Contempt of Parliament: a deconstruction

Before being prorogued, Parliament ordered the federal government to release thousands of records concerning Afghan prisoners, wrote James Morton, adjunct professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in the National Post March 3.

The order for records to be produced followed revelations that Canadian officials had some knowledge that Afghan prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers and handed to local Afghan authorities were subjected to abuse. Former Trade Minister Stockwell Day immediately told a press conference the government would not honour the direction of Parliament. There is no reason to believe the government’s position has changed, and the opposition is likely to press the issue as soon as possible.

In theory, if the government ignores the order, as Minister Day suggested he would, Parliament could vote to find the government “in contempt”.

What does this actually mean? Contempt of Parliament is the offence of obstructing parliament in the carrying out of its functions. According to the House of Commons Procedure and Practice manual, it comprises “any conduct which offends the authority or dignity of the House, even though no breach of any specific privilege may have been committed.” The punishment for contempt of Parliament is in the discretion of Parliament. It seldom amounts to more than censure for misconduct, but is theoretically punishable by jail time.

The power to find a person in contempt of Parliament comes from the Constitution and the historic right of the United Kingdom Parliament to protect its “privileges, immunities, and powers.” There is no doubt as to the authority of Parliament to make a finding of contempt.

Diversify your mortgage

York University Professor Moshe Milevsky, a finance specialist in the Schulich School of Business and author of Your Money Milestones, says in many cases debt diversification does not make sense, wrote the National Post March 3. For some, it means spreading out their liabilities across everything from mortgage to lines of credit, credit card debt to student loans.

“In many cases debt diversification does not make sense because you are borrowing money at rates that are a lot higher,” says Milevsky, who hypothesizes in the book that people like to compartmentalize their debt rather than consolidate.

But if you have consolidated all your debt in your mortgage, he says there is no reason why you can’t diversify your loan across different terms. “It’s a bit of an insurance strategy against speculation,” he says.

York student investigated for anti-Semitic posts

Just months after Ontario decided not to charge a Toronto man with hate crimes, partly because he was undergoing rehabilitation, he is again being investigated over his online writings on a Web site, wrote the National Post March 3.

Police are probing York student Salman Hossain’s recent postings on the Arizona-based Internet site on which he writes harshly about Jews, Christians and moderate Canadian Muslims, whom he calls “traitors”.

Abbee Corb of the Hate Crimes/Extremism Investigative Team, which is made up of representatives of 13 Ontario municipal police forces, confirmed yesterday that an investigation is underway.

The OPP Hate Crimes/Extremism Unit conducted a lengthy investigation and brought the case to Ontario Attorney General Chris Bentley last year. After reviewing the case, however, Bentley decided not to press criminal charges because he said Hossain had taken down the postings in question, had refrained from similar conduct for over a year and was undergoing rehabilitation.

A York spokesman confirmed he is a student, wrote the Post.

23 ideas to make every hour count

Over the next three weeks you will read about simple things families are doing, new green technologies businesses are using and how students are being encouraged to take part in eco-friendly practices, wrote the Toronto Star March 3.

Some examples include: York University’s innovative way to get residence students involved with conservation.

Spring series will be hitting Picton with jazz

Singer Heather Bambrick and pianist Richard Whiteman perform Thursday at Currah’s Café & Restaurant, 252 Main St., Picton, wrote The Belleville Intelligencer March 3 in a story about the Prince Edward County Jazz Festival. Whiteman has five albums to his credit and in addition to his own trio also plays with the Al Henderson Quintet. Whiteman, a grad student at York, leads ensembles and instructs in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts (with Professor Henderson) and at Humber College.

Women and children first?

In your article "Time crunch fuels ‘me-first’ survival instinct: Study (March 2), economics Professor Benno Torgler says time, a situational factor, explains why the social norm “women and children first” trumped the individualistic “survival instinct” among passengers on the Titanic (hours to sink) but not on the Lusitania (minutes to sink), wrote Desmond Ellis, professor emeritus in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, Glendon College and the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence & Conflict Resolution, in a letter to The Globe and Mail March 3. Comparisons among a larger sample of sinking vessels, however, may reveal that time alone does not adequately explain these findings.

In July of 1816, for example, 150 men spent 13 days on the raft of the Medusa starving and dying of thirst. Fifteen of them survived by eating their weakest dying and dead shipmates. They had far more time than the Titanic passengers did, yet the norm proscribing cannibalism was trumped by the “survival instinct”. On the other hand, in going down with their ships, the Titanic and Lusitania captains were complying with the norm that captains are the last to leave their vessels.

The inclusion of social class in the analysis would reveal that, in all three cases, survival was associated positively with wealth and income, even among those between 16 and 35 who survived the sinking of the Lusitania.

On air

  • Bernie Wolf, an economics professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, spoke about a vehicle recall by General Motors, on CBC Radio Toronto’s “Here & Now” March 2.