Saturday, February 12, 2011

The politics of intimidation, again - updated

Updated (Sat. 6:00 p.m.) below.

This post is just to show a bit of solidarity today with University of Ottawa Professors Attaran and Mendes who, as reported here, have become the subject of "unusually massive freedom-of-information requests:" "Tories accused of digging up dirt on ‘Liberal’ profs." Attaran has been outspoken on the Afghan detainee file over the past few years and Mendes speaks out regularly on issues like political party financing, our declining world stage presence and also the detainee issue. As university professors with expertise in some of the consequential issues Canada faces, we should heartily applaud the fact that they stand up and willingly share that knowledge on the public stage. Not all professors bother to do so and we are enriched by those who do.

The requests are "...demanding details of the professors’ employment, expenses and teaching records" but "...the University of Ottawa does not intend to release much of the information requested, since most of it is personal and private and therefore exempt from the disclosure requirements in the legislation."
Like Mendes, Attaran is the subject of freedom of information requests seeking details about his expense claims dating back to January 2006 along with copies of any assessments, reviews or performance reports during his time at the university. The requests about Mendes date back even farther — 16 years — since he is one of the more senior faculty members at U of O.
Amazing that what must be just incredibly extravagant expenses by university professors have engaged the attention of some unknown character(s) out there.

The act of procuring personal and private information about anyone carries with it the implicit motivation of keeping tabs, of letting the subjects know that they're being watched. The message sent to others who might dare speak out as these professors do is sent.

Here's to the progressive voices who keep speaking out, even in the face of such ongoing intimidatory tactics.

Update (Friday 7:50 p.m.): The Star has an update tonight, the professors have a smart offer for the person making the information request.

Update (Sat. 6:00 p.m.): See Dr. Dawg on this today. The Ottawa Citizen covers the issue as well. I will just add the quote from Professor Mendes at the end for some comic relief to this concerning situation:
...both Mendes and Attaran said they'd be happy to hand over all records if the person asking for them reveals his or her identity.

"I'd be happy to share my train ticket to Toronto to attend a conference on the Constitution.

I'll give them the receipts. I'll even share with them the suit I wore, the underwear I wore on the day, the colour of my socks," Mendes said.
BCL thinks the information request might be the work of a lone freelancer. Given the Conservative treatment of critics, their record of intimidation and firing of independent officers of Parliament who disagree with them, the Conservative Senator who has engaged in letter writing campaigns against Mendes in the past, the PMO talking points on Attaran...I tend to believe where there's smoke there's fire. Officialdom has acted directly in respect of these professors. Freelancers are always a possibility but the tone is set at the top by this government.