I got woken up a little today, and I'd like to stay that way: Flawed methodology, poor representation, and the Canadian anti-terror bill.
OK, so listen. I’m the first to admit that I don’t pay nearly enough attention to Canadian politics. American ones are louder, flashier, and often cut across simpler ideological lines, making them both easier to understand and easier to make fun of.
But today I’ve started looking into Bill C-51 - this federal anti-terror bill our Conservative government is rushing through the bill-to-law process without time for adequate debate.
I’ve learned that many former government officials as well as the NDP (a party I tend, as a general rule, to trust more than the others) are pointing to sweeping language in this bill that could give our security agencies increased powers under decreased oversight, and could potentially label activities like peaceful environmental protests “terrorist activities”. I haven’t watched Rex Murphy’s commentary yet, but if even he is calling for radical opposition to this thing, that’s a reason to stand up and take notice.
There’s one thing, however, that started to bother me as I read more and more news reports. In a way it bothered me even more than the content of the bill itself. And that’s this poll, from the Angus Reid Institute, which is being cited all over the Canadian mainstream news as finding that 4 out of 5 Canadians support Bill C-51. And while I realize that I run in pretty liberal circles (women, nerds, librarians, Vancouverites - that’s a lot of overlapping socialist tendencies right there), this number struck me as WAY too high to represent the Canada I know and love. Where are the young people, the Indigenous people, the people who came here to escape real terror in other places in the world? Am I really supposed to believe that this national poll of “Canadians” represents us all?
So I did a little digging. Turns out, this “random sample” was a random sample from WITHIN a group called the “Angus Reid Forum Panellists”. These are people who go to the Angus Reid website and SIGN UP (a more methodological term might be SELF SELECT) to participate in regular polling, often of a commercial nature. So these are people with the means and the education to use digital polling tools; the leisure time to devote to such a task; and very likely the political desire to support the decision making processes of the governments and corporations with the means to pay for and/or be the subject of Angus Reid polling.
That’s a pretty damn narrow slice of the mainstream middle of this country. And the narrowness of that slice hasn’t stopped news agencies, chief among them the Globe and Mail, from touting this poll as a representation of “public opinion” - a phrase non-pollsters generally take at face value. In fact, the Globe initially reported the poll as representing a true cross section of Canadians, complete with a small margin of error. They have since issued a correction (in small italic print at the bottom of the original article).
Increasingly, despite the fact that I myself am a white, middle class, educated citizen of this country with the leisure time to read and write about this sort of thing, I am starting to feel less and less represented by the institutions around me. So I can only imagine how the truly marginalized people in this country feel about issues like this. I want to keep asking these kinds of questions, and get more involved in finding answers and methods of governance and ways to live together that work for all of us - not just for the folks already in power trying to hold onto that power.
Part of why I love being a librarian is because it makes me part of a network of institutions that really do try (we never fully succeed, but we KEEP TRYING) to welcome, support, and represent everyone. To the point where many of us have started stepping outside of our buildings and into our communities, to keep TRYING to provide what help, service, and inspiration we can even to people who can’t or won’t come to us. I feel like that should be the way government operates too - but obviously, in this country, that’s less and less the case all the time.
So I guess all of this is just to say that I’ve been feeling a little lazy lately about the immediate issues around me - it’s been easier to watch other people’s problems from afar. But this issue has woken me up a bit, and made me more motivated to keep reading and questioning and getting involved.
Here are some of the things I read today, if you’re interested in reading them.
And if you’re interested in talking more about this, or if you’re already doing things around these issues and you need support, please reblog and let me know!
NOTE: as always with everything on this blog, my opinions are my own and do not reflect those of my employers.