Montreal, September 1, 2001  /  No 87  
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          A couple of weeks ago, on the front page of a weekend newspaper, I spotted a pair of interesting and practically adjacent headlines. While apparently dissimilar in content, it occurred to me that there was perhaps a relation between them after all. The first headline was Public dissent targeted and dealt with something which concerns many of those whose belief in freedom of speech seems to be increasingly threatened in many parts of the world.
          We have all seen the TV clips showing Canadian police in action at the APEC affair in Vancouver four years ago. The oft repeated TV news-clip showing the faces of those who indiscriminately pepper sprayed people whose only crime seems to have been not moving quickly enough to satisfy police demands for clearing a road. Most of us have seen the massive employment of tear gas and the firing of rubber bullets in Quebec City, we saw too the Italian police in action in Genoa and few will forget the shambles of Seattle. While these demonstrations were intended to be largely peaceful there were present elements whose interest lay in creating public disorder and following their own agenda, even though that agenda may not have been shared by their fellow activists. There have always been malcontents and those whose would employ violence to overthrow government, freely elected or not. 
          The article mentioned that, as a result of the growing number of large demonstrations, the RCMP has created a special unit to deal with what it is pleased to call public dissent. This programme known as the Public Order Program (we are starting to use American forms of spelling apparently) was established to help our police forces to exchange intelligence and information regarding crowd-control techniques. Furthermore, the unit is to examine how to make better use of so-called non-lethal defensive tools such as pepper sprays, rubber bullets (which curiously enough contain a steel core) and tear gas. The article did not mention how many people have died as a result of the use of some of these allegedly non-lethal weapons. 
          The article went on to indicate that the various law enforcement agencies are increasingly interested in organizations and individuals that engage in peaceful demonstrations. In support of this they cited instances where various police forces and the security service have infiltrated, spied upon and monitored groups who are simply exercising their legal right to assemble and speak freely. According to documents obtained from federal sources, the forces of law and order have targeted such menaces to society as Ed Broadbent, the former NDP leader, and the Raging Grannies, a group of ageing satirists which sings about social injustice. The article related that individuals have even been arrested for handing out leaflets condemning such police tactics. 
« Threat assessment » lists 
          Even universally recognized terrorist organizations such as the United Church of Canada, the National Council of Catholic Women, the Council of Canadians, the Canadian Council of Churches and Amnesty International were alleged to have been included on government « threat assessment » lists. Individual professors and other private citizens have been visited by police and security agents, apparently because they had the temerity to criticize government policy publicly or planned to take part in a demonstration. Attendees at any public gathering are likely to have their photograph taken, allegedly to provide evidence should the assembly become violent but more likely for inclusion in some expanding police data base. 
          Predictably, the article claimed that politicians and police have rejected any notion that such activities, where the police spy upon people because they do not like their political views, should be subject to inquiry. Is this what democracy is now all about in this the often touted best country in the world? A quotation from one minister showed the mind-set when he said, « If you want peace, prepare for war. » Such statements can serve only to incite the so-called anarchists to escalate their violent tactics the next time they protest. 
          The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms very clearly states in Section 2, headed Fundamental Freedoms that: 
Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: 
(a) freedom of conscience and religion; 
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; 
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and 
(d) freedom of association.
          These freedoms would appear to be quite clear if they were not preceded by Section 1, headed Guarantee of Rights and Freedoms which states that: « The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. » 
          That favourite weasel word of lawyers, « reasonable », says it all. Who gets to define reasonable? Who gets to « demonstrably justify » the limits? Once you can answer that question then all these alleged intrusions upon people's freedoms of association or freedom of speech become much clearer and easier to understand. 
          Article 20 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document which seems not to be observed completely in many countries, states that (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Article 19 speaks of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; a right that includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference. 
     « Where does all this air rage and dissatisfaction with governments come from anyway? Could it be the thousands of regulations controlling just one more piece of our lives that emanate from our governments annually? »
          The successor to Mr. Broadbent as head of the group known as Rights and Democracy is a former Solicitor General, Warren Allmand, and he has sent a letter to the present Solicitor General, Lawrence MacAulay, complaining of this spying upon citizens. According to the Ottawa Citizen parts of his letter read, « As a former solicitor general, I appreciate the need to assess threats against Canada's national security and to fight crime, » and « However, in these cases there is no evidence of criminality or security threat. » Mr. Allmand asked Mr. MacAulay to « advise me as soon as possible » of the purpose of RCMP surveillance and the authority under which it is being conducted. « I do not remember the Canadian Parliament giving new responsibilities with respect to such matters, » he declared. 
Angry, frustrated, exhausted 
          The other headline in my newspaper read Grounded at Dorval, Anger soars after 2-day flight delay and related the tale of several hundred « Angry, frustrated, exhausted and 'ready to riot' » airline passengers stranded at Dorval airport for two days. A sad though not totally surprising tale, characterized as a « lack of organization » by one of the passengers. Usually we read of some angry passenger being manacled for attacking an aircrew member in an incident described as « air rage ». There are alleged to be as many as 10 000 such incidents each year in North America. 
          Just a few days ago there was a report of an 83-year-old granny allegedly assaulting a crew member on a flight to Newfoundland. The lady, from Ontario, was charged with assault and hauled off for a psychiatric examination. Flight attendants renewed their calls for tougher laws, demanding special amendments to the Criminal Code and making it an offence to interfere with an aircraft's crew. Nothing unusual about that of course. The only response these days to whatever it is that someone dislikes is to lobby for a law or regulation, to be passed by one or other government, forbidding the offending act, whether this includes smoking in restaurants, demonstrating peacefully or complaining to cabin crew. 
          Where does all this air rage and dissatisfaction with governments come from anyway? Could it be the thousands of regulations controlling just one more piece of our lives that emanate from our governments annually? Is it, as Mr. Allmand suggests, actions not debated in or passed by the House of Commons? Could it be a lack of insight on the part of our political servants turned masters, or in the case of air rage on the part of the people who run our airlines and airports? What makes most people angry is being treated in ways they consider demeaning, whether done by an elected politician, faceless bureaucrat or impolite employee. Having flown hundreds of thousands of miles during the last fifty-five years, I am reasonably qualified perhaps to make some observations about the phenomenon known as air rage. 
          When I took my first flight, of just one hour's duration in early 1946, one was carefully and politely shepherded into the plane, ushered to a comfortable seat, offered refreshments, free reading material, etc., and constantly asked if one required anything. This was in what we know today as economy class. If one was fortunate enough to fly First Class in those days, one was treated like royalty, showered with free gifts of toiletries, slippers, clothing and other goodies. Even a reasonably good night's sleep in a bunk was available on long haul flights. Gourmet food was served on real china with white linen and silverware, the whole accompanied by a choice of eminently drinkable wines and other libations made available at no extra cost. Perhaps the most annoying thing likely to happen to one was having to pay for excess baggage because of the limited weight carrying capacity of those pre-jet aircraft. 
          Of course, not all airlines were equal in their treatment of their passengers, some were better than others. Cabin crew in some companies treated their economy passengers with considerable disdain, mincing down the aisle seeming to say, « Be careful not to touch one of them, you might catch something! » While in First Class, the cabin crews were sometimes so fawning that it was quite sickening. However, over the years I noticed a slow but imperceptible decline in the level of service offered by many airlines. Economy class food began to decline in quantity and often, a small package of barely digestible peanuts provided the only sustenance during half a day's flying.  
          On-time take off or landing has become but a dim memory; those who make airline timetables are probably among the few groups of employees, along with weather forecasters, who can actually get away with telling untruths for a living. The last plane I flew which took off and landed on time was a flight from Montreal to London in 1971. According to the US Transportation Department, 77% of flights were on time during the first six months of this year compared to 74% during the same period in 2000. They reported too that late arrivals dropped to 557,138 between January and June of 2001 compared to 638,727 during the same period last year. On time arrival appears to mean less than 15 minutes late, which is not most people's definition of on-time arrival. Judging from newspaper accounts the performance of Canadian airlines is not startlingly better. 
Flying Sardines 
          Airlines, at the behest of governments and others concerned about our health, began to refuse to carry smokers. Once upon a time, some discerning airlines passed out cigars to their passengers and allowed pipe smokers to take their pleasure seated contentedly in comfortably upholstered seats. Non-smoking aircraft have served only to prove that the personal deodorant manufacturers have not yet saturated their market. Lowered ventilation requirements, which are alleged to improve fuel consumption, have markedly increased the chances of having one's person invaded by some unfriendly bacteria provided gratuitously by a fellow passenger. 
          Anyone who has had the misfortune to travel by air in recent times should have no problem at all understanding air rage. The process begins at the airport where one is treated more like an animal awaiting slaughter than someone who has handed over a large sum of money in exchange for a service. The process begins with lengthy waits at the check-in counters where you may find, after a couple of hours, that your plane has been over-booked and that you are not on it. This is often followed by a request to pay a so-called airport improvement fee, which may increase without warning by 50% in some cases. Then follows the security process, a process conducted by underpaid, under-trained and occasionally impolite personnel. For overseas flights a Duty Free, but not profit free, store is provided at most airports to separate you from your money and to distract you from the herding process that you are about to undergo as you prepare to board your plane. 
          Today's planes, whose seats often seemed designed to seat the lamentably undernourished, are models of space utilization. In economy class, sleep is virtually impossible on long flights and those who are above average height or weight are embarking upon an experience akin to that encountered by a sardine in a can. Overworked aircrew try to serve food and drinks from a cart in an aisle designed to impede the passage of all but the ectomorphic. Insufficient toilet facilities that place unexpected strains on the functioning of the intestines, especially on long haul flights, diminish all residual feelings of well-being. One does not have to be a rocket scientist to understand why some people cannot withstand the psychological pressures inherent in experiencing some if not all of the above constraints. After undergoing just a few of the above-mentioned delights, even the most mild mannered among us may feel slightly irritated. 
          As an article in a newspaper informed us earlier this week though, many of our public servants, presumably well aware of all the inconveniences, seem anxious to minimize the stresses inherent in flying by travelling first class. The report alleged that some $1.7 million could have been saved by taxpayers if this were not so. It seems too that our servants have become very interested in travel loyalty programmes since they became eligible for these programmes in June this year. There are no prizes for guessing who has the largest travel loyalty programme in Canada. Four airlines: Westjet, Canjet, Royal and Canada 3000, provided just 2.5% of the air travel services consumed by our occasionally humble and rarely obedient servants during the period under review. 
          To resume, much of the resistance and participation in protestation over our government's actions is due to the incessant removal, or blatant ignoring, of our liberties by one or other means, just as air rage is due to the increasingly inhospitable conditions of air travel. Rather than deal with the root causes of the problems they create, governments and employee unions can think only of increased repression as a potential solution. I have news for them, it isn't. 
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