Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Creating a three-ring circus?

Yesterday I read another media demand for the Trudeau government to undertake another "public inquiry" and I'm afraid this is getting to be too much. 
First, the drumbeat to investigate foreign interference - especially by China -- in Canadian elections has become so loud it drowned out Governor-General Johnson's May report
Next, there was the substack article Paul Wells published last week describing the extreme pressure to hold a public inquiry into Canada's COVID pandemic response -- even though the apparent source of this pressure (as The Globe and Mail also flagged today) was only a batch of articles in the British Medical Journal finding fault with our COVID policies in spite of our relatively higher vaccination rates and lower death rates.  
And finally, last night, I read about how we maybe will need to have a public inquiry into the sexual abuse of young athletes in Canadian sport organizations because too many of these organizations failed the children they were supposed to be training.
But I have my doubts that Canada is really going to set up three public inquiries at once

Looking at the recent history of public inquiries in Canada, there seems to be a range of justifications for them. Some -- like the Rouleau inquiry last winter into the Emergencies Act declaration in 2022 -- are required by legislation, so the government of the day doesn't have any latitude about terms of reference or scheduling. Others - like the Portapique Massacre inquiry in 2021 - seemed to be set up to hold authority to account for failing to protect people without actually finding fault.  And still others -- like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2009-2015 -- are a way to focus on complex issues and create public concensus for action.

All of these were useful exercises, I guess.  
But I'm not sure how useful it would be to create a three-ring circus right now. 
Because after the drumbeat to set up these inquiries, undoubtedly we would start hearing complaints from the Opposition parties and the media about how stupid they all are, and how the Trudeau govenment is just trying to deflect attention and delay action, and so on and so on.

So let's look at the rationales.  
To justify a China election interference inquiry, the Toronto Star writes:
Canadians deserve a full accounting of what difference, if any, Chinese influence may have had in past elections and whether this and past governments had knowledge of those efforts and looked the other way. 
But most crucially Canadians need to know what can be done to mitigate foreign interference in the electoral process in the next federal vote. An inquiry must do its work and report to Canadians before they go to the polls again. 
Yes, this would be worthwhile, wouldn't it. The main problem here, as Johnston pointed out, is that so much of the CSIS evidence would be secret, including any testimony from Chinese Canadians about pressure on them or on their families. I'm not sure how to get around that.  As well, the Conservatives have already created a circus atmosphere around this Chinese election interference issue that its hard to take it seriously. 
This tweet summarizes the problem:

To justify an inquiry about the COVID pandemic response, Wells writes:
The BMJ’s lead editorial makes the case crisply and neatly: 
Compared with the shambolic UK response and the chaos and divisiveness of its southern neighbour, the US, Canada may seem to have risen to the occasion of covid-19. We wouldn’t know because no pandemic inquiry has been established by its federal government. This is a mistake. 
How well did Canada do? The BMJ authors acknowledge Canada had lower death rates and higher vaccination levels than in most other advanced countries. “But this overall impression of adequacy masks important inequalities by region, setting, and demography. A more in-depth and critical analysis is required.” 
Yes, this would also be very nice, and probably very useful too. But what Wells misses- as does the BMJ and the Globe and Mail- is that Canada's COVID responses are irretrievably tainted now by the anti-vaccine pro-"freedum" Convoy nonsense and chaos that has overtaken most of the Conservative party and the the provincial leadership in much of the country. The Rouleau inquiry barely escaped being overwhelmed by Convoy politics, in spite of its limited scope and their iron control of witnesses and testimony. A broader COVID inquiry would be completely derailed. 
Here's an example of how convoluted our public health discourse now is:

Finally, the rationale for an inquiry into sports abuse of children is explained by The Line
...there’s been an angry if — to date — low-key push by Canadian athletes, and organizations, to get serious about the abuse, be it mental, physical or sexual, of athletes by coaches, trainers, judges and all the rest. We are honestly shocked that enraged parents have not rioted by now, given some of the scandals in youth sports we’ve heard about in recent years.
....we’ve only begun to learn the full truth of this. We have no doubt that many Line readers themselves, either as athletes or as parents, have heard of or experienced horrible things firsthand. This really does seem to be a time bomb about to go off and your Line editors very much want this to happen, as soon as possible. We, after all, have kids in sports ourselves. 
And there actually is widespread pressure for such an inquiry - from athletes in April, from the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Status of Women in June, and also from the former Sports minister. There actually are a number of Canadian and American experts in this area too: So overall, this might actually be the most useful and achieveable public inquiry to hold. But considering the competition, I expect it is the least-likely to be created.


Cap said...

I think your take is bang on. The China enquiry can't be public, and so the Cons are free to bullshit.

A Covid inquiry would be useful, but because health is a provincial concern the provinces should take the lead. Besides, a read through the SARS enquiries will be just as effective - we didn't learn much about pandemic preparation, standardized national real-time health data, or keeping politicians out of public health decisions.

Finally, the sports enquiry is worth doing. Far too many coaches were bullied as athletes and think that's the only way to coach. Far too many law firms profit from running bogus "third-party" investigations that whitewash wrongdoing. Here's a hint, if the law firm is being paid by the sports organization, the organization is the client and the
lawyers are duty bound to act in their interest.

Cathie from Canada said...

Thanks Cap
Its not that the election interference and COVID issues aren't important -- they are extremely so, at least as much as the sports abuse problems. But I don't think its possible for Inquiry boards to develop useful recommendations when the election and covid issues have been so politicized and partisan.