Thursday, October 30, 2008

Canada's asbestos shame continues

Once again, a dangerous and toxic substance--chrysotile asbestos--has failed to make the Rotterdam Convention watchlist. As reported yesterday, Canada found some proxies (its biggest asbestos customers) to do its dirty work for us, to use the words of critic Pat Martin.

The next opportunity will be three years hence--after who knows how many more painful deaths from lung cancer and mesothelioma. Only the National Post, for whom profit is everything, could support such an atrocity--as it did, shamefully, last week. It couldn't even get its basic facts right:

If the men in hard hats who are hauling tons of the stuff out of the earth aren't at risk, it seems rather backward for us to concern ourselves first with the much smaller risks that end users in other countries ultimately face.

Quebec, in fact, has one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world. The National Post's position, in any case, was demolished by three experts yesterday.

In my earlier article on the subject, I had inaccurately indicated that the Canadian Labour Congress, while passing an anti-asbestos resolution in May of this year, was delaying implementing it until a 16-page report from Health Canada, which the government has been reviewing since March (!), had been released.

In fact, that was plain wrong: the Quebec Federation of Labour had indeed asked for such a delay in February, but this was overridden by the CLC in its May resolution, which called for an outright asbestos ban, with transition measures for Quebec workers. Its position on the mining and sale of asbestos was duly conveyed to the Canadian government in advance of the Rotterdam Convention meeting in Rome.

The head of the pro-asbestos Chrysotile Institute, Clément Godbout, will be commenting at the end of the week. Godbout is a former president of the QFL (1993-1998). No doubt, with Stephen Harper and the National Post, he is pleased with the outcome. Less pleased, I suspect, will be the countless brown people in the Third World who will die in agony because of Canada's seeming inability to do the right thing.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Globe and Mail cover-up?

As we know, the names of the four RCMP officers who killed Robert Dziekanski, and who remained on active duty afterwards, have never been made public. They were captured on film, exposing an RCMP spokesperson's lies about what had happened.

The officers Tasered an unarmed man who was backing away from them, then piled on top of him, then just stood around after the man's heart stopped. No medical help arrived for twelve minutes. When it finally did, the officers refused to take their handcuffs off the dead man.

No charges have yet been laid. The RCMP, as it turns out, has been delaying the official Braidwood inquiry into Dziekanski's killing. Condolences from officialdom to Dziekanski's mother proved to be crocodile tears. She is presently beside herself.

The Vancouver Sun's Ian Mulgrew pulls no punches:

[T]he material received from RCMP investigators was deemed incomplete, with a required report on the use of deadly force missing.

The inquiry now has been put off until Jan. 19.

"To fulfil its mandate in the most ideal way, the commission needs the cooperation of the RCMP, including access to the Dziekanski case files," explained Art Vertlieb, commission counsel. "But that's unlikely to happen until a decision is made on charges."

This is another arrogant response from the RCMP, which has behaved badly throughout this tragedy.

The force initially misled the public about what happened, tried to suppress a videotape of the incident shot by a witness and now RCMP investigators have taken more than a year to provide Crown with the material needed to decide whether any or all of the four officers involved should be charged with Dziekanski's death.

As noted, the public still does not know the identity of the officers involved. But it now appears that the Globe and Mail has been holding back on us. One of the men has now been charged with impaired driving after a motorcyclist was killed in a fatal collision this past weekend. The Globe reporter, Ian Bailey, is clear: the person charged was one of the four officers involved in the Dziekanski death. Comments on the on-line article were disabled from the get-go.

If Bailey knew this, that strongly suggests that the identities of all four must be known. In their wisdom, have Globe editors been withholding this information from the public? Whatever became of the public's right to know?

If anyone has the names, drop me a line.

UPDATE: (October 29)

The officer has finally been named (h/t commenter Dr. Frink). He is Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson. Chris Selley at Megapundit puts this matter very well:

Kudos to the Vancouver Sun for finally naming the RCMP officer who was involved in both the ill-fated takedown of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver Airport and, allegedly, the death of a 21-year-old motorcyclist in Delta on Saturday night. He is, by the Sun’s reckoning, Cpl. Benjamin Monty Robinson. I take no pleasure in repeating his name here. He might be innocent of all wrongdoing, and he’s entitled to all the due process he can eat. But he is not entitled to a red serge cloak of anonymity that the rest of us aren’t when we make a mess and the relevant authorities investigate us. That’s just one of many rules the RCMP made up for themselves.

And which too many of our media seem quite willing to follow.

UPPERDATE: (October 30)

Cpl. Robinson, as it turns out, was the supervisor of the other Mounties during the Dziekanski killing. According to a police psychologist, Mike Webster, Robinson is a victim too:
"Not only is he worrying about the Dziekanski incident. Now he is worried about the outcome of this incident. It is the last thing he needed to have happen."

The man sounds like a real prize. After striking the motorcyclist, according to a witness, he did not bother to go check on the man he had hit. Instead he handed his licence to a bystander and walked off--with his two kids who had been in his car.

It would appear that an alibi is already being prepared for him. Here is his collegial fellow officer Paul Eisenzimmer:

Delta Const. Paul Eisenzimmer said that, in general, anyone who leaves the scene could be charged under the Criminal Code.

"Leaving the scene means avoiding responsibility," Eisenzimmer said. "If someone left their identification there it is hard to say the person is avoiding responsibility.

"But if someone leaves their identification and then leaves the scene the issue is why leave and what have they done in the interim -- have they gone and drank some more?"

I am not alone, I suspect, in reading between the lines here.

[H/t Abbink]

(November 1) More drunken Mounties.

Another reason I hope Obama wins

To prevent knuckleheads like this from being sent up here as ambassadors.

Obama is imperiling the future economic integration of the continent, says Paul Cellucci. Adding environmental and labour standards to NAFTA is "not in [the] Canadian interest."

Thanks, Paul, but until we're under American occupation, we Canadians will decide what's in our interests. Yankee, go home.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Vancouver South: the recount that wasn't

I must admit that I sleepwalked through the reports of the recount in Vancouver South, which confirmed Liberal Ujjal Dosanjh's narrow win against Conservative candidate Wai Young, although reducing Dosanjh's plurality from 33 votes to a mere 22. But there's something just not right here.

The judge who conducted the recount on behalf of Elections Canada didn't recount all, or even most of the ballots.

Now, the Usual Suspects are piling onto Elections Canada for this--it's bias, they suggest, on the part of that arms-length agency. But I suggest they've drawn a bead on the wrong target.

The Canada Elections Act confers certain powers of discretion on judges taking part in recounts:

304. (1) The judge shall conduct the recount by adding the number of votes reported in the statements of the vote or by counting the valid ballots or all of the ballots returned by the deputy returning officers or the Chief Electoral Officer.

A judicial recount, in other words, can simply consist of a re-tallying of vote reports by Deputy Returning Officers, or it can be a recount of valid ballots, or of all ballots (rejected, spoiled, etc.). However, the law doesn't appear to allow for the mere sampling of ballots, contrary to what the Canadian Press has stated. Elections Canada's Handbook on judicial recounts reinforces this point: the judge must choose between options (see p.11), but counting some valid ballots and not others is not among those options.

A judge shall conduct the recount by any of the following procedures:
• by adding the number of votes reported in the statements of the vote;
• by counting the valid ballots; or
• by counting all of the ballots returned by the deputy returning officers or by the Chief Electoral Officer, including the envelopes set aside unopened under the Special Voting Rules. [304(1)]

In this case, even though Dosanjh's win had narrowed by 33% in the ballot-sampling process, the judge elected to pursue the matter no further. This, at least to this layperson, is somewhat suspicious. In my reading, Justice Patrick Dohm failed to conduct a recount within the meaning of the law, and I hope that his "recount" is appealed.

UPDATE: Kady O'Malley has a discussion going over at Maclean's. I think she jumped too soon, but check it out for yourselves.


Indian mass graves, revisited

A certain pint-size hater owes me an apology--but I'm not holding my breath.

From today's Globe and Mail:

The federal government is mapping burial sites at former residential schools as researchers try to identify how many of the estimated thousands of native children who went missing from the schools are buried in unmarked or anonymous graves.

The Globe quotes a recent research report:

"On July 21, 1992, workers with N.I.S. Construction Ltd. uncovered three unmarked graves," the Indian Affairs document states. "On July 22, an additional 15 graves were encountered. They were located in a row paralleling the new gravity sewer main north of residence 0210-01. The contractor indicated there was evidence of another row of graves north of the first row encountered ... All remains unearthed were placed in plastic bags and stored in a locked building."

From the Globe story:

At another school, the St. John's Indian Residential School in Alberta (also known as Wabasca Residential School), the researchers found a document from 1961 describing how the principal came across an unmarked cemetery. A second letter indicates the unidentified principal ultimately cleaned up the site and erected 110 white crosses.

It's a pretty safe bet that this is only the tip of the iceberg. It will be interesting to watch the contortions of the denialists now.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Cajuns for Obama

A shameless riposte to this. Three sad, bitter guys clinging no doubt to guns and religion, versus a joyful crowd dancing and singing in unassimilated Louisiana French. Man, that gumbo looks good!

this one's for the wingnut paranoids:

Enjoy! You've got 10 days. :)

Family medicine training is not a cure-all.

Now that the election campaign is finally over, I have been inspired by this blog to vent about a most ridiculous and preposterous element in the NDP platform regarding improvements to the health care system.

Train substantially more health care professionals – including more doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and midwives – to ease staffing shortages and cut wait times. We will work with the provinces and territories to make it happen:

• We will implement a program designed to increase the number of doctors and nurses trained in Canada by 50%. As part of that program, we will offer to forgive the student loans of health professionals who commit to dedicate the first ten years of their careers to family medicine.

Everything described in that goal, up to the last sentence, seems sensible and doable. But the last point can't be implemented without a significant transformation of the way physicians are currently trained.
In their fourth year as medical students complete their studies, they must choose a specialty and apply to become a resident. This is a de facto requirement for physicians to practice in Canada after they graduate from any Faculty of Medicine.
Family medicine is a specialty and requires a minimum of 2 years in residence. Thus a physician who chooses to become a family doctor will be approaching 40 years of age after completing a commitment to this specialty. The challenge at this moment is that the training program is not currently designed to accommodate physicians who drop one specialty and then apply to become a resident in another. In effect, physicians who commit to family medicine are likely to be stuck in that specialty for the rest of their professional career.
That in itself should not be a deterrent except for the reality that doctors dedicated to this specialty earn 1/2 to 2/3 less than their colleagues who have completed 2-4 years more in residence, in a different specialty. Yet they often work harder, with a greater likelihood of burning out and that is a tremendous loss, given that they provide primary health care.
Here are a few ideas. Provide incentives to nurse practitioners and family doctors to set up offices together. Change the billing system so they are paid a basic salary, based on a minimum and maximum of patients' visits. Change the restrictive family doctor specialty to something more interdisciplinary. In Québec, there is a field of general medicine whose physicians are called 'une omnipraticienne' or 'un omnipraticien'. Encourage Faculties of Medicine to develop residencies and continuing education programs that allow physicians to study and master an additional specialty. Thus, if doctors leave family medicine after a ten year commitment, they will be able to complete the educational and practical requirements of another specialty field of medical science.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Professors with opinions

Peter Jaworski over at the Shotgun blog draws my attention to this.

By coincidence, earlier this week I was exposing my introductory anthropology section to the notions of prestige and status, or what Pierre Bourdieu calls "cultural capital." One's standing in the community, all by itself, can be a means to gain power, wealth, and sway. One's words gain a certain authority, just because of who he or she is. So former hockey players become "recognized" as experts on the Middle East, former disc jockeys on demographics, and rock stars on world hunger.

Again by coincidence, the Ottawa
Citizen's Dan Gardner held forth just today on what he calls "celebrity intellectuals." His target in this case was Margaret Atwood. He's a little unfair to her, in my opinion, but he's nailed the notion of cultural capital.

And now we have Steven Pinker, Harvard psychologist and linguist, author of The Blank Slate--and instant expert on the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Here's what he had to say to Jaworksi, in an email exchange:

I was aware of the Steyn/Maclean's case.

It’s truly shocking that a supposedly democratic government has arrogated to itself the power to censor speech because some judge or bureaucrat thinks it may “expose a person to contempt.” This could outlaw any criticism of a practice that is statistically more common in some groups than others, such as slavery, polygamy, child abuse, ritual torture, gay-bashing, and so on.

It allows haters to decide who gets to say what -- all they have to do is say, "So-and-so’s essay made me show contempt," and So-and-so gets fined or jailed. And it opens the door to the government banning speech that upsets anyone, anywhere -- as all-important speech is bound to do.

This is an atrocity against the ideal of free speech, and will make Canada a laughing stock among lovers of democracy and enlightenment.

Now, we've seen this kind of pot-pourri of ignorance and indignation appear on countless blogs, but the authors will never be taken seriously except by others like themselves. Somehow, though, we are expected to sit up and take notice (and certainly some will) when a man who made his name in the field of linguistics and neo-evolutionary theory holds forth on any subject at all--even ones of which he knows next to nothing.

To begin with, Section 13 (1), the subject of his ire, states:

13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Note that it does not say that practices per se (ritual murder, slavery, etc.) are protected. Pinker made that up, or is being highly disingenuous, or doesn't know any better. Those and other practices are routinely criticized, even reviled, in Canada--as they should be. What is illegal is to expose a person or persons to contempt based upon their membership in a group that is protected from discrimination under the law. And, as we have seen with the recent dismissal of complaints against Maclean's magazine and Ezra Levant, the bar remains high.

Nor can "haters" use the "devil made me do it defence" to get a writer into trouble with the law. That ploy has been tried by sexual criminals ("porn made me commit the crime"), but there are no registered acquittals anywhere in North America on such grounds, nor have the writers of porn been held vicariously liable for the deviant acts of consumers.

And the florid rhetoric of Pinker's last paragraph will be familar to anyone who has read the logorrheic rants of Ezra Levant.

The acquisition of cultural capital is a fact of life. But just as we need to be critical of the misuse of economic capital, so too should we be sceptical of the misuse of prestige and status. Pinker's awareness of the law appears to be minimal, and his arguments against it are amateurish. Knowledge of linguistics clearly doesn't automatically translate into expertise in philately, baseball, paleontology--or public policy. Why should we pay any more attention to Steven Pinker than to a common-or-garden blogger?

UPDATE: (October 25) The benighted "Intelligent Design" theorist Denyse O'Leary weighs in. I imagine that Professor Pinker, were he aware of this, would be heartily embarrassed. Or perhaps not, since her grasp of the Canadian Human Rights Act and the workings of the CHRC and CHRT appears to be just as feeble as his own.

When bottom-feeders attack

I normally ignore the likes of Dick Evans--a fellow who, for a while, took it upon himself to direct traffic to a boy-rape site. But when he squirms over to a combox here or there to take me on, well...

This core of dialogue at the Western Standard Shotgun blog will give you the measure of his intelligence and reading ability.

Evans: - Steyn gets nailed. Lefties dance in the streets. Once again the righties warn the lefties about their caviler [sic] attitude because the same thing can happen to them. Once again the lefties ignore the warning.

- Steyn gets declared innocent. Lefties piss and moan that he should have been crucified and that Canada's hate speech laws aren't strong enough.

DD: "Lefties piss and moan that [Steyn} should have been crucified and that Canada's hate speech laws aren't strong enough."

Name one, liar.

Evans: Dawggie sez: "Name one, liar."

Ok. Here's one:

DD: Dick can't read.

Here is the very first thing Stageleft says:

"The Bunker congratulates Mr. Steyn, and are very pleased with the decision of the BC Human Rights Tribunal. There are several reasons, but here are three.

"1) It’s the right decision. Steyn is one of the more articulate folks making money by mining American fear and xenophobia these days (and cultivating a slightly less profitable peripheral market among weak-minded Canadians), but the Macleans article that started this whole ludicrous circus was no more than mildly racist, mock-populist taunting. It wasn’t hate literature."


Evans: Dawggie sez: "Dick can't read."

You're being misleading again dawggie. I linked to a specific comment. Go and read it.

I hope my readers will follow Dick's link to see this for themselves. Name "Pete Vere" ring a bell?

/Usenet mode on:


Usenet mode off./

Just another day in the, er,
special part of the blogosphere.

CBC tweaks its journalistic "balance".

This morning on CBC's The Current, Richard Perle - war profiteer and some allege, war criminal - was the expert consulted by CBC guest host David Frum on the topic of U.S. presidential candidate Barack Obama's suitability and competence in the matter of international affairs.

You can listen to that interview here. Click on 'Listen to Part One' to hear the the man Frum calls "most influential security policy expert in Washington" give his personal spin on why Obama is unsuitable for president and lacking in experience. The best thing that Perle can say about McCain is that he is a known quantity. Perle uses the word naïve over and over again in characterizing the actions that he presumes that Obama would initiate as president and ominously suggests that U.S. credibility and status would be damaged.
One does wonders if the choice of Frum and his carte-blanche selection of appropriate experts is a sop to those critics of the CBC who got their underwear in a furious knot about Heather Mallick's opinion column on Sarah Palin.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Criticism of Israel illegal: CJC

The Communist Party of Canada's candidate in the Quebec riding of Westmount, Bill Sloan, had his election posters torn down, and a complaint against him made to Elections Canada by the Canadian Jewish Congress.

His crime? His posters read "Canada Out of Afghanistan" and "End Canadian Support to Apartheid Israel."

The Liberal candidate, Marc Garneau, issued the following press release:


Marc Garneau joins the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) in denouncing the possibly illegal campaign activities of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC). Over the course of the current campaign, the CPC has posted signs in Westmount--Ville-Marie with the slogans "Out of Afghanistan" and "End Canadian Support of Apartheid in Israel," among others. "This is a violation of current electoral laws and an affront to the democratic process," declared Marc Garneau. "I support the CJC’s complaint to Elections Canada and request that the Communist Party of Canada take down those signs immediately!"

The Canadian Jewish Congress argues in its complaint that the CPC's signs violate article 407 of the Canada Elections Act in that they do not "directly promote or oppose a registered party, its leader or a candidate during an election period." They are therefore not a legitimate election expense. Moreover, given that the goal of an election is to espouse a particular candidate or party, these signs go against the very spirit of our democracy. The Liberal Party of Canada candidate stands behind the CJC and calls upon all other candidates in this campaign to join him in condemning the CPC’s disgraceful propaganda.

Marc Garneau and the Liberal Party of Canada are long time friends of Israel and Canada's Jewish community. "It is particularly shocking to me that the CPC would so abuse the electoral system with inflammatory statements," stated Mr. Garneau. "We need dialogue and discussion, not senseless rhetoric," he concluded.

The posters, as noted, were duly removed. The candidate himself claims that a Westmount Public Security official confirmed that this had been done by City of Westmount police. Another report, however, states that the signs were simply stolen after Garneau's press release was issued, and that the City of Westmount offered to re-post signs recovered by Montreal police. A tangled tale, indeed.

But the undisputed fact remains: according to the Canadian Jewish Congress, with the support of at least one Liberal MP, criticism of Israel in an election campaign is now against the law in Canada. Who knew?

Calls to Canada's Speech Warriors™ have not been returned.


Famous blue sweater = pabulum

"... how Harper and the "StealthCons" are like a Big Mac."

This blogpost made me laugh. After weeks of attempting to decode the point of the blue sweater meme the Cons exploited, all is explained here:

The Blue Sweater Vest ads. The Thanksgiving message. I don't think for a moment that they were an attempt to bring people over to vote for him. They were meant to neutralize the acidic taste he leaves in most people's mouths.

Go read the whole post at Blogging if necessary but not necessarily blogging. Brilliant.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Speech warriors suffer another setback

Richard Warman strikes again.
And in a "real court," too!

Democracy in Afghanistan

I've blogged about this before, but now that young journalist Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh has had his death penalty commuted to a mere twenty years in an Afghanistan dungeon for the crime of supporting equal rights for women, it's time to raise the question once again: what exactly are our troops dying for?

For this:

We sentence you, Sayed Perwiz Kambakhsh, to 20 years in prison for insulting Islam and the respected Prophet Mohammad.

In Afghanistan, a land of torture and boy-rape, both abetted by Canadian forces, a former journalist, Ghaus Zalmai, is doing hard time for putting up the money for a translation of the Qur'an. He, and a mullah who had approved the translation, and a publisher who issued it, were found guilty of "errors." He got twenty years, as did the mullah; the publisher was let off with a mere five.

For those simpletons on the Right who never tire of playing the alleged "Left/Islamism alliance" card, turnabout is fair play. Let's hear your alibis and excuses for continuing to prop up mediaeval Shariah law in Afghanistan. With the blood of our troops.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Banality of evil--Canadian style

The Iacobucci greywash is out--our bureaucrats were only following orders.

Canadian citizens were tortured--but those bureaucrats were only "indirectly" responsible. Meaning that they did not, personally, whip our citizens with cables.

I found no evidence that any of these officials were seeking to do anything other than carry out conscientiously the duties and responsibilities of the institutions of which they were a part. It is neither necessary nor appropriate that I make findings concerning the actions of any individual Canadian official, and I have not done so

said Iacobucci. This is best read with a Colonel Klinck accent. And this:

The public safety minister [Stockwell Day] said he has met with the heads of the RCMP, CSIS and other government departments and is confident that previous "gaps" in procedures have been closed.

What do we need to give closure to the victims of our "intelligence" agencies? A new Nuremberg Tribunal?
[Note: The apposite term "greywash" appears to have been coined by the Galloping Beaver and Creekside's Alison, who posted on this matter earlier. --DD]

While we fuss about lead and melamine from China...

...we continue to export a known poison to "developing countries" that causes deadly and painful cancers, mesothelioma in particular. That poison is asbestos, from two mines in Quebec, 97% of which is sent to nations like India, Pakistan and Indonesia for use in cement production. We no longer use it at home: it is subject, in fact, to stringent handling and environmental regulations. But that doesn't help Quebeckers, who have one of the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world. And it doesn't help workers in the Third World who are forced to handle the material without benefit of regulation or protective work-gear.

It's an industry that, like its many victims, is dying. Only 700 people are employed on a half-time basis in Thetford, Quebec, where the mines operate. The workers have no respirators or dust-masks: the employers claim that the type of asbestos now being mined--chrysotile--is low-risk for them. Health Canada, now sitting on a study of its health effects, makes similar claims, conceding, however, that it is dangerous and that reduced exposure is the key:

Although it is established that chrysotile has significant serious health effects associated with it, the consistent and inexorable pursuit of reducing exposure to this substance, where possible, will be effective in reducing adverse health effects.

The Harper government, continuing the ignoble tradition of its predecessors, has been fighting for the right to send this toxic material abroad, where there are few or no occupational health and safety regulations governing its use. Nearly every developed country now bans asbestos, and with good reason: the World Health Organization estimates that 100,000 people die annually from asbestos-related causes.

The Canadian labour movement has played its own dubious role in continuing the production of this material, regularly deep-sixing anti-asbestos resolutions at the Canadian Labour Congress under pressure from the Quebec Federation of Labour and the powerful Steelworkers who represent the miners. The CLC finally passed one this May after three decades of silence, despite a call this past February from the QFL to delay calling for a ban until that Health Canada study is released.* But, to the undoubted embarrassment of CLC President Ken Georgetti, who has been forthright on this issue, the QFL has recently managed to persuade the CLC Executive Committee to delay calling for a ban until that Health Canada study is released.(This may never happen: it appears that there is a blockage--in Stephen Harper's office.) The May resolution called for an outright ban, with transition measures for Quebec workers.

And this is despite a A plea for solidarity from the All-India Trade Union Congress asking the CLC to help stop the export of this "major killer," not to mention outrage much closer to home, had finally been acknowledged. For the House of Labour, the jobs of seven hundred part-time workers in Quebec , it seems, will no longer trump the lives of untold numbers of brown people in another land.

At the UN, Canada has joined with Iran and Zimbabwe to oppose listing chrysotile as a hazardous substance under the Rotterdam Convention. That listing doesn't mean a ban--it only requires that importing countries be made aware of the dangers of the substance, so that they can give informed consent to its importation. Even that feeble hand-wave, however, is too much for the Canadian asbestos barons, politicos, bureaucrats and Quebec labour leaders to tolerate.

But push may finally have come to shove. Canada has just come under unprecedented national and international attack by the medical profession. In an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, our government is likened to arms dealers operating below the radar. The authors don't mince words:

For Canada to export asbestos to poor countries that lack the capacity to use it safely is inexplicable. But to descend several steps further to suppress the results of an expert committee, pour millions of dollars into an institute that shills for the industry and oppose even the Rotterdam Convention's simple rule of politeness is inexcusable.

Two international journals have entered the fray as well. The U.S. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine says that the Harper government's position--that asbestos can be safely exported to developing countries--"should be truly embarrassing to the Canadian government and people." The British Annals of Occupational Hygiene accuses the Canadian government of deliberate suppression of the Health Canada report, the contents of which could prove embarrassing as Canada once again opposes adding chrysotile to the Rotterdam Convention list during meetings in Rome to take place next week.

Dr. Trevor Ogden, a British doctor who chaired the Committee that submitted the report, is blunt: Health Canada's claims that they are still "reviewing" the 4,000-word report is nothing short of an outright lie. "If we'd known that the government (was) going to labour through the report at a rate of 20 words a day we would have put in a few jokes to entertain them," he said.

But this is no laughing matter.
The PMO has blocked the release of a report by experts that exposes the health dangers of chrysotile asbestos. Complaisant bureaucrats, only following orders, are "carefully reviewing the contents" of that 16-page report submitted months ago, and others are "continuing internal consultations" on the upcoming meetings in Rome. The mine operators are making money, exporting 200,000 tons of poison annually to the Third World. Health Minister Tony Clement won't return calls.

In collaboration, they're deliberately killing people for profit. In our name.

UPDATE: (October 29) As reported in the Globe and Mail yesterday, Canada found proxies (our customers) to do our dirty work: this week's Rotterdam Convention meeting failed to place chrysotile asbestos on the dangerous substances list. The next opportunity will be two years from now--and goodness knows how many more painful deaths.

The head of the pro-asbestos Chrysotile Institute, Clément Godbout, will be commenting at the end of the week. Godbout is a former president of the FTQ (1993-1998).

*Changes in bold, and struck text, reflect the fact that the May resolution by the CLC called directly for a ban, and the CLC's wishes were accordingly conveyed to the government in advance of the Rotterdam Convention meeting. The FTQ call in February for a delay was overridden by the CLC, in other words, at its 2008 Convention. My apologies for missing this in an earlier version of this post.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Forget ACORN...

Are the GOP planning another November Surprise?

Powell, Obama and "race"

Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama's presidential bid has got the Usual Suspects in a lather. The grubby Rush Limbaugh, the Holocaust-denier and racist Pat Buchanan and a host of other conservative commentators, (not to mention bloggers), ignoring the content of Powell's endorsement altogether, were quick to reduce it all to "race." Even here at home, the staid Globe & Mail suggested that "some" could see the endorsement simply as an act of "racial solidarity."

This puts me in mind of an acrimonious discussion I had a few weeks ago with one Edward Michael George, who claimed that this sort of solidarity was at work in the overwhelming support that Blacks showed for Obama. The fact that equally impressive support from Blacks had been offered to Bill Clinton, Al Gore and John Kerry didn't seem to matter.

Racial reduction of this kind is what racism is all about. The Other is always homogenized, part of an alleged "community" based entirely upon the Other's Otherness. Only Others act in this kind of robotic concert. White folks, the unmarked "race," do not. Here's a list of predominantly white people who have endorsed John McCain: is this only about "racial solidarity?" We all know what those same Usual Suspects would say if anyone suggested such a thing--and for once they'd be right.

Powell's arguments make sense on their face, and he's not the first to have made them. It's fair enough to produce counter-arguments, but outrageous to suggest that Powell is, in fact, lying to us, that his arguments are mere alibis, that his endorsement is based on nothing more than African-American clannishness. Those who make such claims remind me of the cynical joke current in the 'sixties during the civil rights era: what do rednecks call a Black person with three PhD's, a Medal of Honour and a Nobel Prize? Answer: "a n----r."

That is not, however, to argue that such solidarity is non-existent. When people are racialized, they in effect have solidarity thrust upon them. Witness, for example, the négritude movement, or, more recently, the racial divide that became manifest during O.J. Simpson's legal travails. It's not racist to point out the force and effect of the notion of "race": we have decades of
the category of practice known as "identity" (a defensive concept if ever there was one) to indicate how deeply these constructs are rooted.

What is racist, though, is to ascribe racial motives automatically when an individual who is not white speaks in favour of another individual who is not white, while completely ignoring what the person is actually saying. It's racist to assume that every Black person is no more than a kind of personified Blackness.
As we are seeing once again, however, such open and unapologetic racism continues to taint American--and Canadian--conservative political discourse.

UPDATE: I seem to have gotten under Edward Michael George's skin. He even booted me off his blogroll. You can't comment there--he doesn't permit it--but by all means do so here if you're so inclined. :)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Mike Duffy is a despicable human being

Thanks to Jonathan Kay, of all people, Andrew Potter's short piece on Mike Duffy's recent disgusting conduct on CTV has been rescued from the memory hole.

It seems that
Maclean's magazine has pulled a John Cruikshank and yanked Potter's article. And his remaining blogposts no longer accept comments.

Now, some readers might remember that I scolded Potter awhile back for a silly attack on bloggers, or, as he so graciously put it, "the great idiocratic mass of mouth-breathers." One of his co-bloggers at Macleans, Kady O'Malley, suggested in the same piece that bloggers are a little on the irresponsible side: that real journalists are concerned about "boring, grownup stuff like contributory defamation liability, which is so non-Web 2.0." She came over to the Blawg to clarify:

As for the liability issue, I didn't mean to suggest that there is no similar apprehension on the part of bloggers, but in most cases, it is still, ultimately, their personal judgment that decides whether or not to post something, whereas journalists still have to get the go-ahead from the powers that be before going ahead with a story that could result in their employer being sued.

I mentioned in response that journos have to get the go-ahead from the "powers that be" for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with legal liability. And now, it would appear, those "powers that be" have struck again. Last I heard, it wasn't actionable to be critical of a journalist's conduct on-air.

But here's the thing: what's with all these professional journalists having "blogs" anyway? They aren't really their own blogs, because they're published on-line by their employers. They're--what? An attempt by the media establishment to seem cool and with it? A safety-valve for the working folks, monitored closely, of course, by their bosses? A way of making the phrase "ink-stained wretches" obsolete (the adjective, anyway)?

My suggestion? Show us what you're made of, get a Blogger or WordPress account, and let the editors howl and stamp their feet. These house-blogs are a bit of a farce, and we've just seen the proof. They're just columns in disguise, under the tight grip of
the same editors and publishers, the ones for whom a gray, tapioca-like paste is the only permissible style and content, and who truckle and grovel to any shrieking blowhard who makes a complaint.

Real bloggers, as O'Malley observed, are answerable only to our personal judgement. How lucky for us.

[H/t Jay Currie]

UPDATE: A post by O'Malley herself, defending Potter, has also been removed by the "powers that be."

[H/t Steve Janke]

Perhaps in the 21st century Canada needs a leader who is a sociopath.

"Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status, ..." Stephen Harper, 2000.

"I don’t think my fundamental beliefs have changed in a decade.” CBC interview, 2006.

What is the point of being a nation of kind, peace-loving, decent people when the lesson of the last few weeks is: not only can the tribe of the greedy lead most of the northern hemisphere's countries to the brink of economic ruin, but the government of those countries will not punish them for their rapaciousness and will ensure that they continue to receive their salaries and/or generous severance packages by providing them with hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayers' bail out money?

Financial workers at Wall Street's top banks are to receive pay deals worth more than $70bn .., a substantial proportion of which is expected to be paid in discretionary bonuses, for their work so far this year - despite plunging the global financial system into its worst crisis since the 1929 stock market crash, the Guardian has learned....

The sums that continue to be spent by Wall Street firms on payroll, payoffs and, most controversially, bonuses appear to bear no relation to the losses incurred by investors in the banks. Shares in Citigroup and Goldman Sachs have declined by more than 45% since the start of the year. Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have fallen by more than 60%. JP MorganChase fell 6.4% and Lehman Brothers has collapsed. ...

None of the banks the Guardian contacted wished to comment on the record about their pay plans. But behind the scenes, one source said: "For a normal person the salaries are very high and the bonuses seem even higher. But in this world you get a top bonus for top performance, a medium bonus for mediocre performance and a much smaller bonus if you don't do so well." Many critics of investment banks have questioned why firms continue to siphon off billions of dollars of bank earnings into bonus pools rather than using the funds to shore up the capital position of the crisis-stricken institutions.

So. Consider the following traits: authoritarian, self seeking, manipulative, extremely dishonest and a very good liar, lacking in remorse, guilt or empathy, never wrong - always blames others, callous, has a violent temper, vindictive, has a need to control others to carry out his plans, rarely in conflict with the law, but seeks out situations where his tyrannical behavior will be tolerated, condoned, or admired.

Yes. Such an individual, if elected to power, will know how to swim well with other sharks and will surely ensure the survival of Canada. Well, perhaps not all of Canada. Perhaps only those Canadians who are card-carrying members of the CPC.

Merci to The Mound of Sound for the link to the Guardian news item.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Stephen Harper's brown exiles

A new one has surfaced...and there are some unpleasant revelations about another.

Meet Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian citizen now being held in Ethiopia. Human Rights Watch quotes a fellow detainee who said that Makhtal is being held in solitary confinement, weak and hungry, with a deep cut on his leg. He has been denied access to Canadian diplomats. According to his family here, Conservative politicians and Foreign Affairs bureaucrats have made a lot of promises, but, in what seems to be yet another instance of a dreary pattern, there is no evidence that they have lifted a finger to help him.

Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, compares him to Omar Khadr. But he immediately brings to mind another marooned individual, Abousfian Abdelrazik, whom I have mentioned before.

Paul Koring, thank goodness, is still on the case. Now, as it turns out, both Foreign Affairs and the Harper government were aware of serious allegations that he had been tortured in a Sudanese prison. Abdelrazik, in fact, lifted his shirt and showed his scars to Deepak Obhrai, our junior Foreign Affairs minister, who went to Sudan to question him.

Canada had promised to issue the necessary papers if Abdelrazik could find an airline willing to fly him home. That was exposed as a lie just a few weeks ago: an airline was found, but the government refused either to provide the papers or to give an explanation for the refusal.

Meanwhile the suave bureaucrats in Foreign Affairs have been up to their usual tricks, claiming that Abdelrazik hadn't been tortured, and never mind the scars.

"Conditions in Sudanese prisons are very difficult, but this does not amount to torture or mistreatment," said senior Foreign Affairs official Odette Gaudet-Fee. "It is the reality in Sudan and he would not have been targeted for mistreatment any more than other fellow detainees."

But testimony forced out of Sean Robertson, Gaudet-Fee's boss, raises awkward questions for the Harper government: just how much did it know all along about the torture of a Canadian citizen? And why are they still blocking his return home?

November 4--the final conflict

Joe the not a plumber.

Another reason John McCain must be stopped in his tracks.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Ujjal Dosanjh's disingenuous post-mortem

Ujjal Dosanjh, a political opportunist who jumped ship from the BC NDP when the federal Liberals offered him a better deal, is now complaining that the new Harper minority government is all Jack Layton's fault.

He split the left, Dosanjh says:

[The] NDP's irrelevant insofar as the federal scene is concerned except insofar as they have the ability by splitting the vote to effectively elect a Conservative government, which they've done twice...If you say you're applying for the job of prime minister and you gain less than one point nationally in the polls, what does that say? Everyone realizes that was simply a delusional Jack Layton.

One hardly knows where to begin with this ripe codswallop. Do we need to point out to the benighted Dosanjh that his Libs exceeded the returns of the NDP by a mere 8%
of the popular vote? That the NDP rose in the polls while his own party plummeted? That a system of proportional representation would have reflected those numbers by awarding 57 seats to the NDP and 81 to the Liberals, avoiding the problem of vote-splitting altogether?

It would have made far more sense, in fact, both morally and politically, for the confused Liberals and their near-defunct party to step aside for the NDP, which actually stands for something, has a coherent vision, and isn't just a weaker and softer version of the CPC. Why didn't Dosanjh tell his own leader, "Are you delusional? You said you were applying for the job of Prime Minister, and all you could get is 26% of the popular vote? We should have stepped aside for the NDP, and now Harper's back in."

Well, one can dream. But it is surely no less true that the Liberals are responsible for the success, qualified though it be, of the Harper regime. Not only have they insisted upon running against the NDP, but, once the dust settled in 2006, they acted more like Conservative backbenchers than like an independent party, ducking or voting with the government 43 times. Expect more of the same in this Parliament.

The NDP didn't play that game.

Dosanjh won against his Conservative opponent Wai Young by a slim 33 votes, triggering an automatic recount. 259 ballots were rejected in the first count. I must confess that I shall not be overly upset if Young ends up winning. Dosanjh sums up everything that is wrong with Liberal discourse and the Liberal party: dishonesty, vapidity, opportunism, smear tactics, no coherent vision, and no apparent political principles.

The Canadian electorate--at least the half that got out to vote and wasn't apathetic, turned off or* turned away at the polls--wants clarity and coherence in politics, real alternatives to choose from, representatives who are not simply interested in power and its perks. Dosanjh's flailing is a symptom of the fatal disease of the Liberal party itself, its self-assured Natural Governing Party smugness, its sense of entitlement, its inability to be even remotely self-critical. The sooner Canada is rid of this ailing behemoth, the better. Keep talking, Ujjal.

*I've added the bolded words so as not to give the impression that half of the electorate was refused a ballot, as one commenter took me to mean. It would be interesting to have a tabulation of those who were indeed turned away, though. The stories so far are anecdotal, but disturbing.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


In a recent post entitled "Bye, Bye, Stephen," I concluded:

The polls indicate another minority government--possibly even a Liberal one. Harper has managed an impossible feat--making Stéphane Dion look good in comparison. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory--because another Conservative minority government is as much a defeat for Harper as a Liberal win--he has dashed the hopes of his party and his constituency. How much longer will he lead it?

My first prediction--no majority--has been borne out. It is too early to judge the accuracy of the second one--that The Harper's invincible leadership will now face challenges. But his failure to do much more than spend $2300 million of the taxpayers' money on a non-event that changed little or nothing in the House of Commons has been duly noted.

Here's the Globe & Mail:

Mr. Harper has now led the Conservatives in three winnable elections. In the immediate aftermath of the sponsorship scandal, he was only able to reduce the Liberals to a minority government in 2004. Two years later, with the Liberals increasingly directionless, with a strong public desire for change, and despite a dubious mid-campaign intervention by the RCMP, he could do no better than form a minority government of his own. And in 2008, up against by far the weakest Liberal campaign since John Turner's disastrous 1984 effort, Mr. Harper was unable to gain the majority mandate he called the election to seek.

For Mr. Harper, these results should be cause for reflection. He has chosen to build his party around himself, failing to follow the example of past prime ministers who built a national coalition by sharing the spotlight with strong party members with authority and credibility in their home regions. This strategy has been a failure, in no small part because of Mr. Harper's prickly personality. Meanwhile, his much-vaunted tactical and strategic acumen must be called into question, given the myriad errors made during this campaign: A weak debate performance, the failure to release a platform until the campaign's final week, and a failure to quickly grasp the depth of public fears over the global economic crisis, exacerbating this with gratuitous investment advice and a failure to live up to his makeover as sweet Steve. It all served to reinforce rather than ease voters' reluctance to hand him a majority government.

None of this should impact Mr. Harper's short-term future. The country needs a strong hand at the helm to steer it through uncertain economic times, and this period will give the Prime Minister an opportunity to demonstrate that he is continuing to grow into the job. Mr. Harper may yet prove that he is able to better delegate responsibility; that he can keep his less appealing impulses in check; that he is able to connect with enough Canadians to eventually earn greater trust.

But it may also be that, having long ago exceeded early expectations by converting a fractured right into a party capable of forming government, he will need to hand over the reins to someone able to take his handiwork to the next level.

In the public mind, he may have grown as much as he can.

And here's the Ottawa Citizen's Randall Denley:

[Harper has] had three elections now. How many tries will he get? Put it this way, Harper couldn't win a majority against a befuddled Paul Martin in 2006 and this time he didn't get the job done against the stunningly weak Dion. What Liberal could he beat to get a majority?

Last election, Harper blew a majority at the last minute by musing about closet Liberals in the public service and the courts who would constrain his government. This time, he did it again with his comments about the arts and youth crime. That cost Harper a chance for a breakthrough in Quebec that would have given him his majority. Harper refused to take reporters' questions in the last couple of days of the campaign to avoid another blunder, but it was too late to apply the duct tape.

Although Harper assured voters on the weekend that he is not "the devil in a cowboy hat," he is the devil we know and Canadians went with him yesterday, however grudgingly.

One can hardly blame the voters for their lack of enthusiasm. Harper is an autocratic and unlovable figure with no real vision for the country.

If Harper wants to govern and try again for a majority, he needs to stop trying to be a one-man show. He ran an election campaign that was all about himself and his leadership. Policies were few and slight, his cabinet team scarcely in sight. In this election, voters didn't say no the Conservative party or to conservative government, they said no to Stephen Harper. Harper has cemented his image as the bully boss who attacks or silences all those who disagree with him. Too many Canadians just don't like Stephen Harper, and that's a problem he probably can't fix.

It seems I'm in good company. Harper needed a majority to win. And in the short term he will act like a winner, and express no end of public enjoyment as he watches the Liberal carrion feast about to take place. But in the long term, having made his reign about leadership, his demonstrable lack of it--his inflexibility, his micromanaging, his intolerance, his inability to connect--will spell his end. The Tories are no strangers to long-knife nights: I suspect the blades are already being sharpened.

The NDP is alleged by the punditariat to have somehow failed last night. Perhaps the party set expectations too high, but it increased its number of seats by 23%, while the Tories increased their holdings by 10%. That's hardly failure. All of the other parties, of course, lost seats.

Jack Layton and his team ran an excellent campaign. Canadians are just waking up to the possibility that the Liberals' star may indeed be visibly waning. The NDP is poised to replace the Liberals, I believe, although this is an incremental process to be sure. But forget self-serving talk about alliances and mergers. The NDP--at least, this is my fond hope--will have nothing to do with the Liberals. We would lose ourselves and our souls by wandering into that mouldering big tent. We need to keep our eyes on our vision, and work to achieve it, not for ourselves but for the country.

And those of us disposed to be critical of our party should never yield to the temptation to be silent, or to rationalize, or to prevaricate on its behalf. This isn't, in the final analysis, about parties at all, but about alternatives. Another world is possible, but only if we stay honest and are able to look the Canadian people in the eye.

Enough for now.

Nobody waved goodbye

The Liberals deservedly took a near-fatal body blow last night, and Jason Cherniak is giving up political blogging. To be blunt, both of these interconnected events please me no end.

The Liberal Party, as a seasoned political commentator put it to a small meeting I once attended, is a spoils distribution machine rather than a party in the classical sense. The fact that it's now a decrepit and nearly bankrupt spoils distribution machine doesn't change its basic character one whit. The Liberal culture is one of political (and too often personal) entitlement, in which there is no difference between truth or lies, principles or expediency, vision or cynicism: where anything and everything is bent to political advantage.

In all this, Jason Cherniak has been a willing disciple. His behaviour during the past campaign has been nothing short of reprehensible--spewing one unfounded smear after another as he churned out Liberal talking points with the kind of smugness that's become a virtual hallmark of his party. His mendacious use of the "anti-Semitic" label is well-known: this time he threw all caution to the winds, suggesting that, never mind anti-Semitism per se, no candidate for any party should be allowed to run if they are too critical of the state of Israel.

Indeed, the only Liberal worth anything at all in this election was the hapless Stéphane Dion, done in, at least in part, by his sincerity and his principles, his honesty and his forthrightness, his thoughtfulness and his unwillingness to boil complex ideas down to sound bites and clever phrases. Of course he stumbled and bumbled, couldn't communicate well and so on, and I disagreed with his flabby performance in the House of Commons (which was really the performance of the entire Liberal caucus), but it was those personal qualities, anti-political if you will, that cost him dearly. And in the cynical ranks of Liberals whose only goal is power, he was quite simply a bad fit.

And talk about cynicism. In a very recent post, Cherniak called himself a Dion Liberal. Nope. The only Dion Liberal is Dion himself. Cherniak is just a Liberal, motivated entirely by ambition, a political animal of the stoat variety. And he will do very well, I suspect, in the backrooms where he is headed--before the entire worm-eaten house falls down around his ears.

The election did not take place

It is a masquerade of information: branded faces delivered over to the prostitution of the image, the image of an unintelligible distress. No images of the field of battle, but images of masks, of blind or defeated faces, images of falsification. --Jean Baudrillard, The Gulf War Did Not Take Place

A brief virtual struggle of images is over. Today we have a minority Conservative government. Four leaders are back in the House. A sweater-vest fought with poor stick-handling; another kind of strong took on the vote for tomorrow. Faces on television mouthed talking-points. Texts wrestled with other texts. Marks on ballots became speeches to the faithful.

Some images prevailed; others were erased. Canada had a conversation: sleepwalkers, passing each other on the cool sidewalks, exclaiming. Put comic balloons over their heads; write your own words in them.

There was no election. There was a blink, a flurry of movement, blurred screens.

The program resumes. We breathe again, and settle in to watch.