Friday, April 25, 2008

Abolish The Common Sense Commissions!

Achan Meshach, Special Reporter

One of the most controversial legacies of the Mulroney/Harris governments is the Common Sense Commission (CSC), created to address the problem of lingering hippie attitudes in some Canadian communities. Now that a number of high-profile cases against well-known public figures Judy Rebick and Marc Emery have begun to enter the Tribunal stage, questions regarding the investigative methods of certain CSC employees are being raised by many bloggers. The introduction of personality has even interested the print media. Now, it's not only so-called "free love" activists questioning the methods of the CSC. Some journalists well known for their long-time, principled opposition to the counter-culture, including columnist Tiger Merrick, Julius Phinehas, and Red Ensign Patriotic Writers' Union leader Stanislas Weylan are now questioning the Commission's mandate.

For years, the Commissions have operated under the radar of most Canadian voters, targetting marginal figures such as Erin Township's Archie Thoth. Mr Thoth, an expatriate American Vietnam-era draft dodger now working at the Erin Walmart, found himself the target of a CSC investigation in 2002 after sending an admittedly one-sided letter to the Erin Bugler newspaper. Mr Thoth's missive, complaining about a format change at local radio station CRIN from classic rock to the Salem talk radio lineup, raised the ire of an anonymous talk radio fan in Milton. The CSC accepted the complaint, and after several years of proceedings, Mr Thoth was ordered by the Tribunal to pay the complainant and the radio station a total of $5,000, and to volunteer for four hundred hours at the nearest symphony hall. He was further ordered to have his own home and car stereos retrofitted at his own expense, in such a way that the radios may no longer be turned off, or have a volume below thirty-seven decibels -- and with CRIN the only tunable frequency. By order of Tribunal chair Syd Philip,this injunction will apply to Mr Thoth for the rest of his natural life. No one from the Thoth family was available for comment.

Indeed, part of the settlement provides for up to six months in jail should Archie Thoth be discovered "communicat(ing) with a person or persons or causing another person to communicate... in such a way that might lead a reasonable person to hate or believe that (the) respondent hates (talk radio)". By all accounts of neighbours and friends, Mr Thoth has taken an interest in all of the programs on CRIN, although he struggles with a second mortgage on his house and the loss of his organic ice cream distribution business and the end of his common-law marriage. Still, P.K., a friend of Mr Thoth's, lamented the lack of public outrage over what some see as a controversial, arbitrary punishment over what others see as intentional, unwelcome expression of opinion in the face of deeply felt contrary views. Since no public figures have been willing to associate themselves with a known war deserter in this era of harsh repression of anti-war sentiment and guilt by association for those who are seen to "speak out", Thoth's case has remained largely unknown.

Tainted by the "hippie sympathizer" stigma, and the fear of appearing to oppose common sense itself, marginal cases such as Archie Thoth's have only been of interest to civil libertarians and "underground" websites until now. Other cases, such as a Church of Life member being forced to officiate at the marriage of a criminally insane pair convicted for the axe murders of half a dozen Church of Life members, or the fining of a pro-feticide activists for producing biased pamphlets, have been equally low key. But since well-known hippie activist Judy Rebick's very public counter-attack in the face of CSC investigation, the CSC is now known around the world.

The Commission's pursuit of the Reagan-Goldwater Society's common sense complaint against Rebick and the Toronto Star over the Star's printing of her infamous 2006 column referring to United States President George Bush as "Texas stupid"; "criminal"; a "warmongering fascist"; and Canadian troops as "occupation forces" has unleashed a torrent of negative press for what many see as the silencing of unpopular but legitimate opinion. The Commission has been stymied by a new wave of activism in defence of what one wag has called "Bohemian revivalism", but opponents of Common Sense Commissions call their "freedom of conscience". One underground Internet website hosted in Panama, and intermittently the subject of Commission attention, depicts the Commission's publicity situation with a computerized cartoon image showing a hornet's nest kicked in by a jackboot.

Rebick herself is unrepentant.

"The day I start holding my opinions back out of fear that a Common Sense Commission might find them seditious or anti-mainstream is the day free expression dies in Canada," she said Tuesday from her small home in Hamilton. "The conservative, corporate media has been covering for George Bush's (alleged) inarticulacy for years and it is totally illegitimate to try to silence me for this. For what? The fact that the new Iranian post-CIA-coup government is proceeding towards democracy and freedom at less than half the speed of the Iraqis after the Saddam Hussein conflict of the first half of the decade? There are serious problems in American foreign policy. I have the right to point that out, just like I have the bloody right to call George Bush a moron, because he is a moron. These commissions are completely political kangaroo courts and I am going to rub that fact in their faces in front of the world."

Putting what some might call Rebick's extremist rhetoric aside, even some of the figures behind the original design and founding of the Commissions have begun to voice strong doubts about the behaviour of their creation.

"We never meant for this to happen," said Common Sense Commission founder and civil decency lawyer Hannibal Kourtney. "There are already clear limits in the legal definition of what is and what is not seditious speech. These are not Council of Canadians members we are talking about here. The CSC was not meant to be used to punish people for expressing unpopular opinion. The CSC was meant to protect all Canadians from being denied a job, housing, or an invitation to an important social event on the basis of outdated stereotypes of non-hippies and people over the age of thirty as being 'too uptight' or 'pigs', or 'square'. Common Sense Commissions have gone far beyond their original mandate as a place to ensure recourse is available when decency and common sense are violated. They weren't meant to be a tool for this kind of censorship. In many ways their own decisions and remedies are what violate any common sense definition of common sense."

Notorious openly hippie activist Marc Emery has repeatedly found himself before the British Columbia Common Sense Commission. For the past ten years, the countercultural entrepreneur has run nonstophippieshop.com, a marketplace and forum that teeters at the edge of common sense, catering to all aspects of the normally taboo hippie world view. Its most recent entanglement with the Commission stems from a 2007 common sense complaint by the powerful Canadian Parents' League Army Reserve over postings on his site openly glorifying marihuana and anti-war rabblerousing.

Emery's case begins in June, but it is already tainted by accusations from some quarters that many of the incriminating comments in the IRC conversations that were the subject of the complaint were actually written by active and former CSC investigators under assumed names -- allegedly in order to entrap or bait further comments that would then be the subject of a common sense complaint. Emery supplied us with a transcript, claiming that IP log analysis demonstrates that SOAL_REBBLE is a user name for former CSC investigator Ronald Jaden. If these accusations prove to be true, it lends a whole new damning light to the following exchange while further damaging the public image of the embattled Commissions.

SOAL_REBBLE: u guys know what the chomsky 4-20 izz?
PINKEYE_GURL: haha what are you talking about?
SOAL_REBBLE: so your interested eh ;-)
PINKEYE_ GURL: umm maybe not to sure what is it
GROVEDWELLER: I've heard of Noam Chomsky, is that who you mean? What are the numbers though
SOAL_REBBLE: 4-20 exactly right on man, dig how you riddled me that right back
SOAL_REBBLE: what they are for sure, chomsky is the best, he hates america just like us
SOAL_REBBLE: dude i am so baked out right now, i am tasting shapes, anybody with me?
PINKEYE_GURL: haha
GROVEDWELLER: haha
SOAL_REBBLE: right on, teach your children
PINKEYE: haha
SOAL_REBBLE: man f**k the war pigs gathered in their masses, said i hate their stupid a**es and dick cheney sure has a appropriate first name eh
PINKEYE_GURL: haha
GROVEDWELLER: Haha! Wow, you remind me of the 60s. It's so great to hear people openly talking like this again. I love this site!
Mr Jaden submitted this transcript as evidence in a wide-ranging complaint against nonstophippyshop.com. In response, Mr Emery has repeatedly publicly accused Mr Jaden of entrapment; in return, Mr Jaden has sued Mr Emery and several well-known hippie blogs for repeating, elaborating on, and satirizing allegations that he is himself the author of the shocking SOAL_REBBLE comments.

The world media will be watching as the increasingly notorious Common Sense Commissions lose public relations ground to articulate defenders of freedom of speech and conscience. The issues are complicated, and the arguments nuanced. As ever, it comes down to a balance between competing rights -- the right to feel pride in one's country and fighting men, versus the right to criticize certain aspects of non-covert military interventions. It is the right to privately celebrate unpopular but legal countercultural beliefs, versus the right to raise one's children in a society where common sense is respected by everyone. Nevertheless, it is the collective opinion of the London Fog that we should be among the first to speak out. Until such time as the Commissions return to a proper role, one such as settling disagreements between respectable single-family property owners and neighbouring communes, or between a trouble-making worker and his employer, and until it abandons its attempts to censor the likes of Archie Thoth, Marc Emery, and Judy Rebick, we support the complete defunding and elimination of the Common Sense Commissions.

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