A Few Tasteful Snaps has moved (again)

It took a while, but my masters at the Ottawa Citizen have realized that my continued blogging on a self-hosted WordPress site with zero advertising was not a particularly effective revenue generator for our news organization.

So, effective immediately, A Few Tasteful Snaps is now hosted by the people who write my paycheques at… http://blogs.ottawacitizen.com/author/glenmcgregor/

The look is a bit different but, owing to WordPress’s excellent XML export feature, I’ve managed to port all the older posts from here, comments and all, including the hundreds of vitriolic rants by angry firearms enthusiasts. I’ve left the black and white unshaven photo in place so as not to disorient readers.

Thanks, 1and1.com, for excellent WP hosting. But it’s time to pay some bills.

You can have my gun registry data when you pry it from my cold, dead hands

The Conservative government’s bill to scrap the requirement to register long-guns comes with a surprising clause: it requires the Commissioner of Firearms destroy all records of registered long-guns.

The clause in question:

29. (1) The Commissioner of Firearms shall ensure the destruction as soon as feasible of all records in the Canadian Firearms Registry related to the registration of firearms that are neither prohibited firearms nor restricted firearms and all copies of those records under the Commissioner’s control.

The legislation goes on to describe how this provision trumps the Privacy Act and the Library and Archives Act, which govern the retention of records.

The Tory spin on this passage of the bill is a bit misleading. The registry will not be destroyed. Rather, records of only non-restricted and non-prohibited firearms will be deleted from the database. The database will continue — and will continue to be updated with new registrations or de-registrations of restricted (mostly hand-guns and some rifles) and prohibited (mostly automatic and some semi-automatics) firearms.

But, personally, I find the destruction of any kind of government data utterly abhorent and contrary to the concept of open government.

In response, I’m posting publicly a copy of the gun registry database I received via the Access to Information Act in 2007.

We used this data in an Ottawa Citizen series called “Rapid Fire” that explored issues involved in gun ownership in Canada.

You can download your own copy for free from Toronto-based data sharing site Buzzdata.

The database of about 7 million records contains neither the name nor addresses of the registrant (except in some rare cases where the registrants built the guns from a kit and listed themselves as the manufacturers).  It does, however, have the first two characters of the registrant’s postal code.

The data is a bit stale, but with the government planning to purge its own records, this may be the last, best snapshot of federal gun registry.

A SIDE NOTE: The Access to Information Commissioner might have something to say about this, as her governing legislation specifically makes destruction of a requested record an offense.

67.1 (1) No person shall, with intent to deny a right of access under this Act,
(a) destroy, mutilate or alter a record;

 

I know of at least one person (not me) who today filed an ATIP request for the gun registry data, which should prevent its destruction while the request is pending. Of course, C-19 could be amended to trump the Access to Information Act, as the government did when it passed legislation to establish the federal registry of sex offenders.

UPDATE: This is a huge file and it’s taking a bit of time to get the complete data set online. Bear with me. Should have it up shortly.

New Access to Information policy could discourage requests

Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault today revealed that all government departments will, by the end of the year, be required to post records released under the Access to Information Act on their websites.

Legault referred to the new open-government policy tangentially in testimony before the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics Committee related to her ongoing legal battle with Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

On its face, the policy sounds like an excellent one — more information about government will become public. Indeed, some departments — Defence and Health among them — are already doing this.

But there is an unanticipated consequence of the policy that should concern journalists who use the open-records law: it could discourage them from filing ATIP requests because will lose any exclusivity they had on the responses.

Filing ATIPs is a time-consuming and sometimes expensive undertaking that often requires a lengthy negotiations and appeals to get the records released. Moreover, generating the ideas to request certain records are a skill set that is part of my job. I don’t want to give it away.

I find this is especially true requesting electronic records, which I often do.

Consider this example: In 2007, I filed a request with a mainline government department for a copy of the database used to administer a particularly contentious program. My request was denied outright. I had to file an appeal with Legault’s predecessor, John Reid. It sat on the shelf until earlier this year, when her office facilitated negotiaitons with department that eventually resulted in the release of the data to me.

I have spent a lot of time on this request and it will take a lot more research and discussion with the department for me to fully understand what the data shows, then turn it into a news story that will inform readers.  I can only rationalize this to my editors with the possibility that it will result in a news story that is exclusive to my newspaper.

However, the department has told me the records I have fought for four years to obtain will soon be posted on their website. Any exclusivity I have will be gone.

In other data requests, I have paid hundreds of dollars of the Citizen’s money for government computer technicians to extract the records. Again, I do this expecting that it might result in an exclusive news story.

But if these records are posted on the departments’ websites, all my competitors can have it.

As a result, I will have to rush to get a story out and, likely, my work will not be as thorough as would be if I knew I had the information exclusively.

Government will soon learn that it pays to get potentially embarrassing information in ATIP records out quickly, to dilute its potential news value to one news organization.

There is a simple solution to this that I have yet to hear Legault or anyone else discuss. Requests should be made public and posted on departmental websites, but only 30 days after the requester receives the records.

CPC MP’s video: “You’re talking Eskimo”

As his government moves to end the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, Saskatchewan Conservative MP David Anderson posted a home-made video knocking the single-desk buyer.

The video was made on Xtranormal, an Internet service that animates and voices a video based on the script you submit. In the video on Anderson’s page, a character called Franklin Futurefarmer outlines his plan to grow wheat and sell flour to his brother’s gourmet bakery.

The Wheat Board official Mr. Smith (portrayed by a bald character in a tie) responds in monotone, “Slow down, young man. You’re talking Eskimo” — that is, he sounds foreign cannot be understood or makes no sense.

Wheat Board Guy explains how the existing rules govern crop sales, and Franklin replies, “How can such a system exist in Canada? That sounds sort of Communist.”

Later in the video Mr. Smith says, There you go, talking Eskimo again.”

Unclear is whether It doesn’t look like Anderson created the video himself. The same video is also on YouTube.

But I’m pretty certain that — Edmonton’s football team notwithstanding — “Eskimo” hasn’t been considered a polite term of address for anything but ice-cream sandwiches for about 20 years.

UPDATE: Inuit leader Mary Simon has complained about this, and the video has been taken down from Anderson’s website.

Del Mastro: Don’t defund CBC

Watching Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro lead a parliamentary committee’s probe into CBC’s handling of open-records requests, one might guess that he, like other conservatives, would favour cutting the public broadcaster’s $1.1 billion annual rake.

One would be wrong.

At Thursday’s sitting of the House of Commons Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics committee, Del Mastro told Quebecor president Pierre Karl Péladeau that his company’s coverage of the CBC was “courageous.”

Quebecor, of course, has lead an intensive editorial campaign to expose waste at CBC and its commentators on its Sun News Network call to defund the “state broadcaster” on a daily, nightly and sometimes hourly basis.  Heritage Minister James Moore, a bête noire for Corp. deniers,  is often chastised on-air for overseeing increases in CBC’s year-over-year funding. 

After the hearing, I asked Del Mastro if he’d like to see the CBC defunded. He said no.

“Our government has been clear. We have no postion to defund the CBC.”

But did he, personally, favour a cut?

“No, in fact, I have a CBC affiliate in Peterborough that’s valued. It’s a private broadcaster, but it is valued.”

So there you go.

Levant’s mag took $233k in postal subsidies

In its counterattack against Sun TV and Quebecor, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation alleges that the Pierre Karl Péladeau media empire has taken more than $500 million in public money over the past three years.  Péladeau calls the allegation false and defamatory and is obliquely threatening legal action.

Part of the public money CBC lists concerns funding for Quebecor’s stable of news and lifestyle magazines such as 7 Jours and Clin d’oeil, which CBC claims collectively took $13 million since 2008.

In response, a Twitter friend suggested I look at public funding for the Western Standard, a now-defunct magazine published by now-Sun TV host Ezra Levant.

Levant, of course, is well known to viewers for railing against the $1.1 billion annual federal funding for CBC. He’d like the corporation separated from the public money.

So, a trip through the archives of the Department of Canadian Heritage to a web page called “Publications Assistance Program 2006-2007 Funding,” which shows… Western Standard benefited to the tune of $132,063.

The following year, the mag’s funding amounted to another $37,818. And in 2005-06, another $63,366, for a three-year total of $233,247.

Levant explains that these amounts represent rebates the magazine received in mailing costs.

“We chose not to apply for editorial/production grants,” he said in an email.  ”Of course we took the postal rebate, without which Canada Post’s monopoly pricing makes publishing magazines impossible.”

Or course, many Canadian magazines receive the subsidy from the taxpayer-subsidized post office to defray the costs of mailing to subscribers. Maclean’s received $1.5 million last year; The Walrus, $261,264. (For the record, I have no idea whether the magazine I once worked for, Frank, collected the same. I would bet on it, though I wasn’t privy to those kind of decisions.)

I’m not sure if Levant is suggesting that mailing his magazine to, say, Uranium City, Sask., or Tar Lake, Alberta, would have been cheaper if Canada Post didn’t have a monopoly on the highly lucrative home delivery postal delivery market.

I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether Levant’s position on CBC is consistent with his magazine taking the postal subsidy.

Tories source heart-warming hunting photo from… Minnesota?!

Looks like Conservative Party web designers are taking President Obama’s Buy American plan to heart.

Readers will be familiar with my ongoing and sometimes pedantic campaign against the use of stock photography in political communications, particularly when it’s bought from outside the country.

I’ve recounted a few examples, herehere, and here.

Is it really too much to  expect our political leaders to commission, or at least buy, pictures from Canadian photographers?

Today, a new example appearing in a prominent position on the Conservative Party of Canada’s website. The picture of a father and son hunting some kind of fowl appears next to a come-on for a petition to scrap the federal long-gun registry.

Curiously, the same father-son combo  appears on the state of Maine’s website about landowner rights…

Turns out the pictures were taken by Minnesota-based photographer Lawrence Sawyer. You can buy them here:

Hotroom business card fun

Fresh off the not-so-serious uproar over Foreign Minister John Baird’s Batemanesque business cards (“That’s Bone“), there was much hilarity in the Hotroom today over cards sent up to our newest colleague. Here in Consensus Media Party HQ, we are easily amused.

McLeod, Horgan or vice versa

Paul McLeod recently replaced Stephen Maher as the Halifax Chronicle-Herald’s Ottawa bureau chief.

(In the Hotroom, McLeod is now and will forever been known as “New Maher,” largely because it allows us to call his predecessor “Old Maher.” Outside the Hotroom, he’s known as The Other Colin Horgan (of ipolitics.ca), a nod to the similarities of their hipster-geek looks. But I digress.)

The Herald correctly spelled McLeod’s name on the business cards that arrived for him today and also got his numbers right, too — a task I have yet to manage with my cards.

But check out the verso image, apparently intended for a women’s shelter or community centre, that made it onto McLeod’s card…

NDP giving back Layton donations

The NDP sent out an email Friday telling donors who gave in memory of late party leader Jack Layton that their money had been refunded to their credit cards.

Readers will recall that the NDP initially processed the in memoriam donations through the party’s books, which would make them tax deductible as political contributions.

The money was to go to the Broadbent Institute, a left-wing think tank that, at the time, had yet to incorporate and in law was little more than an idea.

This appeared  to breach the election financing law that makes it is illegal for parties to use their tax status to solicit donations on behalf of another organization.

Running for cover, the NDP had said that no tax receipts would be issued and that the money the party received would be redirected to the Douglas – Coldwell Foundation. But it now looks like that plan didn’t fly, either.

The party’s national director, Chantal Vallerand, sent an email calling this “an unfortunate situation.”

On the advice of Elections Canada, the NDP is refunding the donations and instead asking the donors to contribute direct to Douglas-Coldwell, Vallerand wrote.

Here’s her note:

Dear [DONOR'S NAME],

During the outpouring of support following Jack Layton’s passing, you made a generous donation of $10 to the Broadbent Institute in his memory.

At a time of great tragedy, I know your show of support was a tremendous source of comfort to the Layton family.

I want to thank you. And I am asking you to re-direct that donation through Tommy Douglas’ charitable foundation. Let me explain why.

You may remember that the newly-formed Broadbent Institute could not yet accept donations, and so the New Democratic Party quickly set up an online donation page on its behalf. We wanted to ensure the family’s wishes were respected in a very difficult time.

Recently, Elections Canada let us know that donations to the Broadbent Institute had to be made through a registered charity, not through our Party.

We respect this decision and want to ensure your valued donation can be used for its intended purpose.

That’s why today, I’m asking you to help us fulfill the wishes of the Layton family and redirect your donation of $10 to the non-partisan, charitable Douglas-Coldwell Foundation in support of the Broadbent Institute. In the meantime we have refunded the full amount of your donation to your credit card.

By redirecting your donation now, you will continue to honour the memory of Jack Layton and carry out his family’s wishes.

Redirect your donation of $10 in support of the Broadbent Institute.

I want to thank you for your understanding. This is an unfortunate situation. I know you agree that the important thing is that your generous gift is used for its intended purpose – to help build Jack Layton’s vision for a better Canada.

Chantal Vallerand

National Director

New Democratic Party of Canada

Click here to redirect your generous donation of $10 in Jack Layton’s memory now.

For more information, please phone 1-866-525-2555 and we will answer all of your questions.