Tanzania drops prison threat over publishing independent statistics
A major turning point in freedom of speech and freedom of information came last week following another amendment to the Tanzanian Statistics Act, which now no longer criminalizes the publishing of independent statistical information.
The Statistics Act was passed in 2015 and criminalized the publication of “false official statics” or disseminating data that resulted in a “distortion of facts”, Oryem Nyeko, a Human Rights Watch researcher, reports.
“In 2017, police arrested opposition politician Zitto Kabwe for violating the law for remarks he made about Tanzania’s economic growth,” Nyeko writes. Though, Nyeko added that “He was never charged and eventually released”.
Following this, another amendment to Tanzania’s Statistics Act came last year (2018) through the Written Laws Act, which prevented any distortion or discrediting of the data collected and provided by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). According to The Citizen, the amendment also blocked individuals and institutions from conducting their own survey polls, as well as other forms of research and disseminating the information collected to the public without approval of the NBS.
The penalty for violation of the amended law was a “$6,000 fine or a three-year prison sentence”, the Citizen reports. This effectively gave the state a monopoly on statistical data, as well as free reign to potentially manipulate figures without any means of recourse for private citizens and institutions or otherwise non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to disprove the state’s figures should this happen.
For this reason, the decision sparked harsh criticism and condemnation from stakeholders, the public, and even the World Bank, who withheld a $50 million grant for government statistics research over concerns of freedom of speech.
On October 2nd, 2018, the World Bank released this statement on the matter:
The World Bank is deeply concerned about the recent amendments to Tanzania’s 2015 Statistics Act, which are out of line with international standards such as the UN Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics and the African Charter on Statistics. We have shared our concerns with the Tanzanian authorities that the amendments, if implemented, could have serious impacts on the generation and use of official and non-official statistics, which are a vital foundation for the country’s development.
“The pressure seems to have worked,” Nyeko writes. However, he goes on to say that he is still concerned about eight bills that were proposed this year which would have run contrary to this most recent decision, reinforcing, rather than diminishing, the anti-freedom aspects of the law.
Every person now has the right to collect and publish statistics and criminal liability has been removed from the law – all of this in a country with a reputation for suppressing the press.
Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party (UCP) have denied accusations of electoral interference after moving to fire Alberta’s election commissioner, according to the CBC.
This comes in the middle of an investigation into the UCP’s “kamikaze” electoral tactics in their party’s leadership election.
The UCP has planned to combine both the election commissioner’s office with the province’s chief electoral officer. This comes after the election commissioner levied $200,000 in fines towards the party.
Responding to this, the Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley said the UCP’s plan “reeks of corruption. It reeks of the sort of entitlement and self-dealing the conservatives became known for … It’s an abuse of power.”
The NDP’s strong reaction may be a result of them creating the election commissioner’s office in the first place. Many of the NDP’s complaints may be regarded as partisan rather than a serious electoral concern.
The UCP, however, have brushed off these accusations. One UCP spokesperson, for instance, stated that the move to unify the two offices only had to do with increasing government efficiency.
Premier Jason Kenney is yet to comment on the bill’s controversy.
Chrystia Freeland will no longer serve as foreign affairs minister, as the job will instead go to Saint-Maurice—Champlain MP Francois-Philippe Champagne.
Champagne served as minister of infrastructure and communities in the Trudeau government’s last parliament, and will be replacing cabinet faithful Chrystia Freeland. Champagne, who also worked as a trade lawyer, has served as minister of international trade in the past.
It is not yet known what position Freeland will be moved to, though it has been rumoured by sources that she will serve as deputy prime minister.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will make a formal announcement on Wednesday afternoon to unveil his new cabinet at Rideau Hall in Ottawa.
Additionally, North Vancouver MP Jonathan Wilkinson will serve as the new environment minister, according to Radio-Canada. Pablo Rodriguez will be government house leader, and Steven Guilbeault will serve as the new heritage minister, according to CBC-Radio Canada‘s sources.
Montreal native Erick Marciano was honored by the city in Montreal after using his SUV to shield pedestrians from a speeding car. Marciano acted with bravery in a split-second decision to use his SUV to shield pedestrians from a car fleeing from police that was heading directly towards a busy intersection.
Marciano, a 48-year-old father-of-three told CTV News that “I figured I had to act,” after he saw the vehicle speeding towards the defenseless pedestrians. His mind immediately went to the terrible stories in Europe of drivers running over pedestrians and he rushed to act to prevent the same thing from happening in Montreal.
Marciano proceeded to honk his horn and put his SUV in front of the speeding driver before managing to get out of his car moments before the collision. The 19-year-old suspect who Marciano managed to stop was arrested and is now facing charges for his role in the incident.
Marciano, a general contractor has been incredibly humble about the incident, telling CTV It was just a natural thing to do, and if I had to do it again, I would do it again.” His wife Michelle commented on his modesty and selflessness at the ceremony honouring her husbands deed “He’s always thinking about others and always puts himself before others, so it’s just something he does.”
Marciano was given a certificate of honor by mayor Valérie Plante, telling journalists, “To commit such a bold act, at the risk of his personal safety, to protect the life of pedestrians is among the most admirable acts of bravery.” He was also given the honour to sign his name in Montreal’s Golden Book, which he said was last signed by climate activist Greta Thunberg.
When Michelle was asked if she would lend her SUV to her husband she told CTV while laughing: “Never, ever.”
A survey, titled “Sous ta façade” taken by almost 24,000 Quebec university students from 16 universities found a frightening figure, one in five Quebec university students have symptoms of depression that require urgent professional help.
The survey also found that close to 60 percent of university students have a heightened level of psychological distress when compared to the rest of the province. The survey also found that students are three times as likely to have suicidal thoughts compared to the general population and twice as likely to have attempted suicide. The survey also revealed that certain groups are more at risk to face mental health problems, namely those with disabilities, first-generation university students and those in the LGBTQ community.
The survey was conducted by Leger on behalf of the Union étudiante de Québec (UEQ). The president of the UEQ, Philip Lebel, called the results very worrying saying “I find that catastrophic. There is something to be done, not just in terms of treatment, but also in prevention ” (Translation provided by Google) as reported by Le Journal de Québec.
The president of the UEQ went on to call for the implementation of strategies to reduce loneliness, improve peer support structure and reduce inter-peer competition. Mr. Lebel also said that measures should be taken to help students in precarious financial situations and to encourage healthy lifestyles on campus. He also urged Jean-Francois Roberge, Quebec’s Minister of Education to implement educational policies that will improve Quebec students ailing mental health.