Da Legal Stuff...

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Stockholm Syndrome - The Newfoundland & Labrador Experience

Bonding to one's captor (abuser) is a recognized victim survival strategy that has been observed in a variety of situations over the years. This strategy, known as the Stockholm Syndrome, was so named after a hostage situation that developed during a bank robbery in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973 and has since been seen in several well publicized incidents including the kidnapping of U.S. newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst.

During the Stockholm event, three women and a man were held hostage for six days. Over that time the four hostages and their captors bonded bi-directionally. The hostages even came to see their captors as protectors rather than abusers. This bonding sparked great interest at the time and led to much study. Today the effect is no longer considered unusual by professionals who negotiate during hostage situations. In fact, it is often encouraged, as it is believed to improve the hostage’s chances of survival.

In some circles it is believed that bonding with an abuser may actually be a universal survival strategy for victims of abuse.

Precursors to Stockholm Syndrome:

1. Perceived threat to one's survival.
2. Perceived small kindness from the captor to the captive.
3. Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor.
4. Perceived inability to escape.

Psychodynamics' Underlying Stockholm Syndrome:

The scenario generally plays itself out in a familiar pattern where by an abuser traumatizes a victim (who doesn’t believe they can escape) with a threat to the victim's survival. The traumatized victim, who perceives isolation from outsiders, who might provide nurturance and protection, must look to the abuser to meet those needs. If the abuser shows the victim some small kindness, the victim then often bonds to the perceived positive side of the abuser, denying (or dissociating) the side of the abuser that produced the terror.

The victim begins to see the world from the abuser's perspective in order to discover what keeps the abuser happy, thus helping to ensure their own survival. The victim comes to see the world from the perspective of the abuser, losing touch with their own personal perspectives and needs, which are deemed unimportant or even counter-productive to survival. As a result, over time, it becomes progressively harder to recognize the abuser for what he is and more difficult to separate from the abuser due to the fear of losing the only relationship identity that remains.

Institutionalized Transmission Mechanisms:

There appear to be a number of different avenues for transmitting an institutionalized form of Stockholm Syndrome. While the setting for each varies, what all have in common is the introduction of the notion that the governing state is all-powerful and indispensable, and that it has done great things for the people.

Government schools have proven to be an important contributor to the epidemic as have pre-indoctrinated authority figures such as parents, teachers, local leaders, etc. Needless to say, political parties and personalities have contributed greatly as well. Major media also plays a critical role in reminding the public (the victims) of the power of the state and by acting as a role model for being subservient to it. While this list is by no means exhaustive, the methods of transmission identified appear to be the most significant and common place in this context.

Regardless of the setting, there are a couple of key transmission mechanisms involved. The act of invoking a form of wide spread Stockholm Syndrome is an ongoing and never ending task that governments undertake on a regular basis, either consciously or not, however during times of specific unrest or when major issues arise there is generally a marked increase in activity by the aggressors. This often includes the use of vague and confusing language or messages intended to induce a form of blind loyalty. Typical campaigns include terms such as:

• Working for social justice
• Fighting to make the world safe for democracy
• A new deal for our people
• Support the troops
• Government of the people, by the people and for the people
• The people’s government

Alongside these words and phrases is the teaching of a view of history which, while paying lip service to occasional government mistakes, will on the whole transmit the message that the ruling state has a glorious history and that things have gotten steadily better over the course of that history. The determination of what actually represents “improvement” or “betterment” is made of course by the controlling power and is itself open to debate. In the case of Newfoundland and Labrador for example, what is best for the majority of Canadians (namely the populations of Ontario and Quebec) is not necessarily in the best interest of the province itself.

Finally, there is the actual or threatened ostracism invoked when an individual says something that may call into question his loyalty to the Country or to a specific government agenda. The individual then discovers that he or she is "Un-Canadian," an "Isolationist," a "Social Darwinist," a "Separatist," or any one of many characterizations, depending upon the nature of his or her position and the people reacting to it.

When all else fails and when intimidation or shame is not enough to silence a so called “zealot” or “anarchist”, new and drastic measures are often introduced by the governing body. These often range from covert attempts to destroy an individual’s reputation, livelihood or family life, to the broad based cancellation of services and avenues of redress such as advocacy funding, legal funding for government court challenges and so on. They may even, under extreme circumstances, lead a government to enact legislation such as “security tickets” thus allowing for the incarceration of individuals without charge or explanation by claiming that the individual poses a “potential threat” to the nation.

Management of Stockholm Syndrome:

1. Isolation is a major factor - Help identify and organize sources of supportive intervention; Self-help groups or group therapy (group needs to be homogeneous to needs), also hot lines, crisis centers, etc.

2. Denial - Victims are often in denial and it may be necessary to ask directly about the different types of abusive behavior they’ve witnessed. Journal keeping, autobiographical writing, reading of first hand accounts or seeing films that deal with the abuse may be helpful.

3. Perceived Kindness - Encourage the victim to look past the “small favors” provided by their abusers and to look for alternative sources of nurturance and caring.

4. Validating both the good and bad - Help the victim integrate both disassociated sides of the abuser and to see the reality of their existence. This will assist them in gaining freedom from the syndrome.

This article contains personal observations, commentaries and summarized material from various sources including the author and articles by Graham, D, Ph.D. and Rawlings, E. Ph.D.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Stage Has Been Set in Newfoundland and Labrador

In a few short months Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will return to the polls in a provincial general election. For political junkies like me, the past few years have been the roller coaster ride of a lifetime. They say there’s never a dull time in Newfoundland and Labrador politics. This has never been truer. With the possible exception of the Smallwood era, the past few years have arguably been some of the most politically charged and exciting days since 1949.

The level of political intrigue and interest seen under the current government is at a fever pitch when compared to the decade of comatose foot dragging during the previous Liberal regime.

Since Premier Danny Williams’ took office the province has gone to war with two separate minority governments in Ottawa. Once over the Atlantic Accord and then over equalization and fallow field legislation. Big oil provided a fat target over benefit arrangements from Hebron Ben Nevis and new developments at Hibernia. Local spending scandals have abounded, MHAs have fallen by the roadside with their careers and legacy in ruins and at least one law suit is pending in the courts between a sitting Minister and a former Premier. All in all a buffet of activity capable of satisfying the tastes of anyone interested in the political scene.

Although the happenings of the past few years have been diverse and involved many players, through it all there’s been one underlying thread that winds its way around the issues like the knotted ropes in a fishing net. Some call it stubbornness, others determination. Some say it’s an angry streak a mile long while others believe it’s just smart politics. From my own perspective I think of it as shrewd negotiating. I’m referring of course to the general attitude, demeanor and actions of the Premier himself.

Williams started his political career very much in the spotlight. His first days in office were spent embroiled in a battle of wills with a weakened and desperate Prime Minister Paul Martin. Months of haggling, flag waving (and lowering) and public debate, eventually led Williams to win the battle for improved financial benefits from offshore oil.

With the fall of the Liberal government in Ottawa the next target became the current Conservative government and the challenges of equalization and fallow field legislation, battles that are still ongoing.

Williams fired the first shot in this latest war by publicly bitch slapping Stephen Harper during a visit to the province, much to the bemusement of the press and utter shock of party loyalists. He then crossed the Country in a highly publicized and very successful effort to gain support from western premiers over equalization. In doing so the province now finds itself with the very real possibility of gaining some sort of victory (partial or otherwise) on that front. A victory on fallow field legislation is much less assured but not beyond hope. In politics anything can happen, especially during elections.

When it comes to big oil Williams’ tactics have been far less effective but once again, who knows what tomorrow brings. Oil companies have deep pockets and very powerful friends. They aren’t susceptible to the whims of public opinion or election results like governments are and this makes them a much tougher opponent. Time will tell where those battles will ultimately be won or lost but the battles themselves serve a much broader and perhaps less recognized purpose.

The impact of past battles, won or lost, are being felt right across the province. Today we see evidence of a new way of doing business in Newfoundland and Labrador, the Danny Williams way, and this became abundantly clear this past week.

Without even saying a word on the subject, Williams attitude and the public perception of it, served to make one of the most troublesome companies in the province simply back away from their position and agree to let government take the lead. I’m referring of course to Fishery Products International and its decision to provide the provincial government with the details of two bids for the purchase of its assets.

This is a company that has locked horns with government every step of the way for years now. Provincial legislation says that the sale of the company is subject to provincial approval, but the meek acceptance of this reality by FPI is the first time in my memory that the company simply acquiesced to government demands with little more than a groan and a whimper.

My first reaction to the situation was to ask myself, “Where’s the bluster and fight we all expect from the board of FPI?” The answer came to me in a flash. The fight may not be completely gone from these guys but the stage has already been set for all negotiations or discussions in this province and that stage is not a flat one. It’s more like a step ladder where the government is perched firmly on the top while others cling to the steps, a position that the province has not been in at any other time in its history.

Companies like FPI now know that it does them absolutely no good to scratch and claw, make demands or fight because once the Williams government has taken a position, either rightly or wrongly, it simply won’t back down. The end result of this attitude shift, in the case of FPI, is the company’s quiet agreement to let government make the final decision on which of two acceptable bidders will actually win the right of purchase the company.

There has definitely been a paradigm shift in this province. No longer is our government negotiating from a position of weakness. The days of entering a negotiation with hat in hand are gone. They may return with a change in leadership but one can always hope that the public will recognize the benefits inherent in holding a strong position and not allow future leaders to bow and scrape at the feet of others in the hope of winning a few crumbs from the table. Time will tell.

There are those in the province who have come down on both sides of the debate over whether Williams’ tactics are effective or not. Some think he’s fighting the good fight and should continue to take government and big business out behind the wood shed for a tanning every now and then. Others believe his often abrasive approach has done far more harm than good when it comes to attracting business and federal largesse. I see pros and cons on both sides. The reality is that business can and does adapt to its environment. As long as the rules are clearly spelled out, something that needs to be done here as soon as possible, no matter what those rule are, business will continue to grow and prosper and with any luck so will the people.

No matter which side of the debate you come down on one thing is clear. The province is a lot more interesting with Williams in office than it was without him. There is an ancient saying that goes, "May you live in interesting times." The only question remaining is whether this is a blessing or a curse.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Air Canada: Canada's Spoiled and Greedy Airline

This past week the airport authority at St. John’s international airport officially announced that Astraeus airlines will now be serving the province with regularly scheduled flights to Gatwick England year round. Earlier this year Air Canada cancelled its regular daily flights between Newfoundland and England in an attempt to appease Halifax bound passengers who were displeased with the need to pass through customs here on the island.

Although the route was profitable for Air Canada, even after many public displays of anger and in spite of local business leaders, government and concerned groups explaining the financial and personal impacts of such a move, Canada’s major airline refused to maintain the flights, a connection that predated Confederation and even Air Canada itself.

The impact was not only felt by passengers regularly using this route but by local business as well, including the local oil industry. In an industry where any delay can cost millions of dollars, a quick turnaround on the shipment of parts and custom materials is essential. With a flight time of approximately six hours, the non-stop flight now in place makes the UK easily accessible once again.

St. John’s Mayor Andy Wells noted that the arrival of Astraeus was a great thing, however he cautioned the public to make sure they choose the new airline whenever doing business in the UK. This comment was likely in response to the fact that Air Canada itself has decided to offer a limited number of flights to the UK during the off season and more regular flights in the summer months, likely in an effort to undercut Astraeus business.

It appears that Canada’s airline is caught in a bit of a conundrum. It doesn’t really want the business on the Newfoundland to UK route but also doesn’t want anyone else to have it either. Welcome to the warped world of Air Canada, Canada’s Spoiled and Greedy Airline.

I'd like to second the sentiments of Mayor Wells (something I never thought I'd do) and even take it a step futher by asking everyone who intends to fly to the UK to use Astraeus rather than Air Canada. I'd also suggest that anyone flying anywhere else consider the option of using another carrier. Why should anyone support an airline that has arbitrarily decided that Halifax bound passengers are more important than those here?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Is Al Qaeda Targeting Offshore Oil Platforms on East Coast?

This week Al Qaeda issued a threat over the internet, saying "cutting oil supplies to the United States ... would contribute to the ending of the American occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan." The group also called for attacks on petroleum facilities in Canada, Mexico and Venezuela.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded to the threat saying he takes seriously Al Qaeda’s call for attacks and Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said we can protect "all of our assets, both human and structural. He went on to say that government and private industry were keeping a watch on oil pipelines to prevent terrorist actions.

It’s nice to know pipelines are being protected, whatever that means, but what about oil production installations and, a little closer to home here in Newfoundland and Labrador, what about the oil rigs at sea such as Hibernia or White Rose off our shores? Who’s protecting them? Just how vulnerable are these oil rigs as they pump away out at sea?

Does anyone remember the terrorist attack on the USS Cole and how a couple of zealots in a small boat simply sped alongside and blew themselves up? Men died and a great deal of damage was done. Consider as well that this was a US navy vessel that would likely have been on the lookout for attack, not an oil rig with workers going about their daily routines.

Stockwell Day’s grand statement that we can protect “all our assets” may sound great but isn’t it just rhetoric?

Consider that recent reports have identified the sadly under funded state of the Canadian Coast Guard, the Navy has had to cancel maneuvers on multiple occasions because it couldn’t afford to fuel vessels and put them to sea and every day foreign fishing boats go undetected while fishing in the very same waters where these oil platforms are hard at work. It sure doesn’t sound to me like a recipe for tight security.

Considering that none of the problems I’ve just mentioned are any secret, it stands to reason that Al Qaeda terrorists are aware of the issues as well. Essentially there is a total lack of military security off the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador. A lonely oil rig out in the middle of the unforgiving North Atlantic, with no protection in sight, might just look like an easy target and it probably is.

In their attempts to protect oil installations will Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day step up to the plate and assign patrol vessels to protect these offshore installations or will they simply assign a few security guards to check on onshore pipelines? If the history is any indication I think we all know the answer to that.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Newfoundland and Labrador Conservative MPs Sell Out the Province’s Future

Back in November of last year I reported that Ottawa was essentially abandoning the Newfoundland and Labrador ferry system. Recent announcements have not only confirmed this reality but also that the Conservative approach to abandoning Newfoundland and Labrador in general has worsened dramatically.

Ottawa’s mishandling of the ferry service, a service guaranteed by the province’s Terms of Union with Canada, is now clearly being supported by none other than Newfoundland and Labrador Conservative MP and Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn. Rather than fighting for his province over this issue Hearn has opted instead to try to sell it to the citizens of the province.

When this latest slap in the face is combined with Harper’s attempts to dance around his equalization promises plus comments today by Liberal MP Todd Russell that the federal Tories are backing down on their promise to station a rapid response team at 5-Wing Goose Bay and instead will station the troops elsewhere, the situation is pretty bleak.

Instead of speaking out for the needs of their home province, Conservative members Fabian Manning and Norm Doyle seem to have lost their voices completely. They’ve disappeared into the back benches are will not likely be heard from again until election time. The only one saying anything publicly at all is Cabinet Minister Loyola Hearn who has come out in full support of the decision to raise ferry rates on an annual basis and hit users with a fuel surcharge. Thanks for the support Loyola. Like Liberal John Effort before you it seems you’ve decided which side you’re on and it certainly isn’t the voters in your riding or the province you are supposed to represent.

Any increase in rates on the Atlantic ferry service translates in a higher cost of goods for every man, woman and child in the province. Nearly all goods coming into or going out of the province travel in containers with Marine Atlantic and any cost incurred by producers or distributors will eventually be passed along to the consumers, consumers who already have to deal with high unemployment and some of the lowest incomes in the Country.

The ferries are an essential part of the highway system across Canada and are also necessary for passenger traffic. In an average year it moves 500,000 people (the equivalent of the entire population of the province). Increased rates and already less than stellar service will likely convince many tourists that it isn’t even worth the bother to travel to the province.

Even before the increases are put into effect passengers on the service pay a far higher percentage of the operating costs than users of other ferry services across Canada. Why is this? Why is one ferry service, and a critical one to the entire province, being singled out to pay a higher return on cost than the federally managed ferries in other places? Perhaps Mr. Hearn can answer that question.

While the increases are being sold to the public as a means to improve services by sinking over $200 million dollars into it, in reality this is not the case. Analysis of the needs and impacts of any upgrade that may happen aren’t even scheduled to start for another two years and the actual work may or may not go ahead. In reality much of the money earmarked for the service in the government’s latest announcement will be put into the pension plans of employees, not into upgraded services or new ferries.

On the issue of what will happen to 5-Wing Goose Bay the jury is still out and I guess we’ll have to see what the response to Todd Russell’s allegations are. I imagine some sort of public statement will be made by Loyola Hearn over the next day or two. Based on recent developments however I won’t hold my breath waiting for him to stand up and commit the Conservative government to keeping its promises. He hasn’t supported the province yet when it comes to issues like equalization, the ferry services, custodial management, fallow field legislation or anything else for that matter so I don’t expect too much from Mr. Harper’s number 1, number 2 or number 3 yes men this time around either.

I just hope everyone in the province will remember the names of Loyola Hearn, Norman Doyle and Fabian Manning during the next election and think about where they stood on these issues.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Anti-Sealing Group Sports Blind Spokesperson

(To all my regular readers. My deepest apologies. You may want to duck for cover for a little while. The crazies will likely be coming out of the woodwork before the day is out but I just couldn't resist the temptation to write the following commentary.)

The other day my eye came across an interesting article in a N.S. based newspaper, the Chronicle Herald. The story was about another recently formed anti-sealing group. The interesting part, at least for me, was that this one is based out of Nova Scotia itself. The idea intrigued me to say the least but it was upon reading the content of the article that my bullshit meter really started ringing off the hook.

The writer seemed to relish the use of such catchy phrases as, “…Commercial sealers will have a new activist group nipping at their heels”. In fact he appeared to have taken like a duck to water with his task of promoting this group rather than in actually writing an article that attempted to report the facts about how misinformed they were. So much for unbiased journalism I guess.

According to the article this new group feels that the recent ruling by the EU not to ban seal products was misinterpreted by “The Newfoundland and federal governments”. The spokesperson said that in addition, her group would like, “…the federal and Newfoundland governments to provide assistance to those people living in outposts who are involved in the commercial sealing industry.” She also said that the group, “…is not against Canada’s northern Inuit population hunting seals, but rather the herds being harvested as a commercial venture.”

Oh my, where do I begin? Probably by informing this person that the term used when referring to small towns along the Newfoundland coast is “Outports”, not “Outposts”. A small and petty point I know but a valid one none the less. It just bugs the crap out of me when these people pretend to know what they’re talking about. It’s like when seal activist and drama queen Rebecca Aldsworth goes on and on about how she knows the truth of sealing because she’s from outport Newfoundland. At least she got the term correct even if she actually grew up and went to school in the heart of St. John’s, a city where she’d have been far more likely to be exposed to the George Street bar scene than an actual seal hunt. But I digress.

On a more serious note, first and foremost it might do this misguided soul a world of good to realize that Nova Scotians also participate in the annual seal hunt, not just Newfoundlanders. Somehow she seems to have missed this fact even while living in their midst. Actually, since she is based out of Nova Scotia, it occurs to me that this might be the best place for her group to start making demands and protesting the issue. Once she’s closed the seal harvest in Nova Scotia then maybe she can consider moving further a field. Her group had better watch out for those pesky Nova Scotia sealers though. I heard one on the radio just the other day complaining that the seal quota for his province was far too low and should be increased.

The next major problem I have is the fact that this group is not opposed to the Inuit hunt, just the commercial one. I wonder, do they actually think that the Inuit dress themselves in seal hides on a regular basis and dance around the ice floes all day long? The fact of the matter is that her supposed support of an Inuit hunt and her damnation of the commercial one is pure hypocrisy. The statement is simply an attempt to ensure that nobody accuses her group of stepping on any sensitive toes when it comes to being politically or culturally correct in her campaign. Here’s news flash lady. There is no such thing as a commercial hunt and an Inuit hunt. They are one in the same. It’s simply a matter of distribution of the resource. For all intents and purposes they are the same hunt.

The Inuit sell their products to the same buyers as everyone else. They don’t hunt a seal and use the hide to spruce up their summer wardrobe or build their humble abodes. They use the money, just like sealers everywhere else, to pay for food, light bills, mortgages, gasoline, auto insurance and a whole host of mundane things. The truth is that if the commercial hunt were stopped and markets were closed the Inuit hunters, just like any other hunter, would be S#@T out of luck. That’s why so many Inuit have supported the commercial hunt in the past. As one goes so goes the other. It doesn’t matter if you are an Anglo Saxon from Nova Scotia, a Quebecois, ticked off Newfoundlander or a northern Inuit.

There are a lot of things that bother me when it comes to these self appointed guardians of the poor beleaguered seal and at the top of that list is how little they actually know about the issue. I’d like to suggest that if this newest group really wants to make a difference they start by becoming informed of the facts. Then if they still feel the way they do now they should try to address the issue right there at home in Nova Scotia before setting their sights farther out to sea.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Making Peaceful Revolution Impossible Makes Violent Revolution Inevitable.

Chester Bowles, the author and former U.S. congressman, once said, “Government is too big and too important to be left up to politicians”. Never have those words been truer than they are in Newfoundland and Labrador today.

The latest Auditor General’s report has proven once and for all that politicians, generally speaking, cannot be trusted. This is not to say there are no responsible political figures roaming the planet someplace, perhaps even our little slice of it, but they are certainly few and far between. What we are left with instead is a bunch of sticky fingered, self centered opportunists who would willingly sell their soul for one more perk and one more chance to “play the game”.

When the AG identified a handful of members who had collected 1.6 million dollars more than they were entitled to receive I shook my head and wrote it off as a few bad apples. When others were named for double billing I gave them the benefit of the doubt and thought, “hell, mistakes happen”. But the latest AG report speaks to something completely different and far, far more sinister in the halls of the Confederation Building in St. John's. Something no amount of explanation or rationalization can ever address. I'm referring to a complete breakdown of the basic principles of the electoral process and a sick perversion of democracy right here in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The AG has identified that in 2004 every sitting MHA was quietly (intentionally quietly I might add) granted an additional allowance of $ 2,800 because most had used up their existing constituency allowances far earlier than expected. When you consider the fact that it has already been reported (and will be again) that these allowances were used for everything from fridge magnets to "donations" the reality becomes quite clear. Think about what that says for a minute.

If nearly every member inexplicably used up their allowances early and it is a reality that htey spend them essentially any way they please, it doesn’t take a big leap of logic to figure out where the money went. Elections are expensive to run. That’s why political parties have supporters and members who donate to them. The more popular a party or politician is the more donations they receive the better chance they have to win. It’s not rocket science. Apparently it’s also not the case in this province anymore. Not when a member who is up for re-election has a pot of tax dollars at their disposal.

That a sitting MHA would even consider using a tax payer funded allowance intended to support his or her constituency office, cover transportation costs, etc. to help finance an election campaign is a sure sign that democracy in the province is truly dead and the rotting stench of it can be recognized across the province.

One of the basic concepts of democracy is that the public chooses the makeup of the government without being coerced or paid off. The electoral process is meant to give everyone an opportunity to put their name forward for office in an honest and fair election. The fact that our tax dollars could be used to illicitly finance election campaigns by sitting members and allow them to buy back their seat in government is sickening, repulsive and frightening in its connotations. I’ve heard that winning an election against an incumbent MHA is difficult and now I can fully understand why.

I started this article by quoting the author Chester Bowles but suddenly another author, H. L. Mencken, comes to mind. He summed it up quite succinctly when he said, "Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under."

To that I’ll simply add my own thoughts, "When a people can no longer trust their leaders and no longer depend on the very foundations of their democracy, can revolution be far behind?"