Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Zerb under the gun

Stephen Taylor, grow up yourself.

Until I see you even once denounce the shrieky eliminationism that is the stock-in-trade of your political coreligionists--some examples are compiled here, and there are several more recent ones--I, for one, can do without your Pecksniffian faux-outrage about a throwaway and self-contradictory Twitter comment.
Not to mention more of the same arch-hypocrisy from Stalkin' Malkin herself.

Put a sock in it, OK? Or people just might stop taking you seriously.


There is no such thing as the literal: our communications are a grammatical assemblage of symbols, heavy with connotation. The current far-right "analysis" of the swine flu epidemic, linking it to Mexican immigration and Islamism, offers a substantial illustration.

"Illegal aliens are bringing in a deadly new flu strain. Make no mistake about it," says Michael Savage. He believes--"make no mistake about it"--that Islamists seeded the virus in Mexico, with illegal Mexican immigrants making the "perfect mules for bringing the strain into America."

"I've blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the US as a result of uncontrolled immigration, says Michelle Malkin. "What happens if there's a rash of deaths in Mexico... and if you're a family in Mexico and people are dying and Americans are not, why wouldn't you flood this border?" asks Glenn Beck. And then the Islamist Plot once again, this time from Neal Boortz: "What better way to sneak a virus into this country than to give it to Mexicans....then spread a rumor there there are construction jobs here, and there they come."

The anthropologist Mary Douglas, in her classic work Purity and Danger, argues that dirt--famously defined as "matter out of place"--represents an existential threat to the notion of order. Although she has more recently retracted her idea that kosher food rules are based upon the maintenance of clear categories (so, for example, fish with scales are clearly associated with the water realm and may be eaten; amphibians crossing the land-water boundary may not), the purity of categories in general remains a key component of what is orderly and right.

Taking his cue,
legal scholar Stephen Lee notes*:

[T]he line separating "immigrants" and "dirt" is a flimsy one. As a majoritarian institution, Congress's treatment of immigrants fluctuates from warm acceptance to punishing expulsion; citizens and voters casually accept the linkages between immigrants and dirt and use them as common sense points of reference. All sides of the immigration debate share common ground on at least one point: immigrants take on the "dirty and dangerous jobs" that citizens will not. There is a growing, if dim, awareness that "[i]llegal immigrant workers are America's dirty little secret," and increasingly it seems that the United States is not alone in this sentiment. Paradoxically, despite this strain of divisiveness, "dirty" immigrants also have the effect of unifying the American citizenry. America's self- image clings to a success-story heritage, in which "dirt-poor immigrants" have traditionally overcome difficult odds to forge new lives." Immigrants, like dirt, carry shifting meanings. Today, during this moment of prolonged national crisis [9/11 and its aftermath], the ground has once again shifted; the federal immigration regime has identified the "pollutants" among us as "matter out of place."

It is not difficult to see that the anti-immigration hysteria indicated above is not founded upon rational socioeconomic considerations. It expresses instead an elemental fear of pollution, for which sacred purification rituals are required: regulations, fences, patrols, expulsions. So long as the cultural categories remain unchanged, non-American Others, rather than being perceived as human beings and as equals, will continue to represent defilement, evoking fear and hatred, lovingly stoked by the high priests of American nativism.

Nothing less than a transformation of those categories, it seems--a different order of things--will reduce these terrifying metaphysical forces to mere flesh and blood. Are we seeing the specter of that transformation at the moment?
*"Citizen Standing and Immigration Reform: Commentary and Criticisms." California Law Review, Vol. 93, No. 5 (Oct., 2005), pp. 1479-1508

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Abdelrazik: desperate government to rely on torture

The utter desperation of the Harper government is showing: they are going to argue next week, in a real court of law, that information extracted from Abu Zubaydah under torture by the US, information that has in fact been largely discredited, should be used to implicate exiled Canadian Abousfian Abdelrazik in terrorism as a high-level al-Qaeda operative.

The comments at the
Globe and Mail show what ordinary Canadians think of this latest immoral move by the Conservative regime. None of this is likely to fly before before the Canadian judicial system. From extraordinary rendition in the case of Maher Arar, we now move to using the fruits of torture as supposed evidence against a citizen of our country who has never been charged with a crime.

Does the Harper regime seriously imagine that Canadians (other than its own wretched base) will react with anything but sheer disgust?

[h/t POGGE]

Monday, April 27, 2009

Tamils and the dark magic of 9/11

Accidental Deliberations drew my attention to this National Post editorial, praising former human rights activist Michael Ignatieff for refusing to address an anxious crowd of Tamil Canadians on Parliament Hill. His political spinelessness was translated into a grand display of principle by the wiseacres at NaPo: it was supposedly taking a stand against terrorism.

The point made by my fellow-blogger is succinct, and needs little elaboration. Rather than stand up for the civilians being slaughtered by Sri Lankan troops even as I write, Iggy continues to move his party into Harper territory, sacrificing humanity for expediency. Nothing new there--it's Liberal politics as usual.

But a single sentence in the editorial, criticizing earlier Liberal governments, caught my eye: "Even after 9/11, the Liberals refused to put the Tamil Tigers on the government's list of banned terrorist organizations."

That's worth a closer look.

With that single comment, in fact, an entire historical period is defined--one that continues, and with no end in sight. A small army of commentators has already twigged, of course: 9/11 was just what The Man needed to waterboard our liberties and hassle us endlessly at airports and refuse to allow our own citizens to return to their country and families. The world didn't change, as that tiresome, stupid cliché has it: bad people simply concentrated their power, whether in a cave in Pakistan or in the Oval Office or in the PMO right here at home.

9/11 was a tragedy. Now it's an excuse.

Only nutbars at this point imagine that al-Qaeda had anything to do with Saddam Hussein, for example--a batty premise that finds its mirror reflection in Troofer talespinning. But hundreds of thousands paid with their lives in large part because that link was dishonestly made. And by now 9/11 has become the maid of all work for right-wingers, paranoiacs and editorialists. These categories, of course, are seriously commingled.

In this artificially created atmosphere of fear, 9/11 has assumed metaphysical dimensions, setting it apart from run-of-the-mill slaughters elsewhere. That sort of thing happens to beige people in other parts of the world--Iraqi kids, Afghan wedding-parties, Gazan and Lebanese civilians. It's not supposed to happen here. We're mostly white and well-off and above the fray.

So when it does happen, we can expect panic, state clampdowns, foreign wars and lots of crazy talk. And that's what we're getting in spades, in case anyone hasn't noticed. Even to bring up 9/11 in a commentary about Sri Lanka, and in such a breezy and offhand way, shows just how far we've drifted.

A civil war in Sri Lanka, extending nowhere else, untainted on either side by even a whiff of Islamism--a war in which a minority people, slaughtered mercilessly for decades, have come to identify (at least to some extent) with a brutal counterforce called the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, is now effortlessly connected to 9/11. Not through a process of reasoning, because there is no relation to be made through such means. Instead it is simply a hand-wave, an editorial tic, something so obvious, apparently, that it can merely be alluded to in a casual throwaway comment.

"Terrorism," in fact, has come to mean little more than those forms of resistance to which the Americans take exception. Had the contras in Nicaragua still been around, throwing their bombs into daycare centres, no doubt they would have been spared: after all, they were our sons-of-bitches. Palestinians and other peoples have also had plenty of reason to feel terrorized in recent years, but their oppressors aren`t on the list.

That, too, is all old news. But hurrying to keep up with the 9
/11 hysteria, Canadian authorities issued security certificates, collaborated in the rendition of Maher Arar, and are currently happily engaged in exiling other Canadians, including Abousfian Abdelrazik and the child soldier Omar Khadr, to prove that we can be tough on brown Muslims too. And others, for whatever reason: the LTTE was finally placed on a banned list by the Conservatives in April, 2006, simply because, I suspect, the US listed it as a "Specially Designated Global Terrorist" group in November, 2001.

Half incantation and half alibi, "9/11" is the political soporific that permits us merely to nod. It excuses anything and is relevant to everything. It's part of our living consciousness, and needs no longer be justified or explained. Fear is now literally part of our vocabulary. And so we go gentle into the ever-darkening night.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Matriarchs and Patriarchs

Jonathan Goldstein as public presence - he's the creator and host of CBC's WireTap - appears to be the quintessential schlemiel. Diffident, slightly self-deprecating, he provided a sly foil to Jian Ghomeshi's flustered opening remarks at the Blue Metropolis event.

Ghomeshi was compelled to make a reference to his unfortunate interview with Angelina Jolie's unmentionable ex. Also, desperate to establish some bizarre Norman Mailer-esque creds, he described Margaret Atwood running her fingers through his luxurious locks (my expression, not his) before and after his 'maiden' Blue Met interview with her in 2007. "Oh," inquired the mild-mannered Goldstein, "that would be her real hand, and not the book-signing automated hand?". A lightly chastened Ghomeshi, thus reminded of who was actually the vedette of the interview, re-calibrated his focus.

Though Goldstein is broadly known for his CBC radio work, he is also a published writer and his latest book generated un frisson of the now-obligatory outrage. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible! did not endear him to orthodox Jews nor fundamentalist Christians.

Goldstein skillfully demonstrated his talent for locating humour in the gap between the familiar and the alien. His re-telling of Bible stories is an adult's embellishment of those imaginative flights of fancy inspired by his childhood copy of a Golden Books Illustrated Bible. Goldstein also described, with radio-clip in support, other critical turning-points in his own personal exegesis of this religious text. He did not set out to make fun of a book that is sacred to many; he simply unpacked stories that offered material ripe for comedic expansion.

His mother and his father are the perfect, if not requisite bouncing-boards for launching the spinning of biblical lore. His recollections of Important Moments are remembered quite differently by his parents, and in that gap there is much humour that Goldstein mines.

Ghomeshi appeared unsettled by a recurring motif in the bible stories - many if not most of the male characters are disappointing while the females are resourceful, smart and sensible. Goldstein mostly shrugged, in his wise "Plus ça change plus c'est pareil." way. Cultural archetypes and memes are his stock in trade and he uses them cleverly to great effect.

One of my event-attending companions, a pragmatic matriarch observed that Goldstein reminded her of Woody Allen in his understated schlemiel, perhaps schnook-like demeanour. Indeed. I would hasten to add, though my cultural references are not as expansive and knowledgeable as hers, Goldstein is certainly not an over-compensating nebbish or possessed of a gvaldik ego. Ghomeshi however ...

On the Left Coast for a few days blogging may be light. Until, of course, the Liberal Convention gets into full swing at the end of the week. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Given the recent horn-blasts of ignorance

...from highly-placed Americans, including one superannuated bozo who actually had a shot at being the President of the whole shooting-match, I think it's high time to dust off this article that I posted nearly three years ago.

Let's help secure our neighbours to the south.

[H/t Alison]

Tamils: "Canadians" or Canadians?

My friend James Bow took me gently to task the other day for calling blogger "Raphael Alexander" (not his real name) a racist in a recent post of mine. It might well not have been constructive, as he suggests. I did, however, provide a link to some unmistakeably xenophobic comments of "Alexander"'s, and I also thought it was germane to a discussion of his tendentious concern for the women of Afghanistan.

In fact, in the post to which I reacted, he merely uses these women as a foil to deride the alleged "hypocrisy" of the Left. Given his previously-stated views about immigrants with funny names, it's not likely he'd welcome these women were they to emigrate here.

And once again he helpfully provides proof so that I don't have to. On the recent mass protests by Tamil Canadians to persuade our government to intervene against the slaughter of their friends and relatives in Sri Lanka, he has this to say:

"Canadians haven’t joined Tamils in their protests in Ottawa. Our absence is symbolic."

By "Canadians," he is evidently referring to those of the reassuringly white, Anglo-Saxon variety. His post is meant to be a rejoinder to an excellent article on the subject by Terry Glavin, and here is the money quote:

Terry Glavin insists that “these are our people, and these are my people”. But they aren’t our people. They are political refugees who have fled from a warzone, and are using Canada as a temporary safe haven. Because we allowed so many of them in to Canada, they now command great political influence in Ottawa, both because of their hardline positions, and their sheer strength in numbers [how can police disperse 30,000 people?]. They don’t care so much about Canada, per se, for as they see it, and every other temporary haven their people dwell in right now, as a staging ground for launching protests that ask for international intervention.

One must marvel at "Alexander"'s wondrous powers of clairvoyance that allow him to determine that all Tamil Canadians are merely temporary residents of Canada, even the second- and third-generation ones who made up the majority of the protesters. His post--its assumptions and the antipathy that it displays--really does speak for itself. Of more interest, however, is his link, to a column by Margaret Wente that lacks the forceful conclusiveness of many of her other pieces, and raises some profoundly important issues.

Tamil Canadians, Wente says (without using shudder-quotes), are asking their fellow-Canadians to join them in their protests. Is this our fight? Wente, an immigrant herself, answers immediately in the negative.

She concedes, however, that this is not cut-and-dried:

In this new, transnational era, issues of identity and politics spill over national borders. And questions of citizenship and belonging become increasingly blurred. Tamil Canadians "belong to more than one nation," says R. Cheran, a Tamil poet and sociology professor at the University of Windsor.

She cites another sociological source,
Jeffrey Reitz, to the effect that second-generation visible minorities feel less "Canadian" than their parents, although she doesn't explore his explanation--namely, perceived exclusion. (Reitz, in fact, blames this alienation on the lack of strategies for integration into the wider society, and is critical, as am I, of the strategic value of official multiculturalism, with its lack of goals and objectives.)

Wente's key question, however, is this: is it possible to belong to more than one nation?

There happens, in fact, to be a considerable literature on the subject of citizenship and nationality in this era of globalization. Certainly it is not difficult for us to acknowledge that we can be members of many communities at once, including cyber-communities. And nations, as Benedict Anderson has argued, are fairly new on the scene in historical terms: he calls them "imagined communities."

Nations, like smaller communities, are not bounded wholes. We can feel many loyalties at once, without being caught in contradictions. Citizenship, of course, is another matter: it is legal membership in a specific community of communities, although it is not immediately clear, beyond the legalities, precisely what is the nature of the commitment that this seems to entail.

In any case, Wente ends her column thus:

But the real question for Canada is not about good guys or bad guys - it's to what extent our government will respond to the pressures of transnational ethnic groups, as these groups become ever more influential.

There's another question: How will Canada evolve when so many people have multiple allegiances, to homeland and to host land? "I believe it is possible for people to be loyal to more than one nation, one history and one idea," says Prof. Cheran, who thinks we should embrace the idea of transnational citizenship.

I don't know if he's right, but I do know this. There are many mini-nations in our midst. And most of us don't know anything about them.

In the past, Wente has strayed into "yellow peril" territory, the terrible Other being Muslims these days, but this article, even with the dark suspicion one finds in her tone, is actually a thought-provoking piece that raises many of the right questions.

The "pressures of transnational ethnic groups," once upon a time, might well have referred to those of us of British extraction, given that we were literally British subjects until 1977. All societies, in any case, consist of pressures and counter-pressures, which we in Canada attempt to resolve politically and socially in a civil manner.

Indeed we have always been a country of many nations, including the founding nations of French, English and the First Nations and Inuit who preceded them. How we evolve will be determined, not by imposed policy, but by dialogue; not by law, but by social interaction. And what we are, individually and as a country, cannot, especially in this era of the Internet, be confined by borders of any kind.

Perhaps one way out of the question that Wente poses, then, is to put the word "nation" to one side. Possibly it has outlived its usefulness, and has now become, for all intents and purposes, a floating signifier, referring to many different and contradictory ideas. But, more urgently, if we are to evolve at all, we have to engage each other with passion and depth and, above all, with generosity of spirit. And to do so, it is surely a necessary precondition--indeed perhaps the only one--that we place ourselves well outside the narrow and invidious notion that some Canadians are more Canadian than others.

Sleeping with the enemy

Back in the day I knew public sector union officials whose spouses were on the management side--in the same department in one case. I was uncomfortable about it, to be frank. And so it was almost with a sense of déjà vue that I read of Quebec Liberal Deputy Premier Nathalie Normandeau's current romance with Action démocratique du Québec MNA François Bonnardel.

Says Normandeau:

"There is no grey area. There is public life and there is private life. We are professionals and we know very well what we have to do and that there are lines we cannot cross."

And ADQ whip Janvier Grondin commented:

Pour moi, ça n'a pas d'importance, c'est la vie privée. On a le droit de faire un peu ce qu'on veut, on est des humains. Moi, je suis un peu embêté, car je me dis: ''quand on s'en va dans la politique aujourd'hui, faudrais-tu passer chez le médecin pour se faire castrer?'' [For me this isn't important, it's private life. People have the right to do what they want, we're all human. For me I'm a bit put off [by the controversy], because I ask myself: "when one goes into politics today, must one go to the doctor to be castrated?"]

Ask any male in Stephen Harper's caucus. But in any case there are those who disagree. Says Le Soleil commentator Gilbert Lavoie:

À une autre époque, le galant devait se comporter en homme d'honneur et marier la belle, s'il l'avait séduite. En politique, c'est un peu plus compliqué... Mais si François Bonnardel veut éviter de placer Nathalie Normandeau dans l'embarras, le plus simple serait qu'il quitte le caucus de l'ADQ et siège dorénavant comme indépendant. Ce serait un geste honorable qui ferait baisser la pression sur la ministre, et qui éviterait que la suspicion ne s'installe au sein du caucus adéquiste. [In another age, a gentleman had to behave as a man of honour, and marry the woman that he seduced. In politics, it's a bit more complicated...but if François Bonnardel wants to avoid putting Nathalie Normandeau in a tough spot, the simplest way would be for him to leave the ADQ caucus and sit as an independent from now on. This would be an honourable move that would relieve pressure on the Minister, and which would keep suspicion from arising in the ADQ caucus.]

Actually, I have few problems with the politics here: I must be mellowing, or maybe I just don't have a political dog in this fight. There is no reason to doubt that both partners are behaving in a principled fashion, publicly and privately, and will continue to do so. But I do wonder about the private realm that sympathetic politicians of all stripes are at pains to wall off from the public sphere of political life.

It seems to me, speaking from experience, that a personal relationship (I hate the word, but let's put that in brackets for now) is the very last place where one would want barriers and secret compartments. It's unhealthy to build them, and it's unhealthy if they are immovably there from the beginning.

Consider: both partners in this case are passionately committed to politics and to the values of which politics is an expression. But clearly the values in this case are at odds: a cautious pragmatic humanism (Liberal) vs. a reactionary, xenophobic populism (ADQ). That alone might not be sufficient to doom a partnership, although sharing values is one of the joys of such involvement. But added to that is the vocation of each, which makes these values salient for a considerable part of their waking lives.

I'm not moralizing here: I hope they both do well, and that their romance flourishes. It's just--and this could be simply a failure of imagination on my part--that I can't conceive of a relationship in which so much of one's very self must be submerged or kept secret from the other.

It's not "bedfellows making strange politics," as the Toronto Star so pertly puts it. It's more "politics making estranged bedfellows." What, besides what we might assume is the obvious, is keeping these two together?

Rampant speculation welcome.

Conservative civility (NSFW)

Blogging Tory Darcey Jerrom muses about progressives:

Pieces of shit bitch about nothing but then again everything they say is asshole. The wonderful piece of shit members of the Council of Canadians are also intertwined with the wonderful piece of shit 9/11 troofers and typically spend their time attacking the one issue wonder of water trade with Obama's America. Outside of that they masturbate a lot, spend time on the 'progressive' Canadian forum Rabble and in general are around to oppose the old American administration of George Bush and promote social justice which is just another word for communism.

Hope you die you bastards, hope you die.

It's all there--sex, scat,
eliminationism. The concise version of the far-right Weltanschauung. A clinician's dream.

[H/t CC]

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Harper told: dark-skinned Canadians have rights too

A federal court judge has admonished Stephen Harper and his government for refusing to press for the return of Omar Khadr to Canada from his Gitmo prison cell.

Said Justice James O'Reilly: "The ongoing refusal of Canada to request Mr. Khadr's repatriation to Canada offends a principle of fundamental justice and violates Mr. Khadr's rights....To mitigate the effect of that violation, Canada must present a request to the United States for Mr. Khadr's repatriation as soon as practicable."

Still to come: a May 7 court date for Abousfian Abdelrazik's lawyers. No word as yet about Abdihakim Mohamed. Bashir Makhtal languishes in an Ethiopian prison: much sound and fury from Transport Minister John Baird, timed to coincide with developments in the Abdelrazik case, but no action.

Meanwhile: is Brenda Martin still homesick for Mexico?

UPDATE: Surprise, surprise: Harper has announced that he is considering an appeal.

[H/t Scott Tribe and commenter "sassy."]


A correspondent in today's Globe and Mail writes:

In feeling empathy for [Susan Boyle], we fail to recognize her success [on "Britain's Got Talent"] won't change how we measure talent in the future.

Another effect of all the heart-string strumming and eye-watering of Ms. Boyle's success is that other contestants are losing a great deal of exposure, the most egregious example of this being the extraordinarily talented dance group Flawless. The 10-member North London group's routine was so jaw-droppingly good, it brought even the jaded Mr. Cowell to his feet.

It's a shame our sentimental self-congratulation and desire to share in a very nice and talented woman's success has to erase recognition of everyone else involved.

I'd never heard of "Flawless," but I found their audition, thanks to this writer. Let me do my small part to right the balance. YouTube embedding has been disabled--just go watch.

The Braidwood Chronicles: a turning-point?

This week's Braidwood hearings need to be seen in context. All the good stuff happened offstage: RCMP Commissioner William Elliot's comments in a Toronto Star interview, and RCMP officer Tim Shield's spectacular apology to the public outside the hearing-room on Tuesday.

Briefly, a seismic shift is taking place before our eyes. The RCMP is beginning to admit that it was wrong. That doesn't happen every day.

Yesterday's testimony from Cpl. Dale Carr, the media relations officer attached to the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team (IHIT), was almost anticlimactic. Yes, he had briefed Sgt. Lemaitre, as the latter testified on Tuesday. But no, he couldn't remember what information he'd relayed at the infamous IHIT briefing
at the Richmond detachment office a few hours after Dziekanski's death--or who had relayed it to him. Nor, he claimed, had he paid any attention to Sgt. Lemaitre's subsequent media interviews, even though he'd been standing beside him during one of them.

One thing he did know, however: he became aware of inaccuracies in the information that had been relayed to the public, but was ordered by his boss, Supt. Wayne Rideout, in charge of IHIT at the time, not to correct the record.

Rideout had allegedly begun to believe that he and his team were embarked upon a criminal investigation, although Carr was clear that no such thing had been apparent at the Richmond briefing--indeed, Cpl. Benjamin Robinson, one of the Four Horsemen, attended and might even have addressed the meeting. Had he been a suspect, of course, neither would have occurred.

Moreover, under questioning from the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother, Walter Kosteckyj, Carr conceded that, despite this instruction, press releases on the alleged facts of the case continued to flow. On November 30, 2007, for example, the RCMP issued one claiming that Dziekanski's vital signs had been regularly monitored by the officers present (which has been strongly contested by firefighters arriving on the scene). Carr responded, to
Kosteckyj's evident incredulity, that this was irrelevant to any possible criminal matter.

Meanwhile, as the Inquiry lumbered on, the RCMP Commissioner was busy sending a clear signal that the RCMP will no longer continue to maintain that Dziekanski was at fault. In fact, were I one of the Fab Four, I'd be getting that old sinking feeling about now:

"We will make submissions to the inquiry," said Elliott. "I think it's fair to say that we will say if we had to live life over again, and I'm sure that our members would say – I've never discussed this with them because I've never discussed this incident with them – if they had to live life over again, there are things that they would do differently."

B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal told reporters last week the decision by Crown prosecutors in December not to lay charges against the four officers is not final, and could be revisited based on evidence coming out of the inquiry.

"In the face of that, I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on the conduct of our members," Elliott said. But he also went out of his way to state: "I'm also not doing what many accuse me of doing, which is defending them."

Now, Bill is a slippery sort, and nothing says he hasn't made some reassuring private phone calls once again, but there's a point at which one has to cut one's losses--and that point appears to have been reached.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

RCMP Commissioner: caught in a lie?

July 17, 2008:

A day after the release of an eyewitness video of the events leading up to Dziekanski's death, the RCMP commissioner called the four officers involved in the incident and expressed his support, according to the partially redacted e-mails.

"I have just now placed calls to all four members. I spoke to three of the four," [William] Elliott wrote in an e-mail dated Nov. 15 to Gary Bass, the RCMP deputy commissioner for the Pacific region.

"I know this is tough on you and all our folks in E Division. Please be assured of my ongoing support," Elliott wrote.

April 22, 2009:

"We will make submissions to the inquiry," said Elliott. "I think it's fair to say that we will say if we had to live life over again, and I'm sure that our members would say – I've never discussed this with them because I've never discussed this incident with them – if they had to live life over again, there are things that they would do differently."

[h/t Mound of Sound]


Pouring out a remarkably viscous mixture of irrelevance and self-gratulatory dimestore rhetoric, the racist National Post blogger "Raphael Alexander" (not his real name) takes a poke at me for my remarks about Michael Coren yesterday. It seems that he was urged on by milblogger Mark Collins.

I'm a crocodile.

Normally I wouldn't give a damn about anything that the junior chickenhawk has to say, but this is such a glorious example of missing the mental boat that some prominence should be given to it--not for its childlike semblance of argument, mind you, but as a cautionary tale.

Here are the salient bits, dripping, as it were, from my jaws:

Michael Coren was rebuked, heartily, by many bloggers from all over Canada. And that’s where the story could have ended, then and there. But in the words of Torch blogger Mark Collins, a few crocodilian tears spilled by one blogger in particular has necessitated a response. In the blog entry the self-described “progressive” writes:

By now several progressive bloggers have gone after Sun columnist and TV nonentity Michael Coren, who jeers at the notion of women in the armed forces, and exploits the recent death of Trooper Karine Blais to make his point. I have little to add, except to observe that the starboard side of the blogosphere is curiously silent on the matter, The Torch included.

What should be a multilateral attack on Michael Coren for his stunningly inconsiderate remarks, turns into an opportunity for a “progressive” to stick it to the rest of us because, as he observes, our “side” is curiously silent on the matter. What that’s supposed to mean is anyone’s guess. The fact is that when the Torch did get a chance to respond, it did so in an exemplary manner befitting Canada’s best military blog.

Indeed Damian Brooks eventually responded quite capably to Coren's vicious little rant: I noted that, and linked to his post. At that point we were all on the same page. The problem was that the hawkling was holding the book upside down.

See, my post wasn't about Afghanistan at all--not about our doomed mission, not about the steady descent of that puppet-state into corruption, tyranny and misogyny. It was about respect.

It wasn't what Trooper Karine Blais did for a living that caught the eye of progressive bloggers. It was the slimy suggestion that she was an incompetent Barbie doll playing dressup and getting herself killed trying to do a man's job. We would have risen up in exactly the same way if she had been a firefighter perishing in an office tower blaze, or a police officer shot by a fugitive--and some mindless commentator had sneeringly suggested that she was asking for it.

Coren's piece was unconscionable because it used Trooper Blais' death, her body barely cold, to score a cheap and vulgar point. It was an uncalled-for sexist attack on who and what she was as a person and a professional. His support for or opposition to Canada's Afghanistan adventure, and our own, for that matter, are completely irrelevant.

I don't like the monstrous triplex that recently sprang up beside my little house, but if a woman construction worker had died on the job, and a local columnist had mused aloud about her choosing a less manly line of work, I would have been equally up in arms--figuratively speaking. I trust the analogy is obvious, even to the duller sort.

In any case, when I saw post after post going up on the progressive side of the aisle, while at that point nothing had appeared in quarters where one might reasonably have expected it, I found that mildly ironic; so I dropped Collins a line asking the obvious question. I was assured that a response was indeed in the works, and in the meantime he helpfully provided me with a comment from that I reproduced in my post. So far, so good.

But he also said this:

Seeing as most "progessives", yourself included, do not want the CF to be fighting at all in Afstan, I see the reaction as strictly crocodilian.

Which goes to show what a too-narrow focus can do, even to the intelligent. But it also shows where the young chickenhawk is getting it from. To put it bluntly, he's being pimped out by the older and smarter folks, told he's beautiful, and encouraged to put his political ass on the street. The problem is that they're usually nowhere to be found when it gets bitten.

Poor fellow.
It's lunchtime.

UPDATE: (April 23) "Raphael Alexander" (not his real name) responds: epic flail. Meanwhile, Mark Collins thinks it's all about him.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Braidwood Chronicles: "You have to have faith in the system"

Police testimony at the Braidwood Inquiry continued this week, beginning with the wooden Sgt. Brad Fawcett, back on the stand on Monday, still holding to his line that the Four Horsemen had behaved appropriately at the Vancouver International Airport.

Last Friday, he had stated that their "perceptions" of being in danger were what counted. So it was "reasonable," he said, for the four of them to come at Robert Dziekanski as he backed away, and Taser him five times: and, he continued yesterday, it was "reasonable" for Cpl. Benjamin Robinson to put his knee on the man's neck to restrain him. Not that he--Brad Fawcett--would have acted the same way.

Walter Kosteckyj, a former RCMP officer and now the lawyer for Dziekanski's mother, asked Fawcett (who trains rookie officers in the use of force), if he thought Dziekanski "was showing pain when he was laying on the floor, holding his chest and writhing around in a circle?" Could it be that Dziekanski "was fighting for his life and trying to get air?"

Fawcett, who had had no difficulty earlier determining precisely what was in the minds of the Four Horsemen, suddenly grew cautious. “We can’t put ourselves in the mind of the subject,” he said.

Const. Craig Baltzer of the Delta police department, who downloaded the data from the Taser, followed Sgt. Fawcett. He testified on Monday that the first two Taser shots had been ineffective, although he conceded today that the full effect of the first shot seemed to have been felt--Dziekanski dropped to the floor after receiving it, convulsing in agony. Baltzer's testimony--the language, the tone--was jarringly dispassionate:

"You don't hear it right off the bat, you don't hear the Taser working. But within a second or so you can hear the clack, clack, clack sound and it's intermittent in relation to his movements," Baltzer said.

"So from that were you determining intermittent contact from the first deployment?" asked commission counsel Patrick McGowan.

"Yes," said Baltzer.

The witness video shows Dziekanski drop to the ground after the first deployment. Baltzer was asked about the second deployment.

"On the second deployment as he's gone to the ground and he's starting to curl up you can still hear at the very start of that the loudness of the Taser, but then it goes quieter as there is better contact. You can hear the clack, clack, clack sound but then it sort of shuts off after about one and a half to two seconds into it," Baltzer said.

Baltzer said Dziekanski "appeared to be under the influence of the Taser" with the second deployment.

Baltzer said he could hear no clack-clack noise during the third deployment.

"What does that make you conclude?" McGowan asked.

"That he was under the effect of the Taser," the officer replied.

Today Const. Baltzer agreed that the effect of Taser shocks could lock the limbs so that the subject could not move them as he might wish--his body would simply be out of control. So much, then, for the claim that he was actively resisting the Four Horsemen after being shocked five times in quick succession. It is reasonable to surmise that he was also in a perfect panic after being set upon as he had been.

Interestingly, the actual Taser probes do not appear to have been subjected to forensic analysis to determine if skin contact had been made. Const. Baltzer had to work from accounts and one photograph. He was asked if he had been Tasered himself as part of his training, and indeed he had, with both single and multiple shocks--but for the past three years, he testified, trainees are not actually Tasered. Something to do with work-safe rules!

Then Sgt. Pierre Lemaitre took the stand. He was the RCMP media relations officer who had given a statement of events shortly after the Dziekanski killing that differed markedly from the video evidence and subsequent testimony, and I was all ears. His words at the time were thrown back at him by Commission counsel. "Chairs were flying," he had said. Well, he testified, Cpl. Dale Carr (from the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team) told him they were. "Violence was escalating," he had said; Dziekanski was "still combative" after being Tasered. Well, that was his impression after seeing a bit of the video while being debriefed at the Richmond detachment
(where, as it happens, Cpl. Benjamin Robinson was also present).

During the course of the testimony, I actually began to feel for the man, who was entirely professional without being cold and detached. Cpl. Carr, in fact, as became evident, was the conduit through which most information reached Sgt. Lemaitre, whose job it was to relay it to the media and thence to the public. At first I had the impression that Sgt. Lemaitre was sloughing off responsibility, but it soon became apparent that he was more or less at Cpl. Carr's mercy: Carr shortly took over the file completely.

Lemaitre had seen about a minute of the Pritchard video, and drawn some hasty conclusions from it, probably in the context of the information he was being provided at the time. These proved to be wrong; but as for the number of officers involved (four, not three), the number of Taser jolts (five, not two), whether Dziekanski's vital signs were being monitored up until the paramedics arrived, and so on, all of this came through Cpl. Carr.

Lemaitre had been fed what he came to realize was erroneous information, and took quite a few blows to his personal integrity along the way. His frustration became evident over the course of his testimony, and some real emotion eventually began to show as he noted that he had been given other assignments a couple of days after he had provided his media interviews, and then waited in vain for his superiors, and Cpl. Carr, to clear up the inconsistencies.

He had every confidence, he said, that Cpl. Carr and IHIT would correct the record. "You have to have faith in the system," he said.

But it simply didn't happen. He became concerned, as a person with 23 years in uniform, that the truth wasn't coming out, even though IHIT knew that there was considerable misinformation out there in the public realm. He expressed himself on this point to co-workers, friends and family, but somehow didn't feel free to raise it with his superiors.

Lemaitre concluded his lengthy testimony, and asked to say one thing before he left the stand. He offered condolences to Dziekanski's mother, who was not in the room at that moment--and made a point of saying that he was speaking for himself, and not the RCMP.

"We are not spin doctors," he had declared earlier, with emotion. But it looks to me, at least, as though he himself has been the victim of spin. We'll hear from Cpl. Carr tomorrow first thing. It should be interesting.

Mixed bag: criminals, cops, STV and a soldier's death

Marking papers all day--and watching the Braidwood Inquiry live feed--so just a few comments for now, from a quick scan of the news and blogs this morning:

  • The Supreme Court has reserved judgement in the case of Kelly Ellard, the miserable skank who has been tried three times--and convicted twice--of murdering teenager Reena Virk by beating and drowning her. At issue: whether a minor error in the judge's charge to the jury outweighs her several boastful confessions.

    Warren Glowatski has already served a light sentence--eight years--for participating in the same crime. He has, admittedly, expressed considerable remorse--unlike Ellard. He is the chief Crown witness against her.

    Ellard was originally given a lighter sentence than was Glowatski--five years before any chance of parole, raised to seven after her third trial. She went to prison for three years, but was released in 2003 after her first conviction was overturned. In March of 2004, she assaulted a 58-year-old woman, which was a violation of her bail conditions, and was returned to jail, where she's been held ever since.

    Many are probably thinking that enough is enough. Not I. I hope the SCC orders a new trial, and the Crown proceeds with one; and I hope that this process continues until 2030 or so--with continued remand.

  • I've blogged before about the highjinks of OC Transpo's baby cops here in Ottawa. Since they are even more unaccountable than regular police officers, it's no surprise that the bully-tactics of these ill-trained louts continue apace. As the Ottawa Citizen's Hugh Adami reports:

    The trio's problems started last Nov. 6 when [OC Transpo "special constable" Chris] Villeneuve saw the first-year journalism students taking photographs of the buses-only road that dissects the NCC land behind the Thompson-Walker home on Rembrandt Road near Woodroffe High School.

    Transpo says taking photos of its infrastructure is not allowed for security reasons.

    The confrontation only got worse when the three, who thought Villeneuve was going a little over the top by throwing his weight around as a so-called special constable, gave him some of their attitude. Timmons, who admits to being "a jerk" when he's challenged, says he told Villeneuve that Transpo's photo policy wouldn't stand up in court.

    He started taking pictures of Villeneuve, which only infuriated the bus cop even more.

    When I interviewed Villeneuve a few days ago, I, too, came away with the impression that the special constable was on a bit of [sic] power trip with three students who weren't easily intimidated by his orders. "We were giving him a hard time because he was being such a jackass," admits Thompson-Walker.

    I asked Villeneuve if handcuffing a woman and pushing her up against a car was a bit much for an alleged offence that doesn't even fall under the Criminal Code? "Not at all," said Villeneuve. "She was non-compliant under the Trespassing to Property Act and I arrested her under that act."

    Etc. Perhaps needless to say, an Ottawa police officer interviewed by Adami affirmed that Villeneuve had not exceeded his authority.

  • The Globe and Mail editorializes about the upcoming STV (single transferable vote) electoral reform referendum in BC, and, unsurprisingly, is opposed to the idea. Not that it favours the creaky, undemocratic "first-past-the-post" system: it calls instead for a kind of MMP, the mixed member proportional system that preserves single-member ridings, but tops up party seats in the legislature based on percentage of the popular vote. Rather than MMP proper, however, the paper proposes a junior version (known as the Supplementary Member system), as it did during the last Ontario attempt at reform. Under this system a pre-set section of the legislature's seats is apportioned to reflect the popular vote, while most of it continues to be filled in the current manner.

    We get the usual guff, of course, about "endless minority governments" (which appear quite common these days under the current system), and the alleged "bewildering" nature of STV.

    There may be mathematics involved, but the STV concept itself is not difficult to understand at all. Imagine a schoolroom with 100 students. Five prefects are to be elected. The procedure is that anyone wanting to run comes to the front and faces the class: supporters line up behind the candidate of their choice. So nine people go to the front. One is immensely popular, with a long line, so some of those who support him line up instead behind their second favourite. Less popular candidates end up with only one or two supporters: those supporters, seeing no win in sight, line up behind their second favourite (and so do the luckless candidates). If the second favourites achieve long lines, some of those students line up behind their third favourites--and so on. Eventually, as though by magic, five students with long lines are left, and declared elected.

    That's the principle of STV. I'm a late convert to this form of voting: it allows more voter choice, it does away entirely with the party list system, which sank MMP in Ontario (although there are more democratic ways of assembling those lists than the one proposed to Ontarians), and it makes every vote count. Show the way, BC.

  • By now several progressive bloggers have gone after Sun columnist and TV nonentity Michael Coren, who jeers at the notion of women in the armed forces, and exploits the recent death of Trooper Karine Blais to make his point. I have little to add, except to observe that the starboard side of the blogosphere is curiously silent on the matter, The Torch included.

    That doesn't mean that supporters of the war are not appalled by the crassness of the column, however. Here (courtesy of Mark Collins) is a comment left at

    I spoke about this article with one of my friends who was really close to Karine. He comes from the same small village, we both went to school with her, he has the same age and he joined at the same time as her and knew her from his early childhood. What sickens him, and myself, the most about this article is the distinction the author made about her looks. If she wasn't good looking, would the idea of this article even came to his mind? Karine wasn't weak mentally and was perfectly able for combat, she did the same training as any men of her regiment and she decided to join in a combat arm because she loved this job and would have hated to do a desk job. Of course her death is tragic, but so are the deaths of every other member who died in this mission. How is her death any more tragic than one of a 40 year old man who leaves his children to grow without a father and leaves his wife to take care of the childrens alone? To me we are all equal as humans in life and death and while I am deeply saddened by her death, I think it is a great thing that in our society she had the opportunity to do what she really wanted in her life before dying. The last thing she would have wanted is her death to reopen this sexist debate.

    Well said.
And now: first-year exams. A gloomy path before me lies.

UPDATE: Damian Brooks at The Torch has just put up a fine post on Michael Coren's insolence, appropriately entitled STFU, Coren.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

amabO Satanas

An exaggerated tip of the hat to Big City Lib for this.

But I've got more (save time, just watch the first 44 seconds--the rest strains credulity a tad). Maybe they're all evil down there:

My favourite living author

 Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano, whom I've mentioned before. He's in the news today because Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, taking a liking to Barack Obama at the Summit of the Americas, gave him a copy of Open Veins of Latin America. I sincerely hope that the new President has time to read it.

It's a one-book explanation for the current move to the left in a growing number of Latin American countries, tracing a centuries-long history of rapine and plunder, of genocide and dictatorship, first at the hands of Spain, and more recently under the baleful influence of the US, which operated directly or by proxy to ensure that nothing would ever change. That things are now indeed changing is a tribute to the spirit of the people, as well as being due, in part, to shifting American priorities: the continent is not, after all, a hotbed of Islamism.

But there was something almost mythic in
Chávez' act. It crystallized a moment in time in which a grim narrative of subjection, conquest and unimaginable suffering was handed to the representative of the most powerful nation in the world, after nearly two centuries of its hegemonic Monroe Doctrine and Theodore Roosevelt's Corollary. It was a plea, offered in the hope, at long last, of being heard.

Let Obama struggle with it. The promise of his election already grows faint: he is a leader who exonerates torturers, covers up for extraordinary rendition,
legitimizes homophobia, targets innocents like Maher Arar--well, the list goes on and on, from well before he was elected. Obama, in fact, is starting to appear simply as a darker, more intelligent George W. Bush, with deeper pockets.

But Galeano has much, much more to say, and, unlike Obama, he is beholden only to himself. His work is not simply critique, although one finds in it some of the best and at once the most reasoned, imaginative, passionate critique I have ever read. He invented a new genre, not the easiest task for a writer: his trilogy Memories of Fire, a history of Latin America that extends well beyond his more polemical Open Veins, is at once documentary, history, journalism, poetry and myth.

Galeano is a storyteller who can make any topic come alive.
For someone barely interested in sports of any kind, I couldn't put Soccer in Sun and Shadow down. It traces the evolution of the game from pick-up soccer in vacant lots to the World Cup, and intersperses accounts of legendary goals with the effects of big money on styles of play. Then there is Days and Nights of Love and War, a personal testament of life under the continual fear of political repression that somehow remains joyous. (Galeano was a political prisoner after the right-wing coup in Uruguay in 1973).

But for me, The Book of Embraces tops them all. I lent a copy of it to my late mother, who had little patience with my left-wing politics. She telephoned a couple of days later, wondering if I could pick up a few copies for her friends. I defy anyone to read that book without both weeping and laughing out loud. It humanizes politics to the point that the latter become universal, as contradictory as that might sound. Last words to him, to give the flavour of the book:

Christmas Eve

Fernando Silva ran the children's hospital in Managua. On Christmas Eve, he worked late into the night. Firecrackers were exploding and fireworks lit up the sky when Fernando decided it was time to leave. They were expecting him at home to celebrate the holiday.

He took one last look around, checking to see that everything was in order, when he heard cottony footsteps behind him. He turned to find one of the sick children walking after him. In the half light he recognized the lonely, doomed child. Fernando recognized that face already lined with death and those eyes asking for forgiveness, or perhaps permission.

Fernando walked over to him and the boy gave him his hand.

"Tell someone..." the child whispered. "Tell someone I'm here."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oh, Bama

The attorney general promised that officials who used the controversial interrogation tactics would be in the clear if their actions were consistent with the legal advice from the Justice Department under which they were operating at the time.

"It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department," Holder said.

And you're sanctioning the Nuremburg defence? I thought you were better than that.

Change, I can believe in. Precious little of that so far.

UPDATE: And. [H/t Hysperia]


Liberal party discourse
is always sinuous and infinitely interpretable. It's just that its current and future leader, former human rights advocate Michael Ignatieff, is so bad at it.

If he doesn't give up clarifying soon, in fact, we won't be able to see our hands in front of our faces.

Canada-Israel Committee: spying on Canadian citizens?

Some time ago, I was contacted by a very nice person from the Canada-Israel Committee, and offered an all-expense-paid trip to Israel--which I blogged about here. While I recognized the obvious bridge-building techniques of a professional lobbying organization, I was also aware that they knew that I knew, so there was no guile involved. The dealings I had with the person in question were pleasant and at the same time cards-on-the-table.

So I was inclined to see the Committee as a relatively benign pro-Israel group--certainly in comparison to the Jewish Defence League. Now I'm not so sure.

I have just come into possession of the following memo, apparently from the CIC's CEO, Shimon Fogel. In it (you can read it for yourself), a broad strategy is outlined for monitoring Canadians whom the CIC feels are politically suspect. I cannot--and this needs to be emphasized--vouch for the authenticity of this memo. If the CIC disclaims all responsibility for it, I shall be pleased to offer that disclaimer the same prominence here. But it does raise disturbing questions if indeed it is genuine.

(April 18) This took rather longer than I expected. Apparently even to mention the memo, in which anyone allegedly opposed to "Canadian values" (as defined by the Canada-Israel Committee) is to be "monitored," makes me a "neo-nazi."

The boorish, semi-literate "shlemazl," whom I have allowed to post here despite his utter lack of civility, is banned as of now. Enough is enough--this place is for honest folk.

UPPERDATE: (November 9) Given that some folks are still perusing this post, I should note that I had, on his invitation, a very pleasant coffee or two with Shimon Fogel quite a while back, during which time he was very firm that the memo did not originate with the Canada-Israel Committee. Although nothing was stopping the CIC from commenting here, I thought I should add this to the record, in fairness. I regret the time that has elapsed, for which I can offer no excuse, but better late than never.

Health Canada, asbestos and the accountability issue

Whether it's bovine growth hormone or deadly asbestos, Health Canada always seems to be on the side of the big battalions. In the former case, its own scientists who questioned its approval were harassed and fired, and only a heavy lobby killed the release of this hormone into our cattle--and ultimately into our milk.

Now, with a successful Access to Information request by CanWest, a sixteen-page report on asbestos that Health Canada sat on for more than a year is finally available to the public. It links chrysotile asbestos, the supposed "safe" variety of the mineral that we export to Third World countries, to lung cancer and
the painful and deadly mesothelioma. As Leslie Stayner, a public health expert, noted:

The most important thing is what [the report] doesn't say, which is [what] some people have alleged it would say. What it doesn't say is that exposure to chrysotile asbestos is safe. I think the bottom line here is that all forms of asbestos cause both mesothelioma and lung cancer.

The panel that put together the report included an advocate for the asbestos industry, David Bernstein. But it didn't come up with the report that the Harper government wanted and expected. Thanks to the corporate media, in other words, and not to Health Canada, Canada's continued poisoning of Third World workers with asbestos has just taken another hit. That's painfully ironic from a progressive standpoint.

In this case, the pressure apparently came directly from Stephen Harper's office, according to an uncharacteristically strong editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. But in general, the public policy question is this: to what extent can government departments resist corporate and political interference in their mandate to serve the public? In the case of Health Canada, whose name is beginning to sound positively Orwellian,
the answer is--not much.

Government departments, as institutions of governance, are accountable first and foremost to the government itself, and not to the public. They cannot, in other words, effectively serve two masters. Government departments are not arms-length agencies, and indeed they should not be statutorily independent of government.

Stronger whistle-blowing legislation with a clear role for bargaining agents--missing in the current Accountability Act--would help to safeguard the public interest, as a kind of safety-valve. But in the case at hand, in which the department has clearly been given its marching orders by the PMO, no such legislation would apply.

We aren't dealing here solely with amoral bureaucrats, in other words, but with an immoral government. The solution to this is ultimately political, not institutional. Unfortunately, given former human rights advocate Michael Ignatieff's flip-flop on this issue, that solution won't be coming any time soon. And meanwhile, workers in Third World countries where safety standards are a joke will continue to die agonizing deaths at our hands.

[Note: I've blogged about asbestos before. For those interested, the Ottawa Citizen has amassed a veritable archive of background information on its hazards.]