no human rights problem in hong kong?

posted in: hong kong | 0

the topic of today’s governance & law class was “monitoring government processes” (ie, ombudsmen, commissions of inquiry, judicial review, etc.). there is currently no human rights commission in HK, so our prof was suggesting that perhaps we could expand the powers of the (independent) ombudsman, so as to have a supervisory role with respect to human rights issues. (kind of an interesting way to create a pseudo-HR commission, since apparently there would not be enough political support to establish a HR commission on its own.)

one comment from a student that made me nearly livid: “I don’t really think we need a human rights commission in Hong Kong, since we do not have as much of a problem with human rights violations as in other jurisdictions…”

my hand shot up right away, but thankfully (for that student) the professor made an adequately long (although tempered) rebuke of that statement, referring to the need for legal protections for minorities. so I left it at that.

but I find it unbelievable that an upper-year law student could possibly think that Hong Kong is some magical city with few human rights violations. it then occurred to me that, being a member of the (98% ethnic) majority, he must have a completely different perspective from what I am used to (though I would hardly say that I needed to be a minority in Canada to realize that human rights violations occur all the time).

can someone be that oblivious to how disadvantageous it can be as a minority? how can someone honestly not notice the thousands of filipinas and indonesians that fill hong kong island on sundays, the one day that domestic workers get off a week? what about the various TV ads on the bus explaining that we are legally obligated to pay the minimum allowable wage (MAW) to these workers (currently set at a paltry HKD$3400 per month, and of course difficult to enforce). there is no other minimum wage legislation in HK (milton friedman’s favourite capitalist society)–and amazingly for breaches of the MAW, it is the worker that can be barred from ever working in HK again.

unfortunately it is this gov & law class–my only undergraduate law course–that has coloured my impression of students at HKU, and in hong kong in general. this is supposed to be the best university in HK, but from the quality of the students… it clearly doesn’t show. (to be fair, I cannot complain about the students in my grad courses, nor about the professors, since they do seem to be more open-minded. but then most of these people have lived or studied abroad.)

[end rant]

visit to the legislative council

posted in: hong kong | 1

I went on a trip to legco (as everyone here likes to call it) today, organized by the office of international student exchange–and a grand total of 6 of us showed up.

I was surprised that I actually knew some of the topics being discussed. Session started at 11 AM with the Patents Amendment Bill–proposing TRIPS-compliant modifications that would allow the government to manufacture drugs off-patent in cases of public health emergencies (precisely what I wrote my patent theory paper on). The payment that the patent owner would receive in cases of compulsory licensing will apparently be decided on an ad hoc basis, but interestingly capped at a maximum of 4% of the price of the drug.

the comprehensive social security assistance (CSSA) scheme was also on the agenda, a topic which I had looked into briefly for one of my classes here. was surprised to learn that a “4-P” family (presumably 4-person? not sure) is supposed to be able to live on HKD$9000 per month.

our group stayed until 12.30, when we had to catch our bus back. a bit more than half the number of council members were actually in session today, though it was kinda hard to say as people were trickling in and out… the organizer of our trip–a british expat who has lived here over 30 years–pointed out Martin Lee, who was quite vocal about being pro-democracy before the 1997 takeover–and also Audrey Eu, who she thought was another “good liberal” (apparently meaning not radical, which she attributed to Eu’s legal background). unfortunately “long-hair” Leung Kwok-Hung was not there today.

another thing I didn’t get to hear were the “questions for written replies”–though they were listed on the agenda, including the following hot topic addressed to the Secretary for Constitutional Affairs:

(translated) It was reported that while speaking on the issue of universal suffrage at a meeting with senior representatives of the media on the 21st of last month, the Chief Executive said, “I would like to tell Emily LAU and the likes of her that what (the models for universal suffrage) they demand can only be found in heaven indeed”. He also described the proposals for universal suffrage consolidating the views of various sectors as “雜種” (i.e. “half-breed”). In this connection, will the Executive Authorities inform this Council:

(a) of the proposals referred to as “雜種” by CE, and whether he will withdraw the use of the term “雜種”, which is both insulting and racially discriminatory;

(b) of the reasons for CE to comment that the models for universal suffrage demanded by Emily LAU and the likes of her (i.e. the electoral models completely in line with the principle of universal and equal suffrage) can only be found in heaven indeed; and

(c) given that CE had openly ruled out the electoral models which are completely in line with the principle of universal and equal suffrage, whether this indicates that the green paper on constitutional development to be published by the authorities in the middle of this year will not contain any proposal for the true implementation of universal suffrage?

150 years of law at mcgill

posted in: montreal | 1

I was cleaning out my room for my impending trip to HK (during which I’m subletting my room), when I found a booklet by Ian Pilarczyk called A Noble Roster: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Law at McGill.

it’s… uh… interesting to see what some of the current profs have to say about their student years at McGill. (be forewarned, this will not be very interesting unless you know these people)

Dean Nicholas Kasirer
Among the sources of anxiety for members of my first-year class in the early 1980s was the challenge of working and reading effectively in French and in English. We were all impressed by the way our Property teacher Dean John Brierley and his colleague in Obligations, Professor Paul-André Crépeau, moved effortlessly from French and English and back again and we were generally less confident in our own ability to do the same. I remember one Faculty party in first year at which we shared this concern with another of our favorite professors. “Relax”, he told us, and recounted the following exchange he had allegedly witnessed at the Law Library:

Student: Is the photocopier working?
Attendant: (sleepily) Sure, nickels only…
S: Does it make copies in English?
A: (now stirring) Well, yes…
S: Does it make copies in French?
A: (now awakened) Of course…
S: Great! Can you make me a copy of this Mignault judgment in English, and two copies of chapter three of Marler on Property in French for my friend?

Professor Richard Janda
Another example of student participation was the development of the Quid Novi. There had been a prior student newspaper, a gossip sheet that came out sporadically, which I believe was called the Peel Street Review. When Peter Dauphinee and I began publishing the Quid there were constant debates as to whether its content was too political.

We had some difficulties in initially producing the paper. At the time AES word processing stations were the latest in high-technology, and the Faculty had acquired a few. We lobbied the Dean, John Brierley, for access to a workstation after hours, which eventually he allowed. I was one of the lucky people who always ended up typing the paper the night before it went to the printers. Whenever I would be working on the paper, around midnight or one o’clock–lo and behold!–Professor Blaine Baker would wander into the office. It was rather nice to have the company, although I wondered why he didn’t have better things to do. It also occurred to me that his visits were regular, but as he always attended all student events I assumed this was an extension of his support for student activities. It was only years later that I came to know that he had been given a kind of “police function” by the Dean to ensure that there was no tampering with student records, and he became the transaction cost for the arrangement with the Quid and the Dean’s office. The untold story is therefore that the Quid would not have appeared without Blaine Baker’s policing.

Professor David Lametti
During my third year I served as President of the Law Students’ Association, and it was our administration that started the tradition of Coffee House, which was the brain-child of the Social Coordinator, Norbert Haensel. There had been a Coffee House before that, which took place from time to time in the Common Room. People would come and play guitar and I think coffee was actually served, in addition to beer and wine. But Norbert came up with the idea of having a weekly Coffee House to take place Thursday afternoons. It was a huge success, and eventually the Faculty decided to incorporate it into its routine by not scheduling classes during that time.

Also during my third year, we were still in the early stages of the “law partners” programme, which I think was about two years old. I was asked by the coordinator, John Relton, to participate but I told him I was too busy to participate that year, and he initially respected my decision. Two weeks into the semester he approached me and told me that they didn’t have enough people and that I absolutely had to be a law partner and wouldn’t take no for an answer. It ended up that I was paired up with a woman. It so happens that at the time the programme was structured so that men were paired with men and women with women. The woman I was paired with was Geneviève Saumier, now a professor at McGill. By Christmas time we were a couple. […] Geneviève and I were married in 1994 in Montreal, with a reception in the Common Room as well as at the Faculty Club.

recruitment haikus

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Plastic smiles melt
Logic with pens and zeroes
Do you like our firm?

Palms are sore from shaking
Hands of smiling strangers
Too much jerking off

Lovely offices
With nice view and carpeting
Why is she crying?

Tie matches the socks
By design. Wish this place matched
With me as nicely

The anxiety
Rises with every word
Give me an offer

For bending over
Do I get the position?
Reach around a must

(s. carsley, from law student paper The Kraken)

comité de déontologie policière

posted in: montreal | 0

I went to see a colleague of mine plead at the police ethics committee yesterday, for the legal clinic that we both work at this semester. (although not yet lawyers, there are some exceptions where we can present arguments before administrative bodies)

it was great! I have also been to the immigration and refugee board, and it seemed very similar–less formal than a court, and the commissaire is a lot more approachable than a judge, with the main goal of earnestly discovering the truth rather than strict adherence to procedure. it is in these settings that justice is directly served to parties, who actively participate in proceedings themselves–and where a large majority of decision-making takes place, away from judges and lawyers.

the only thing that sucked was the social aspect. it involved a black youth (who seemed credible), and his mother actually came to vouch for his character. quite possibly another case of racial profiling by the police in ticketing a young black adolescent for no apparent reason. the burden that certain sectors of society face is totally unfair–the fact that since it was 11 am meant that this kid was not in school, and that his single mom was also not working, all in order to fight the wrong not made by them, but by a police officer (whom I did not see at the hearing, so presumably was working at the time).

I thought about whether that could have ever happened to me as a kid. never. ever ever. I don’t think I had even talked to cop, let alone been asked to identify myself randomly on the street as a teenager. how, then, do you keep from being angry as targeted individuals in this situation? as wronged communities? those days missed of school, of work, incrementally being pushed back… how can we not be angry against society for this injustice?


posted in: Uncategorized | 0

I just realized how boring this paper sounds:

Paragraph 2 is also similar to Article 10 of the draft articles recommended by the WCED’s Experts Group on Environmental Law, which aims to prevent “transboundary environmental interference or significant risk thereof which causes substantial harm” (emphasis added). The present provision extends liability not only to physical harm, but also to the risks of that harm, allocating the loss of potential damage to the State that takes on the risky activity.

IPR protection in china

posted in: china | 0

My people are poor; people in western China are making RMB200 (US$24) per month. Now a bunch of foreigners want me to protect their Gucci handbags? I couldn’t care less.

so represents the views of rural Chinese government officials, according to Ekkehard Rathgeber, President of Bertelsmann Direct Group Asia. (found on china law blog)

this is the economic argument against uniform intellectual property rights protection for all countries: that it prevents some valuable activities that can contribute to a developing economy.

I wrote a paper arguing that patent protection does not make sense for least-developed countries: because the investments that go into imitating goods are far less than those that go into original R&D, it would be much easier for these LDCs to build their economies on ‘copycat’ industries. (and so-called “copies” can often become better as a result, since imitators will adapt their products to be more competitive on the market.)

only once a country has lifted itself out of the ‘poverty trap’ (to lift a phrase from Jeffrey Sachs) can it start thinking about enforcing IP laws–and as a middle-developed country it would be in its own interest to promote innovation and further economic growth (through incentives to innovate). an interesting case study for this is India, who developed a huge industry of copycat pharmaceuticals (they did not until recently protect drug patents) based on mainly American drugs. but on the other hand there was little investment in their own R&D, resulting in far fewer medicines that treat diseases that afflict mainly them.

and of course, once a country becomes highly-developed it will then be a big pusher of IPRs, since these compensate their inventors (an economic monopoly) and protect their innovations.

incentives and innovation vs. imitation and adaptation. all in the name of economics. hmmm.

arbitrary state power

posted in: Uncategorized | 0

Starting second paper, about 3 days behind, but just had to post this: I’m writing about Canadian security certificates and was reading a report by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) about Canadian security officials (read: CSIS) targeting Arab Muslims for “interrogation”.

Talk about questionable tactics: blocking doorways, threats, visits at work (one guy got fired shortly afterwards), giving false identification as to who they were, interrogating a minor. One person was asked to become an informant, and when he refused, the official abruptly ended the interview and proceeded to recite the names of the person’s children and several other pieces of personal information.

The security certificate provisions in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are undergoing a constitutional challenge which will finally be heard by the Supreme Court in June. This is the first time I really care about the Supreme Court doing it right, and I’m actually worried about the outcome: these provisions are so blatantly against several fundamental rights in the Charter, and yet have passed through the federal courts as constitutional. Reading the judgments in the Charkaoui case are so so so disturbing, they are unlike any other constitutional cases (they don’t even mention so much as a section 7 analysis for #$%$-sake), the reasoning just doesn’t make sense.

I really hope it’s simply an unhappy coincidence that federal court judgments are incomprehensible, and not indicative of an endemic belief that someone can be put into detention without charge and without knowledge of the evidence against him, on the grounds of “national security”. We cannot simply trust that the government is always right since no one is infallible (especially CSIS), and when evidence is not open there is not even the opportunity to check this arbitrary power.

More later. For now, the report can be found here.

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