Vote: you can’t spoil your ballot anyhow

Image: 2008 ballot Canada, By D'Arcy Norman from Calgary, Canada (democracy) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

2008 ballot Canada, By D’Arcy Norman from Calgary, Canada (democracy) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Earlier today, a friend posted on Facebook a message I’ve seen and heard a lot lately — to be honest, I’ve said it myself: Please vote, but if you don’t like anybody enough to vote, at least go spoil your ballot. I’ve repeated for years what I learned in school, and what my kids are learning now — they count spoiled ballots.

Well, it turns out they don’t. Not in federal elections, at least. ‎

This is an issue that needs to be addressed along with the rest of the democratic deficit in Canada. There is no formal way to make a statement by ruining a ballot in a federal election in Canada. They’re not counted as protest votes. Instead, “spoiled” ballots are considered to be mistakes — like if you make a mistake, they can mark it as “spoiled” and give you a replacement ballot to try again. Or if the ballot you receive is misprinted or blank, you can return it for a good ballot, and the bad one is marked as “spoiled”.

Ballots with deliberate protest messages are grouped with other ballots that do not count for any candidate. They are considered “rejected” ballots, which are counted along with mistakes and other invalid votes. Yes, they are counted, but with two caveats:

First, it is impossible to know how many of them were protests, since they are grouped with other bad ballots that were not protest votes.

Second, the number of rejected ballots is rarely reported, probably because it is not considered to be particularly meaningful. For example, the official “complete” results of the 2011 federal election do not list rejected ballots for any riding.

In contrast, some provinces allow people to “decline” to vote, which is counted as a separate category and is generally used as a protest. Looking at the 2014 Ontario election results (PDF file ahead), there were 29,937 declined ballots, less than half the total number of rejected (22,885) and unmarked (12,124) ballots.

Unfortunately, the Canada Elections Act does not recognize that same categories.

So no, despite what you’ve heard, you cannot make a statement by spoiling or even declining your ballot in a federal election. And staying away from the polls isn’t any better — that’s not counted either and it’s indistinguishable from apathy.

Long story short — just vote. Pick the best option you have, and vote. That’s the only way to be counted.

CASL reduced spam and marketing emails in Canada, according to Cloudmark

Cloudmark’s 2015 Q1 Global Threat report states:

Last year Canada implemented one of the strongest anti-spam laws in the world, CASL. We took a close look at the impact, and the results surprised us. We saw a 37% reduction in spam originating from Canada, but it wasn’t just spam that went down. Over all, Canadians received 29% less email after CASL was implemented. We believe this is because there was a lot of marketing email which was not technically spam but did not meet the string requirements for affirmative consent required by CASL. The Canadian law is proving effective in reducing inbox clutter and could act as a model for stronger anti-spam laws in the US, UK and other countries.

via Cloudmark’s 2015 Q1 Global Threat Report | Cloudmark Security Blog.

You’re welcome. #micdrop

Moving on

When I joined Industry Canada in 2009, Canada’s Anti-spam Legislation was just Bill C-27, working its way through Parliament the first time, before being stopped by prorogation.

I have been very lucky to work with a great team at Industry Canada, and I’m proud of the work we did on CASL, as well as other files I contributed to.

But after five years in federal government, I am preparing for a move. After all, now that CASL is in force, it’s a natural time to go.

So I am very excited to be joining TekSavvy next week. I will be the lawyer responsible for regulated agreements and carrier relations. It’s a big change from what I’ve been doing here at Industry Canada, but I’m looking forward to the change: to learning and growing into my new role.

Police can search your cell phone when they arrest you

The Supreme Court just released their decision in R. v. Fearon, about whether police can search a person’s cell phone when they arrest the person. The Court found (in a 4-3 decision) that, in general, police can do such a search, as long as they follow certain conditions:

Four conditions must be met in order for the search of a cell phone or similar device incidental to arrest to comply with section 8 of the Charter:

  • First, the arrest must be lawful.
  • Second, the search must be truly incidental to the arrest. This requirement should be strictly applied to permit searches that must be done promptly upon arrest in order to effectively serve the law enforcement purposes.  In this context, those purposes are protecting the police, the accused or the public; preserving evidence; and, if the investigation will be stymied or significantly hampered absent the ability to promptly conduct the search, discovering evidence.
  • Third, the nature and the extent of the search must be tailored to its purpose.  In practice, this will mean that only recently sent or drafted emails, texts, photos and the call log will, generally, be available, although other searches may, in some circumstances, be justified.
  • Finally, the police must take detailed notes of what they have examined on the device and how they examined it.  The notes should generally include the applications searched, the extent of the search, the time of the search, its purpose and its duration.  The record‑keeping requirement is important to the effectiveness of after‑the‑fact judicial review.  It will also help police officers to focus on whether what they are doing in relation to the phone falls squarely within the parameters of a lawful search incident to arrest.

Beyond that, in this particular case, it seems to get a little complicated. They find that the police did not meet all of these conditions – there was no evidence about precisely what was searched and why — so there was a breach of the defendant’s s. 8 rights. However, as a remedy of that breach, the Court found that the reasons to include the evidence (despite the breach) outweighed the reasons to exclude it. An example of the Court’s reasoning on this point (emphasis added):

[94] Of course, the police cannot choose the least onerous path whenever there is a gray area in the law. In general, faced with real uncertainty, the police should err on the side of caution by choosing a course of action that is more respectful of the accused’s potential privacy rights.  But here, if the police faced a gray area, it was a very light shade of gray, and they had good reason to believe, as they did, that what they were doing was perfectly legal.

The decision was 4-3. The dissenting justices basically made a privacy argument:

 [T]he weighty privacy interest that an arrested person has in a personal digital device will outweigh the state interest in performing a warrantless search incident to arrest, except in exigent circumstances…. Here, the searches of F’s phone were not justified and unreasonably infringed his privacy, in violation of s. 8  of the Charter . The facts of this case fall far below either standard for exigency…. The evidence which was unconstitutionally obtained should be excluded.

Robertson screw patent bound with Robertson screws

When Canadian inventor Peter Robertson filed his 1909 Canadian patent for the now ubiquitous Robertson screw (patent 116463), he bound the patent application using his new screws. You can see them in the scans in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s database:

Canadian Patent Document 116463. Claims page. Image 1 of 1

That’s dedication to a new invention.

Robertson was also granted a patent by the US patent office, but their scans are cleaner and don’t show the binding.

Deep Sea Fauna… with Googly Eyes

Deep Sea Fauna… with Googly Eyes

It seems silly, but… well, it is. A tumblr of photos of deep sea creatures improved with googly eyes? Yes please.

When bisons are bullies – Boing Boing

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo’ is a grammatically correct sentence in American English

via When bisons are bullies – Boing Boing.


In 2013, Mayor Bloomberg asked designers to reimagine the city’s decrepit pay phones as internet-flinging, ad-spitting future machines. The winners were simply design concepts, never truly destined for reality. Now, the city is moving forward with the plan to retrofit its pay phones, after all.

NYC Will Turn 7,000 Old Payphones Into a Huge, Free Wi-Fi Network

In 2013, Mayor …

On managing emotions vis a vis Canada’s Anti-spam Legislation

“Take a few minutes to bang your desk, raise your fists in the air, shout out some curse words, and any other action that you should probably do with your office door closed,” the guide states. “You don’t want to be harboring this rage going forward since you want to be focused on what you have to do, not being mad that you have to do it.”

via New anti-spam law ‘a big deal’ for small businesses – The Globe and Mail.


First teach kids to be creative

Some rights reserved by BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives, licensed under the Creative Commons by-nc-nd 2.0 licence.

The US copyright industry is apparently drafting elementary school curriculum to teach kids that copying is wrong. But, as Jane Park points out,

This message is way too simple. In this digital age, the most important thing we should be teaching kids is to be creative and take full advantage of all the web has to offer. Copyright, asking permission, open licensing, and all the other legal nuances, should be seen as secondary (and even complementary) to this purpose. We should be starting with the things kids can do versus what they can’t do.

via Open curriculum alternatives to MPAA’s new anti-piracy campaign for kids – Creative Commons.


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