The News Rundown
- The Competition Bureau of Canada has filed an application to block the Rogers-Shaw deal.
- The deal would have seen the creation of Canada’s largest telecom. Rogers dominates the cable/internet space in the east while Shaw dominates in the West and Rogers dominates wireless nationally.
- The bureau says that the merger will lead to “higher prices, poorer service quality, and fewer choices.”
- The reason, particular in the wireless sector, was because currently Rogers, Telus, and Bell make up 87% of subscribers.
- The bureau also confirmed what we postulated here on Western Context that the acquisition would eliminate Shaw owned wireless competitor Freedom Mobile.
- It would also prevent new competition in Ontario, Alberta, and BC and suppress further 5G development.
- Matthew Boswell, the commissioner of competition said, "Eliminating Shaw would remove a strong, independent competitor in Canada’s wireless market — one that has driven down prices, made data more accessible, and offered innovative services to its customers.”
- He also said that Shaw has “consistently challenged” the Big Three.
- And he’s 100% right on that, when Shaw couldn’t get access to wireless spectrum, they covered most public places in western Canada with Shaw Wifi access points.
- Shaw and Rogers say they will push to block the commissioner’s report and find a way to complete the sale that would include Shaw’s wireless business.
- New Brunswick-based rural internet provider Xplornet Communications Inc. and Montreal's Quebecor Inc. are reportedly interested in Freedom Mobile.
- Quebecor is also potentially interested in acquiring Freedom Mobile to expand its services to the west.
- Despite the competition bureau drafting this report, the deal is still likely to go forward.
- Rogers and Shaw have 45 days to reply and once the response is received, the competition bureau has 14 days to respond to the response.
- Anyone who understands economics or has a history of Rogers’ acquisitions, will know that this will drive competition out of markets where Shaw operates.
- This is also at odds with the promises of the 2015, 2019, and 2021 elections where the cost of broadband was to be lowered.
- Service speeds have increased but prices have also gone up as they have with most everything in the world.
- A national buildout strategy was needed to enable new companies to form and for regional companies like Shaw to expand eastward.
- Rogers was already able to expand westward with their mobile coverage but Shaw struggled with Freedom mobile.
- Canadians have the benefit of living in the ignorance of the media that doesn’t report on what broadband is like elsewhere in the world.
- In Europe, the internet, especially mobile access, is cheap. Canada and the US remain high on the list of countries where broadband is still expensive.
- One of the options being considered is to have Anthony Lacavera’s Globalive company buy Freedom.
- Lacavera previously ran Wind Mobile which was Freedom’s predecessor before it was sold to Shaw in 2016.
- He has placed a $3.75b offer to buy Freedom Mobile.
- The unfortunate side of the equation is that many in Canadian media and the Canadian political establishment see the reduction down to 3 mobile providers as has happened in the US a natural occurrence.
- This means that even if the deal goes forward without Freedom Mobile being part of the package, the wireless carrier will likely face many regulatory roadblocks ahead due to the power of the big three in Canada.
- The other option is of course for Quebecor to pick it up and make it a larger fourth national wireless provider but Quebecor on its own has also struggled to expand beyond its home base of Quebec.
- Finally if we look at Shaw share prices, the share price hasn’t hit the proposed $40.50 mark since the takeover bid was announced which means investors aren’t jumping for joy at the prospect of this deal.
- At the end of the day that means that Rogers might actually just be better off without buying Shaw because as everyone knows, they’re already a communications juggernaut.
- Finally this whole sale does also require the approval of the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. If the Competition Bureau says no or there are problems ahead, it will fall on the government to prevent this deal from going forward.
- A month ago on Western Context episode 264, we outlined a story about the broken nature of BC's justice system, wherein smaller towns in BC have experienced a sharp uptick in crime over the past few years. This has led to prolific offenders - people that have committed multiple crimes - not getting either the punishment, or treatment, that they deserve.
- A large number of break-ins, robberies, and vandalisms at businesses in downtown cores of BC's towns and cities has caused sharp criticism to fall on the BC government, which has been slow to respond to the problems, as governments usually are.
- Many believe that this isn't a problem with policing, though we also highlighted a story two weeks ago on Western Context 267 that showed a high level of support for BC ditching the RCMP, which has been a problematic organization for many reasons, and creating its own provincial police force with greater oversight.
- Indeed, the problem is said to lie with the court system, that is said to have a 'revolving door' of criminals who get arrested but then get sent back onto the street, due to a sharp rise in "no-charge recommendations", meaning that the criminals get released without even getting seen in court, due to the police not thinking that the courts could get a conviction, concerns over disease outbreaks in the jails, a lengthy process that would take up too many resources, money, and time, or the fact that courts are still dealing with backlogs that piled up in the work stoppages during the dark times over the past two years.
- Indeed, we even saw a similar form of no-charge recommendation recently with our own Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who we also covered on Western Context 267, who did not get charged with fraud over his Aga Khan trip scandal because the RCMP didn't think any court would convict him simply because he's the Prime Minister.
- In any case, it was clear a month ago that the BC NDP were going to have to do something about the recent crime waves. So what is it they decided to do? Well, they did what all governments like to do, which is to create a committee to study the problem and find out the best way to solve it. Meanwhile the crime waves continue.
- In any case, this 'expert panel' hired by the province to look at the problem of repeat offenders is coming under fire before its work gets underway. Some community advocates say the label “prolific offender” stigmatizes people and ignores their mental health and substance use issues. On the other hand, the B.C. Liberals say the four-month study is time wasted as violent criminals “terrorize” communities.
- Attorney General David Eby said that while he understands the frustration of communities grappling with violent, unprovoked attacks and property crimes, it’s clear “we’re not going to be able to arrest ourselves out of the situation of people with serious mental health and addiction issues.” If someone is arrested for smashing a window, sending them to jail for a month is not going to address the underlying causes, Eby said.
- That’s why Eby asked Doug LePard, a former police chief in B.C., and Amanda Butler, a Simon Fraser University criminologist with experience in mental health and corrections, to focus on how to reduce property crime and attacks on random strangers.
- Some of the measures the panel will look at include giving the courts the power to force an offender to do mandatory treatment as part of their sentencing and requiring chronic offenders released on bail to wear electronic monitoring devices, Eby said. They’re also to consider what constitutes a prolific offender and whether there should be a dedicated prosecutor to deal with them.
- LePard and Butler will talk to police leaders, Crown prosecutors, community groups, mental health and substance use experts and First Nations agencies as they look into ways to reduce property crime and random stranger attacks. They will report by September.
- Hiring them was a response to an April letter from 13 city mayors imploring action on the failed “catch-and-release” system that allows prolific offenders to offend again and again. Eby said he’d prefer to see a “catch-and-treat” model “where the individual is getting the support that they need to interrupt that behaviour.” However, the panel must look into whether forced treatment violates people’s Charter rights against involuntary detention.
- Eby said: “The Charter is pretty clear that people have the right to not be arbitrarily put in hospitals or prisons by the government just because the government thinks that they might (show) problematic behaviour. So what are the legal mechanisms?”
- Meenakshi Mannoe, the Pivot Legal Society’s criminalization and policing campaigner, said labelling people with complex needs “prolific offenders” stigmatizes them and sets them up to be further criminalized. She’s also concerned about the prospect of mandatory treatment for people with mental health and substance use problems.
- Mannoe says: “The attorney general is saying we can’t arrest our way out of this. We certainly can’t institutionalize our way out of it because people have autonomy. They have the ability to consent to health care. That’s not something that can be imposed on people.”
- So on the one hand, we have the Attorney General saying that we can't arrest criminals because that doesn't address mental health issues, but here we have activists saying that we can't force people to get mental health treatment because of bodily autonomy.
- Meanwhile, the opposition BC Liberals say that the government is dithering on making a decision on the issue, at the expense of innocent victims. In question period Wednesday, longtime Liberal MLA Mike de Jong said there are some criminals who need harsh punishment.
- De Jong said: “They rob. They steal. They threaten. They assault. They even kill when people get in their way. They have chosen to lead a life of crime, and they will continue to lead a life of crime until they are caught and taken off the street. The attorney general’s promise of another study does nothing to address this.”
- Even if the treatment program goes forward, there simply isn't enough room for people who aren't criminals already needing treatment, even without the added pressure that Eby's favoured approach would entail. This is because of governments in Canada severely underfunding mental health initiatives for decades now and not treating it with the seriousness it deserves.
- Victoria criminal defence lawyer Michael Mulligan said even if judges could sentence people to mandatory treatment, there simply aren’t enough treatment beds to accommodate them, and they would just get left on the street instead.
- Instead, Eby is pushing for an expansion of the electronic monitoring system, where high-risk parolees can be ordered to wear ankle bracelets when there is a serious concern they will commit a violent or sexually motivated offence. When someone violates a court-ordered condition while being electronically monitored, such as going somewhere or seeing someone they shouldn’t, B.C. Corrections is immediately notified. This would reduce the need for police to do random check-ins as Eby says: “They just kind of know where the person is because they’re able to monitor that.”
- Interestingly, one of the largest increases in petty crime has come from youth in the larger cities of Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna.
- After reports of a hurled drink and disturbing images of a swerving car, scared Muslims and police bemoaning skyrocketing hate crimes, on April 27 Premier John Horgan tweeted: “I am disgusted by reports of an attempt to harm and terrorize people outside Surrey Jamia Masjid Mosque as they left prayers. I stand with those targeted and the Muslim community. We must condemn acts of hate and racism wherever we see them.” A few days later he deleted it because he, and the mainstream media had made a mistake: It wasn’t white supremacists; it was kids from the Islamic community.
- Meanwhile, Victoria police say they are dealing with a surge in youth crime and violence downtown, including vandalism, assaults with weapons and random attacks on the elderly, homeless, business owners and passersby.
- VicPD said in a statement large groups of youth from surrounding municipalities have begun coming into downtown on Friday and Saturday nights to consume alcohol and drugs. Some nights, police said there have been 150 youths in groups of various sizes. VicPD gave examples of what its officers have dealt with over the past couple weeks which we don't have time to go through here, but you can read about them in our supplementals.
- VicPD spokesperson Const. Cam MacIntyre said “Several of the youths involved have told officers that they believe that they will not face criminal charges for their actions. Some of these youths are conducting violent, random attacks and have told officers that they believe that they will face no consequences for their unlawful actions. They are wrong. Officers are arresting and recommending charges, which can have significant and negative life-long impacts.”
- Whatever the grand solution that the BC government's panel comes up with won't be here immediately, and in the meantime, victims will still suffer from these criminal issues, and the underlying causes are still not getting addressed.
- The City of Edmonton has had the planned Blatchford community on the agenda for years. The plan was upwards of 2,700 homes built but up to this point, only a few dozen have been built.
- The plan was to build a new sustainable neighbourhood on the grounds of the old city centre airport capable of housing up to 30,000 residents that would be powered by renewable energy and connected to the rest of the city via LRT.
- City Councillor Tim Cartmell has suggested that the city should sell the land at a lower price than current market value, take a loss, and eventually earn the revenue back through property taxes.
- He also suggested partnering with third party private developers to help build the community.
- The first homes went on sale in 2019 with 43 available and it was a year after that that the first few dozen were ready.
- The initial idea behind Blatchford was a sustainable development with affordable housing offering an amenity-rich environment.
- The land was formerly housing the City Centre Airport whose closure at the time was a lightning rod that spurred petitions to try and keep the airport open.
- Not only is the development short on housing but everything that makes it walkable from restaurants, drug stores, and grocery stores are still needed.
- Tim Cartmell’s plan was presented to City Council this past week and cited one of the big motivations as being the upcoming fall budget where the City Council will try to maintain low property tax increases.
- The city has so far spent $232 million on the development and either the development needs a major shake-up or needs to be given to the private sector to get it going at a faster pace.
- There’s also the problem of the district energy utility which is more expensive than was expected.
- This utility was to provide green energy through renewables to the development but indication from developers is that it so far has been more of a hindrance than a benefit.
- The idea behind this system was that thermal energy would be distributed to all the buildings in the neighbourhood and the same system would be used with cold water for cooling.
- Blatchford represents the ideal vision of urban planning by those who pushed the project forward but in terms of actual implementation we’re seeing the pitfalls of this development project.
- The city in recent years has doubled down on infill production meaning that now a majority of new builds in the city are on old parcels of land that previously used to house one large lot and now 2 or 4 are often built on the same parcel of land.
- Blatchford in itself is the far extreme end of this vision, how a city would be built if taking the most idealistic 21st century approach.
- But the economics of it have not made sense thus far either due to implementation by the City of Edmonton or the population not latching onto the idea for one reason or another.
- Urban planning is good but it must be done in such a way that doesn’t cause problems for the taxpayers in the neighbourhoods surrounding the development.
- This project is a warning or perhaps an example of what to not do or do depending on how this all turns out in the end.
- There’s nothing wrong with scaling back and letting private industry build conventional homes on the land instead.
- Though there are those who would have preferred the city airport stay open and they may just have a point.
- During the dark times over the past couple years, Canadians had their movements restricted in an effort to reduce the spread of infectious diseases that could become deadly very quickly. One thing that the federal government was very interested in was tracking Canadian's movements, in order to try to predict outbreaks or patterns that could be used to treat further health issues.
- We first discussed this back in January on Western Context 252, where the federal government had admitted that it has used cell phone data gathered since Jan. 1, 2019 in order to analyze Canadians' movements during the dark times, ostensibly to track the effectiveness of public health measures.
- At the time, it was revealed that the Public Health Agency of Canada had been purchasing access to cellphone location data, which was said to be aggregated and “de-identified” so as to not pinpoint individual usage, but the program's existence nevertheless raised concerns with privacy advocates and opposition politicians.
- Though ostensibly to track their own public health measures, it's clear that the PHAC wants to use the data beyond that. Purchased data dated back to January 1st 2019, a full year before the dark times began. According to a request for proposals issued in December, PHAC also issued a tender to extend its analysis of cellphone location data through May 1st 2023.
- Now, almost half a year later, we're getting an update on this story, and further information on just how far the federal government has intruded into our electronic lives in the name of public health.
- Outbreak intelligence analysts BlueDot prepared reports using anonymized data for the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) to help it understand travel patterns during the pandemic, including Canadians' trips to the liquor store and pharmacy, which were closely tracked via their mobile phones without their knowledge during the dark times.
- The program has now been temporarily suspended as of February as committee members investigate whether the federal government violated Canadians’ privacy rights. The federal government provided one of these reports to the House of Commons ethics committee as it probed the collection and use of mobile phone data by the public health agency. The report reveals the agency was able to view a detailed snapshot of people’s behaviour, including visits to the grocery store, gatherings with family and friends, time spent at home and trips to other towns and provinces.
- MPs on the ethics committee expressed surprise at how much detail the report contained, even as all identifying information was stripped out. Damien Kurek, Conservative MP for Battle River-Crowfoot said that: “Questions remain about the specifics of the data provided if Canadians’ rights were violated, and what advice the Liberal government was given.”
- The committee on Wednesday released a report on its overall probe into the agency’s collection of phone data during the pandemic. It concluded the government should tell Canadians if it collects data about their movements and allow them to opt out. It’s also calling for changes to privacy laws so that de-identified information and aggregate data are considered personal information, subject to privacy protections.
- The proposed changes go beyond just the government. The committee says Canada needs to regulate the private sector’s activities when it comes to collecting, using, sharing, storing and destroying mobility data, and that companies need to obtain “meaningful consent” from customers.
- For his part, privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien said that he welcomes the report, and that the government failed to reassure people that this data collection would respect their privacy. He said the country’s privacy laws are in urgent need of modernization, and that “even socially beneficial uses of data are seen as suspect because Canadians have no confidence that our laws will protect them.”
- The ethics committee’s recommendations include a number of public education and transparency measures, and ask the government to define what constitutes “legitimate commercial interest” and “public good” in the collection, storage, use, transfer and sale of private data. It also wants the commissioner to be empowered to investigate breaches and enforce the law. The federal government did not say whether it accepts the recommendations and whether it plans to strengthen the powers of the privacy commissioner’s office.
- Therrien said it’s unrealistic for people to have to give consent for all uses of their data, and there should be greater flexibility for organizations to use personal information without consent “for responsible innovation and socially beneficial purposes.” He added that the office of the privacy commissioner should have independent oversight of such data collection to ensure transparency and accountability.
- He said: “However, this should be done within a legal framework that recognizes privacy as a human right, and as an essential element for the exercise of other fundamental rights. In this instance, while the government informed my office of its intention to use mobility data, it ultimately declined our offer to review how the data was de-identified and how privacy principles were implemented. The regulator should be able to insist on a proactive audit, where required, to ensure public trust.”
- The PHAC said it took safeguarding Canadians’ privacy very seriously and the analysis on Canadians’ movements it received “is not about following individuals’ trips to a specific location, but rather in understanding whether the number of visits to specific locations have increased or decreased over time.”
- A PHAC spokesperson said: “For example, point-of-interest data from BlueDot identifies the number of visits to grocery stores, parks, liquor stores and hospitals. All we receive is the location of the point of interest and the number of visits for a specific day.”
- The report provides information on how many people were moving between specific towns, as well as between different provinces and territories. It also shows movements across the Canada-U.S. border, comparing travel to previous weeks and years going back to 2019.
- The phone locations also allowed the agency to get a picture of gatherings occurring in people’s houses, over holidays, compared to regular days. The report included a graph recording hours spent away from home in each province between Christmas Day 2020 to the week of Sept. 19, 2021.
- In total, over 33 million mobile devices were tracked by data from cell phone towers as a way to assess “population mobility patterns” during pandemic lockdowns, and issued a tender in December to continue tracking location data until May 31, 2023.
- Experts like Ontario’s former privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian have questioned the government’s claims saying that there has yet to be enough assurances that the data could not be reidentified to track individual Canadians.
- Kamran Khan, founder and CEO of BlueDot, said the company’s role is to produce “infectious disease insights,” not to collect location data directly from mobile devices. He said BlueDot has no interest in the movements or lifestyles of individuals. Khan says his company procured anonymous and aggregated data from third-party vendors so there was no information about the specific device the data came from.
- Khan said: “Our only goal is to help protect lives and livelihoods from infectious diseases, which requires intelligence about overall trends in populations. None of the information ever includes demographic information or specific identifiers or anything like a name, telephone number, email or address. The data and analysis that we do provide are indicators: statistical summaries of anonymous device information, such as the total number of devices travelling between two cities.”
- In any case, the fact that this was going on without Canadians' knowledge, without oversight (until now) and without any way to opt out, should be worrying. At the end of the day, we have to ask the question: "Do we trust our federal government when they say that they are protecting our privacy and that our current laws are sufficient to ensure that this data is being used responsibly and only under strict circumstances?" And I think for most people, the answer is no. It's clear that this was something that should never have happened, and there should be consequences for the Liberal government for their major intrusion into our lives.
Quote of the Week
“[T]his should be done within a legal framework that recognizes privacy as a human right, and as an essential element for the exercise of other fundamental rights. [W]hile the government informed my office of its intention to use mobility data, it ultimately declined our offer to review how the data was de-identified and how privacy principles were implemented. The regulator should be able to insist on a proactive audit, where required, to ensure public trust.” - Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien on the federal government tracking Canadians through cell phone data
Word of the Week
Point of Interest - a specific location that someone may find useful or interesting
How to Find Us
Episode Title: Track and Release
Teaser: The Competition Bureau wants to block the Rogers-Shaw merger, the BC NDP creates a committee to study crime, and the Edmonton Blatchford community lags behind. Also, the PHAC has been tracking Canadians’ cell phones without consent.
Recorded Date: May 13, 2022
Release Date: May 15, 2022
Edit Notes: None
Podcast Summary Notes