Last fall, both the Ontario and federal privacy commissioners began raising concerns over Ottawa's planned "lawful access" legislation that would target users of the Internet, smartphones and other mobile devices. The commissioners concluded the bill really amounted to a blatant infringement of our privacy rights and essentially opened the door to obtaining personal information without a warrant.
"We are talking about the expansion of surveillance without judicial authorization. This should scare you," said Ontario's Privacy Commissioner Anne Cavoukian.
"In a free and democratic society, why does the state have the ability to order the citizen to reveal personal information? There is nothing written anywhere (in law) that says the state can ask for whatever it wants."
Meanwhile, federal Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart argued that the proposed law went "far beyond simply maintaining investigative capacity or modernizing search powers. Rather, they added significant new capabilities for investigators to track, and search and seize digital information about individuals."
Still, the Conservative government ignored their concerns and Tuesday tabled legislation that would require telecommunications companies - including Internet service providers and cellphone companies - to hand over customer information to police without a court order.
In addition to a name, address, phone number and email address, companies would also be required to provide the Internet protocol address and a series of device identification numbers, allowing police to build a detailed profile on a person using their digital footprint and allow the tracking of a person's movement through the location of their cellphone.
For its part, the federal government has said the legislation is intended to make it easier for police to track and catch terrorists, counterfeiters and pedophiles.
The Public Safety Department has maintained that the measures would strike a balance between investigative powers and privacy concerns and provide police with the tools they need to do their job, but Cavoukian disagrees.
"I have no doubt that, collectively, the legislation will substantially diminish the privacy rights of Ontarians and Canadians as a whole," Cavoukian has said. She believes the opportunity to get increased access to e-communication with reduced judicial scrutiny would amount to a "treasure trove" of new information for authorities.
"We must be extremely careful not to allow the admitted investigative needs of police forces to interfere with or violate our constitutional right to be secure from unreasonable state surveillance."
And yet Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has made the ridiculous comment that opponents of the bill "can either stand with us or child pornographers."
Cavoukian has correctly said she is tired of the government promoting the legislation by saying that citizens who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear.
"That's the extreme they are willing to go to. It's child predators, or privacy," she said. "This is such an important issue, it can't be limited by boundaries. This notion of having 'nothing to hide' is the problem."
Cavoukian believes the legislation should be amended to protect personal privacy and, in particular, the proposal for "warrantless access" to subscriber information be withdrawn. She points out if special access to subscriber information is considered to be absolutely necessary, it must take place under a court-supervised regimen.
That's a reasonable starting point for compromise.
Cohn: Caterpillar case symbolizes what’s wrong with our corporate culture
February 13, 2012
Martin Regg Cohn
A sign was held in as protesters gathered for a rally dubbed a "London Day of Action Against Corportate Greed" in London, Ont., last month. Caterpillar has decided to close its Canadian plant in the city.
DAVE CHIDLEY/THE CANADIAN PRESS
A 60-year-old London locomotive factory is now a footnote to history — squashed by the giant Caterpillar that sucked the life out of a plant. A fabulously profitable multinational buys it from private equity partners, then demands take-aways from the highly skilled workers: halve your wages or lose your jobs.
An open and shut case that everyone understands — or thinks they do. Consider the finger-wagging from pundits for whom the pathos at the plant was another chance to descend from the hills after battle to shoot the wounded.
In a high-minded polemic a day after the shutdown, one columnist harangued them for not cutting their wages, then hectored the workers for supposedly threatening violence during the dispute (which never came to pass, despite corporate bullying and bad-faith bargaining that surely violated the spirit of our labour laws.)
The workers conducted themselves with dignity throughout the lockout. They can hold their heads high for not stooping to the tactics of a company that refused to negotiate in good faith while playing jurisdictions off against each other.
Why stop at halving your wages from $34 to $16.50 an hour? Why not aim for the minimum wage and allow Caterpillar to reset Canadian pay scales? Why not seek parity with Chinese or Brazilian workers? The answer: our comparative advantage isn’t cheap wages, it’s knowledge.
In a follow-up column, that same writer assailed the Star (and me) for daring to suggest that Canada learn lessons from foreign Caterpillars that clean out our industrial heartland: Why invoke the issue of intellectual property, since it was an obviously ossified branch plant, with nary a patent within its Canadian confines, he argued — a mere assembly operation, staffed by overpaid, know-nothing workers, with all the brains back at head office in the U.S.
Caterpillar is the canary in the coal mine.
Not because the London locomotive plant necessarily held registered patents. It was a repository of intellectual property as economists now define it: savoir-faire, know-how, process innovation, incremental tradecraft, trade secrets. When you relocate a 60-year-old plant, it’s not only workers who lose their jobs, but a country that loses their collective expertise.
That’s not so much economic nationalism as it is national interest. We need to worry about the collateral damage.
Would Japan’s government sit idly if Toyota sold off its main Lexus plant to Caterpillar, to be replaced by an offshore facility? No, the Japanese would stand up if decades of subsidized know-how and tradecraft were spirited away.
So if Lexus matters, why not locomotives? We don’t always hold the patents, but we hold the knowledge.
Canadians consistently undervalue themselves — and the role of intellectual property, broadly defined. When Nortel went bankrupt, its executives had no inkling its patents would fetch $4.5 billion — after a century of subsidies from taxpayers. (The London locomotive plant also profited from taxpayer largesse — $5 million from Ottawa that lowered the purchase price for end users.)
If RIM ever goes on sale, shall we tell ourselves that we don’t need a national strategy to inculcate and preserve intellectual property? Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper has signalled he won’t let RIM slip through our hands. Certainly not after learning, on his trip to China, about how that country hoards intellectual property — notably by setting up branch plants for all those clever American companies that are now being outmuscled after years of incremental innovation on the factory floor.
Among the many responses to my last column on Caterpillar, I heard from a London professor, Peter Rogan, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Genome Bioinformatics at Western. He founded a startup and holds 11 patents, but told me it’s hard to attract investment here. The Caterpillar case struck a chord because it symbolizes what’s wrong with our corporate culture.
Canadian business continues to undervalue our startups, while others ignore the value of our so-called branch plants. They are selling our country short.
Martin Regg Cohn’s provincial affairs column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.
There's been some good public debate about the need for changes to the Investment Canada process in light of Caterpillar's incredible actions in London. They showed up uninvited in 2010, took over a long-standing productive profitable plant, demanded money (from workers and government alike), then left -- leaving behind a shuttered plant and a shattered community.
Clearly something needs to change in terms of how the federal government regulates this process: sorting out foreign investments that can add genuine value to our economy, from those which are beneficial to corporate interests and investors but ultimately undermine our capabilities to produce and innovate.
The claim that Ottawa is somehow "powerless" to do anything about Caterpillar's aggressive actions (whether at the time of the 2010 takeover, or even now) is ludicrous. A government that was interested in protecting its citizens clearly possesses the sovereign power to act. When pushed politically (in the MDA and Potash cases), even the Harper government never let the fine print of the Investment Canada Act (ICA) stand in the way of forceful interventions. I can't imagine the government of Korea or Germany standing by as a foreign firm marched in, took over a strategic industrial asset, extorted the citizenry, and then walked back out the door they came in. Danny Williams certainly didn't, either.
The government, oddly, has presented two distinct rationales for why the original Caterpillar acquisition was not fully reviewed: that the purchase was too small (relative to the $299 million threshold for WTO investors that was in place in 2010), and/or that the purchase didn't have to be reviewed at all because it consisted of an "indirect acquisition" (whereby a foreign investor buys a firm that was already foreign-owned). The specific wording of the ICA is clear as mud (to this non-lawyer, anyway) regarding which factors trigger a review, and the government's inconsistent response has muddied the waters further.
As an interim measure, CAW President Ken Lewenza has askedthe federal government to divulge the details of Caterpillar's initial 2010 acquisition (contained in its notification under ICA rules), so that the government's claim that the acquisition was too small to trigger a formal review can be independently assessed.
Caterpillar stated that its takeover of Electro-Motive represented $1.3 billion in assets, and Electro-Motive Canada represented the most strategic manufacturing asset in the whole firm, and almost half its total workforce. It seems unlikely that a fair value determination would put the whole Electro-Motive Canada operation under the threshold.
The ICA gives the government plenty of scope to revisit the 2010 acquisition if it turns out Caterpillar's initial claim was unbelievable (and I am curious to know whether Ottawa performed ANY due diligence on that notification ... or did they just accept Caterpillar's word for it?).
In the longer run, of course, the whole Investment Canada framework needs to be overhauled. In theory the government will soon initiate a major review of its foreign investment policy. Lewenza's submission to Industry Minister Paradis also highlighted the major areas that will need to be reformed as part of that review. Here are the relevant points from his letter. In coming months, progressives will need to flesh out our arguments on these and other aspects of foreign investment, to push back against the predictable straw-man responses that we are somehow trying to cut off Canada from world capital:
Improved Transparency:Right now the review process is entirely secretive, with Investment Canada refusing to even divulge whether an application has been received, let alone the terms and effects of that acquisition. This leaves other stakeholders (including workers, communities, and lower levels of government) entirely in the dark regarding an acquisition and its significance. Our union was in this position, for example, at the time of the initial Caterpillar acquisition of Electro-Motive. By the time we learned of it, it was a fait accompli. There must be a more reasonable balance struck between the needs for confidentiality of acquiring businesses, and the needs for all affected economic stakeholders to know what could happen to them.
Stakeholder Input:In a related vein, other stakeholders must have a legislative ability to provide their input to the foreign investment review process, through public hearings or other consultative mechanisms. This is a fundamental prerequisite for economic democracy.
Tighten up Loopholes:The idea that a $330 million acquisition (the current threshold for WTO investors) is "too small" to matter, and therefore should not be reviewed, is not credible -- especially given a complete lack of transparency or independent verification regarding how that value is measured. Similarly, the exemption of "indirect acquisitions" is an especially dangerous loophole, one that proved disastrous in the Electro-Motive Canada case. Current discussions regarding a potential business combination between Glencore and Xstrata provide another current example of the potential dangers of exempting indirect acquisitions. Indirect acquisitions should be fully reviewable by the Investment Canada process if they meet the other criteria for review.
Defining and Measuring Canadian Costs and Benefits:The concept that a foreign investment must provide a "net benefit" to Canadians in order to be allowed to proceed, is in principle a valid one. The problem with the current ICA is that it provides no detail, transparency, or verification regarding how the costs and benefits of incoming foreign investments are to be contemplated, measured, and compared. In practice, this "net benefit" test has been mostly meaningless, except that it allowed the government (when pressed by political forces) to overrule exceptional acquisitions (namely, the MDA and Potash cases). The new legislation should recognize the many dimensions of cost-benefit analysis affecting foreign investments. It should downplay the one-time benefit received by Canadian financial investors as a result of a potential acquisition, and focus instead on the long-run net impact of the acquisition on Canadian production, employment, investment, and exports. The fact that a foreign investor might be willing at a certain point in history to pay a premium price for the shares of a Canadian company (as occurred with several Canadian resource companies at the peak of the last resource cycle) should not lead government to approve acquisitions which subsequently cause long-run damage to Canadian facilities and production (as we have experienced painfully in the aftermath of the takeovers of Inco, Falconbridge, Alcan, and Stelco).
Imposing and Enforcing Commitments and Conditions:In the course of reviewing and approving foreign investments, an appropriately pro-active government would have many opportunities to negotiate commitments from the incoming investor that would enhance the net benefits to Canada. These could and should include commitments regarding its future Canadian production footprint, technology transfer, minimum employment and training commitments, and targets for investment and innovation activity. These commitments, once attached to an approved acquisition, must be divulged and be subject to a more genuine enforcement process (including the imposition of financial penalties up to and including annulment of the acquisition) than has occurred to date. The embarrassing experience of U.S. Steel, which thumbed its nose at its Investment Canada undertakings (and then bought itself out of those undertakings through an insulting, minimalist out-of-court settlement) demonstrates dramatically that government must be prepared to use meaningful powers of enforcement to ensure that the Investment Canada process is more than a token hoop for foreign investors to jump through.
Watson was in Ottawa and his assistant in Essex wasn't able to immediately reach him.
Watson's staff has asked the protesters to leave but the group said it would only leave after Watson heard its concerns.
The demonstration was peaceful but police were called to break it up. Watson's office eventually closed early Thursday — around 3:30 p.m. — after the MP agreed to meet with the group sometime after Feb. 18.
Protesters in Essex said similar demonstrations took place at the offices of 27 other Conservative MPs.
If you worked for a gigantic and extremely profitable company, and that company, in the middle of negotiating a new contract with your union, abruptly and unilaterally took an axe to your wages, would you object?
Of course you would.
That's what Caterpillar Inc., which owns Electro-Motive Canada in London, did. Electro-Motive tabled its final offer. The Canadian Auto Workers rejected it. The company locked out the workers. On New Year's Day. Happy New Year.
The final offer: slashing wages by 55 per cent. The majority of the 465 workers, who manufacture locomotives, were making $34 an hour.
That would plummet to $16.50 an hour. Could you support your family on $16.50 an hour? You're darn right it would be hard.