What privacy means
Re Real Privacy Means Oversight (Sept. 16): As someone who has worked professionally in the privacy and security fields for the better part of two decades, the lack of public interest in the democratic consequences of Canada's role in the global surveillance game has been disheartening.
Technology has altered the economy of the social contract between the governors and the governed. To talk about "inequality" in society, one must understand the gap between private citizens and the public servants with truly unimaginable surveillance powers. The gap reinforces a "deep state" mentality of superiority among not only police and spies, but even among the administrators of health, welfare, academia and social services.
I regularly encounter open contempt for the principles of privacy among public-sector managers. It's not just a legal issue, it's symptomatic of the growing culture gap between the private and public sectors. Privacy is not just about personal secrets. Today, it's about negotiating the role and powers of institutions as they adapt to new technologies.
Paranoia is a virulent sickness; if sunlight is the best disinfectant, government agencies may need to cede some surveillance powers to transparent processes. In return, they will earn the legitimacy they need to serve. Sadly, the alternative resembles tyranny.
Jamie F. Reid, Toronto
Values' driving force
Re The Core Of Quebec's Charter? Republicanism And Feminism (Sept. 16): Secularism is not about the elimination of religion in society, it is about due respect for all religions. Requiring public servants to forgo observance of their faith, especially when there is no harm done to others, does not constitute due respect.
Jagjit Khosla, Ottawa
While Canada is not threatened by religious symbolism the way Turkey and other Muslim countries are – at least not yet – and does not have to resort to the same drastic measures that Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk had to, the real issue seems to be lost in political squabbling.
It's not about freedom of religion or dress. The real issue is the preservation of this country's fundamental cultural values, such as women's rights and gender equality, and the supremacy of the law over hypotheses about God and afterlife. When there's a conflict, there should be no question about who should win and who should conform to whose values or beliefs. Since government must be neutral with respect to its citizens' personal beliefs, government offices are no place for making religious statements of any kind. Quebec's government is moving in the right direction and should be commended for this bold and honest move.
If our politicians are so interested in immigrant and minority rights, they should focus on issues that are really important to immigrants, such as economic rights and equality.
Steffan Ileman, president, Turkish Canadian Chamber of Commerce (B.C.)
Obama's 'cool head'
Re Barack Obama, The 98-pound Weakling (Sept. 14): "Like most everybody else," writes Margaret Wente, "I'm confused as hell over Syria." Were she less confused, she might admit that Barack Obama is playing the hand he has been dealt as well as it could be played.
Mr. Obama has understood from the beginning that neither side, given their internal and external support, could defeat the other: The only solution would have to be a negotiated one. And that could only happen if Russia were involved.
Henry Milner, Montreal
It would take a stupid, very vain president to turn away from a peaceful solution to the chemical-weapons crisis for such myths as American leadership and muscle.
Margarida Krause, Guelph, Ont.
Re Birds Without Borders: Diplomacy Takes Wing In The Middle East (Sept. 16): It was refreshing to read about Israeli, Palestinian and Jordanian wildlife conservationists working together to protect threatened migratory birds by bringing people together from both sides of their borders to teach them about common environmental issues.
It's a perfect example of how the pursuit of common understanding inherent within the natural sciences is universal, blind to nationality, ethnicity and other superficialities. Now, if only the politicians were able to behave more like scientists.
Mark Bessoudo, Toronto
Risk on the rails
Re: Crash Prompts Insurance Review (Sept. 16): Most commercial general-liability insurance policies exclude events related to environmental contamination and pollution. While maintaining appropriate insurance coverage for railways in Canada is prudent, the most effective use of funds is not insurance, but rather developing comprehensive risk-management strategies that strive to prevent such events.
Insurance simply transfers which party pays for the harm: It doesn't undo the devastation. It won't prevent such events and if, despite best efforts, similar events do recur, insurance may not respond to all of the consequences, either because of existing exclusions to coverage – or new ones that I suspect may be introduced by insurance companies trying to manage their own risk.
Karen MacWilliam, risk management and insurance consultant (former director of risk management at BC Rail); Wolfville, N.S.
'I will not resign'
Re Wallin: 'I Will Not Resign As A Senator' (Sept. 14): Senator Pamela Wallin might be wrong about some things, but she is likely right about having been denied due process and having been subjected to a "lynch mob mentality" (presumably by her colleagues and the media).
She does not appear to have been allowed to defend herself in front of appropriate committees, and in that she reminds one of the treatment handed out to former privacy commissioner George Radwanski and former Mulroney-era cabinet minister Sinclair Stevens, both of whom were hounded from public life in the same manner. It took both men years to clear their names.
Marjaleena Repo, Saskatoon
Pamela Wallin maintains she did nothing wrong, and states that she reimbursed the government largely because she doesn't want "to burden … the people of Saskatchewan by engaging in a protracted legal debate about the matter." As one of those constituents, let me clarify something for her. Her unremitting obstinacy by insisting that she is the victim in all this and the fact that I have to keep paying her salary are what I find burdensome.
Marc Sheckter, Saskatoon
The federal government has many members who are dubious about global warming.
But even the most skeptical among them must admit that Mike Duffy and Pamela Wallin – by paying back the funds misused during their tenures as Conservative senators – are depleting the owe zone.
Paul Park, Ottawa