Sunday, September 21, 2008

CAGE stands fast

To stand fast means to hold one's ground; to refuse to abandon one's opinions or beliefs. Canadians Against Government Encroachment (CAGE) is doing just that; they’re digging in despite recent attacks on their integrity and credibility.

CAGE is the creation of David Romano, a political scientist, and Daniel Romano, brothers who were concerned about the degree to which government was interfering in the daily lives of the public. In short, they oppose the nanny state that wants to tell you how to act, what to eat, whether you should drink or smoke and how you should behave. It was incorporated as a non-profit organization in January 2005.

One of the first initiatives in which CAGE would become involved was the smoking debate and the ominous “de-normalization” campaign of the anti-smoker brigade.

Government, insistent on treating grown men and women like stubborn children, are intent on depriving smokers of their right to use a perfectly legal product. They persist in their efforts to strip private businesses (bars, restaurants, pool halls, etc.) of the right to operate in their own best interests by refusing to allow them to serve a smoking clientele. And, they do it in the name of the public good.

But, although the government stands ready to pass draconian smoking bans and establish usurious levels of taxation, they like to keep their distance when it comes to the ugly side of the war on smokers. Perhaps they want to maintain a state of plausible deniability when it comes to the blatant discrimination of smokers as it pertains to housing, employment and even medical care, not to mention the suspect science and statistics which support the anti-smoker cause.

The government doesn’t want to know about the stigmatization of smokers, the socio-economic consequences of smoking bans or the lies being told to support them.

So, to do the dirty work that every war effort requires, they fund a host of non-governmental sub-contractors. One such organization is the Non-Smokers’ Rights Association (NSRA). This outfit has received literally millions of dollars of taxpayer money over the past 15 years or more to reduce smoker prevalence and save smokers from themselves.

And, if they have to denigrate and demean smokers to accomplish their task, so be it.

The NSRA is not the only group, to be sure; there are others. Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada, for example, and ASH (Alberta), which claims over 300 members in that province, are also funded heavily by taxpayer dollars. Dollars collected through sin taxes extorted from smokers by money hungry governments at both the federal and provincial level.

But, the NSRA is the most hard-nosed of the bunch. For them, enough is never enough. Their goal is nothing short of the total eradication of smokers.

In a document dated March 2008 and made available recently through their web site, NSRA identifies CAGE as a front group for the tobacco industry. The NSRA uses the following definition: "A front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned."

In other words, they’re claiming that CAGE is not engaged in civil liberties issues, but rather acting as paid lackeys of the tobacco industry. But, in the same article, they admit that the activities of CAGE are carried out “with financing provided by the Romano brothers.”

They take particular umbrage with CAGE for their support of a group of bar owners fighting Quebec’s Tobacco Act in court.

Labeling CAGE as a front group appears to be a deliberate attempt to undermine both their credibility and integrity. The slur was deliberate and completely lacking in evidence. They have demanded, and deserve, an apology from the Non-Smokers Rights Association. None is likely to be forthcoming.

The NSRA is in no jeopardy of losing federal government funding of over $400,000 a year. And, as long as that money keeps rolling in, they can ignore the libel and defamation, secure in the knowledge that CAGE hasn’t the funds to fight another legal battle.

Another legal battle? Uh-huh.

A week or two back CAGE exposed the identity of one “Cathy Bell” and announced that CAGE is initiating a defamation lawsuit based on claims she made about the organization. Cathy Bell has been making a nuisance of herself on the internet for several years with her fanatical anti-smoker point of view.

According to the CAGE article, “Cathy Bell methodically researched Dr. David Romano’s academic and professional history, noting every place he had studied and worked, and proceeded to, over a period of two years, send bombardments of thousands of e-mails to his past and present work colleagues (he works in a field unrelated to the tobacco issue) and to anyone else whom “she” thought may have some connection or interaction with Dr. Romano.

The article goes on to note that “these e-mails contained libels, innuendos and accusations regarding David Romano’s motives and character.” They warned his employers that he might be “prone to violence and may pose a threat to his colleagues”, claiming she herself was in physical danger from his “fanatical” cult of followers at CAGE.

Cathy Bell used a number of aliases in her frequent letters to the editor and on-line forums, disparaging smokers and disseminating her own particular brand of hatred, and apparently used a number of web sites under fictitious names to spread her repugnant philosophy.

Cathy Bell, it turns out, is a man named Jones from Montreal.

There is nothing to suggest that the unsubstantiated claims by the NSRA were made to retaliate against CAGE for their efforts to prosecute “Cathy Bell” Jones. I believe I may have read that particular piece a month or so back. I ignored it. I’ve conditioned myself against their propaganda.

But, it is extremely disquieting that so many people have trouble believing that individuals would oppose government intrusion into their personal, private lives, without justification, simply because it’s wrong. It is equally disturbing that organizations like CAGE cannot demonstrate their support for those they feel may be oppressed or could be denied the right to express their opinions simply because they may be contrary to those held by the majority.

Neither the NSRA nor Jones should get a free ride on this one. Smear tactics and propaganda should not be permitted to replace reasoned debate on such an important issue. This is still a free society, where men and women may hold their own opinions and express them openly, without fear of censure, unwarranted criticism or self-righteous condemnation.

We are still free . . . aren’t we?

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