Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Holding Out on Tenure0

Posted by JJ in Golden Tacks, Chancellor's Footrule (Monday April 9, 2007 at 3:22 pm)

News that an otherwise stellar academic’s lack of published works was behind the denial of his full professorship is bound to raise concern. After all, why should writing be the hallmark of professorship and tenure when Universities have become much more valued for teaching than research? Perhaps because there is a difference between tenure and professorship.

Tenure is designed to protect the academic from dismissal, preserving her freedom to explore, research, and express novel and unaccepted ideas. Why, then, should we be concerned with protecting the academic freedom of those who restrict themselves to training professionals, rather than participating in the academic discourse in which publication is still the most significant tool?

And, of course, why should the Courts be overruling decisions taken by University officers?

Kid Gloves0

Posted by JJ in Vague Check, Chancellor's Footrule, Brass Tacks (Tuesday October 17, 2006 at 11:16 pm)

If current events are, once more, going to produce law, we can at least hope for reasoned decisions. That children younger than twelve might commit such repugnant crimes is hard to accept; but so is the prospect that they might willingly engage in acts with a cold brutality incompatible with juvenile innocence.

Which demands that, notwithstanding the Criminal Code’s prohibition against the conviction of children under twelve, there be some means of applying justice and the law to transgressions of this kind.

The problem is simple:

Some academics say holding young children accountable is a tall order, because they haven’t developed the ability to realize their actions could result in someone’s death or injury.

“As far as we know from child development literature, this whole idea of future consequences is something that … probably is not fully developed until well into late adolescence,” said professor Barry Mallin, who teaches school psychology at the University of Manitoba.

But courts already deal with this kind of problem. Children’s testimony is complicated by the fact that they may have difficulty in appreciating the situation and their role. It was once, therefore, necessary to prove that the child had the capacity to properly understand and answer questions and to distinguish between the truth and lies. Now, in federal courts, the child’s ability to testify is presumed and must be disproven if the child is to be alleged incompetent (see section 16.1 here).

A similar mechanism could be put into place. Stipulate that children under twelve are presumed incapable of comprehending the consequences of their actions; but allow the Crown to try to prove that they were capable (at the time of committing the offence) in the case of indictable offences (the more serious category of crimes), while precluding their conviction for summary conviction offences (the less serious category of crimes).

The burden of proving such capacity before the fact is onerous enough that one can scarcely expect it to be borne in any but the clearest of circumstances (recalling, of course, that criminal cases must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt). The mere fact that shooting a victim killed him would not suffice — it must be shown that the shooter knew and was cognizant of the fact that doing so would kill him. A child who, reared on televised drama, believed that gunshot wounds were barely debilitating could not be convicted of murder; but one who tracked down a victim and set out to torture or kill her could be.

And it is, after all, the willful act that makes a crime — not the maturity of its perpetrator. Crimes are offences against justice and social order. And our natural shrinking at the thought that children may be guilty of the most violent of crimes must not prevent justice from demanding to know whether, in fact, they are.

Independence Gets Held Up0

Posted by JJ in Golden Tacks, Chancellor's Footrule (Thursday June 1, 2006 at 5:21 pm)

Among the legislative victims of the last federal election in Canada was a short document known by the catchy title of C-51. It was one of those workhorse pieces of legislation that’s rarely celebrated by anyone but the few folks it’s meant to help. I won’t bore you with its long title — let’s just call him bill.

This bill had a singular purpose in life. You see, one of the things that Parliament does is set out just how much money everyone paid by the Crown gets. That includes MPs and Judges, and that’s where things get a bit tricky. Some folks tend to think that if a government were, say, to change what MPs and Judges earn, it would make them more inclined towards that government’s way of thinking. Bias is what those folks are getting at.

And that’s why for some time now, a group of independent thinkers gets appointed every three or four years: to figure out how much Judges should be paid. So long as the government goes ahead and does what that group says, no one gets upset and thinks the government is up to something.

So long as that’s what the government does.

But after poor little bill died on the Commons floor, we got a new government, with a different plan. They’ve decided not to do what that group said:

“Instead of the 10.8-per-cent increase, plus the cost of living, we have said 7.25 per cent, plus cost of living, is more appropriate,” said Toews.

In a statement on its website, the Justice Department said it made the change because of concerns “with the commission’s reliance on urban lawyers’ private practice salaries as a comparator, and the value placed on the judicial pension.”

Which has got some folks very upset:

NDP MP Joe Comartin is accusing the Conservatives of trying to pick a fight.

“What we have here is another reflection of the contempt this government holds towards our judiciary,” he said.

Now, the Chilly Wonk isn’t saying that Mr. Comartin’s right and he isn’t saying saying that he’s wrong. But the MP does miss the point.

It would be one thing for the government to say that there just wasn’t enough money around and that, given the circumstances, the Judges would be getting the same increase as everybody else. Or that they’d get what the group said less whatever percent the budget’s short by. But that’s not what they’ve done.

Instead, they’ve taken issue with the justification and said that something’s wrong with what the independent thinkers thought.

If Mr. Comartin’s missing the point, he’s not the only one.

If you’re going to change your mind based on what that independent group winds up saying, then there’s no real independence. It’s going to be what you decide and not what they decide. You can’t say that they were wrong to think about this or that when the whole point was to let them do the thinking in the first place.

Truth is most folks won’t likely be upset. They’re not that worried that the Judges will start thinking like a government that pays them less than they were planning on. Besides, most folks don’t likely think they’re underpaid and don’t think much of the idea that they can’t get good Judges for what they’re paying now. And maybe they’re right.

But that’s not the point. A government that doesn’t get or doesn’t care what independence really means is dangerous. Folks need to remember that independence has to be upheld, and not held up.