Issues

September 2015

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Re: “Shifting Fortunes,” by Michael C. Webb

I am grateful to Michael Webb for giving consideration to one of today’s major political and social problems, for tax havens and other accommodating jurisdictions completely destabilize so-called democratic states and the world economy. In contrast to the standard technical approach favoured by Webb, in Canada: A New Tax Haven—How the Country That Shaped Caribbean Tax Havens Is Becoming One Itself and a previous book (Offshore: Tax Havens and the Rule of Global Crime), I focus on the broader phenomenon of offshore jurisdictions. These are defined as ultrapermissive registration sites that are indistinguishable from each other except in the way in which they attract foreign capital. My goal is to analyze the way in which each these jurisdictions, such as Canada, organizes its legal system—including, but not limited to, its tax system—to foster the development outside the law (in the most literal sense) of certain types of activity.

Practices characteristic of the Bahamas or London are not exactly reproduced in Canada, because our country has made itself into an offshore jurisdiction in specific areas. Nor is Canada a tax haven according to criteria set out by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Still, it is the OECD country that offers the lowest corporate tax rate. Interestingly, even the Toronto press described it as a tax haven in August 2014 when Burger King moved to Canada solely for tax purposes.

My book is specifically intended to show that OECD criteria are not satisfactory in explaining how Canada is developing strategies that make it comparable in many ways to the Caribbean offshore jurisdictions that it played a major role in developing. Canada attracts the great majority of the world’s mining companies under legal, financial and tax conditions that are truly embarrassing for our country. Bermuda hedge funds subcontract their accounting work out to Halifax; Canada actively lobbies for Caribbean tax havens at the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. This is something that the OECD’s very restricted studies cannot—in spite of their undeniable virtues—enable us to understand.

I wrote Canada: A New Tax Haven precisely because it was clear to me that in Canada institutions such as courts, government departments, law faculties and political science departments find it difficult to grasp the meaning and scope of the technical data that are abundantly present in the book, along with recent examples of double taxation avoidance treaties, transfer pricing, tax deferral, tax information exchange agreements and free zones. However, I deliberately avoided making a fetish of technical details, because the problem is wider than that. It is a political problem, and this is the aspect that now urgently requires our ­attention.

Alain Deneault
Montreal, Quebec


Re: “Scarlet Letter,” by Debra Komar

Debra Komar is right when she asserts that my book, Alice in Shandehland: Scandal and Scorn in the Edelson/Horwitz Murder Case, does not belong on a shelf with Helter Skelter or In Cold Blood. Despite the publisher branding it as “true crime,” the work is a social history that employs a 1931 murder case to explore issues of gender, ethnicity and class within a Jewish community. In Komar’s biting review of my book, however, we agree on little else.

Komar’s critique inspires some interesting questions about how scholars from divergent disciplines tackle similar topics using different approaches. But for Komar, a forensic scientist, different clearly means inferior: she derides the rich diversity of historical sources and research methods, and arrogantly suggests that “objective” disciplines have an exclusive claim to historical truth.

Unlike historians, who prize a variety of sources in their work, Komar is myopic in her assessment of historical records. She mistakenly venerates official government, medical and legal documents as unfailingly credible, and dismisses less formal sources such as oral history as “gossip” or “hearsay,” and interview subjects as “biased” (personal investment or involvement is usually a valued precondition of any interview). Komar uses my book to disparage the social sciences for “extrapolat[ing] larger conclusions from anecdotes and individual witness statements,” while lauding the “medico­legal disciplines” for “embrac[ing] physical evidence and replicable testing derived from large sample populations.” She cautions that social science scholars who tread on legal territory “must play by its rules,” although scientists who write history (like her) are given no such caveat. As well, Komar has no use for interpretation, speculation and generalizations, ignoring the fact that for the historian, they, like hard evidence, are grounded in exhaustive and meticulous research, and are supported by formal historical knowledge and training. Clearly, Komar indicts not only my book but also the way in which professional historians and other social scientists practise their craft.

Komar’s own books unearth Canadian murder cases and challenge their erroneous assumptions. But scientists and scholars do not have a monopoly on this undertaking. Moreover, official records and forensic science are not the only, or even most accurate, path to the truth in history; oddly, although Komar’s review of my book disputes this point, her own volumes affirm it. Alice in Shandehland reconstructs a murder case in order to deconstruct the society around it, a complex historical landscape that does not fit neatly under the scientist’s microscope.

Monda Halpern
London, Ontario


Re: “Seeds of Hate,” by Triadafilos Triadafilopoulos

I thank Triadafilos Triadafilopoulos for his close reading of From Tolerance to Tyranny: A Cautionary Tale from Fifteenth-Century Spain and his grasp of the thesis underlying the narrative: that to maintain pluralism we must look to the past in order to avoid repeating visible errors that have led to lethal consequences for minorities. However, his conclusion that I am drawing direct comparisons between medieval Spain and 21st-century society is mistaken. I state clearly that such obvious parallelism would be an impossible, ultimately useless, pursuit. What we can recognize, on the other hand, is the familiar resonance of historical transformation and the recurrence of certain reactions under stress. We can also identify patterns of exclusionary human behaviour that are with us still: patterns that we who live in pluralist societies would be wise to advert to.

Of course, we now have institutions such as impartial courts and more highly developed concepts of citizenship. We can also point to liberal successes such as the almost universal abolition of slavery and the evolution of rights. My argument is we have legalized such protective changes largely because of our human tendency to do the opposite: to exclude and vilify the Other, an observable process with destructive potential. To label this either “pessimistic” or “optimistic” is to miss the point. Democratic institutions do indeed safeguard our rights as citizens, but they also remain vulnerable to abuse, in even advanced democracies.

Erna Paris
Toronto, Ontario


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