Friday, August 31, 2007

Scraping bottom in Saskatchewan

A tot of priggish pecksniffery, anyone?

Here. And, oh yes, here.

The latter deconstructed here. And here.

Anyone going to take on the "NDP is encouraging underaged drinking!!!!1111!!" alarum?

Good grief. Is this all they've got? Never mind that poll back in April, then--Lorne Calvert's in no trouble at all. Sure a lot of growling and yapping coming from that neck of the woods, though.

Peace, violence and activism

Rick Salutin has a good column in today's Globe and Mail to mark the upcoming Labour Day weekend. In it he gently admonishes Dave Coles, the union leader who spotted and confronted the three undercover cops in Montebello, for a tad too self-consciously placating the unseen audience out there by roaring, "This is a peaceful demonstration."

Of course it was peaceful: and Salutin wasn't arguing for violence. But he noted that we lose our edge when we reassure the public that we really aren't any threat to the established order. We need what he calls "a sense of implacable determination that takes [us] beyond any desire to seem respectable."

Well put. Binary thinking makes us choose between peace or violence, and categorize all protests as one or the other, but there are other positions. Gandhi's implacable non-violence led to many deaths. As Salutin points out, it's "relentless determination" that counts, that brings about change, that makes all the difference. And he raises the case of Mohawk activist Shawn Brant.

The column was evidently written before Brant's release from jail after two months, under strict, and some might argue onerous, bail terms. He may not participate, for example, in any demonstrations or protests: bail conditions, it seems, trump Charter rights. But Salutin (and Brant's spouse Sue Collis) makes the point that Brant's actions, in-your-face though they have been, were less disruptive than the anti-Harris labour-led Days of Protest, and no one jailed the labour leaders. Why did he spend two months in jail, effectively for acts of civil disobedience?

I'd say there was an implacability in his expression; he cut his opponents no moral slack. He didn't threaten, but he didn't try to mollify, either.

In its heydey, the labour movement had this kind of single-minded, almost stoic conviction. Its main weapon, the strike, was non-violent but aroused feelings comparable to those during war, toward scabs or bosses. In that frame of mind, there is no need felt to placate the other side and none at all for respectibility. What would you want it for?

I think a society benefits from this kind of challenge. It clarifies choices and discourages endless avoidance. Sue Collis writes that, after the Mohawk blockades in June, polls showed "71 per cent of Canadians wanting actions on land claims and 41 per cent of Ontarians prepared to acknowledge rail blockades as justified." There's also a social loss when fierceness and passion vanish almost entirely from movements such as labour and the environment.

I think Salutin is spot on, and I say this as a former labour leader who, at least on occasion, played the respectability game as the labour institution currently demands. Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress, calls himself a "CEO," for crying out loud, and wears the suits to match. We all fuss too much, I think, about public opinion, keeping the public on our side, causing minimum disruption to the public--as though being successful in any of this has moved our cause forward one centimetre.

I don't necessarily hold a brief for Shawn Brant. As a wise co-activist once said to me, "The labour movement is no place for heroes," and the same goes for any social activist movement. I shall leave internal Mohawk politics to the Mohawks--there are, I suspect, countless wheels within wheels there--but Brant does strike this outsider as somewhat of a loner. Be that as it may, however, his actions (like those of John Clarke of OCAP fame) force us all to re-evaluate what we're doing.

One could hear the audible sighs of relief from all quarters after the coast-to-coast protests during National Aboriginal Day passed without "incident." I may even have made some of those noises myself. Once again, Native activists had performed on stage for the masses, entertained us all for a day, and quietly left the stage without an encore, with muffled applause. Suppose they had, in the true spirit of audience participation, mingled with us, forced us to "dialogue" with in-your-face drill-sergeant histrionics, and not only made us listen--but made us talk? Might that have helped us to understand a little more, even want to do something (or explain why we don't), about the landless Lubicon, one-third of whose members have TB? The mind-numbing poverty and hopelessness on reserves? Indian Affairs policy, which veers wildly between paternalism and neglect? Racist crap like this?

Instead we all clapped politely and made our way to the exits and the rest of our lives. Another day of peaceful protest. Thank you, First Nations. And thank you, labour movement, environmental movement, anti-war movement, for not really upsetting us or inconveniencing us or challenging us in any way. You
behaved yourselves. And so you'll have our support and even our respect, and your decorum will be noted in news stories, columns and editorials. Just don't go trying to change anything.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Victor Rabinovitch has to go

The photograph above is of Dresden during WWII after Bomber Command got through with it. Here is what Arthur "Bomber" Harris, commander-in-chief of Bomber Command,
had to say about the massive allied bombing initiative:

[The aim] was the destruction of German cities; the killing of German workers; and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany. It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives; the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale; and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.

And here are the words on display at the National War Museum (I count only 66, not 67, incidentally) that have some lobbyists upset:

The value and morality of the strategic bomber offensive against Germany remains bitterly contested. Bomber Command's aim was to crush civilian morale and force Germany to surrender by destroying its cities and industrial installations. Although Bomber Command and American attacks left 600,000 Germans dead and more than five million homeless, the raids resulted in only small reductions of German war production until late in the war.

As historian Randall Hansen suggests, a new plaque could be made that contains even more information, such as the fact that precision bombing was available at the time, and indeed contributed to ending the war through the destruction of oil targets. But if the veterans don't like such changes to the existing panel, he says, perhaps Harris' statement might be substituted for it.

Letter-writers had their say today as well:

The exhibit should simply state the facts: "Bombing of civilian targets in Germany left 600,000 civilians dead and more than five million homeless."

Let's just rename the museum, which now has the horrendous three-letter word "war" displayed so prominently. I suggest the more modern "Support Our Troops" and redesigning the building as a massive yellow ribbon. [
Globe and Mail, August 30, behind subscriber wall]

The current controversy, certainly, may give the wrong impression of what the practice of history is all about. History is a series of accounts, not a truth dug out of something called "the past" like a dinosaur skeleton. There are many "pasts" and many "truths." But history is also a discipline, and one vital aspect of that discipline is empirical adequacy: statements don't get made, to put it crudely, unless you can back them up. The odd thing about this controversy, however, is that the "67-word" statement at issue is not being criticized so much for factual inaccuracy as for its alleged "disrespect."But since when has the question of respect been part of the historical enterprise? In the words of Margaret MacMillan, one of the historians hired to go over the exhibit, "A museum is not a war memorial."

Which brings us to the Museum's president, Victor Rabinovitch, and his craven response to the lobbyists.

On the one hand we have this:

We are not seeking to whitewash history. We are not becoming historical revisionists....

The fundamental objective is to ensure that the panel text has proper context to it and that it has properly and fully represented the historical record in a brief and summary fashion.

Every public museum engages not only with the public but engages with specialized interest groups. That's normal. Do those groups dictate what the museum says? Not if it's a good museum, not if it's credible.

Sound good? What he really meant, it seems, is this:

The Canadian War Museum has bowed to pressure from veterans and agreed to change a controversial exhibit critical of Allied bombing of German cities in World War Two.

Now this isn't the first time that Rabinovitch has "bowed to pressure." Those with reasonably long memories might recall that, immediately after 9/11, he cancelled a scheduled exhibition by Arab-Canadian artists at the National Gallery. This pusillanimous bit of racism could not stand: he was finally directed by then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to restore the exhibit. Senator Marcel Prud'homme had some choice words to say at the time about Rabinovitch's shocking decision. He noted that the entire House of Commons rose to applaud M. Chrétien's reversal of that decision, except one man--why, it was Stockwell Day, it turns out, and he's still crazy after all these years. (Rabinovitch, as it turns out, may have had the last laugh.)

Nothing less than the integrity of our national museums is at stake here. Their contents simply cannot be dictated by lobby groups, however sincere or offended or political those groups happen to be. They cannot be dictated by current world events or the danger of hurt feelings or who has the ear of the president. What is needed at the helm is leadership: a CEO who can guarantee the integrity of the process by which exhibitions are assembled and shown, and by which Canada is represented. Rabinovitch has now, on two occasions, shown a simply stunning lack of professional judgement and courage. The current exhibit should stay--and he should go.

UPDATE: (August 31) Pample the Moose provides some historians' responses. One cites a media blog that sums up the matter perfectly, in my opinion: "The Wikipedification of the War Museum."

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Scratch a conservative...

...who throws around the "anti-Semitic" label a tad freely, and underneath you just might find a genocidal psychopath (h/t) or a racist-enabler:

Mark my words - the moment is approaching when a bandana [sic] prowling these police protected barricades will end up in the crosshairs of someone's high powered rifle.

And Happy National Aboriginal Day to you too.

Meanwhile, to offset to some mild degree the destruction of some grape vines
by anti-occupation protesters on the West Bank (did the settlers actually plant those vines?), here are a few reports to tickle the hearts of the pro-occupation set (you know, the ones who refer to Palestine as Judea and Samaria):

Settlers attack Palestinian olive harvesters, kill one

Gazans reclaim destroyed farmland

Policy of Destruction: House Demolition and Destruction of Agricultural Land in the Gaza Strip

Question of the Violation of Human Rights in the Occupied Arab Territories, Including Palestine

Thousands Displaced by Israeli Demolitions in Gaza

And don't forget to check out the story behind the picture above (click on it).

Ontario election: multicultural flip-flops

I wasn't going to touch the faith-based school controversy that, instead of electoral reform, appears to be the defining issue of the Ontario provincial election campaign, but I find that I must. There is only so much perplexity I can stand before I have to start talking about it.

Let's review. The McGuinty Liberals are out of the gate as firm supporters of a public school system--except for the Catholics. The Greens want to abolish the separate school system and have one public system for all, and they have United Nations backing as well as popular support for this move. The NDP is exactly nowhere on the question, offering this tepid nonsense:

NDP critic Peter Tabuns said the New Democrats also support maintaining the status quo in public education, but with one key proviso.

"We need to put money back into the system to deal with the fundamental problems that teachers and students are dealing with," Tabuns said.

This was the party, remember, that strongly supported full funding for the Catholic Separate School system in the 1980s.

And the Conservatives? Why, let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools contend, as some grumpy old Tory somewhere once mumbled.

What on earth has happened to that good old multiculturalism debate? You know, the one where the sides have lined up for years: the Right opposed, the Left in favour (supposedly), pushing its charming vision of a brightly-coloured mosaic of peoples, faiths and languages? All the players have switched sides here, and this onlooker, for one, is getting a little curious, not to mention confused.

Of course, it never has been as simple as that. As a progressive, not to mention a student of anthropology, I've had my own problems with official multiculturalism, and I'm not alone. But Liberals created the policy, affirmed it and promoted it. Conservatives have supported cultural integration, but of the kind where "they" simply become "us." Just let it all happen naturally, I say--culture isn't a thing, it's what people do. "Canadian culture" is a living braid of many different world-views, traditions and practices. It changes all the time--it's not a sea that eventually swallows immigrants, nor is it a collection of pretty little boxes containing cuisines, folk-dances, exotic religious rituals and costumes.

But I digress. Back to the Ontario election campaign. What is emerging on the cultural front? Liberals, stout defenders of those little boxes, suddenly want one system for all (well, two), and start talking sensibly about public education. (To give McGuinty credit, he earlier dealt in Solomonic fashion with the "Shariah law" non-issue by completely secularizing the Ontario Arbitration Act.) And Conservatives, who once talked about "Canadian values," and saluted the good burghers of Hérouxville as cultural heroes, now want to fund a whole bunch of different school systems on the taxpayers' nickel--identity politics at its absolute worst.

This is a wedge issue, all right, but what an odd turn of events: the Liberals promoting educational integration and the Conservatives pandering to the ethnic vote. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around?

Calling all constitutional lawyers [updated]

The news that Canada's Already Shopworn Government™ is effectively replacing New Democratic Party MP Nathan Cullen in Skeena-Bulkley Valley, blogged with searing commentary here and here and here and here and here and here and here, raises a fundamental legal question in my mind. Is the appointment of Sharon Smith, the Conservative candidate in the riding, as "liaison" with the federal government, constitutional?

Section 3 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states

Every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.

A member of the House legally represents the constituents of his or her riding. It isn't merely high-handed of the Harper regime to appoint someone else--a political partisan of the regime--to carry out these tasks. It may actually be illegal. These questions, asked over at Galloping Beaver, are pertinent:

1. Does Smith get paid and who pays her?
2. Does Smith have access to caucus?
3. Does Smith have access to cabinet ministers ahead of the duly elected member of parliament?

To which we might add a couple more:

4. Does Smith perform her role for all constituents, or only Conservatives?
5. Does this appointment interfere with the sitting MP's performance of his duties?

Under (4), if her doors are open to all as appears to be the case, she would seem to be supplanting the sitting MP. Under (5), there may be a question of Parliamentary privilege at issue.

Legal opinions from Constitutional scholars are probably being crafted as I write this, but it would be good to have some commentary here on the subject from those with constitutional expertise. As the other bloggers have noted, there's a lot at stake here--even if not a single Blogging Tory has seen fit to comment.

UPDATE: (August 26) Call me stuffy, old-fashioned and prudish (none of which I happen to be), but am I the only progressive getting a little squeamish about the "naked mayor" pics of Sharon Smith floating around the blogosphere in connection with this story? Are they necessary to our argument? Remember that they were not intended for anyone but her partner and herself: they were stolen and circulated, to her no doubt considerable personal humiliation.

This has nothing to do with politics. Privacy is a right, folks, and we'd be the first to yell and stamp our feet if that sort of thing was done by some Blogging Tory to one of us. This all seems a little too much like pulling some kid's pants down in the schoolyard and running away. Verb. sap.

UPPERDATE: (August 27) Well, not really. Not a peep out of the media about this, except three interviews on local CBC. Only one new blogger, and Garth Turner, bless 'im. It's enough to make someone buy a roll of tinfoil, stat. No story here? Good grief.

In the meantime, listen to Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch on the apparent violations of the House of Commons ethics rules by Conservative MP Dick Harris. The latter's self-justification can be heard here.
And here's Nathan Cullen: "pretty poisonous politics." (h/t Frank Frink via Unrepentant Old Hippie)

UPPERDATE: (August 27) Looks like Skeena-Bulkley Valley may not be the only place where the Cons have installed a "liaison." Nice catch over at POGGE? (still waiting for a primary link). Meanwhile, some new bloggers have piled on, and the media may be doing something on the story in their own sweet time.

UPPERDATE: (August 28) Frank Frink of Creative Revolution has updates. Is there a pattern developing here? The substitution appears to have already happened to Vancouver North MP Catherine Bell.

UPPERDATE: (August 29) The blogswarm continues--and, mirabile dictu, there are some signs of life from the media. And a good letter to the editor.

UPPERDATE: (August 29) Three more blogs enter the fray. Kuri, of Thought Interrupted by Typos, is right on: we bloggers left the media in the dust on this one.

UPPERDATE: (August 29) And still more. And more and more. And here is Nathan Cullen. And a post from Alison that I'd missed yesterday, confirming the pattern that's emerging. And an open letter to the comatose Blogging Tories. Nice to have one major media story, though.

UPPERDATE: (August 29) A fine bit of snarkery from the Canadian Cynic. Canada's New Government: "Nice riding you got there. Be a shame if anything happened to it." And another small newspaper picks up the trail. (H/t Creative Revolution)

UPPERDATE: (August 29) At last! There's a CP wire story--seems the Tories are now "vigorously backpedalling." Lovely. (H/t the indefatigable Frank Frink of Creative Revolution) So what's going to happen to all of those other "liaisons" now?

And thanks for the h/t, Impolitical, but the chief credit here, I think, is to Blogging a Dead Horse and to Frank Frink for riding this beast into the ground.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The carriage of justice arrives--48 years late

The long, shameful saga of Stephen Truscott is over.

UPDATE: Good commentary here: how the Charter of Rights played a role in the acquittal.

Monday, August 27, 2007

And a little child shall lead them

I need to get out more. Stories like this can produce odd, unpleasant sensations.

In India, a three-year old child, Raj Kumar, has been charged with leading a riot. No, not in a daycare centre--relax, Arnie--but in the streets of Bihar province. He was also accused of throwing stones and firing on troops. His family, however, claims that he has an alibi--he was at his grandmother's house. Oh, sure he was. A likely story. (H/t Reason Online.)

DawgNews has learned that the
Sûreté du Québec is now hiring enfants provocateurs.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Upside-down world

The topsy-turvy, upside-down world of the Right continues to spin in its retrograde fashion. The very latest sighting: an article by one Andrew Anthony in The Observer (UK), gleefully pounced upon by Kate McMillan and her winged monkeys over at Small Dead Animals. "It will be a tough read for our friends on the left here," she says. Well, not for me. I found it clinically fascinating.

The article is long, and the book from which the article is distilled is no doubt much longer, so let me home in on one set of examples provided by the author as illustrations of Left-fostered social decline, with accompanying commentary. But, to preface that, readers will note that an almost pathological condition frequently found on the starboard side of the values-spectrum (from which flows the politics) is projection. As I have noted before, not a few conservatives live in a mirror-world in which the Left is racist, the Left is anti-Semitic, women oppress men and Blacks oppress whites and workers oppress bosses--or so they argue. I never thought, however, that I would see the day that selfish individualism was laid at the door of the Left, with the bizarre, almost surrealistically conjoined claim that collectivism, or at least liberalism (not the same thing, of course) is to blame.

Anthony raises a number of terrible incidents in which innocents in the UK have been brutalized and some murdered while onlookers did nothing. But what conclusion does he draw from this? Why, it's multiculturalism, or bleeding-heart sympathy for miscreants, or too much passive reliance on the state, or Black culture (it's hard to know, and in fairness I probably ought to read the book, because the article wanders all over the place and simply fails to cohere).

So here are some of the lessons this disillusioned liberal, who has been mugged by "reality," offers us:

Evidence both statistical and anecdotal suggests that in a 'community of communities' there is not enough social glue to create a sense of shared responsibility. Studies show that bystanders are less likely to come to the aid of someone of a different ethnicity from their own. The girl I saw stabbed was of Asian appearance. Her attackers were Afro-Caribbean. And nearly all the onlookers were, for want of a better phrase, white. Difference is all very well but it is with sameness, a common humanity, that we most pressingly need to reconnect.

And this:

In the 10 years between 1995 and 2005, serious woundings rose by 50 per cent in England and Wales. And it is estimated that up to 70 per cent of violent crime goes unreported.

But when it came down to it, the girl was stabbed because her assailants felt able to do it. The ringleader was inhibited neither by the community nor her peer group. In the first instance, the community turned away, and in the second, her peer group joined in the assault. These were problems of attitude that were not simplistic functions of environment.

In truth, I find it rather hard to argue with Anthony about the underlying social malaise here. Yes, there obviously needs to be a reconnection to a common humanity. Certainly the perpetrators of the crimes he describes were "inhibited neither by the community nor [their] peer group." But why certain conservatives would take comfort in such analysis--check out the SDA thread for the usual smug commentary and belches of self-satisfaction--is a mystery to me.

The author attempts to racialize the incidents he describes, although not all of those incidents appear to be interracial. Such indifference, or fear, in fact, is far from unknown in situations where race cannot be so easily, and conveniently, highlighted. What prevents us from realizing our "common humanity" and showing a little bit of what us leftists like to call "social responsibility?" Actually, the answer is rather simple: a selfish, atomistic individualism, fostered by the far Right, in which the "I'm all right, Jack" attitude is held up as a pristine virtue, and empathy for the less fortunate is seen as a weakness.

Who, for goodness sake, in her put-on, plummy, revoltingly priggish manner of speaking, famously informed us that "There is no such thing as society"? Here's the quote in context:

They are casting their problems at society. And, you know, there's no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look after themselves first. It is our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbours.

lease note the time-frame here. The UK, by 1995, has suffered a decade and a half of radically conservative government, and under it the kind of irresponsible nonsense just quoted, spouted forth by Maggie Thatcher and her panting acolytes, and put into policy and practice with a flinty-hearted vengeance. And now, suddenly, we are being told that those who took this guff seriously, who looked out for themselves first, who didn't get involved in matters that did not concern their immediate individual interests, are the bad guys--and it's all the Left's fault?

Here is the comment of a smirking bystander, who had just witnessed the brutalizing of a young girl and done nothing, after the author remonstrated with him:

Don't have a go at me, you pompous prick. Why should I get involved? It had nothing to do with me.

Is there any more fitting apotheosis of Thatcher's dream than that? For indeed it came to pass that Andrew Anthony's dystopic Britain was given its form and substance in the crucible of Thatcher's dog-eat-dog conservatism. It was a Britain where the social was disparaged at every turn, and where crass selfishness was extolled, leaving its festering mark. It is no surprise, then, that even today it is a Britain where society exists, all right, but in a critically weakened state. And Anthony's flailing should, perhaps, be taken as a symptom of just how badly things have gone wrong.

Montebello: an invitation to be heard

Feel like firing off a few letters to the powers that be? RightOnCanada makes it easy for you. Follow the link above. (H/t Larry Hubich)

Meanwhile, a few choice quotes that stand out from the week's events:

When protesters are yelling at undercover police officers to "put down the rock!", something’s clearly amiss. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
Lord Kitchener's Own

In this case, [the SQ officers] didn't defuse conflict, they provoked conflict. Martin Courcy, conflict management expert

They won't be winning any Oscars for their performance. Senior Sûreté du Québec officer.

I'm sure the RCMP will get to the bottom of this. In fact, I'm sure they've been there all along. Caroline Fram, commenter at the Globe and Mail

The SQ officer was carrying the rock to blend in. No, wait, a protester gave him the rock to throw. [paraphrase of SQ spokesperson Marcel Savard's two stories]

Readers are invited to submit their own.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Les policiers Keystone: leur conférence de presse

Every time I think I've heard it all, and I've heard quite a bit at my age, someone comes along to prove that the world is still fresh and new after all. The Sûreté du Québec, bless 'em, have had their little press conference, and I'm still not sure whether to laugh or cry.

Remember that rock, carried by one of the "anarchists?" Why, says spokesperson Inspector Marcel Savard, it was given to the officer by a demonstrator who wanted him to throw it--but of course he would never do such a thing. I wish someone had asked him about the beer bottle.

The three officers, he said, were on the lookout for lawbreakers, and it was just by accident that they bumped up against the peaceful group of demonstrators where their cover was blown. Such infiltrators, said Savard, unncecessarily, always run the risk of being unmasked.

The SQ, he said, would be reviewing its procedures ["La Sûreté du Québec est à revoir ses procédures"]
. I just bet they will. New instructions: "When we want to provoke a riot, let's be sure not to use strapping, well-groomed young men with police boots. Getting caught makes us look really bad. Maybe we can hire some pierced, long-haired, weedy types as special constables."

As I say--I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Anyone?

[BigCityLib has just posted on this as well.]

UPDATE: (August 24) The YouTube video cameraperson, Paul Manley, has surfaced. He was disturbed by what he saw, and wants an inquiry. H/t Bene Diction.

UPDATE: (August 25) Inspector Savard just can't seem to make up his mind. First, the officer with the rock was given that rock by an "extremist." But now the officer was carrying it to blend in. Which is it, M. l'Inspecteur? And you never did say anything about that beer bottle--was it a gift from an "extremist" too?

Was it a beer bottle? Readers, you decide: blow-up here. Was it a "projectile?" Here's a description of a clash between riot police and protesters elsewhere in Montebello on August 20:

Dozens more tear gas canisters exploded as the crowd began retreating east toward the village. In response, protesters in gas masks, goggles, and balaclavas hurled rocks, tomatoes, and stone-filled bottles at the police, who blocked Highway 148 and an adjacent cemetery.

Day of the Dinosaurs

That absolute ass, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, is now claiming that Sûreté du Québec officers were outed because they were not committing violence, reiterating the SQ's earlier claim to that effect. Is he out of his mind?

Go back and have another look at the infamous YouTube video. Who is being peaceful? Who is being violent? Who is insisting on peaceful protest--and who is carrying a rock?

I might have my own differences with Canadian Labour Congress President Ken Georgetti on occasion, but he's right on the money this time, asking a lot of the right questions and demanding answers. So should we all.

Day isn't very happy with Georgetti, asking aloud whether he knew that the protests would turn violent. Given what the rest of the country now knows, perhaps that question might be better asked of Day himself, who would appear to be in a position to have had distant early warning directly from the instigators. Is he worried what a public inquiry might turn up--about his own office?

Questions for the Montebello Inquiry

The Globe and Mail had it right this morning, and the Ottawa Citizen shamefully wrong. First, from the Globe editorial:

If the Sûreté is telling the truth, its ineptness was staggering. Sending agents posing as violent anarchists into a crowd of middle-aged unionists seems straight out of a film parody of police tactics. But could the force really have been so comically inept? Or were the infiltrators there, as Mr. [Dave] Coles [the CEP union President] has alleged, to stir up trouble so police could move in?

Neither scenario is appealing. But if it is the latter, this is a scandal on the level of the Mounties' pepper-spraying of protesters at the 1997 APEC summit. And given that the RCMP was working alongside the
Sûreté at Montebello, it must also be asked whether it was complicit in this plan.

Whatever the strategy, the summit will be remembered for police behaving badly while demonstrators remained peaceful. Now, a full investigation is needed to determine just how bad this really was.

Now, from the Citizen editorial:

A violent confrontation would have served only the demonstrators' ends. The police would have been negligent if they hadn't had some kind of plan to watch the protesters from within. Someone like Mr. Coles knows that just about every anti-globalization protest has seen real demonstrators trying to provoke the police. Rock-throwers hide behind Raging Granny types and teenagers flashing peace signs--if the riot police want to get at the dangerous protesters, they're guaranteed to be filmed and photographed pushing their way through the meek ones. Better if the police have an officer or two behind the protesters' lines who can identify troublemakers later, or step in immediately if the situation gets seriously out of hand.

If the officers were just supposed to keep an eye on things and then accidentally found themselves standing with a mere few dozen demonstrators and looking like the most militant types around, they should have put down their rocks and gone back to the command post. Truly, there was nothing to see, or to be gained, by sticking around in disguise.

Still, democracy and the right to dissent are safe if our police forces' undercover operations are run as ineptly as this one was.

Mr. Coles, Maude Barlow and the rest need to find victories where they can, but if this was a win, it was a small one indeed.

I have never been a fan of bloggers' dismissive "MSM" shorthand, but if all newspapers were as singularly inept as the Ottawa Citizen, I might have joined those ranks. While the Globe rightly calls for an inquiry, the Citizen tries to make the whole thing look like the protesters' fault. The police were just doing their duty, but weren't very good at it. And their very ineptness is a democratic safeguard.

Here's one observer who isn't laughing. Whatever the police were up to, the Keystone Kops explanation is plainly insufficient, and doesn't make me rest any easier. Certainly those of us following this story enjoyed watching the mask, both metaphorical and literal, gradually slide off this week. Police denials, following a lengthy silence, were obviously hedged. Pictures of two of the "anarchists" were all over the place, and it was only a matter of time before the truth was discovered. But that truth, partial though it is at the moment, has uncovered a genuine threat to democracy. If the only thing keeping our fragile freedoms alive is police incompetence, then I, for one, fear for the future.

Now, in any case, we get more police hedging. To quote from the Sûreté du Québec press release yesterday, their officers "avaient le mandat de repérer et d'identifier les manifestants non pacifiques pour ainsi éviter les débordements" ["had the duty to spot and identify non-peaceful demonstrators to keep things from boiling over"]. "[Les agents étaient] repérés par les manifestants au moment où ils ont refusé de lancer des projectiles" ["The officers were spotted by the demonstrators when they refused to throw their projectiles"]. That last bit was too much even for the Citizen, which found this a "questionable claim."

It is important, for those of us who believe in the right to public dissent in Canada, to take the Citizen editorial very seriously. We shall see echoes of that nonsense on the starboard side of the blogosphere, as those who ridiculed the original claims of the protesters scramble to do damage control. The best way of picking this nonsense apart, and to get at the truth of the matter, is to ask questions--lots of questions. One of my commenters, Nbob, starts us off nicely with the first two in this list:

1) Until the SQ statement, were there any reports of "projectiles" being thrown in the area at the time?
2) If some were, was an SQ incident report filed, and is it now available?
3) Was anyone except an undercover SQ officer* spotted with a "projectile?" (The SQ was doing its own video surveillance, h/t Gazetteer. Will this recording be kept?)
4) Were the "anarchists" urging violence, as members of the crowd alleged?
5) Were they "taunting union members" as stated in the Globe and Mail's front-page story today?
6) If the "anarchists" were spotted by protesters because they didn't throw "projectiles," and their job was to maintain order as the SQ claims, does this mean that others were throwing things? Were any arrests made? If not, why not?
7) Why was a peaceful crowd of demonstrators targeted by the SQ? Were they not in the so-called "Green Zone?"
8) Was the RCMP involved or complicit in this action?
9) Was there police involvement at Montebello in some other clashes that took place? Were those clashes initiated by agents provocateurs?
10) How high up the chain of command was the decision made to use the "anarchists" in this fashion? Were the tactics allegedly employed (provocation to violence, carrying a rock, taunting the union folks who were trying to keep order) approved at that level?
11) Is this SOP for the SQ and RCMP? Is there a paper trail?

We won't get this kind of questioning from the ideologically hidebound Ottawa Citizen, of course. Its agenda is all too clear. But perhaps more professional journalists--and, ultimately, an inquiry of the kind called for by the Globe--will get to the bottom of it all. In the meantime, readers are invited to pose additional questions of their own, or to provide information that can be compiled here.

*The YouTube video showed one undercover officer with a rock in his hand. Is this the same officer shown here, with a beer bottle in his back pocket? H/t CUPE, and Mark (comments 6 and 7) at Stageleft's place. Close-up of beer bottle here. Better one here, h/t Joe Blakesley. Note the "SQ" written on one undercover's forearm in Joe's Flickr gallery.

[Footnote UPDATE August 24] Commenter "riles" notes that the beer-bottle officer is not the same one who carried the rock. The commenter also draws our attention to splashes of yellow paint on the three infiltrators, visible on the YouTube video--the first time, to my knowledge, that this possible identifying sign has been caught by anyone.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Flushed with success

Sheesh. What can I say? Bastards. "Service, Integrity, Justice," eh? Mon oeil.

"Gentlemen, get the thing straight once and for all — the policeman isn't there to create disorder, the policeman is there to
preserve disorder."
Mayor Richard Daley, Chicago, 1968

Cop spotted in Montebello, protesters allege

Two police forces are denying that an aggressive man caught on film at the recent Montebello protest was a police agent provocateur, DawgNews has learned. Sergeant Sue E. Flic, of the Sûreté du Québec, stated, “We don’t use agents provocateurs. We are quite provocative enough without that.” Captain R.C. Bunker of the RCMP, echoed her denial. “We don’t do that sort of thing,” he said. “Pepper-spraying infants and so on? Sure. But not sneaky stuff.”

The man, followed to a police line by a number of protesters after allegedly shoving one of them, was wearing riot gear, a police ID badge and Vibram-soled boots identical to those worn by police officers. He was also carrying what looked like a standard-issue pistol, pepper-spray and a pair of handcuffs, witnesses said.

“We just knew he had to be a cop,” said labour leader Dave Coales. “He stood out like a sore thumb. Nobody knew him. And he wouldn’t take off his mask.”

“He might have been a protester pretending to be a cop pretending to be a protester pretending to be a cop,” said D'Arcy Jerrom, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper. “He certainly wasn’t given direction by the PMO.”

According to several protesters, the man passed easily through a police cordon, and into a cemetery. Police apparently did not place him under arrest. The two police forces refused to release his name, stating that this is never done unless charges are laid. Asked if it was standard operating procedure not to arrest and charge a threatening individual deliberately penetrating a police line, Flic and Bunker each refused comment, citing security concerns.

Retired Ottawa police officer and security consultant Doug Kirkwood questioned the allegation. "Police dressing up as police and hanging around the protest movement? That seems a little far-fetched to me. I hope it isn't true."

"Now we have proof positive that this sort of thing is going on," said Maude Georgetti, one of the Montebello protest leaders. "In fact, this fellow and others like him have been coming to our planning meetings all along, banging on their shields and asking a lot of questions. One of them even arrived on horseback. It just didn't feel right."

Protest organizers have vowed to pursue the matter with an official complaint.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

APEC Enquiry II, anyone? [updated]

Judge Hughes, we may be needing you again.

The following is a news and progressive blog round-up of the growing Montebello "agents provocateurs" scandal. Were police caught, er, flat-footed?

Red Tory
Art Threat
Exile Infoshop
Brian's Thoughts
é Skateboard Magazine
Pacific Tribune
Canadian Cynic
Cent Papiers
(boot shot)
CUPE (boot shot)
O'Neil Brooke
Cathy from Canada
Bene Diction
Rusty Idols
Larry Hubich
Galloping Beaver
Climate and Capitalism
Big City Lib
Welcome to 1984
Your Dirty Answer
A Canadian Lefty in Occupied Land
This Canadian
Unrepentant Old Hippie
Vanity Press
Getting It Right
Far and Wide
The Last Minute Blog (good hi-res pic of one of the "protesters")
Les Enragé
Voice of Grant
Drinking Liberally in New Milford
Matthew Good
Skippy the Bush Kangaroo
Paulitics (interesting boot analysis)
This Can't Be Right
Kate Hermelin (good flikr photos, with commentary)
YaYaCanada (comprehensive photo essay of the Montebello events)
Daily Kos
AOL Newsbloggers
Ottawa Sun
Harper Index
Ottawa Indymedia
National Post (if you can believe it)
Yoni Goldstein, National Post
Toronto Star
CBC As It Happens (interview with David Coles)
Maclean's (columnist Kady O'Malley calls for an enquiry)

If you freeze the YouTube video at 2:22, you will see a side face shot of one of the provocateurs, momentarily unmasked. That picture should be given wide circulation (I don't have screen capture software--anyone?). As has been noted, had the three masked fellows been arrested, there would be no story. Instead, they were not, even though these "dangerous anarchists" edged right up to, and penetrated, police lines--and the RCMP and Sûreté du Québec have suddenly become coy:

Neither the RCMP nor the Surete du Quebec would comment on the video or even discuss generally whether they ever use the tactic of employing agents provocateurs. "I cannot answer your question because I don't have the information,'' said Const. Kane Kramer, a spokesman for the RCMP at the summit.

Sometimes silence does indeed speak volumes.

UPDATE: (August 22)
Dave Coles, President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (and hero of the moment on the infamous YouTube clip), will be holding a press conference today at 1:00 at the Chateau Laurier, to unveil proof that the three "anarchists" were members of the Sûreté du Québec. Stay tuned.

UPPERDATE: (August 22) My old buddy and sparring partner, former police officer Doug Kirkland, weighs in.

UPPERDATE: (August 22) CTV's David Akin, who attended the CEP press conference about the agents provocateurs, reports. The money quote: "They won't be winning any Oscars for their performance" --
senior Sûreté du Québec officer. Meanwhile, Caroline Fram, a commenter over at the Globe & Mail, has my vote for best quote of the day: "I'm sure the RCMP will get to the bottom of this. In fact, I'm sure they've been there all along."

UPPERDATE: (August 22) Who were those masked men? A hat-tip to Dana for this:

and also for this, a second "protester" who shoved David Coles at one point:

And a higher-resolution shot thanks to CUPE:

And here's another high-resolution shot, h/t Last Minute Blog, photo by Kate Hermelin, apparently of the same fellow:

And another h/t to Michael Cowley-Owen, webmaster, for this clear shot of the first man (more pics and coverage in StraightGoods here):

Perhaps a little wide-circulation, people, to help identify these guys?

UPPERDATE: (August 22) A former police officer makes some interesting comments over at Dust My Broom about the provocateurs' body language on the YouTube video.

UPPERDATE: (August 23) Stageleft has the last word on the boots angle.

UPPERDATE: (August 23) The
Sûreté du Québec confesses. H/t Stageleft.

(August 24) And finally--the agents provocateurs' identities revealed? :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Terry Glavin's hysteria

Has Terry Glavin's "progressive" mask finally fallen off entirely? Not content to slander the Canadian peace movement, or suggest that someone is an anti-Semite for referring to him as a "neo-con" (Glavin is Irish), we now have this wretched little piece of yellow journalism.

Try to follow the logic. It's a little sketchy, but here it is: Maude Barlow and her fellow progressives oppose the so-called "Security
and Prosperity Partnership (SPP)," because talks are talking place among senior politicians, bureaucrats and corporate leaders out of sight of the public, and because this likely heralds a new phase of what has been called deep integration. Bulk water exports from Canada to the US are on the table, despite official denials; unrestricted and unaccountable information exchange amongst security agencies, which has already led to the rendition of Maher Arar and the stupid (thankfully temporary) refusal to allow a mild-mannered labour relations professor to teach at Carleton University, will be heightened; Canada's environment and sovereignty, already threatened by NAFTA, will be under even more pressure.

But some far-right America Firsters are also against the SPP. They think it will lead to unrestricted immigration, amongst other things, and world gummint, probably run by the Jooooos, if not the Illuminati, which will impose socialism, race-mixing and God knows what else, sending the patriots off to the hills (if they aren't there already) to chow down on C-rations and pick off ZOG agents at their leisure. Yee-haw!

Now, because there happens, for whatever wacky reasons, to be an alignment of concern about the SPP--not an alignment of views, mind you--it is all too obvious, to Glavin at least, that there is some kind of sinister ideological convergence. So, in his classic fashion, he links to an earlier post connecting the left with--well, what else, he's hipped on the subject--radical Islam. See, it all fits together--Maude Barlow, terrorism, Pat Boone, the John Birch Society, anti-Semitism, environmentalism...a "subtle pattern," as Glavin puts it. Subtle indeed.

The odd thing about this foolish fantasizing is that it has all the earmarks of the very wingnut theorizing that he complains about in his post. Somehow the same people who go to the wall fighting homophobia, sexism, racism, and (let's call a spade a spade) American imperialism, are really in bed with fascists and Islamists and anti-Semites and terrorists and homophobes and woman-enslavers....not to mention turtles and Teamsters. It's, well, a conspiracy.

We defeated the MAI and the FTAA--so far--simply by exposing those multi-legged white grubs to the bright light of day. There are more grubby deals in the offing, though, and the SPP is just the latest of them.
Progressives will continue to research, write, publicize and protest, thank goodness--more power to them. And those living in their closed delusional universes will continue to spin bizarre paranoid theories: "It's the One Worlders! No, it's the Islamic-socialist axis! It's the Jews! No, it's the Council of Canadians!" Terry Glavin and Pat Boone, in fact, have far more in common than either of them might imagine.

UPDATE: (August 22) Just caught this comment by Glavin about the policing of dissent at Montebello: "
Pick a fight with a riot squad, you deserve to get your ass kicked, I reckon."

Friday, August 17, 2007

Bits 'n' pieces

I couldn't title this post "ephemera" without compromising my warm relationship with blogger David Thompson, but ephemera these are.

Item: Jason Cherniak comes clean on MMP

Although they might not admit it in public, the reality is that the NDP supports MMP because it will give them more elected politicians. Am I allowed to suggest that MMP is a bad idea for precisely the same reason?

As I said at his place, of course he is. Refreshing honesty, in fact, which might explain the Liberal troop surge against MMP going on at the moment.

I wonder whether you think it is right to have a referendum of the population on electoral reform, when at least 90% of them know even less about political systems than me. [Comment]

And, of course, he is absolutely right. But let's not stop there. I know a bit, but not much, about economics, maybe a little more on foreign affairs, not a great deal about Aboriginal issues, and very little about the federal-provincial relations thing. But I know more about this stuff than a lot of other people do. Why should we have general elections when so many people know even less about these matters than I? Democracy, as I never tire of pointing out, is far too precious to waste on just anyone.

Alas, Jason didn't stick to his admirable candour for long:

For the record, the number of NDP MPPs is not so much my reason for opposing MMP as it is a symptom of MMP that highlights my more principled concerns with it.

Darn. I kind of liked the guy when he went off-message for a moment.

Item: book panned, authors banned

A couple of American academics have run into a buzz-saw before their book, The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, has even gone on sale. As reported by CommonDreams, some of their fellow academics have reacted swiftly to diss the book and shut down discussion:

The subject will certainly prompt furious debate, though not at the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a Jewish cultural center in Washington and three organizations in Chicago. They have all turned down or canceled events with the authors, mentioning unease with the controversy or the format.

As a sometime literary critic myself, I was most impressed with the critical methodology employed by
Aoibheann Sweeney, director of the Center for the Humanities at City University of New York. “I looked at the introduction," she said, "and I didn’t feel that the book was saying things differently enough [from an article written previously by the two authors].

(H/t Carson's Post)

Item: Protest TV at Montebello

This intrigued me. Politics is always theatre, but now it's TV. After a peaceful demonstration at the APEC summit in Vancouver was crushed by thuggish RCMP officers in 1997, the judge who later investigated the matter, Ted Hughes, stated that protesters have a right to be seen and heard in Canada, and that visiting leaders shouldn't be immune to lawful protest. So the Montebello demonstrators will be held in a couple of those infamous "free speech zones," but the summit leaders can watch them on closed-circuit television.

Alan Borovoy of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association thinks that having the zones next to the hotel is "progress," but in fact the holding pens (as protester Jaggi Singh rightly calls them) are more than a kilometre away. Nevertheless, he's nailed it:
as reported, he understands the concerns of protesters who want to "generate an atmosphere of political tension and disapproval." That, after all, is what protest is really about: not something somewhere else that one watches on TV. How effective is dissent if it's sequestered in special areas patrolled by police, and mediated through a glass screen?

Item: But on a lighter note...

Since we shouldn't spend our Friday fussing about our mutual funds, Hurricane Dean and the listening devices planted in our houses by the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board, here's a cheery little story about spreading peace in the Middle East. Enjoy!

(H/t Dymaxion World)

UPDATE (August 18): Agence France-Presse points out the "virtual" nature of the planned Montebello protest. For some reason this reminds me of Jean Baudrillard on the first Gulf War.