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Asset Forfeiture Comes to Canada – Article by Bradley Doucet

Asset Forfeiture Comes to Canada – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
February 2, 2014
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Should a man lose his home because police find some marijuana plants in his basement—in an illegal warrantless search, no less? David Lloydsmith was never charged with a crime, but British Columbia’s Civil Forfeiture Office is attempting to seize his residence in civil court, where the burden of proof is lower than in criminal court. Welcome to the new Canada, where governments fill their coffers with revenue from US-style “laws” that are the very antithesis of justice.
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According to an in-depth Globe and Mail article published this past weekend, Ontario was first to introduce civil forfeiture legislation in Canada. It opened its Guilty Till Proven Innocent Office back in 2003. Seven other provinces now have similar legislation, but BC is apparently the one that’s raking in the most cash. “The public has a very strong interest in seeing that people do not keep ill-gotten gains,” says that province’s Justice Minister, Suzanne Anton. Spoken like a true authoritarian who hasn’t got the slightest inkling that anyone with power would ever abuse it.
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Mr. Lloydsmith, by the way, has been on partial disability since breaking his back on the job. He says he started growing marijuana because he had trouble getting prescriptions for the drug. What a dangerous misfit. How dare he disobey his rulers. Clearly he needs to be punished before he guns down a busload of schoolchildren.
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It’s one thing if the cops impound a getaway car and sell it at auction once some bank robbers are tried and convicted. It’s quite another if the government threatens to seize the home of a family who unwittingly rents to pot growers, as the BC government did to the Jang family in 2009. The Jangs, afraid of losing their home despite having committed no crime, settled out of court for a sizable sum, according to the Globe.

In response to the BC Justice Minister, it is not in the legitimate or long-term interest of “the public” to confiscate, or threaten to confiscate, the property of innocent people. On the contrary, we all have a strong interest in strictly limiting the power of those we pay to protect us, lest they succumb to delusions of grandeur and elect to turn that power against us.

Bradley Doucet is Le Québécois Libre‘s English Editor and the author of the blog Spark This: Musings on Reason, Liberty, and Joy. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.

I’ve Got Olympic Fever – and the Only Cure is More Nationalism! – Article by Bradley Doucet

I’ve Got Olympic Fever – and the Only Cure is More Nationalism! – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
August 17, 2012
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Once again, the Olympics have come and gone. Some of the best athletes from around the world competed to see who could run, swim, row, dive, jump, kick, shoot, spike, spin, flip, and twist faster or higher or more artfully than their opponents. And that part of it was great. Well, some of it was dull as dirt, but some of it was genuinely thrilling and even beautiful.The part of it that I don’t get is where I’m supposed to cheer for the guys and gals who are “representing” Canada. I’m supposed to feel disappointed when these fine young men and women fail to live up to expectations, and I’m supposed to be happy, even proud, when they make it to the podium. And people from other nations are supposed to feel these emotions for the athletes “representing” them. Well, not only do I not feel anything special for Canadian athletes, but I would go so far as to say that such seemingly innocuous nationalistic sentiments are a big part of what’s wrong with the world.Nationalism by Any Other Name

For my money, foul-mouthed stand-up comedian Doug Stanhope put it best: “Nationalism does nothing but teach you how to hate people that you never met, and all of a sudden you take pride in accomplishments you had no part in whatsoever…” Now granted, the Olympics are not so big on the hate. But why should I, simply because I’m Canadian, take pride in the fact that Canada hauled in 18 medals? And should I feel a little less proud because only one of them was a gold? Of course, strictly speaking, “Canada” did not win 18 medals. Rather, Canadian athletes won 18 medals. But why should “we” care one way or the other, much less feel vicarious pride? We didn’t build that.

To be clear, I’m not against sporting events per se. I actually like sports, both playing them and watching them. I like watching basketball and American football, and I even root for certain teams (the Celtics and the Patriots). I enjoy watching my fellow human beings perform incredible feats of strength and agility, and struggle to summon extra energy or settle frazzled nerves. Watching tennis star Na Li rally from a 1-5 deficit in the deciding third set of her semi-finals match at the Rogers Cup in Montreal this weekend to win six straight games and take it 7-5 was both exciting and inspiring. I like the way Na Li plays—I refuse on principle to place her family name first, regardless of what is done in her nation—and she’s got a pretty quick wit, too, judging from the times I’ve heard her speak. Why should I give a damn what her nationality is?

I did watch some Olympic tennis, including the record-breaking third set of the match between Milos Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga that took 48 service games to decide. I was impressed that Raonic could give Tsonga such a run for his money, but the fact that we are countrymen was the furthest thing from my mind. In fact, I was happy that Tsonga finally won the match. I enjoy his style of play, and he’s actually my favourite player on the men’s tour at the moment. Different nationality, different mother tongue, different skin colour? I literally could not care less.

The Hosts with the Most

What about the host country? In an article in the Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders wrote of the “mood of national euphoria” in England following the closing ceremonies, and of the “ineffable value of having organized a very large, very happy event with virtually no flaws, and having looked very good before the world—something that Britain once took for granted, and is likely to enjoy remembering for some time.” The implication is that Britain should feel proud of the great job it did hosting the Games.

But again, did “Britain” host the Games? Did “the British people” host the Games? No. Some small subset of specific individuals organized the event, for better or for worse. Why would every Brit deserve credit for that? Now, British taxpayers did foot the bill, whether they wanted to or not. And what a bill it was, totalling some $14.5 billion. (You can forget about any economic stimulus from hosting the Games, by the way. As Saunders tells it, the prospect of daily Olympic crowds of 100,000 kept at least 300,000 non-Olympic tourists away.)

Similarly, as a Canadian taxpayer, I financed some tiny fraction of the training of the Canadian athletes participating at these Games, who were subsidized to the tune of $96 million over the last four years. (For those of you keeping track at home, that’s five million and change per Canadian medal.) The thing is, paying taxes is not really something a person does; it’s something that is done to a person. I cannot therefore reasonably feel proud of what is done with those dollars once they are taken out of my account against my will, and neither should the British taxpayer.

For Love of Country

On a trip to Ottawa a few years ago, I saw a bumper sticker that captured my feelings about Canada: “I love my country, but I’m afraid of my government.” Canada is a fine place with many fine people who continue to enjoy the echoes of a strong classical liberal tradition. But those “representing” us (there’s that word again) in the halls of power are not generally speaking the finest of those fine people.

For one thing, they all seem to be nationalists of one stripe or another. I suppose it wasn’t surprising to see Pauline Marois, leader of the separatist Parti Québécois, celebrate the fact that Canada’s first four medals were won by Quebecers. Rather more disappointing was how all three major provincial party leaders were competing to oppose the purchase of homegrown Rona by US rival Lowe’s. The race for gold in the “economic nationalism” event was too close to call.

Someone is surely going to argue that the Olympics are all about the nations of the world coming together in friendship. Well first of all, at the risk of beating a dead dressage horse, “nations” cannot be friends. Only people can be friends, and some of the Olympians probably made some new connections. But do the Olympics help people from different parts of the world adopt friendlier attitudes toward one another? An American basketball team packed with NBA superstars rolling roughshod over every other team tells a different tale, as does the rash of below-the-belt punching in the quest for basketball gold. And how about those bad calls against the Canadian women’s soccer team, denying them a chance to play for gold? That really promotes friendly international relations.

One parting shot: I’ll take the human achievement of the Mars landing over the nationalistic achievements of the Olympics any day. And although again, the taxpayer funds used to pay for it rub me the wrong way, at $2.5 billion, the price tag was roughly 1/6 as large as the Olympic tab.

Some kind of reverence for imaginary lines on a map seems to be deeply ingrained in most people, but to me, honestly, winning a medal “for your country” is only slightly less creepy than winning one for your Dear Leader. I prefer the humanist sentiment of elation of one Western writer (I’ve tried in vain to relocate his name) who, upon seeing the Great Wall of China for the first time, exclaimed, “My people built that.” Human beings can do great things, which should be a source of encouragement and inspiration for us all, regardless of the colours of our passports.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.
What People Mean When They Talk About Freedom – Article by Bradley Doucet

What People Mean When They Talk About Freedom – Article by Bradley Doucet

The New Renaissance Hat
Bradley Doucet
April 11, 2012
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Most people I talk to believe that freedom is important. They generally want to be free, and they want others to be free as well. The disagreements only begin when we start discussing what, exactly, we mean by “free.” These disagreements over the meaning of liberty underlie a good part of the much-hyped polarization of politics in the western world.

One meaning, or set of meanings, is reflected in Freedom House’s annual Freedom in the World survey, whose findings for 2009 are available here. Freedom, according to this survey, is “the opportunity to act spontaneously in a variety of fields outside the control of the government and other centers of potential domination.” If that seems a little vague, the organization’s website gets more specific, breaking freedom down into two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. Political rights allow people to “vote freely for distinct alternatives in legitimate elections, compete for public office, join political parties and organizations, and elect representatives who have a decisive impact on public policies and are accountable to the electorate.” Civil liberties include “freedoms of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state.”

In the latest survey, fully 47 countries, ranging from Canada to Barbados, from the United States to Uruguay, get a perfect score of 1 for political rights and a perfect score of 1 for civil liberties. Only nine countries, including North Korea, Somalia, and Sudan, get the worst possible score of 7 on both counts. To get a sense of the spread, Argentina gets a pair of 2s, Turkey gets 3s, Kenya gets 4s, Ethiopia 5s, and Iran and Zimbabwe 6s.

Setting the Bar Too Low

This survey, however well-intentioned, suffers from two glaring deficiencies. First, it sets the bar way too low. By no stretch of the imagination are there 47 countries in the world that deserve perfect scores for freedom, even if we accept Freedom House’s criteria. Are civil liberties really perfectly safe in England, with surveillance cameras on every other street corner? Should the American Civil Liberties Union close up shop in an age of warrantless wiretaps, enhanced interrogation techniques, and jail time for smoking a joint? And here at home, how many Canadians really imagine that our proroguing Prime Minister is fully accountable to the public? I’m not saying I’d rather live in Zimbabwe—or Argentina, for that matter—but even in these relatively free countries of the Anglosphere, there remains plenty of room for improvement.

The other glaring defect in Freedom House’s survey is that it completely ignores economic freedom. There is no mention, for instance, of red tape, which costs small- to medium-sized Canadian businesses over $30 billion a year. No mention, either, of the eminent domain abuse that is rampant in the United States, robbing small property owners of their homes and shops in order to help some developer with deep pockets.

The Economic Freedom Network—with members in over 70 nations around the globe, including Canada’s own Fraser Institute—provides a picture of economic freedom in the world with its annual report. By its definition, economic freedom exists when property acquired “without the use of force, fraud, or theft is protected from physical invasions by others” and when individuals “are free to use, exchange, or give their property as long as their actions do not violate the identical rights of others.” More specifically, according to its latest report, to have high economic freedom, a country has to protect private property, enforce contracts, and have a stable monetary environment. “It also must keep taxes low, refrain from creating barriers to both domestic and international trade, and rely more fully on markets rather than the political process to allocate goods and resources.”

Compare and Contrast

Many of the countries that score highest in economic freedom are also at the top of the list in Freedom House’s survey of political rights and civil liberties, and conversely, most of the least free score dismally on both surveys. In fact, a graph in the Economic Freedom Network’s report shows this strong positive correlation. But there are some notable exceptions. Hong Kong and Singapore, first and second respectively for economic freedom with scores of 8.97 and 8.66 out of a possible 10, are only middling according to the Freedom House survey; and the United Arab Emirates (7.58) and Bahrain (7.56), 19th and 20th for economic freedom, are quite repressive on other counts, both scoring 5.5 according to Freedom House (with 7 being the worst possible combined average score).

Would I rather live in Singapore than in Canada, which placed 8th for economic freedom with a respectable score of 7.91? The trade-off in terms of civil liberties would probably be too high. But I would gain something in exchange for my loss. According to the Economic Freedom Network’s report, countries with higher economic freedom have substantially higher per capita incomes, higher growth rates, longer life expectancies, better environmental performance, and less corruption. The poor are also better off in absolute terms in countries with higher economic freedom, and no worse off in relative terms.

As a libertarian, I value both civil and economic liberty. I fault the authoritarian segment of the political right for running roughshod over the former, but I also fault an equally authoritarian segment of the political left for trampling the latter. But beyond this, I fault both sides of the spectrum for fetishizing political rights. Democracy is a tool, and it can be a useful one, but what good are elections if our representatives are not checked by a strict constitution from taking away our civil and economic freedoms? What good is accountability if the people don’t know or appreciate what is being taken away from them? Looking at it from the opposite perspective, if we cared enough and were wise enough to guard our civil and economic freedoms properly, would it matter very much anymore who administered the machinery of government? Yet without constitutional limits and the will to enforce them, political rights amount to the “freedom” to force others to do what we want—a power that interest groups will fight tooth and nail to wield.

As I am regularly reminded when I discuss libertarianism with my fellow Canadians, this is a pretty good place to live. Canada scores better than or as good as most places on the planet in terms of political rights, civil liberties, and economic freedom. This is a fact, and I am grateful for it. But does that mean we shouldn’t try to make life even better? Why are we so complacent, so ready to accept “pretty good” as good enough? Why are so many intelligent, educated people uninterested in even exploring what history’s great thinkers have had to say about liberty? Few Canadians, I wager, have even heard of Benjamin Constant, for instance. A champion of individual freedom two centuries ago, he viewed political rights as a collective kind of freedom, present in the ancient world, which was “compatible with… the complete subjection of the individual to the authority of the community.” Yes, Canada is a pretty good place to live, all things considered. When individuals are no longer subjected to the dictates of their fellows, free to live as they see fit and responsible for the consequences of their own actions, it will be a great place to live.

Bradley Doucet is Le Quebecois Libré‘s English Editor. A writer living in Montreal, he has studied philosophy and economics, and is currently completing a novel on the pursuit of happiness. He also writes for The New Individualist, an Objectivist magazine published by The Atlas Society, and sings.