5 min

Bill Siksay on Pride, war resisters, the census, and privacy issues

Bill Siksay has been busy in his riding, but was also recently in Halifax for, among other things, a “lemonade social” with the queer community there. I caught up with Siksay over the phone.

Q: What have you been up to?
A: I did a couple of things – a number of local events. I also went to Halifax last week to an event with Megan Leslie and folks from the GLBT community, and especially the youth project in Halifax. It was a meeting with the community about the trans rights bill primarily, and it was a great meeting. Lots of folks showed up for an afternoon meeting, and we had a good discussion about the bill and on other issues related to the trans community, so that was a great meeting. When I was in Halifax, I also attended a “Be the Change” peace conference that was organised by, among others, Alexa McDonough, the former leader of the NDP, at Mount St. Vincent University where Alexa is the acting president. That was good to meet peace activists, from primarily from Nova Scotia but from around Atlantic Canada, and to talk about issues of nuclear disarmament, peace education, restorative justice, an Arctic nuclear-weapons-free zone. I was part of a panel on engagement of civil society – so that was a really interesting time in Halifax. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been at Surrey Pride here in Greater Vancouver. They have a Pride picnic in Surrey, and that was great – I got to speak to folks there, again about the trans rights bill and keeping on top of that. And on Saturday I was up in Prince George for their Pride parade and festival, and again that was great to talk to a lot of folks there, meet folks in the community and talk about the trans rights bill again.

Q: I also saw your name attached to something about war resister Jeremy Hinzman lately.
A: Yeah, we were really pleased to see the court decision overturning his case, further showing that there are people who understand the need to give sanctuary here in Canada to people who have refused to serve in the war in Iraq, and that was a great victory in the court, and I hope it’s something that the Conservative government takes to heart. The House of Commons has twice now said that there should be a special programme for people who refuse to serve in the war in Iraq, given that Canada also refused to participate in that, and there should be a welcome here by means of a special immigration programme for those folks. It’s beyond time when the government should have moved on that, and it’s good to see that there’s support from the courts on that as well.

Q: The decision means that the IRB has to take another look at his case. Do you think that there will necessarily be a better outcome this time around?
A: Not necessarily. I think that they’re always difficult, these cases, and that there isn’t a specific programme for war resisters in our immigration law at the moment, but I’m always hopeful. It’s always better to have a second look than to be told there’s no way it’s happening. I think there is good news there, but again I still think it’s very important that the government change its policy, and that it listens to Canadians on this issue. There’s some polling evidence that shows that Canadians are very supportive of Iraq war resisters, and I’m also hopeful that when we get back in the fall, the debate on Gerard Kennedy’s Private Members’ Bill that would establish a specific programme will resume, and I’m hoping to be in the debate – I’m the seconder of the bill, so I’m hoping to get the chance to speak to it when it comes up for the second hour, hopefully fairly quickly in September.

Q: This census issue – they keep bringing up the issue of privacy. You’re on the privacy committee, and you are the critic – can you give me your take on the issue surrounding privacy as an excuse for killing the mandatory long-form census?
A: Well I think it is a big excuse, and I don’t think there are specific issues of privacy. Some people might find the long form a pain to fill out, but the reality is the information that’s collected there is very important to planning government programmes, to understanding Canadian society. It’s impossible for it to be connected to individual Canadians, so your personal privacy is protected in terms of the information that you provide, and it may be inconvenient to have to answer so many questions, but in terms of the importance of how that information is used, I feel very strongly that the long-form census is an important tool, especially for social policy in Canada.

Q: Do you have any particular theory as to why they’re trying to kill it?
A: I don’t think the Conservatives are known for good social policy planning in Canada. I don’t think they’re often swayed by good information, and I think this is an attempt to attack the kind of good information that we have through the census, through Statistics Canada, to help us do appropriate social policy planning in Canada, and to provide appropriate government programmes. If you don’t really care what the evidence is about the nature of Canadian society, then I suppose that this seems like something that isn’t necessary, and I think that’s the Conservatives’ take on it, but from my perspective, this is crucial information to good governance and developing appropriate social policy in Canada.

Q: A while ago, you wanted to make sure that you had some oversight in terms of the Olympic security infrastructure, so I’m wondering if that’s come up yet?
A: We haven’t really followed up at the committee, and certainly the next time the Privacy Commissioner is before the committee there will be questions. I haven’t heard that there’s been a particular problem on it, but you’re right, I haven’t done my follow-up on it, so it’s something that will be important. It takes on another dimension after the G8 and G20 as well – there is certainly a need to look at that question. I think the whole question of closed-circuit television surveillance or CCTV is one that the privacy committee should look into. In jurisdictions like Britain, where they’ve gotten into it in a big way, it’s pretty controversial as to whether it’s really been effective, whether it really makes communities safer, or whether it’s a huge assistance to police work. I think there is a lot of money being spent on closed-circuit television, and I know that in some circumstances, it is invasive in terms of peoples’ privacy, and I think there are questions to be answered about its effectiveness and its cost-effectiveness.
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