Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mince Pie

You learn something new every day. Last night I actually found out that I have a friend who was brought up eating mincemeat pie -- you know, the sweet Christmas treat -- with real meat in it. Through all my years I always thought it anomalous that something would be called a 'mincemeat' pie and consist principally of chopped fruit (albeit with some suet in it). I chalked it up to one of those British food humour matters like 'sweetbreads', which always seemed to me to be an extremely euphemistic name for pancreas being neither sweet nor bread.

Well a little googling reveals that in fact there is a history of meat in mincemeat pie although the Wikipedia piece on mincemeat pie suggests that my experience is more the norm (that is no meat). However I did find one article on the history of mincemeat pie which actually relates a story about mincemeat pie being made with whale in Boston in the 1800's. Now that would have been interesting.

In the end there is no reason why the pie should not have meat in it. There are some types of meat that are just made for sweet situations. Duck, for example, calls out for sweetness and the best duck dishes -- Canard a la Orange and Peking Duck -- are definitely sweet. Similarly, lamb and Major Grey's Mango Chutney go together like hand in glove. However there are some other meats that I am a bit more dubious about in the context of a sweet treat (candied beef just makes me sceptical).

The warning has been given; the gauntlet thrown down -- Christmas Eve will be Mincemeat Pie with real meat.

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Christmas Deviance

No not that kind of deviance -- that's for New Years. This Christmas we are doing a few things differently. I am not sure if we will be doing them better or not, but just differently.

First, no Christmas party this year at Casa Janes-Hounsell. I am not sure that this is one of the better innovations but there it is. The fall went by too quickly and organization flew out the window so mass drunken revelry will have to wait for another occasion (we do have some friends with the half century mark coming up on them -- they should not have to throw their own party).

Second, no trifle on Christmas day. I have spent the last few years experimenting with trifles and enjoying delicious, boozy post-dinner sweets. I am getting the feeling though that the Christmas dinner dining crowd want something not so mushy and layered this year -- but they are not getting away without the booze. It is going to be a traditional plum pudding this Christmas. This will be another blast back to childhood as I can still picture the adults struggling to get the brandy to properly ignite so that the blazing pudding could be marched to the table (as a kid I loved anything that had the potential to burn the house down).

Third, no turkey -- it is going to be prime rib roast for Christmas dinner this year -- something with an exotic sauce or a spicy crust (here is the current recipe that is leading the race). What is the point of having a small Christmas dinner with a few friends if you cannot avoid the bird designed to feed an army of kids, senile maiden aunts, drunken uncles and exhausted grand-parents? It does not matter what we do, our picky eating daughter will resist, so bring on the roast beast I say. The best part about it is that it gives a good excuse to make Yorkshire Pudding -- yeast based dough quickly cooked in beef fat; I ask you, what could be better (there must be a way to work bacon in there).

More plotting ahead -- this is just so much more fun than thinking about work or any of the other mundanities of life.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

The Other Side of Multiculturalism

The Supreme Court of Canada issued a judgment recently over the issue of the secular courts being able to intervene in situations where a divorcing husband refuses to cooperate in the process of granting a proper Jewish religious divorce. The Court held that the courts could intervene and could actually grant damages against a husband who refused to cooperate in such a process after promising to do so in the context of a secular divorce settlement.

To my mind this presents another side to the issue of multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is often presented as a pernicious surrendering of authority over the affairs of persons who should be protected by the state. The recent murder of a young woman at the hands of her father over the issue of wearing the hijab (or, I think, really over the failure to submit to traditional fatherly control) has certainly brought this debate back to the fore in Canada. What the Supreme Court of Canada's decision shows, however, that what comes with decision to pursue one's beliefs in a multi-cultural society is ultimately a submission to the rule of law and civil authority. That authority has to shape its processes to allow different cultures to operate but there ultimately is a limit and that limit is the price of admission.

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Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Bedeviling Issue of Robert Latimer

Robert Latimer was denied day parole yesterday essentially because he declined to say that he regretted killing his daughter over a decade ago. This, of course, was hardly surprising since he steadfastly maintained throughout this time that he killed his daughter as an act of mercy to relieve her from the misery of her life with cerebral palsy. Mr. Latimer was convicted of murder but his case eventually winded its way to the Supreme Court of Canada on the issue of whether or not a constitutional exemption from the minimum sentence for murder should be carved out for him given the circumstances of his case (the Court decided no) (in fact Mr. Latimer's case made it to the Supreme Court of Canada twice as an earlier conviction was overturned because of improprieties in the way in which the jury was assembled).

My own view is that the Court arrived at the right decision when it held that Mr. Latimer's conviction and sentence had to be upheld. In Canada we have not even come to a societal consensus on the issue of assisting a person of full mind commit suicide (see the Sue Rodriguez case). The issues around a parental killing of child who is disabled and unable to communicate her wishes on an informed basis are hopelessly more thorny. The fact of the matter is that it is impossible to genuinely appreciate the true significance of the genuinely held belief "I must kill her because I can not bear to watch her suffer any more" -- who is truly being shown mercy when that sentiment is acted upon? Is it mercy for the suffering child or is it mercy for the suffering caregiver? Moreover, there is a strong sense of ownership over a child that is being asserted in such cases -- "This is my child so I can decide whether she lives or dies."

This, however, does not make the Parole Board's decision right. Our society has sent a clear message about Mr. Latimer: he murdered his daughter contrary to the law and was given the full sentence mandated by the law. Now he is going through the process that every criminal in Canada is entitled to go through to ease their re-introduction to society. The core issue in this regard is not to force the person to confess and repent: it is to ensure that they are safe. The reason repentance is generally sought is not because this is the price of freedom but because it is an indicator of safety. Here though no-one thinks Mr. Latimer is going to rove the streets looking for children to kill. The reality is he will go out into society and perhaps advocate for change in the law -- something every Canadian has a right to do.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

The United States Refugee Law Tried in Canada

The Federal Court just released an amazing judgment which has received some reasonable play in the press but which, in fact, has not received anywhere near the attention it deserves. The case was a challenge to an agreement between Canada and the United States that allows Canada to essentially immediately, without a hearing or review, return refugee claimants who come to Canada through the United States to be processed in that country's asylum system rather than Canada's. The challenge essentially forced the Court to try the question of whether or not the United States' asylum laws satisfied basic international law norms and Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In a lengthy judgment, Mr. Justice Michael Phelan essentially said that the United States' legal system failed on both counts.

Justice Phelan held that the United States' approach to refugees, particular around its treatment of people even distantly, unwittingly or peripherally linked to what the USA PATRIOT Act now describes as terrorism offends basic international norms (which are binding on Canada) governing not returning people to countries where they face the threat of torture or other such dangers (a principle called non-refoulment -- gotta love these international lawyers). Justice Phelan found the system also deprived the refugees (remember they have ended up in Canada and so have some level of Charter protection) of their right to 'life liberty and security of the person". in the case of refugees fearing persecution because of sexual orientation, the Court also held that the United States' approach to claims based on this sort of persecution meant that it would offend the equality rights contained in the Charter to ship these folks off to the United States to be dealt with there.

It will be interesting to see how this judgment will be dealt with on appeal (and it will be appealed). I expect there is a real chance that the appellate courts will overturn the decision but will do so in a way that will leave the government in a bit of pickle. I doubt that the judges will overturn Justice Phelan's findings about the inadequacies of the the United States' legal system. Instead they will likely say that this agreement is fundamentally political in nature and absent evidence that the United States is an absolute despotic, dictatorship -- please be quiet out there Noam, we know your views on these matters but no court will accept them -- the Courts should not interfere with the decision to make such an agreement.

The difficulty that this will pose for the government is that it will be faced with the findings that the US system is fundamentally at odds with basic international law norms around the treatment of the most endangered people; is inconsistent with the basic norms we have around life, liberty and security of the person and discriminatory and nevertheless we ship people back there to face deportation to torture and death. It is no accident that Justice Phelan specifically cited the Arar case to cast doubt on the United States' approach to deportation and its possible motives in dealing with people merely suspected of terrorism. What does a government do with all of that?

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Red Fish Blue Fish

The great thing about having associates (that is, younger employed lawyers) when you are a partner type lawyer is that aside from the fact that they are smarter then you and consistently make you look good, they have a life that you can occasionally borrow or steal from. My associate Dominique demonstrated this recently when she made a comment to me the other day about a new restaurant, called Red Fish Blue Fish, in a shipping container that served excellent fish and chips that had to be visited.

Lately I have been going through a period of unseemly self-pity and angst over a number of work related matters and as is generally the case at such times I am capable of persuading myself that calories consumed in such a state -- no matter how greasy or slimy -- do not add weight or clog arteries (contrary to all evidence at my waistline). Thus yesterday for lunch I headed off to the packing crate and discovered the new best fish and chips joint in Victoria.

There is no shelter there -- which is not so good for what will likely be the coldest winter in a while according to the gurus at Environment Canada -- but it mattered not. The chips were crisp without being dessicated. The halibut was cooked with a batter that crunched but was not cremated. There was malt vinegar and excellent tartar sauce. All was good and delicious.

Oh yes, the fish supposedly is all caught sustainably and the recycling containers were all easily accessible and nicely labeled -- so you can feel virtuous. Which is a good thing, as you actually will not feel slender. Ah well, lots of time for weight loss in the grave.

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