us, ‘the unwashed masses’, those of us not living privileged lives, to seek legal redress of wrongs through our legal system, be it criminal or civil.  Lawyers, as well as court costs and all the accompanying bits (transcripts necessary to ‘move things forward’ and so on) are not cheap.

Like, really, really not cheap.

In other words, the financial burden severely limits regular citizens’ access to legal remedies for wrongs suffered.

So, what is a Concerned Citizen (CC) to do when there is an appearance (real or imagined) collusion between various politicians and, what’s worse, between different levels of government which results in very real costs, exerted from said Concerned Citizen through increasing his tax burden?

Well, this particular CC has decided to try to reduce his legal costs while seeking justice for the damage of unnecessarily increased taxation by trying to bring lawsuits against the politicians and/or bureaucrats in the centre of this perceived financial wrongdoing by self-representing.  He is, after all, the founding member of the Municipal Citizens Action Group – so he takes the frivolous waste of taxpayer dollars very seriously and is driven to bring us all justice.

And what a bumpy road it’s been!

You know that saying, ‘you can’t fight City Hall’?

Well, CC is trying to fight not one, but two City Halls and a Provincial Government to boot!

For non-Ontario residents, this is probably a new issue – because lamestream media barely covers it.  But, in a nutshell, here is the crux of the matter.

Ontario government passed a law permitting various municipal transportation authorities (run at an ‘arm’s length’ by the municipal governments) to use the open bidding process to choose the best advanced electronic payment system for the collection of public transportation fares.  The municipalities, when they decided to go electronic, started this competitive bidding process and, in many cases, chose an inexpensive commercially available system already proven to be reliable in many municipalities, including Gatineau, just North of the Ottawa River from the City of Ottawa.

So far so good, right?

Not so fast.  The Ontario Provincial Government had, in its wisdom, decided that two  of the largest system, the Toronto and Ottawa ones were – and this is where things get fuzzy – mysteriously moved to abandon the bidding/contract process altogether and, instead, purchase a Metrolinx Presto system somehow backed (or something) by the Ontario Provincial government.

What is more, the Presto system was not ‘commercially available, off the shelf’ system that had been tried and proven effective:  oh no, that would be too easy!  Instead, Metrolinx began to develop a whole new, ‘custom’ system with a ‘custom price-tag’.

A very, very BIG ‘custom pricetag’!

Oh, and did I mention the system sucks?

Late.

Not working.

In other words, what was predicted all along by people when the competitive bidding process was abandoned.

Now, I do not know this to be true, but I have heard a rumour or two that some Liberal insiders, friends of the Provincial government bureaucrats and politicians, have made a pretty little profit on this whole Metrolinx/Presto venture.

And there were legitimate reports at the time, from mainstream media, of municipal politicians claiming that the only reason the cities of Ottawa and Toronto have gone with this overpriced, untested and underperforming system is because if they had not done so, the Provincial government would have withheld funds due to the cities from gas taxes (for road maintenance) and for public transit expansion.

Interestingly enough, the former Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs (through whose office this ‘threat’ would presumably have been channeled) had since become the Mayor of Ottawa – and, all of a sudden, nobody in Ottawa, bureaucrat or councilman alike, remembers telling the media that there ever was any threat.

And, the former Provincial Minister of Transportation (from whose office this ‘threat’ would presumably have originated or been channeled) had since become the Premier of Ontario – the head honcho herself!

And not only had the previous bidding process been abandoned by the Toronto and Ottawa Transportation bureaucracies in favour of the overpriced and under-performing Metrolinx/Presto system, they have also both failed to enforce hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties permitted under the contract.

Money that had to be made up by squeezing the taxpayers even more…

This is where things begin to get very, very interesting.

CC was trying to figure out some way to get to the bottom of this whole mess and reparation of financial damages for the taxpayer.  But, where to start?

One of the things he tried doing was to sue Kathleen Wynne, the now Premier of Ontario.

In Ontario, a private citizen may lay criminal charges against someone else and pursue a private prosecution in the criminal justice system.  That is still leftover from the Magna Carta days – even if the costs are so prohibitive, CC had to represent himself, despite not being trained in the law.

However, at their discretion, The Crown may, at any point in time, take over a private citizen’s criminal prosecution and pursue it as it wishes.  Or not at all.

This has been done in the past when citizens, frustrated with race-based policing, tried to get justice in face of Police so cowed by the Liberal government that they would not enforce the law if the victims were of the ‘wrong’ race.  The pattern – quite invariably – was to let the citizens spend as much money on the private prosecution as possible, then take it over and immediately dismiss all charges.

This case was no different:  when CC was heavily invested in private criminal prosecution of Kathleen Wynne, the Ontario Premier, The Crown took over the prosecution and moved to have all charges dismissed.

But, this was different:  the top guy governing the public prosecutor’s office in Ontario serves 100% at the pleasure of the Premier of Ontario.  CC appealed the dismissal of the charges, arguing that since the head of public prosecution is employed by the Premier, dismissing charges against Kathleen Wynne who happens to be Premier is a bit of a conflict of interest and that instead of dismissing these charges.

Slam dunk – right?

After all, even the appearance of a conflict of interest is a definite threat to our constitutional democracy, right?

Well, I was in court that day, watching the judge jump through loops of logic so convoluted that she ended up ruling that had CC brought an action against Kathleen Wynne – the Minister and Premier, he would be correct that The Crown was in a conflict of interest to drop the charges.  But, he had brought the charges against Kathleen Wynne, that means the private person of Kathleen Wynne, and since her actions in this were as a Minister/Premier, not a private person, there was no conflict of interest…

Really.

At every step of the way, CC has been thwarted by obfuscation and, what in my never-humble-opinion constitutes miscarriage of justice.

But, CC is tenacious.

At every step, when he was thwarted, he pushed the judge in question to tell him how else  to approach the issue so that he could get an honest ruling on the true merit of the core issue.  In fact, he pushed so hard that, at times, I and his other supporters spectating were afraid he would be disciplined for trying so hard!

And, whenever thwarted, CC would file a new suit based on the direction of the previous judge.

And the new suit would come up and the judge would, invariably, demand very costly transcripts of all the cases that were filed before – yet these would suit to obfuscate the issue and CC would find himself arguing the previous, already lost case, instead of the new one.  And if he resisted introducing the transcripts, wanting the suit to be judged on the new grounds, he would be told that no decision can be reached without the the transcripts, even though he kept insisting this was a brand new case that ought not be tainted…

This last Friday was no different.

The case was presided over by Justice Charles Hackland, known for presiding over high-profile cases – such as temporarily removing former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford from office on conflict of interest charges.  (Of course, Rob Ford was a Conservative, and Justice Charles Hackland’s ruling was later reversed by another impartial judge…)

The very start was an omen of things to come…

Usually, it is up to the prosecution to present their case to the judge first.  As such, CC stood up and was ready to present his case when, in the most patronizing tone ever, the judge asked him to sit down, saying that he’d like to hear the intro to the case from the defense because, you know, lawyers speak a common language and so, non-lawyer CC should just shut up and listen to his betters.

At least, that is how I heard it!

It was with this opening sentence of the judge that I thought CC’s case was lost.

I have, over my career as a blogger, been to a few hearings, both before the provincial and federal judges.  In some cases, I saw people represented by lawyers, in others, I saw not-rich people self-represented. In all instances of self-representation, the judges made sure to make the law as accessible to the citizens as possible, some of them even citing that it is their duty to make sure regular people have as ready an access to the courts as people who can afford expensive lawyers and that they were both willing and legally obligated to make this happen.

Never before have I encountered a case where the judge would be, from the onset, contemptuous of a private citizen’s effort to get justice, even though they cannot afford a $500/hour lawyer.

Perhaps I am misreading this:  after all, I am an Aspie and nuances of human behaviour often escape me.  But, from the onset, I thought the judge was actively annoyed that a non-lawyer would dare to argue a case before him.

In this part of the overall effors, CC was trying to sue the City of Ottawa for not acting on the clauses in their contract with Metrolinx/Presto to collect penalties in non-delivery/non-performance of their system.  From what I understood, the unnecessary cost to the taxpayer of this whole fiasco topped half-a-billion dollars…though I have no idea of the breakdown of all this, since I did not have the court documents in front of me.

Still, half-a-billion dollars here, half-a-billion dollars there, and, pretty soon, you’re talking real money!

Predictably, the City of Ottawa lawyer poo-poohed the whole issue…

When CC was finally allowed to speak, he was no longer permitted to present the issue as a whole.  Instead, he was subjected to questions from the judge like:  “It seems that the City of Ottawa may have some claim, but have failed to act on it.  What gives YOU any standing to file a lawsuit on their behalf?”

This, necessarily, put CC on the defensive…and he did his best to defend his position.

Still, being on the defensive and explaining his legal standing in this, he had no opportunity to present his core issue.  The judge got more and more alienated from him as the morning wore on.  The judge broke with the statement that he did not really comprehend why CC was there and that, following the break, he was to explain why he ought to have a standing interest in this matter.

During the morning break, CC and his loyal band of supporters (including me) talked over the morning’s events and worried about how to get the core message across.  Being my not-so-shy self, I tried very hard to help come up with the proper explanation for why CC had a valid interest in this case.

OK, I was a bit pushy.  That’s my nature!!!

In the end, when the case resumed after the morning break and some administrative stuff got out of the way, CC asked the judge to permit me to explain the core of his case.

Amused, the judge agreed!

And so it came that I got to actually talk in a case I was covering, as a blogger.

I stated my name for the court record and explained that I was a blogger who was following this case – and that I would be glad to help the court understand CC’s position because since I have been writing about his quest, I might be able to help.

OK – this was very adrenalin-producing.

I do not recall a single thing I said.

Yet, I do recall trying to explain the situation as I have in the words above, though condensed to a few short sentences.

After a short 3-4 minutes, the judge asked me if I knew whether CC had ever sought advice from a lawyer.  I replied truthfully that I had no idea, I just wrote about the case and had never met CC outside the courthouse.

Still, I felt that question was rather ominous – as if only a legal expert were permitted to seek justice….it left me very pessimistic, regardless of what was to come.

Following my brief little speech, CC did an awesome job presenting his position.  In my mind, he truly made his case.  He explained that he submitted evidence that a Dianne Deans, the head of the City of Ottawa Transportation Committee, had been quoted in the newspapers saying that the Province (and these are my paraphrasing, not her exact words) had threatened the City of Ottawa with withholding transfer payments to the City if they did not go with Metrolinx/Presto and/or enforced the penalties for late/not working systems.  I may have misunderstood his argument, but, to the best of my highly flawed recollection, this was the central point of his argument.

When he had asked The City about is, he claimed (I think) that Dianne Deans claimed never to have made such a statement to the media.  She replied in an email – not a sworn statement which the CC had sought because a sworn statement was subject to cross examination, while a simple email was not.

The City lawyer argued that the email, which blamed a bureaucrat for the leak, was answer enough.

CC pointed out that he demanded to know, from the City of Ottawa, if a bureaucrat was the actual source of the quote (rather than the Transportation Chair, Dianne Deans), that The City was obligated to tell him the identity of that bureaucrat (Norwich ruling).

The City lawyer claimed this was frivolous and unnecessary – and since the Province was the source of all this unpleasantness, CC knew who the culprit was and the Norwich thingie did not apply.

The judge reserved his ruling.

Yes, I do think this is a very meritorious case.

No, I do not think justice will be done.

I hope to be proven wrong!

Let’s take a moment to remember Aqsa Parvez

Aqsa Parvez

April 22, 1991 – December 10, 2007

A Canadian victim of Saria

12. Dec. 2014, a Concerned Taxpayer will be at the Elgin St. Court House – seeking justice, again…

From my inbox:

Invite For Concerned Taxpayers:

On December 12, a concerned taxpayer will convince a Superior Court Judge to make a judicial notice of the legislative fact that the Metrolinx Act grants freedom of choice to TTC and OC Transpo to agree or not agree to Presto.

Upon success, this declaration would be used to prosecute the Ontario Government for taking away that freedom of choice by threats of injury of loss of gas tax, subway and LRT funding. Entering any Court room is 2 (Crown and Court) against 1 (Taxpayers), this  reality is not a reason to do nothing to stop an ongoing crime against taxpayers.

In over 20 Court proceedings, no judge has said or written that this fact commonly known to the community is not a breach of the criminal code.

Lets hope December 12 is independence day for taxpayers!

If you can, come out and show your support.  The show is scheduled to get going at 10 am, but if my previous experience is anything to go by, it will be difficult to locate the courtroom and there will be some waiting to be done…

Justice delayed, and delayed, and delayed…

Inside Civil Asset Forfeiture

Because they can…

Eric Brazeau: Canada’s honest-to-goodness political prisoner

Did you know Canada has an honest-to-goodness political prisoner?

His name is Eric Brazeau.  He is being held at a maximum security jail – Millhaven…for having had a politically incorrect conversation.

Recently, I have received a fundraising request fro the Conservative Party of Canada – and this is how I have replied:

To:  Jaime Girard

Director, Fundraising and Membership Services
Conservative Party of Canada

Dear Mr. Girard,

While I understand the importance of raising funds, us ‘regular people’ are dealing with a lot right now.
For example, are you aware of the plight of Eric Brazeau – Canada’s first honest-to-goodness political prisoner?
Mr. Brazeau’s private conversation was overheard by a third party, who was offended and made a criminal complaint.  Mr. Brazeau was arrested and is being held without bail until his trial on the grounds that if he were granted bail, he might again discuss his honestly held views.
The most troubling thing about his ‘no bail’ condition is that by the time his trial date comes up, he will have served longer in jail than the longest possible sentence for the crime he had been charged with!!!
I am not making this up – this is Canada today.  A person can be jailed for longer than the maximum potential sentence for his crime, without any conviction, for fear that he might express his honestly held opinions!
How is this possible – under Conservative rule?
Please, explain to me what the Conservative Party of Canada is doing to help Eric Brazeau and the travesty of justice his case has become.  Please, let me know your party’s policy on political prisoners such as Eric Brazeau.  If I approve of your party’s action plan to free Eric Brazeau and to prevent more political prisoners to be jailed in Canada, I will consider your request to contribute funds to your party.
SIncerely,
Alexandra Belaire
blogging as Xanthippa
P.S. This letter is being published and I will be happy to also publish any and all replies (or lack thereof) you may make.

Who owns your body?

Many people even today live under the yoke of very direct and brutal slavery.  We have recently heard the horror stories.

But this is not the only way slavery is happening.

No – this time, I will not go on a long rant about how coercive taxation is, in a very real sense, the state making an ownership claim over our bodies, but it hits close.

Different societies are built on different principles – and, depending on these foundational ‘truths’, the governance of the society evolves.  All societies evolve over time.  But, those societies which build their governance on things other than the principles they were founded on soon run into serious trouble;

After all, in order for a society to function in a healthy way, for the citizenry to be able to anticipate, understand and guide themselves by the rules of the society, it is important for every new law, for every rule that is enforced, to be grounded in this foundation.  I’m not sure if I am explaining this clearly, so, if I am making a mess of it, please, let me know and I’ll try to clarify.

What I mean by this is that in a very practical sense, for a new rule to ‘work’ in a society, one must be able to reason to it by starting with the foundational principles.

In other words, if laws are passed which are arbitrary – cannot be arrived at by reasoning from ‘first principles’, sooner or later, the governance will not form a seamless body but the laws and regulations will become a mess, some may even contradict each other and it will be upon the whim of the police and the judiciary as to which rules are enforced when…

Our politicians – in all levels of government – are busy passing laws and regulations.  If every citizen were to memorize every new law and regulation as they are passed, they would have little time to actually be productive…and the society would begin to stagnate.

If, however, each and every law and regulation passed could be reasoned out from ‘first principles’ (the ‘foundational truths’ on which the society is built), then the citizen needs not memorize every new rule and regulation:  these will simply be a natural extension of the foundations upon which the society is built.

One of the core – if not THE core – ‘foundational truths’ on which our society is built is the principle of self-ownership.

So far, so good – yes?

I own my body and you own yours.  You cannot sell your children into slavery or for body organs, because while a parent may be a child’s guardian, the parent does not own their child.  Each and every human being owns her or him self.

So, what are our bodies made up of?

Lots of stuff.

Some of our ‘stuff’ shares common things with other humans, some with all living things – and some of our ‘stuff’ is uniquely our own and defines us as an individual.

Let’s look at some examples of ‘stuff’ that makes us up – but which we share with some others.

Blood, for example.

We can, within certain defined parameters, switch blood from one person to another:  from one who has enough and chooses to share to the ones who need it.

Same with, say, kidneys and corneas and lots of other ‘stuff’.

Our brilliant scientists have, for example, found a way to take a pig’s heart, keep the ‘infrastructure’ but wash away the DNA containing tissues, graft a human being’s own personal stem cells over this pig’s hear infrastructure - and then implant it into that human!!!  Most brilliant, since all the DNA-bearing ‘stuff’ is that owner’s very own DNA, so the body recognizes it as part of itself and the immune system does not try to ‘kill this invader':  something which, when using another human’s heart, had to be fought with anti-rejection drugs that had considerable and unpleasant side effects.

AWESOME!

Right?

And there’s all these new cancer treatments and chronic illness treatments based on gene therapies!  It’s enough to make one feel like we’re living in the science fiction future!

Makes sense that we will expect more and more gene-based therapies for our ills.

But, there is a problem with this.

The problem is that, in their wisdom, the bureaucrats who award patents have agreed with deep-pocketed corporaions to grant them patents on genes.  Both human and non-human…

Please, consider this very, very carefully.

For decades, the MD’s and medical researchers have warned that the greatest obstacle to more gene therapies being developed and used in the practice of medicine are – you guessed it – patents granted on genes.

Oh, it crept in gradually, like all the greatest villains in history.

First it was a human-modified gene in one creature or another which made it more suitable for medical studies – human-altered gene, it was argued, intellectual property rights…

Then it was ‘unraveling’ genes – doing the lab work to identify them and the role they played.  The corporations argued – quite truthfully – that they invested money up front to make this possible.  And they did, that is true.

But we must remember why patents were ‘brought about':  it was a trade off. The ‘inventor/thinker’ would share the information with everyone else about all aspects in return for ‘exclusive rights’ on the item for a period of time that would let them make back their investment plus a modest profit. But, it was argued, one could only patent ‘products’ – not naturally occurring ‘stuff’.

So – how come patents were granted to companies on naturally-occurring ‘stuff’ like genes?

A bit of ignorance and a bit of corruption, I guess…

But, we now find ourselves in a situation where multinational corporations own the patents on certain human genes.

Aside:  this issue is explored very, very well in a most excellent Canadian Netflix show, ‘Orphan Black’.  Not only is the show brilliantly written and generally awesomely executed, it tackles this very question:  if a corporation ‘owns’ a ‘gene and all its derivatives’, and that gene is inside of you, do they ‘own’ you?  Do they have a legal claim on your children?  Your child is, after all, a derivative of your genes….

Please, indulge me in the following speculation.

A corporation owns a specific gene which is, say, introduced into asthma sufferers using a specific virus (as the genetic material carrier).  This engineered DNA (patented by, say, Corporation ‘C’) is successfully integrated into your cells, so that all the cells of your body have replaced the old, ‘faulty asthma-causing gene’ with the newly engineered ‘C’ gene.

Then you have kids.

Your children will have inherited the ‘C’ gene.

Do you have to seek permission to ‘create a derivative of the ‘ C’ gene through reproduction’ before you have said child?

Do you owe the Corporation ‘C’ royalties?

Do they have an ownership claim on your offspring?

As the laws stand, these questions have not been answered very well.

For example, courts have ruled that if a genetically modified pollen accidentally pollinates your non genetically modified crops, you DO owe the pollen’s patent holder royalties.

Really, do think about where this is heading….

After all, if somebody owns your gene – something which is in every cell of your body – do they not have an actual claim of ownership over you?

This is why I am so thrilled that CHEO (Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario) has initiated a lawsuit challenging the patenting of a specific gene-test.  OK – a baby step, but a very, very important one!!!

Let’s keep our eyes on this one!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 126 other followers