Friday, 8 July 2011

It's OK if it's not illegal? News of the World. Canadian Asbestos.

"I knew what we did pushed the limits ethically. But, at the time, I didn't understand that I had broken the law at all."
Glenn Mulcaire, Private Investigator, in his statement of  apology released to The Guardian newspaper in connection with the News of the World phone-hacking scandal in the U.K..

The Spirit and the Letter
The company I work for requires me and all its employees to sign, annually, a document called "The Spirit and the Letter." It makes clear that as employees of that company we undertake to comply not only with the letter of the laws and regulations in all the countries where GE operates, but that we will also keep "the Spirit" of those laws, by which is meant the intent of the law and its ethical components.  Mr. Mulcaire's apology makes it quite clear  that he and his employers knew that they were in violation of the 'Spirit'  of the law but that he thought this was okay so long as they did not break the letter of the law.

The Letter, but not the Spirit
I have just a little data to back up my next sentence but I really do think the statement is true based on impressions and recollections for which I do not have the time to go back digging into archives. This attitude of something being okay so long as no law is actually broken is becoming increasingly prevalent in the West and seems to me to be displayed increasingly by political leaders.

Here are just a few recent examples in Canada.

Example 1.
Interim auditor general John Wiersema reported that  the Conservatives passed off a $50 million G8 Legacy fund as part of an $83 million investment to reduce border congestion when they sought Parliament’s approval for funding. (The Star. Further, Wiersema said auditors were unable to locate any paper trail for the selection of G8 legacy projects — a “troubling” finding that he said was unprecedented in his 33 years in auditing.  In response, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, who had signed off on the G8 legacy projects in his earlier role in charge of infrastructure spending, said the Conservatives had not done anything illegal. He noted the auditors’ own conclusion that they weren't “aware of any specific law that was violated.”

Example 2.
In March, Parliamentary Speaker  Peter Milliken ruled that  Bev  Oda's responses to MPs when she was asked about a funding decision related to a third-party foreign aid group caused "confusion" and, as a result, he believed this constituted a breach or breaking of Parliament's rules. ( In a second ruling, Milliken  found that the government broke Parliament's rules when it failed to provide information requested by MPs on the costs of its crime legislation.  History was made when  the government as a whole and International Development Minister Bev Oda specifically were found in contempt of Parliament.

 In response Stephen Harper said, "We have debates in Parliament all the time. You win some you lose some. We thought we had provided enough information. We'll go back and see what additional information we can provide." He said the  rulings are all part of the democratic system.  "But our focus can't be on parliamentary procedure. Our focus has to be on the big interests of Canadians and in my judgment, that is the economy,"

"Parliamentary procedure" are the laws that govern how we make laws and which ensure that we remain a Parliamentary democracy!

Example 3.
It is illegal to use asbestos for building in Canada because, as a known carcinogen, it is considered a health hazard. In April of this year Stephen Harper campaigned in Asbestos, Quebec and stated proudly, "The only party that defends the chrysotile industry is our party; the Conservative party."

The justification?
"Canada is one of a number of exporters of chrysotile and there are many countries in which it is legal who are buyers. This government will not put Canadian industry in a position where it is discriminated against in a market where sale is permitted."

The letter, but not the spirit of the law.

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