Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hate speech is hate speech

Are all haters treated equally in this fair land?

Here are two cases, one of which, I admit, has been bothering me for some time. This was a complaint brought to the Canadian Human Rights Commission by conservative blogger Marc Lebuis. His site is so over-the-top Islamophobic that I confess I didn't read his complaint at first with any thoroughness. But here it all is, and I think he had a point.

The complaint was rejected out of hand. Admittedly, we shouldn't mix apples and oranges: Stephen Boissoin, against whom a complaint of homophobia was upheld, was before the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, not the CHRC. But I was surprised, nonetheless, given the sheer ferocity of Imam Abou Hammaad Sulaiman Dameus Al-Hayiti's written comments, that the matter didn't proceed to a hearing.

Now we have this charming fellow, one Salman Hossain, who has just escaped prosecution under Canada's hate legislation. Again, comparisons may be unhelpful: this was under consideration as a criminal matter, not a complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which might have fared better. And yet we recall the relentless prosecution of aging David Ahenakew for uttering one burst of hatred to a reporter, because of which he lost his reputation and his membership in the Order of Canada, and was before the courts for years.

What Hossain and Al-Hayiti have put on the public record is foul, undisguised, unmitigated hatred. Did they merely manage to dance miraculously through the judicial raindrops without getting wet--or do the Usual Suspects have, for once, a valid point?

Needless to say, the latter are trying to make a case that fails to convince--i.e., that Islamists get a pass from our judicial system, the disparate parts of which are somehow in cahoots, but that anyway, Hossain and Al-Hayiti should be entirely free to say whatever they want.

I disagree. I will concede that there seems to be a yawning disparity here. But, unlike the Speech Warriors™, I think it should be resolved with the appropriate complaints and charges. Comments?

And now, the moment you've all been waiting for...

...please welcome the new Senator from Minnesota.

Al Franken is in--a mere 239 days after he was elected. Senate Republican filibusters are out.

[H/t CC]

The Braidwood Chronicles: the squirming continues

The culture of impunity rides again.

Two of the four RCMP officers implicated in the death of Robert Dziekanski have launched an appeal of the BC Supreme Court judgement on June 15 that upheld the right of the Braidwood Inquiry to find misconduct on the part of the officers.

They are arguing that a provincial inquiry has no jurisdiction, because the RCMP is a federal institution.

Have they no shame whatsoever? Words fail me.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Ghosts and goblins at every turn

One question I never stopped to ask myself, as I joined others in Montreal celebrating the return of Abousfian Abdelrazik, was why this exhausted man, in transit for 30 hours, had traveled another six hours by van from Toronto instead of taking a one-hour flight to Dorval.

Simple: federal officials, without explanation, banned him from the Toronto-Montreal flight. Then, on the way to Montreal, the van was shadowed by unidentified vehicles whose occupants videotaped him.

From the persecution of exile and torture, Abdelrazik arrives home to a campaign of petty, malign harassment by a government that's behaving like a classic sore loser. Abdelrazik's lawyer, Yavar Hameed, has threatened to get a court injunction. The sooner, the better. We have laws to protect us from this sort of thing.

The Harper government, in fact, has behaved like a sorry collection of churls from the beginning, announcing the news of Abdelrazik's return only in response to a question in the House of Commons, and then refusing to answer inquiries about the restrictions that currently apply to him.

Restrictions? Indeed. A Canadian citizen, in his own country, charged with nothing let alone convicted of anything, is presently barred from seeking his own livelihood: banned from employment, from receiving money, from owning property. That's our wonderful anti-terrorism legislation, rushed through Parliament in the explosion of paranoia following 9/11. We don't have to be guilty of anything to be punished. Or perhaps we are simply born guilty, and must strive to earn our innocence in the eyes of the state.

As Hameed puts it: "They see ghosts and goblins at every turn and spend excess money making people miserable who don't deserve it."

In case anyone needs reminding, here are some relevant portions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to keep the evil critters at bay:


(1) Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.

(2) Every citizen of Canada and every person who has the status of a permanent resident of Canada has the right

(a) to move to and take up residence in any province; and

(b) to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.


Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.


(1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. [Emphases added]

The Harper government is a government of persons without shame or conscience. A dangerous government. Time, I think, for the courts to call it to heel once again--and to strike down the more offensive portions of the Anti-terrorism Act United Nations Act* while they're at it.

*I am informed by Professor Amir Attaran that the law that applies to the current circumstances of Abdelrazik is the United Nations Act, which binds us to support Security Council decisions, regardless of what they are or how they are arrived at. Security Council decisions at the United Nations trump international law, including notions of due process. The UNA, in the case of Abdelrazik, runs counter to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and indeed poses the continual risk of doing so in other cases. Best to repeal the Act and draft a new one that does not entail the automatic offering up of citizen rights to an unaccountable extraterritorial authority.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

It was never about free speech

'We must take Ontario down an entirely different path than the one we are on.' --Tim Hudak

It was about human rights. Period.
Some think they should be defended. Some do not.

[H/t Big City Lib]

An exile's return

Abousfian Abdelrazik (right) and his lawyer Yavar Hameed at Khartoum airport: Abdelrazik arrived safely in Toronto this afternoon

"I’m very glad to come back home. I’m happy.

"I want to say to my supporters from coast to coast, in every town, every city, every village, thank you very much for your supporting me and through your efforts, now I am here.

"I’m proud to be a citizen of this famous nation. Thank you very much."

UPDATE: Midnight in Montreal.

Some of the Ottawa contingent with Yavar Hameed's sister.

Preparing the welcome.

Some of the welcoming committee.

Abousfian says a few words of thanks, then heads off to get what I suspect will be a lengthy sleep.

Welcome home, Brother.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Abdelrazik: an American visitor [updated]

Details are sketchy at the moment, but it appears that Abousfian Abdelrazik, scheduled to return to Canada on Saturday afternoon, was questioned by a US official at the Canadian Embassy today.

Abdelrazik's lawyer, Yavar Hameed, was only able to confirm that his client had been asked about his condition. How odd: the Embassy inviting an American official into the building to ask after Abdelrazik's health.

Hameed is understandably nervous that no assurances have been given by Foreign Affairs with respect to prevention measures in case of an attempt to intercept his client on the way to the Khartoum airport or during the course of the trip, whose details are being kept secret.

I don't know whether he's overblowing this or not. But I, for one, won't breathe easily until Abdelrazik steps off the plane in Toronto. I understand he feels the same way. Slip. Cup. Lip.

UPDATED: (June 26) Looks like Hameed's fears are not entirely unfounded. Wheels within wheels--is Foreign Affairs going to make good, or is it going to renege because of (American) "reticence," or is it actively complicit in some attempt to intercept Abdelrazik--another case of "extraordinary rendition?"

Stay tuned. My eyes are glued to the set at this point. Try to imagine how Abdelrazik feels at the moment.

[H/t Frank Frink]

UPPERDATE: (June 26, 10:57) Abdelrazik has cleared the first hurdle.

More American madness

The paranoia of the US has reached the straitjacket and rubber room stage.

Adil Charkaoui, on a national speaking tour, boarded an Air Canada plane to fly from Fredericton to Montreal. The route passed briefly over US airspace: the US refused the plane passage, and it had to return to Fredericton. Charkaoui was summarily booted off by Air Canada officials.

My questions--which can be extended to the Abdelrazik case as well, and many others--are these. Is airport security so poor that, even in the case of a red-flagged individual, weapons, explosives, etc., cannot be detected on their persons? If so, why are we wasting billions on airport security in the first place? Or is there something in the cellular structure of brown-skinned Muslims that poses a clear and present danger to the good citizens of the US should said Muslims pass overhead?
Do such people spontaneously combust or explode?

Madness. And we're a part of it.

I love the smell of Schadenfreude in the morning


Words do have consequences. And there are, I suspect, more shoes to drop.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The banality of evil

Ottawa City Council votes for war and death.

From the corporate services committee, June 15:

Councillor Rick Chiarelli said the city is the home to the Department of National Defence and needs to help make such events happen, rather than shutting them down. Chiarelli said that if military shows are shut down, exhibitions on health or foreign policy could be next.

The acting chairman of the committee, Steve Desroches, said the military exhibition business must be mindful that the community has limits as to what is on display at such shows. But he said Ottawa is a capital city with international defence obligations.

“We are a nation under threat of terrorist attack,” said Desroches, describing a ban on military shows as the “start of a slippery slope.”

Yesterday the full City Council agreed. Warmongering is welcome in Ottawa.

It took a courageous Afghan MP to speak truth to power:

You may have heard of the USA bombardments of civilians in Afghanistan and the tragedies caused by it. The most recent example is the massacre in Bala Baluk district in Western Afghanistan, where U.S. B-1 bombers dropped a series of 2000-pound bombs on two small villages and over 143 civilians, mostly women and children, where torn into pieces. Many mournful families never found the dead bodies of their loved ones as they were burnt in the flames of the bombs. In a similar incident, a wedding party was targeted in Nengrhar province of Afghanistan and 47 women and children, including the bride, were killed. Such tragedies are daily realities of life for Afghan people.

Dropping thousands of cluster bombs and the depleted-uranium (DU) and white phosphorus bombs used in Afghanistan have caused terrible health problems. It has also ruined our environment and in the past few years the number of congenital abnormalities and disorders in newborn babes have raised to high levels. The use of DU weapons not only put our people in danger, it will also have bad effect on soldiers fighting in that environment. Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan may not be safe from its impact.

The bomblets of cluster bombs, scattered in Afghan villages are like dead gifts to Afghan children and they routinely kill or disable our kids. It is so sad to know that many components in the war planes used to distribute such deadly weapons used against our people are produced in Canada and that they are put on display at Ottawa weapons shows.

A brave voice--contemptuously dismissed by the little Eichmanns running Ottawa at the moment.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Now Abdelrazik is coming home...

...the CBC has finally discovered the case of Abdihakim Mohamed. Better late than never. Ottawa Citizen journo Kate Heartfield will be pleased.

The Current guest Gar Pardy, formerly the Director General of Consular Services in Foreign Affairs, was blunt: you don't see many people named John Smith ending up in situations like this, he said. (What is it about that name Smith?) Another court case may be brewing.

Meanwhile the Somali network is
humming. Let's not leave it to them. Let the Minister of Foreign Affairs know that we're all on the case:

The Honourable Lawrence Cannon
Telephone: (613) 992-5516

Fax: (613) 992-6802

Email: Cannon.L@parl.gc.ca

Also call, fax or email the MP of your riding to ask them to help get Abdihakim back to Canada. (Enter your postal code
here and find your MP's coordinates.)

The idle rich

Trolling for Blacks on the Somali coast. And the Usual Suspects are creaming themselves.

More on the prey here.

Note: The original article appeared in an Austrian newspaper,
Wirtschaftsblatt, and an editor's note indicates that it's "probably satire." You could have fooled most of Kate's regulars, though.

Justice, in dribs and drabs

A hat trick:
  • Shyldon Safruk, the Ottawa cop who was reported to have beaten up a taxi driver in Ottawa in front of a number of witnesses, shouted racist remarks, then flashed his badge around with a smirk on his face and finally drove off with a couple of colleagues, has been charged with assault after a provincial Special Investigations Unit looked into the matter. That's quite something, because the SIU has just come under fire from the provincial ombudsman, André Marin, for conducting investigations "with blue-coloured glasses."
  • Federal Justice Simon Noël has torn a strip off the Canadian Border Services Agency for its massive and lengthy raid on the residence of Mohamed Harkat on May 12. (I blogged about that at the time.)

    It seems that the CBSA had been granted broad powers to tumble Harkat's residence, but had not exercised them. Believing that it was a case of "use it or lose it," the raid was organized by CBSA supervisor Jasmine Richard, who apparently saw it as a bit of a lark ("We need all the info we can gather lol").

    In Justice Noël's words:

    The evidence reveals that the primary purpose of the search conducted on May 12, 2009 was twofold: to use the search power so as to demonstrate to the Court that it had not been abandoned by the CBSA; and, to gather intelligence and information to be used in the preparation of the risk assessment ordered by the Court on March 6, 2009. Neither of these purposes is found in paragraph 16 of the former order which is limited to entry to verify that the Harkats “are complying” with the terms and conditions of release.

    Consequently, I conclude that the actions of the CBSA on May 12, 2009, exceeded the authorization granted it by paragraph 16 of the former order. The evidence indicates that the seizure of information was conducted in accordance with the list of relevant items provided by the counterterrorism branch to Ms. Richard. Items which could have little if any use in verifying Mr. and Mrs. Harkat’s compliance with the terms and conditions of release were seized, for example CDs, diskettes, and aged agendas and the use of a currency dog where there was no prohibition relating to the possession of currency. All of this indicates a search that far exceeded a verification of the compliance with the terms of the order. I therefore conclude that the verification of the Harkats’ compliance with the former order was incidental to the primary purposes of the search.


    Evidence adduced concerning the manner in which the search was conducted leads inevitably to the conclusion that it was not done in a reasonable manner. The participation of 16 peace officers and three dogs was excessive. The close to six-hour duration of the search was excessive. The seizure of out of date agendas, video cassettes, CDs and any document with Arabic writing on it was excessive. The use of male officers to search through Mrs. Harkat’s private drawers was unreasonable and surely not minimally intrusive.


    Little consideration was given to the dignity of the Harkats who were required to witness this excessively intrusive search into the most intimate details of their private life.

    The judge was not happy with the broad discretion that had been granted to the CBSA:

    All future searches will be authorized, circumscribed, and supervised by a designated judge of the Federal Court after hearing the submissions of both the CBSA and any special advocates appointed to protect Mr. Harkat’s interests in closed hearings.

    He issued an order "requiring the return of all information, equipment and records seized from the Harkat residence as well as the destruction of any copies made thereof is the appropriate remedy for the infringement of Mr. Harkat’s right to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure." And he pointed out the obvious:

    The breach of Mr. Harkat’s Charter rights was significant. While the CBSA may not have acted in bad faith, they acted with disregard for the terms of the former order and the requirements of section 8 of the Charter. This Court cannot condone the type of intrusive search undertaken by the CBSA. Mr. Harkat may have a diminished expectation of privacy, but that does not give the state a “carte blanche” to unreasonably intrude on what privacy is left to him.

  • And in a couple of hours I shall be at the Ottawa Airport to see off Abousfian Abdelrazik's lawyer, the hard-working Yavar Hameed, as he departs for Khartoum to pick up his client.
As my kid said when he was much younger: "Today--is a happy day."

UPDATE: Our fellow-citizen, having been issued his travel document, will be arriving in Toronto on Saturday.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What a surprise

The Harper regime is appealing a federal court order to seek the repatriation of Omar Khadr. Shoring up the base, I reckon, after their Abdelrazik defeat.

The government seems to be in full damage-control mode.
Maybe another slap in the face by a federal court judge might bring them to their senses. Or their knees. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the Cons may also be in a bit of trouble on the domestic front...

Cultural relativism

Item: The RCMP in Langley, BC, are on the lookout for a naked man who stole a drive-through Wendy's customer's french fries and then sped off in a van.

How would one translate this story to a member of the Yanomami people? What conclusions about "Canadian culture" might they draw from the above vignette?

Defending Ignatieff

After writing a number of posts deeply critical of Michael Ignatieff, I find I must now rise to his support.

Pursuing the "drunken Indians" meme, Quebec columnist Lysiane Gagnon recently launched an attack upon Ignatieff for his comments on the tragic Yellow Quill case in his recent book, True Patriot Love. First, here is what Ignatieff had to say:

Imagining what we share is not easy. Imagining this land is never just to imagine it as it appears to you alone. It is to imagine it as an Inuit person might see it ... To imagine it as a citizen is to imagine it as a resident of Yellow Quill reservation in Saskatchewan would have had to imagine it, this Canada where two half-naked children died in a snow-covered field in the subarctic darkness because their father tried to take the sick little girls to his parents and never made it, and all you can hope is that death was as mercilessly quick as the cold can make it. What does a resident of Yellow Quill imagine, what do we, Canadians, imagine our country to be, the morning we learn that children have perished this way? It is surely more than just a tragic story of one family. It is a story about us.

Classic bleeding-heart white guilt, sniffs Gagnon, in so many words. No mention that the father was falling-down drunk. No reference to his personal responsibility for the deaths. And Gagnon the proceeds to use her dubious analysis as a not-so-subtle entree to slag the First Nations as a whole, and implicitly defend the Harper government's effective scuttling of the Kelowna Accord.

But hers is a curious reading of Ignatieff's words. He is taking for granted that his readers know the story of Christopher Pauchay and his infant daughters--it occupied the national media, after all, for some time. And I see not a trace of "white guilt" in that passage.

Ignatieff is asking us to imagine, to dig deep, to see this tragedy through several lenses at once. What did this affair look like to a resident of Yellow Quill? How do others, across our country, conceive of our imagined community--how do we implicate this terrible event in our vision of that community?

Do we recognize that, because we are a country, this story is part of the on-going Canadian narrative--or do we excise it? Do we, like Gagnon, reduce it to one individual, and then, by a dubious synechdoche, use it to build walls around the First Nations as a whole? Or do we recognize that all of us are part of Canada, that our stories are held in common, and that what we are as Canadians, in a very real sense, is that many-threaded narrative?

What makes a man like Pauchay lead such a useless, irresponsible life? Those who claim that it's simply an individual matter don't really mean it--like Gagnon, they rather quickly move to a collective condemnation.

Ignatieff is inviting us to engage in a different kind of collective exercise: to understand, as Canadians, how and why this could happen in our community. It's not an easy task: to many, it's not even a comprehensible one. It's far, far easier simply to condemn and build fences and turn away. But do we not diminish our country--and ourselves--by so doing?

That's the question that Ignatieff implicitly poses. And it's a good one.

Abdelrazik: dirty work at the crossroads

A "narrative" implicating Abousfian Abdelrazik in terrorism has surfaced on a United Nations website--just as he is about to return home to Canada after a six-year battle.

Paul Koring has it all this morning in the Globe & Mail.
The issue is not whether the unsourced allegations have any merit--I have no idea, I don't know Abdelrazik personally. But the suspicious timing of the "narrative" should arouse our concerns.

At this point he's got a clean bill of health from both the RCMP and CSIS. The Sudanese tortured him for a while and then pronounced him innocent of any terrorist involvement. And we know, from the disgraceful tale of Maher Arar, that many fingers were pointed at many innocent people in the paranoia that boiled up after 9/11.

It gets worse. The name of Abu Zubaydah has been raised in the UN gossip-column as well. His adventures at the hands of American authorities--going all the way up to then-President George W. Bush, where the buck stops--is an ugly story in itself. Believed to be a top-ranking al-Qaeda operative, it turns out he was a low-level munchkin who had done little and seen less. But they broke him, with beatings, suspension from a ceiling, sleep deprivation, and 83 waterboardings.

A tiny fraction of that and I would be prepared to swear that I was bin Laden's golf partner.

Zubaydah apparently implicated Abdelrazik in something. Omar Khadr, under torture in Guantanamo, implicated Maher Arar, too. But that story soon fell apart. Torture induces narratives, but they tend, in reality, to be the narratives of the torturer.

Koring notes that the UN posting is unprecedented: such announcements usually appear in groups, but this was the first time a solo posting has been made. Here's Abdelrazik's lawyer, Yavar Hameed:

It's highly irregular and I don't believe it is coincidental that the UN posted this one on the eve of Mr. Abdelrazik's return. It smacks of smear by association; if there was anything criminal or substantive in terms of terrorist activity then I think our security services or those of the United States would have launched a prosecution.

We know, of course, that the US wanted information from Canada to help prosecute Abdelrazik under the lower standards employed by the Americans in such cases. But there is no evidence that the Canadian authorities had any such information to provide--it appears not, since no prosecution was ever launched.

Again, however, the timing and the presentation of this unsourced rag-bag of allegations are suspicious in the extreme. Is the Harper government trying to recover from months of damaging publicity, and build an alibi for its shameful conduct, by means of the United Nations Security Council 1267 committee?

Monday, June 22, 2009

When paranoia strikes

...me as deliciously funny.

Check out the pearl-clutching and squeaks of fear
over here. A government agency compiles published comment about itself! Whatever next? Dungeons? Torture chambers?

Watch your backs.

nobody (except a Speech Warrior™) expects...

Public intellectuals

I've had my differences with Andrew Potter, but every now and then he shines. His column on Michael Ignatieff in today's Ottawa Citizen is well worth a read. He's put his finger precisely upon what's wrong with Ignatieff: the sharp disconnect between his lofty academic view of the world and his new political role. The two are oil and water.

Ignatieff is just not very good at politics. As Potter puts it:

He tried to play chicken with the government, and Stephen Harper plucked him bald. The Liberals have now lost virtually all of the momentum they had built up since Ignatieff took over as leader, and as some wag had it, he's gone from being "lionized" to "Dionized." Oof.

But Potter doesn't stop there. As it turns out, Ignatieff may not be very good at the academic stuff either:

His whole brand is built around the proposition that he's a world expert on human rights, nationalism, and the perils and prospects of liberal interventionism, but whenever someone asks him his opinion on a specific case, Ignatieff slips and slides like the greasiest city hall politico.

The truth is that Michael Ignatieff's status within the more hardcore precincts of the academy is not that high. He's considered an elegant writer and a competent popularizer, but he's also seen as a bit of a dilettante who lacks rigour and who tends to agree with the last book he read on a topic. But that's fine: it is no small thing to be an internationally respected public intellectual, even if the emphasis is on the "public."

Indeed, Potter has had Ignatieff's number almost from the start. He is no fan of Ignatieff's "cut-rate intellectualizing," and I'm with him there. In fact, I confess I've never much liked the notion of the "public intellectual." It smacks of condescension, of talking down to the people. It's not the practice of haute vulgarisation that bothers me--that's an entirely worthy pursuit, exposing a wider audience to really interesting ideas generated in the hyper-specialist atmosphere that defines today's academic world--but the attitude, not only of the aforesaid intellectual, but of his or her wide-eyed, adoring followers. (And make no mistake: so-called "public intellectuals" enjoy having followers.) They can get their intellectual buzz from the master without really having to work at it; they can bask in his glory, his reputation and his leaderly aloofness. I saw it all at the last Liberal Convention.

And I saw it all in 1968 with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, a person whom I still can't recall without an involuntary shudder. He was even more noisomely aristocratic than Ignatieff, an intellectually arrogant man on a perpetual power-trip, a cynical, soulless manipulator. Ignatieff, it must be said, has not risen to those heights, for heights they are in the Liberal universe. He has not as yet publicly displayed Trudeau's nauseating contempt for ordinary people. But there is something of Trudeau redux in him nevertheless, and, perhaps more importantly, in the party that crowned him a few short weeks ago. It's all Iggy pop, Trudeaumania once more, our leader is smarter than your leader, wow, and he's just written another book.

I must make another confession at this point: I'm having a hard time disagreeing with Rex Murphy on the subject of Iggy, and even with the substance, if not the style, of the recent Tory attack ads. Ignatieff doesn't have close ties to Canada: that new book, True Patriot Love, is a embarrassingly transparent ploy. He came back to Canada for one reason, and one reason only--to rule. And the ease with which this path has been opened unto him should give us all pause.

It raises the question of what the Liberals' vision of Canada is. I don't think they have ever really had one, to be blunt. It's always been all about power, and what works to acquire it and keep it. If it takes mesmerizing the public with an intellectual import, then so be it.

And, while on the subject of public intellectuals, the Citizen graces us today with another incompetent column by Margaret Somerville, the popular self-anointed authority on bioethics from McGill who is fond of telling us how to live and what to think under the guise of ethical discussion. There is, in fact little real discussion in Somerville's writings: it's all moral claims and assertions.

This time she's on about stem cell research and the sacredness of the embryo. (The article is helpfully illustrated with pictures of fully-formed fetuses in their eighth or ninth month, but in fairness, that's not Somerville's fault.) "We are all ex-embryos," she says, in her sloppy way. We are, of course, all pre-corpses, too. That might lead some to draw quite novel conclusions about the sacredness of human life. No matter.

Somerville makes much of the potential of an embryo, its "becoming," and summons up that phantasm, "moral intuition," which she has referred to, in other columns, as the "yuck factor." But the same abstract argument of potential could be used about contraception, since sperm and ova are, at least potentially, joined. In fact one could trace a chain of potential back to the origins of life. A protozoan has the potential of evolving into a human being. Morally speaking, must the chain never be broken? How can it be avoided?

The notion of "becoming," and possible worlds arguments, do not offer in fact much in the way of a practical guide to what is moral or ethical, any more than does the natural law theology that Somerville is actually dishing out.
As she concedes, an embryo is not a baby. In the final analysis, that is really all there is to it.

Somerville ends by simply crushing her opponents thus: "To conclude, I suggest that seeing human embryo stem cell research as ethical is primarily a result of a failure of the ethical imagination." That's telling 'em, Margo. Welcome, once again, to the world of the public intellectual. It's great fun--just so long as the public knows who's boss.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday bits 'n' bites

Superior American health care.

Taking their cue from what's left of the US Republican party? Ontario Tories circle the drain.

The Harper government's "active sadism."

Persian translations. Hashtag help. The GOP as "oppressed minority."

And a happy National Aboriginal Day to all. (Nice to see the Māori presence: haere mai!)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Truth and reconciliation: Inuit in the cold

Canada's very own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, appointed by the federal government to look into the treatment of aboriginal children in residential schools, is finally up, if not running: it is expected to report in 2014. Yes, you read that right.

The TRC got off to a shaky start last year, with all three appointees eventually resigning. A new panel is now in place: Manitoba Judge Murray Sinclair (Mi-zhana-Gheezhik), who will chair the Commission, Wilton Littlechild, the Alberta regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations, and Marie Wilson, currently vice-president of operations for the Workers' Safety and Compensation Commission of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. Her spouse is Stephen Kakfwi, a residential school survivor and former Premier of the Northwest Territories.

There is no Inuk on the Commission. Yet the Inuit's terrible experiences in residential schools easily rival those of the First Nations. Their distinct circumstances, language and culture have not been taken into consideration by the government.

The Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) asked earlier this month for the establishment of an Inuit sub-group within the Commission. But Peter Taqtu Irniq, a former Commissioner of Nunavut and one of the founders of the territory, goes further.

As a child, Irniq lived in Turquetil Hall, the children's residence of the infamous Sir Joseph Bernier School in Chesterfield Inlet, run by Oblates and Grey Nuns. Physical and sexual abuse were rife at the school. Irniq doesn't mince words, and I hope readers will forgive me for quoting so many of them here, but they deserve wide circulation:

Our language, beliefs, and ways of living – of relating to and teaching our children, our food habits, our system of naming our children, our relationship with land and animals, and our bodies – were assaulted by a government determined to make us ‘ordinary Canadian citizens’.

What is the use of telling our residential school experiences to the three Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners who know nothing about our past, as Inuit, who know nothing about our culture, who don’t speak or understand our language? The experience of all Aboriginal people in Canada is unique. Our experience is no exception. Imagine our parents, losing their children to government and church-run residential schools, being forced to move from their camps where they knew how to live and survive to shacks and wooden houses in settlements run by the RCMP and government officials, being sent south for the treatment of TB, in some cases never to see their loved ones and their land again, in some cases having to work underground in mines and in factors, railroads and offices in a strange land called southern Canada. And all of this change taking place between 1950 and 1965, in a world that was supposed to have learned so much from the suffering of people colonized all over the world.

We deserve to be heard. We cannot just take what is offered to us! Our residential school and life experiences are as unique as any other. The failure to appoint an Inuk Commissioner to the Federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a national disgrace.

You could see it coming. We were ignored right from the beginning. We had to scramble to get a list together of not only the large residential schools some of us attended, but the small, one and two room matchbox-style homes used as residences in some settlements. No one setting up the Commission had ever heard of these experiences. Look at the wording. On the website of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the mandate of the Commission is described like this: “The Truth and Reconciliation Commission aims to provide those affected by the legacy of Indian Residential Schools with an opportunity to share their individual experiences in a safe and culturally appropriate forum”.

We Inuit are not Indians. There is nothing safe or culturally appropriate for Inuit about the forum the federal government has created to hear our residential school experience.

Inuit, Indians and Metis are recognized in this country as three distinct groups of Aboriginal people. The Government of Canada should have made sure that all three were represented on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. There is no excuse for this. If the appointments were made in the Prime Minister’s Office – which is highly likely then our Prime Minister is badly informed about the status and diversity of Aboriginal cultures and experiences in this country.

And there is little excuse for this oversight. During the spring of 2008, I, along with Tom Sammurtok, Frank Tester, a professor at UBC, Survivors including Marius Tungilik, Jack Anawak and Paul Quassa, lobbied hard with the Prime Minister of Canada, the Minister of Indian Affairs, and Mary Simon, President of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, for an Inuk to be named as one of three Commissioners. Our efforts clearly fell on deaf ears.

It is time to act. We Inuit should have our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission, following the example of Qikiqtani Inuit Association, who established a Truth Commission, headed by Jim Igloliorte, a respected Inuk judge from Nunatsiavut (Labrador), to look at the experience of Inuit in the Qikiqtani region dealing with the difficult times Qikiqtanimiut experienced in the 1950’s, ‘60’s and 70’s.

Irniq makes a strong point. Harper's snub to the Inuit was unconscionable. The TRC claims to be looking at the experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Metis, but its full name, as set out on its website, is the "Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission," and it's hard to avoid the impression that the Inuit are a bit of an afterthought, "Inuktituk [sic] translation" notwithstanding.

If the current make-up of the Commission is anything to go by, and I think it is, then an Inuit TRC needs to be established. Given the iffy record of the Harper government on Aboriginal issues, however, this may have to await an election--another good reason to call one. You listening, Iggy?

The Braidwood Chronicles: the Pritchard factor

Does anyone else think it odd that the man who shot the video seen around the world, Paul Pritchard, was not called to testify at the Braidwood Inquiry?

His video, showing the last moments of Robert Dziekanski as he was set upon by four RCMP officers and killed, was exhaustively reviewed. And yet an important statement that he made shortly afterwards never surfaced at the Inquiry, although it was reported in the press at the time.

It becomes even more salient after the revelation, two days ago, that a key piece of evidence was overlooked by the Department of Justice, an internal RCMP email:

Finally spoke to Wayne and he indicated that the members did not articulate that they saw the symptoms of excited delirium, but had instead discussed the response en route and decided that (if) he did not comply that they would go to CEW [conducted energy weapon].

The "Wayne" here was Superintendent Wayne Rideout, who, as testimony before the Inquiry revealed, had covered up inaccuracies in the RCMP version of events at the Vancouver airport.

Pritchard, interviewed immediately after the Dziekanski killing, stated: "I heard 'Can I or should I Taser him?' before they even got to Mr. Dziekanski. Right away they Tasered him." A slightly different version of his comment was also reported: "As they ran in, I heard one of the officers say, 'Can I Taser him, should I Taser?' before they actually even got to Mr. Dziekanski."

This would be of a piece with the email revelation. The use of the Taser was clearly uppermost in the officers' minds before they had ever laid eyes on Dziekanski. They seem to have been, to put it bluntly, eager to try it out.

Will Pritchard be called to testify when the Inquiry resumes on September 22?

In the meantime, the Vancouver Sun has just got its hands on a 55-page internal RCMP report written in May, 2008, dealing with communications. Here is an interesting excerpt:

The members attending the scene told investigators that they began with verbal contact to calm Dziekanski and then decided to use the (Taser) when they saw Dziekanski turn toward them, arms swinging low and holding a stapler.

But on Paul Pritchard's video, two members arriving at YVR and walking toward Dziekanski are clearly heard asking if they have the (Taser) ready. They speak to Dziekanski for 25 seconds and for a few seconds he appears to calm down before he turns toward them with renewed aggression.

Obviously the decision to speak to him while preparing for a worse outcome appeared to the public as being too quick to discount verbal techniques and consider more aggressive ones. . . . But for a police officer, the idea of attending a scene with one strategy in mind while preparing for a worse outcome is common sense.

Never mind the self-serving nature of the commentary. Did you notice the phrase, "arms swinging low?" Yet two of the officers testified, in the kind of unison that can only be the result of practice, that Dziekanski has approached them in a threatening manner with the stapler raised. The RCMP brass had to have known that they were providing misinformation to the Inquiry, but no effort was made to correct the record.

Another day, another fatal inconsistency. We aren't simply dealing with four rogue officers here, it seems, but with what can only be described as institutional malfeasance.

UPDATE: Reader Alison reminds me that the words are clearly audible in the Pritchard video, excerpted by the CBC here @2:30 and @6:15. "May I Taser him?" "Yes." But this has not been remarked upon so far at the Braidwood Inquiry, other than one glancing reference (p.32). Thus modified, my point still stands: the officers had Tasering on their minds before they had even confronted Dziekanski. The email and the exchange at the airport reinforce each other.

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Braidwood Chronicles: another high-voltage shock

...figuratively speaking this time.

Today was supposed to be a day for final submissions to Justice Braidwood. Instead, the existence of an RCMP email, previously overlooked (or so we're told by a "tearful" federal government lawyer) may delay that concluding phase.

It appears to contain evidence that the Four Horsemen had discussed using the Taser before they had even reached Robert Dziekanski, despite their testimony at the inquiry that they had not had any discussion of their possible response, and had no plans to use the Taser before confronting him.

Stay tuned. This story has more twists and turns than a bagful of snakes.

[H/t "forgottobuytinfoil"]

UPDATE: Justice Braidwood is appalled. The RCMP is disappointed. The hearings have now been postponed until September 22.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Abdelrazik: a defeat of sovereign power

Abousfian Abdelrazik is coming home.

After withering pressure from the media (kudos especially to the Globe and Mail's Paul Koring), MP Paul Dewar's persistence in the House of Commons, a growing cross-Canada grassroots movement, endless pro bono work by sympathetic lawyers, and a hard-hitting Federal Court decision a few weeks ago, the Harper regime has finally knuckled under.

As a citizen, I greet my fellow citizen's return with pleasure and relief. Besides the government, only a shrill minority in Canada were willing to condemn him in the absence of the slightest evidence that he had ever done anything wrong. Bloggers who called him a "terrorist," a "terror-supporter," even a "fascist," can be dismissed, of course, as the loonies they are, but for some time it appeared as though similar people were running our government without let or hindrance.

There is more to this than a narrative of official racism and Islamophobia. What we saw here was the joint appearance of the Sovereign and the exile, a trope explored at length in Giorgio Agamben's Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Abdelrazik was a classic example of an exile, deprived of rights and excluded from participation in society, reduced to what Agamben calls "bare life," or mere biological existence. And his exile, his being placed in a very real sense outside the law, was dependent upon the exercise of a sovereign power also outside the law, exercised by the Harper government.

Agamben is instructive reading. He argues that human rights are not, as he puts it in a short article called "We Refugees," "
eternal, metajuridical values that bind legislators to respect them," but depend upon civil rights as their ground. The removal of the latter extinguishes the former: it is no accident, he says in Homo Sacer, that Jews under the Third Reich were formally stripped of their citizenship before being consigned to the camps.

In this instance the separate power of the courts, depending for their very existence upon the law, refused to tolerate this exercise of absolute sovereignty. And the government, properly cowed by the courts and by public opinion, has, at long last, agreed to abide by the law of the land.

Welcome back, Abousfian Abdelrazik, and may the rest of your life be secure and happy. But a thought is causing me concern in the midst of my celebration: just how many more of you are out there, marooned in other countries, but as yet undiscovered by reporters and activists?

It's time, in any event, to turn our attention to other cases now: Omar Khadr, abandoned to torture and kangaroo justice in Guantanamo by a government arbitrarily refusing to act on his behalf; Bashir Makhtal, jailed in Ethiopia; Abdihakim Mohamed, stranded by Foreign Affairs in Kenya; and any other citizens exiled by the extralegal exercise of sovereign power. And let us press without delay for a public inquiry about the disgraceful treatment of Abdelrazik, and for federal legislation, as suggested by Amir Attaran and Gar Pardy in today's Globe and Mail, that unequivocally requires the Canadian state to protect its citizens--all citizens, no matter what their colour, creed or social status--when they venture beyond our borders.

More from Chris Selley, who's on a tear.

UPDATE: (June 19) The American connection. [H/t]

Your daily Taser

We don't issue frontline police with firearms with a thousand bullets, we don't issue them with capsicum spray the size of fire extinguishers. Every other weapon they have is limited ... but this one is out of proportion. --Australian criminologist Julian Bondy

Are the RCMP and the police in Queensland, Australia, swapping best practices?

"We fired the Taser three times. Whoops, make that 28."

The man targeted--no surprise there--died. An inquiry has been ordered.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Iggy...pop! [updated]

"The Liberal party is not seeking an election. We want Parliament to work. We want to replace confrontation with co-operation."

Election call this week? Not on your nelly.

Told ya. Tough on crime, soft on asbestos, genocide and Stephen Harper. The Dion Memorial Coalition™ lives on.

UPDATE: (June 17) The duumvirate has struck a working committee! The press is calling it a win-win--but for whom?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No flies on Smith and Jonesjohnson

If anyone wants to be terrified, check this out. There is something chilling--Orwellian--in its meticulous incomprehensibility. Michel Foucault would be impressed.

UPDATE: If this is satire or, as reader James Goneaux believes, agitprop, I'm not the only one to have been taken in. (Yes, I know that sounds defensive.)

UPPERDATE: Darn. I'd like to say that I was just testing the readership, but that would be dishonest. Gullible is in the dictionary, by the way. More here, h/t reader "forgottobuytinfoil."

Once again, the Harper hammer drops [updated]

This time it's the angry, benighted Gary Goodyear, Minister of Creationism Science and Technology, trying to shut down an academic conference on the Middle East scheduled to be held at York University later this month.

Under Stephen Harper, ministers have come to imagine that they are princelings, unaccountable to anyone, who can merely wave their scepters and impose their will. There's Lawrence Cannon, whose Justice Department mouthpieces argued in Federal Court recently that his actions could not be reviewed by a mere court of law. There's Jason Kenney, canceling a six-figure training grant to a Muslim organization because its president called him a name--a clear violation of administrative law, to which the Roncarelli decision speaks directly. Then there's King Harper himself, scoffing at the Charter of Rights and international convention in the matter of child soldier Omar Khadr.

Perhaps, then, we should not be surprised, merely disgusted anew, at the antics of Goodyear--and the indefatigable shut-'em-down lobbyists at B'nai Brith Canada and the Jewish Defence League, the latter of which has been linked in the past to terrorism. They have been joined this time by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, a charitable organization that is supposed to stay out of politics. (Not to worry: CRA only seems to be targeting gays this year.)

Here, for those interested, is the website for the planned conference. Some of the listed speakers, according to Goodyear and the lobbyists, have made comments in the past that "have been seen to be anti-Israel and anti-Semitic." [emphasis added]

I would hazard a guess that most of us in the blogosphere who have ventured to be critical of Israel state policy have been "seen to be" anti-Israel and anti-Semitic as well. In fact, we're inured to this dirty tactic by now. But the new McCarthyism continues unabated, across the country and at the highest levels of the Harper government.

The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, my old stamping grounds, by the way, has been asked to convene an unprecedented second panel for a new peer-review assessment, days before the conference is due to begin. In my day the organization tended to resist such improper pressures and demands. I hope they do so once again, because there's a lot at stake here. It's not only the integrity of one independent granting agency that's being put to the test, but nothing less than Canadian academic freedom.

No word as yet from Canada's Speech Warriors™, but I'm sure they'll get around to it.

UPDATE: (June 16) A polite "buzz off, Minister" from the SSHRC:

In light of public discussion, SSHRC requested information from the grant holder in the context of post award procedures as stated in the Grant Holder’s Guide for the Aid to Research Workshops and Conferences program.

The grant holder has informed SSHRC that the changes in conference programming since November 2008 are minor and that the aims of the event remain unchanged in their essence. The Dean of Osgoode Hall of Law School, and the Vice-President Research and Innovation at York University agree with him. SSHRC has accepted their assurance that planning for the conference is proceeding in a manner consistent with provisions of the Grant Holder’s Guide for the program.

How to avoid jury duty in Ontario

Criticize the police.

I take it I shall be spared sequestration for now.

[H/t Morton's Musings]

Monsters from the Id

Every time I am in the process of being wooed away from binary thinking, "us" vs. "them," and the profound sense that conservatism isn't a politics so much as a character issue, I am brought back to reality with a thump.

Obviously the outing of Canadian Cynic has, for many, induced a quite understandable Schadenfreude. He has the knack--I'd say the gift--of getting well under the skin of the smug, the stupid and (I apologize for the tautology) the right-wing. He tweaks the unkempt bristles of yahoos, scourges grunting knuckle-draggers, mocks unibrows and is merciless with gun-totin', whittlin', racist rednecks who hang out in the fetid swamps of Small Dead Animals
and other even danker and oozier places, where pedophile-enablers and stalkers dwell.

I don't blame some, then, for feeling what I felt when Arnie Lemaire ("Blazing Cat Fur") was outed. It wasn't right, but it felt so good. (I never knew who Warren Kinsella's other outee, "skippy stalin," was until I read all about it at his place. It appears that "stalin" was going real-world and trying to hurt WK's business. Mess. Bull. Horn.)


The Right is never content merely to attack. Some of them literally shoot to kill. I have posted before about the eliminationist bent of American conservatism, and sourced my quotes. Our side can be unkind, but we don't shoot up churches, murder doctors, launch a full-gun attack inside museums, etc., etc.

And we don't go after people's families. Or threaten physical violence. Or try to destroy their livelihoods.

"Christians" like SUZANNE, misogynistic stalking creeps like Richard Evans, and their allies, on the other hand, have posted CC's photograph, personal information about his place of residence, and have threatened his livelihood.

The following quotes--and I have screenshots--are all too typical of this element of the Right. The seething, maggoty inner lives of these people is bursting forth. Judge for yourselves.

If he loses his job, and his family suffers, he's got nobody to blame but himself.

I think Bobby's life is about to get real interesting, as all the people he's shit on horribly over the years get the opportunity to meet him in person. Some of them are much bigger in person than they are on the interweb.

and you've gotta wonder how cesspool's employers are gonna be with his, ah... innovative theories... about the prime minister of canada being bought off by that evil, all controlling z.o.g.

Heck, I'm very tempted to cull together all of his positively egregious statements, comments, and postings send it to his workplaces.

I’ve stated this before: “There are numerous internet organizations that track males who use the net to abuse women and children” and you merit a spot on their list you filthy pig.

I also think women should be issued a .38 and extensive self defense training at 16, so they don’t have to worry about perverts like Robbie bothering them.

What a classy bunch. And artful, too: transmuting their assorted mental and moral deformities into a recognizable and surprisingly coherent politics. Meet the conservative base, folks--and I do mean base.

UPDATE: Aw, PZ Myers says it so much better.

[H/t CC, and again]