Sunday, January 31, 2010

Who is deleting Facebook groups

...critical of the BC government?

What's next--Google?

[H/t A Creative Revolution]

UPDATE: Hmm. Connected? A non-political Facebook glitch?

[H/t SUZANNE in the comments]

UPPERDATE: And "No BC HST" is back--without explanation.

News at eleven

Readers are aware that I have little patience with blasé dismissals of the "MSM" by certain members of the blogosphere--the commercial media are, after all, our life's blood. But that fact alone hardly exempts them from criticism. Indeed we spend a good deal of our time mocking the obvious political biases and factual inaccuracies to be found all too frequently in their reportage.

But there is also a question of style and formula to which we should pay more attention. If we were to do so, however, we would have some difficulty topping this:

[H/t CC]

Saturday, January 30, 2010

SCC Khadr decision: reprise

My previous post decrying the Supreme Court of Canada's scandalous refusal to enforce the Charter of Rights in the Khadr affair occasioned a considerable amount of discussion in the comments.

The preponderance of the views expressed departed sharply from my own. Regular commenters Marky Mark (a practising lawyer), Jimmy Durante, Mike Brock and Jay Currie believe that the decision was well-reasoned and established the proper distance between judicial and executive powers. But I remain convinced that, if the Charter can't bind governments when its very purpose is to bind governments, then a knife has just been taken to it by the Supreme Court.

Brock's view is that the Charter does bind governments, but holds them back rather than urging them forward. In other words, it is preventative: it cannot impose positive obligations on a government to act.
Yet surely the deliberate refusal to act is itself an act.

If the Court has indeed adopted this view, as I believe that it has, then the Globe & Mail's Kirk Makin has an overly optimistic read of its ruling. In his opinion, the Court was suggesting that it might step in if the government does nothing, as it shows every intention of doing, but I cannot find that anywhere in the judgment. Makin writes:

But the court showed that a legal fist lies beneath its velvet glove. If the abuse of Mr. Khadr's rights is proven to be continuing, it warned that, “courts are empowered to make orders ensuring that the government's foreign affairs prerogative is exercised in accordance with the constitution.”

That is at paragraph 37 of the judgment. But more context is needed:

It follows that in the case of refusal by a government to abide by constitutional constraints, courts are empowered to make orders ensuring that the government’s foreign affairs prerogative is exercised in accordance with the constitution: United States v. Burns, 2001 SCC 7, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 283.

Should the notion that the Charter is an anchor, not a propeller, be accurate, then we need to see that paragraph, and the decision as a whole, as a statement of what the Court considers its power to be: reining in the government if it steps beyond its constitutional restraints, but not actually forcing the government to undertake positive measures to guarantee the rights and freedoms of Canadian citizens.

My citation of Doucet-Boudreau cut no ice. In that instance, the province of Nova Scotia was ordered to provide French-language services to its francophone minority, and the courts remained seized of the matter until the necessary measures were taken. Brock points out that there is a specific obligation in the Charter (Article 23) to provide those services, but nothing that requires the government to undertake positive measures to protect Canadian citizens abroad.

But, pace Brock and the other commenters, section 24 of the Charter needs to be applied in this context:

24. (1) Anyone whose rights or freedoms, as guaranteed by this Charter, have been infringed or denied may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction to obtain such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.

(2) Where, in proceedings under subsection (1), a court concludes that evidence was obtained in a manner that infringed or denied any rights or freedoms guaranteed by this Charter, the evidence shall be excluded if it is established that, having regard to all the circumstances, the admission of it in the proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

Is the government really not required to take positive measures to uphold Charter rights? Can it sit idly by and knowingly permit a citizen's rights to be infringed, refusing to act within its authority to protect that citizen? The Supreme Court of Canada says yes. But if that is the case, 24 (1) rings very hollow indeed: how does the victim of injustice obtain his remedy? How is he made whole?

The SCC unanimously found that Omar Khadr's rights under the Charter were not only breached when he was interrogated by CSIS and Foreign Affairs agents after being abused by his captors, but continue to be breached to this very day. Canadian conduct in this affair, said the justices, "did not conform to the principles of fundamental justice." The results of the poisoned interrogations may well be used against him once Khadr has his day in (kangaroo) court.

But the SCC offered only declarative relief, or, in plain English, a statement that, yes, Khadr's rights had indeed been grievously infringed, tsk, tsk. It declined to provide a remedy under 24 (1), as it is legally required to do.

This is nothing less than an assault on the Charter. Gar Pardy in today's Ottawa Citizen is correct: the SCC's decision was a political one. As he puts it:

The Supreme Court has spoken its last words on Omar Khadr. Regrettably it is a political decision and one that has little to do with justice, fundamental or temporal. Surprisingly all nine justices joined in the decision which gave pre-eminence to the government’s absolute power over foreign affairs. There is no joy for Khadr whatsoever in this decision and equally important there is no joy for Canadians who encounter serious difficulty in foreign countries.

Pardy doesn't hold back, referring to the decision as "judicial gerrymandering." The rights of a citizen under Section 7--"life, liberty and security of the person"--is now, thanks to the Supreme Court, officially trumped by the arbitrary exercise of the Royal Prerogative by a government that has shown itself, again and again, to be hostile, or at least selective, when it comes to human rights. (We "democratic deficit" types had better add the abolition of that smelly feudal holdover to the list of long-overdue reforms to Canadian governance.)

The Court properly decided not to attempt to fashion a specific remedy itself. What the justices should have done, however, is to have given the government time to construct its own remedy that would uphold the Charter rights of Citizen Khadr. Instead, the Court simply bowed out. Khadr's rights were infringed: too bad, so sad.

Stephen Harper, fresh from telling Parliament to take a hike when the latter demanded the production of documents, and then literally sending them on that hike shortly afterward, has now been legally held to be above the law in its exercise of the Royal Prerogative, which, inter alia, vests in the Prime Minister and his government the power to sign treaties, declare war--and issue passports. Somewhere in the Montreal area, Abousfian Abdelrazik must be thanking his God that the government didn't appeal his case to this Supreme Court.

Canadian democracy, always a ramshackle old schooner, has just taken another direct hit at the waterline. And the citizens, whose only constitutional power lies in our rusticated elected representatives, can't do a damned thing about it--at least for the moment.


A little Saturday morning diversion--with bite. Grab a coffee. Grab two.

[H/t Michael DiCola]

Friday, January 29, 2010

Blazing cat fur

Picking up from where I left off last evening:

The squalling of Barbara Kay at Five Feet of Fury to which I responded yesterday was soon followed up with a ripe email to me, quickly channeled by Mr. Kathy Shaidle, while Katty Kathy came over to mew at my place (the new system doesn't provide comment permalinks, so happy hunting). I feel like some sort of nexus--or, under the circumstances, "catalyst" might be a better word.

Misspelling my name throughout, Kay hisses and spits at Antonia Zerbisias, then earnestly assures me at some length that she (Barbara, that is) is much funnier than I am, and that her laboured commentary at FFF was intended to be--wait for it--"ironic."

Unaccountably, Mr. Shaidle edited out this protestation:
"I am not without a sense of humour, as you imply. I am actually so funny that I have been asked TWICE to be part of the Leacock Debate at Hart House, one of the very few in its ten-year history to have that honour. Look it up -- it's about being humorous." Kamarad! Kay then nuzzles Kathy and takes her leave.

Shaidle's own hate-on for Antonia can be traced as far back as 2004, but in February 2005 matters came to a head. This was some time
before I had taken up the invidious practice of blogging myself, as the semi-legitimate form of self-indulgence that it is.

It seems that a bash for right-wing bloggers was held in Toronto in February of that year. And Antonia crashed it--or, more accurately,* swept in and captivated all the men in the place. This did not sit well with displaced Star ex-columnist Kathy Shaidle, filling her face at the time with greasy potato skins. She subsequently wrote one of her charming commentaries, simply oozing with her trademark spite and envy.

Thanks to the Wayback Machine, we have some wonderfully bitchy comments from Kevin Michael Grace in response, who, with acerbic smoking-jacketed aplomb, makes short work of not one but two of my least-favourite felines. Here's a taste:

A typically illiterate communiqué was issued from the Saskabush bunker occupied by Kate "Why Oh Why Doesn’t The MSM Report The Good News From Iraq?" McMillan:

Not just one, but two shiny brass rings went swinging slowly by....plump, juicy low-hanging fruit...and they turned the bitch loose…

Er, is there a Mr McMillan?

He then turns his baleful attention to Shaidle:

Above all, Shaidle wants it to be known she is a woman of import. She clings to her amour propre as a savage clings to his talisman (or a Shaidle to her stodge).

And here, if I may, is the coup de Grace:

In the words of the immortal Charles Pooter,

I have often seen reminiscences of people I have never heard of, and I fail to see—because I do not happen to be a "Somebody"—why my diary should not be interesting. My only regret is that I did not commence it when I was a youth.

My only regret is that I did not realize sooner that Kathy Shaidle is our own Ms Pooter. A furious "Nobody," to be sure, but all the funnier for that. She is the troll under the blog whose snarls serve to remind us how blessed we are in comparison. She is a national treasure.

OK, I 'll admit what my mother always insisted was the case: men can be catty, too. In his case, delightfully so. And, it seems, timeless in his observations as well. Meow!

*Two commenters thus far recall that Antonia was actually invited. UPDATE: Yup. Z. has confirmed that she was invited by The Meatriarchy.

Government can ignore Charter violations--SCC

The Supreme Court of Canada has spoken, unanimously.

Full judgment here. Shorter SCC:

1) Omar Khadr's rights under the Charter were, and continue to be, violated.

2) The government cannot be legally obliged to do anything about it.

There are times when I wake up and wonder what country I'm living in.

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I don't make a habit of visiting Kathy Shaidle's site much any more, since she settled into an increasingly dull routine of Muslim-bashing and self-advertising. But I did venture over there today, to discover a guest column by none other than the National Post's Barbara Kay. It's a frontal assault on my pal Antonia Zerbisias at the Toronto Star, and a fascinating clinical read.

The Zerb, it seems, Tweeted some pretty graphic language about an NP editorial that perpetuated lies about KAIROS* and made unproven assertions about UNRWA, the UN agency that looks after Palestinian refugees. The Harper regime has cut funds to both aid organizations on the grounds that they are anti-Israel.

Here is what she said, and it's perfectly safe for work:

Fuck you National Post and the horseshit you rode in on. Shame on you for these lies. #KAIROS #UNRWA #cdnpoli

Almost needless to say, this had Barbara reaching for her smelling salts. Then, drawing a deep breath, she began a character assassination of the Zerb that reached far back (well, I'm a gentleman--it wasn't that far back) into Antonia's girlhood, to when she was in Grade Nine, if you can believe it

When Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbesias [sic] was in Grade 9, she was suspended for lampooning a teacher in a cartoon, and sent home with an accompanying note calling her “rude, obstreperous and bold.”

Apparently she so enjoyed the experience (or maybe, having been raised in the self-esteemy school of education she thought everything she heard about herself was a compliment), she decided to make “rude, obstreperous and bold” her default mode of communication.

Then the claws come out:

Certainly her writing skills (indifferent to lousy for an adult) and critical acumen are about what you’d expect from a Grade 9 student, but never mind: simplistic writing and thinking coupled with rudeness, obstreporousness [sic] and boldness are exactly what you need to build a career at the Toronto Star.

And then, a steaming dish of priggishness:

I must say that Antonia’s action is one that fills me with astonishment. Disgust too, of course, but most of all astonishment. For, considering she is a “journalist” who, you know, works with, like, words in her work, “F*** you National Post” was not what you’d call a very professional way of expressing her disagreement with the Post’s opinion.

One imagines Barbara glaring through her lorgnette. And she continues in this vein:

I mean, I too am a columnist, but somehow I have never felt any inclination to communicate my displeasure in the manner Antonia has chosen. When I don’t like what the Toronto Star says, for example, I don’t have any impulse to write “F*** you, Toronto Star” on my FaceBook page. No, what happens is that I find myself motivated to pick up the tools of my trade: you know, nouns, verbs, phrases, sentences, clauses, that sort of thing – and then I make paragraphs out of them, you see, and in the paragraphs is what we in the trade call a “theme” or an “idea” which, when backed up with evidence, then becomes known as a “rebuttal” to the offending opinion.

Yet she concludes her misspelled rant, in which she can't even get her target's name right, by calling Antonia an "idiot." And she doesn't have a 140-character limit to excuse her.

(How odd, think I, that this didn't appear in Kay's usual spot at the NP. Maybe for the same reason that the Zerb's Tweet didn't appear in the Star? Never mind.)

Antonia could dine out on this one. But I suspect that cat-fights aren't her thing.


[OK, I'm braced for Shaidle's inevitable "You sent all of twenty readers over to my place. I get two million hits when I'm linked by Dead Cat Fur, blah, blah." And for those of you who follow my occasional columns in the Post, don't look for this one over there. I suspect my comments will remain confined to quarters. :) ]

UPDATE: Antonia (in the comments) thinks this may not be on the up-and-up:

I am beginning to suspect that KS got scammed.

Kay may be many things but one thing she is not is a sloppy speller. She has written about me before and must surely know how to spell Zerbisias.

It is not Kay's writing style. In fact, it's more like mine. :)

I find her line about ''a reliable source'' on the editorial board rather suspect. I thought Kay was, for all intents and purposes, a member of said board.

Finally, the Post has never stopped anybody from pooping on me, either in the treeware edition or on Full Comment. So why use Shaidle as a vehicle?

Interestingly, Shaidle links to Mr. Shaidle's misogynist attack on me rather than to the original Tweet. Mr. Shaidle attempted, but failed, to gain any traction with his post about me.

I dunno. It sure stinks to me.

Over to you, Babs. If you really didn't write that piece I shall 1) retract promptly, with an apology; and 2) mock Shaidle mercilessly for the foreseeable future.

UPPERDATE: Alas, I'm cheated of my prize. Kay has confirmed with me by email that she is indeed the author of the column.

* "KAIROS [is] an 'ecumenical partnership' that had adopted a vehemently anti-Israel policy and been at the forefront of boycotts against the importation of Israeli goods and visits by Israeli professors.

"For too long, Ottawa has subsidized NGOs that claim to be after peace, but that in truth seek to demonize Israel."

KAIROS' comprehensive refutation of these well-circulated smears may be found here; it is hard to believe that the
NP editorial team was not aware of it.

Canadian democracy...

...we hardly knew ye.

For [Kelowna-Lake Country Conservative MP Ron Cannan], prorogation is an opportunity for the Conservative government to concentrate on the economy by implementing the next phase of its economic stimulus program and prepare a new budget.

If parliament was in session then the opposition parties could vote non-confidence and force an election before those tasks are complete.

"That’s what we don’t want," said Cannan. [emphasis added]

[H/t BCL, via CC]

Rights and Democracy: Aurel Braun gags staff

That would be the 47-member staff of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development who had unanimously and publicly demanded that Braun, the Chair of the ICHRDD Board, be dismissed for harassment. Two other Board members were mentioned in that infamous staff letter: one, Jacques Gauthier, is now the interim President of the organization after Aurel's Board shoehorned him into office last Friday.

Paul Wells, writing of the mysterious burglary of the ICHRDD during the funeral of the late President Rémy Beauregard earlier this week, noted the new gag rule almost
en passant. Good luck with that, Dr. Braun.

Incidentally, if by some chance any of those staff members happen to read my humble blog, they should feel free to send me their comments and updates by email, on a strictly no-attribution basis. No point letting Wells have all the fun.

UPDATE: More on the reign of Braun.

Ed Broadbent:

I do not recall, in my long public life, such an unwarranted assault on a senior public servant, none, and I don't recall a sequence of events where you had such a total undermining of a PMO appointee being treated so shabbily and dying in the middle of it.

Without drawing a direct parallel, I can think of only one incident, Herbert Norman, our envoy to Egypt, a friend of Lester B. Pearson, committing suicide [in 1957, after having been accused of being a Communist sympathizer].

That was the McCarthy era.

And to those of us watching the ballooning of the democratic deficit:

"This is another example of another independent agency having their independence either totally ignored or squashed or interfered with," Broadbent said.

"This is extraordinarily serious in terms of Canadian democracy."

[H/t Antonia in Bread and Roses]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Never again.

And let the Holocaust be fully remembered. The Nazis attempted two genocides: of the Jews and of the Roma.

My friend Kateland, proudly Jewish and Roma both, put up a moving post this morning about the latter. It is not easy reading.

Grievous persecution of "Gypsies" still persists. The news has been full of reports of thugs in Eastern Europe making their lives a living hell.

To rub salt in a wound that will never heal--the Porraimós, the "devouring" that is the Romani word for "Holocaust"-- Canada is being represented at ceremonies in Auschwitz today by none other than Immigration Minister Jason Kenney.

Kenney recently slammed the door in the faces of Roma refugees trying to escape from the age-old ethnic persecution that continues to deform the cultural landscape of Europe to this day. On his desk sits a photograph of the Nazi collaborator and accomplice in genocide, Aloysius Stepinac, whom he considers one of his heroes.

It is hard to think of a more appallingly inappropriate choice of a Canadian representative at the ceremonies. I share Kateland's disgust, and I hope others do as well.

Never again.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rideau Hall strikes a blow

Conrad Black, convict. Gave up his Canadian citizenship. Plundered a newspaper empire. Rich.

Keeps his Order of Canada.

Steve Fonyo, convict. Proud Canadian. Raised $13 million for charity. Poor.

Stripped of his medal.

Nice to see the Governor-General keeping the lower orders in their place. But to avoid future unpleasantness, why not just institute a property qualification for the OoC?

In which

...the word "terrorist" officially jumps the shark.

[H/t LeDaro]

UPDATE: More from Mentarch.


Nunc Scio says he's one of five people who found this funny. Move over, you've got company.

For those interested in strange duets, here are best buds Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August von Hayek giving us a crash course in what I used to call "bourgeois economics." (These days, alas, it's just "economics.")

Ignatieff: democracy if necessary, but not necessarily democracy

We had no shape
Because he never took sides,
And no sides
Because he never allowed them to take shape.

He skilfully avoided what was wrong
Without saying what was right,
And never let his on the one hand
Know what his on the other hand was doing.

Always he led us back to where we were before.

He seemed to be in the centre
Because we had no centre,
No vision
To pierce the smoke-screen of his politics.

Let us raise up a temple
To the cult of mediocrity,
Do nothing by halves
Which can be done by quarters.

--F.R. Scott

Sound familiar?

Scott was writing about Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King, but were he alive today, I'm pretty sure the poet would see Michael Ignatieff as gamely carrying on that slippery, ambiguous Liberal tradition.

After the requisite few days of dithering, Ignatieff appears to be on-side with the NDP's position on prorogation, which was elegant in its simplicity: Parliament, as an assembly of the people's representatives, should decide as a body if and when it will rise.

But hold on, wait one. Ignatieff's position is nuanced:

To prevent future abuses of prorogation, the Liberal Party of Canada will seek to amend the Standing Orders of the House of Commons to:

• Require at least 10 days written notice from the Prime Minister of his intention to seek to prorogue, together with his specific reasons for doing so;

• Require the Prime Minister to bring the issue of prorogation before the House of Commons for a full debate;

• Prevent a request for prorogation within the first year after a Speech from the Throne, unless the House consents;

• Prevent a prorogation longer than one calendar month without the consent of the House;

• Prevent a request for prorogation if a matter of confidence has been scheduled in the House unless the House consents; and,

• Allow Parliamentary Committees to continue to function during the period when Parliament is prorogued until the start of the new session.

"Parliament should not prevent a Prime Minister from using prorogation in proper circumstances," said Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale. "But the Prime Minister must be held to account for why he is using it, and the rules must be clear on when shutting down Parliament would be wrong."

Instead of adopting the perfectly reasonable and principled position that Parliament should decide when Parliament sits, Ignatieff, no doubt thinking of himself occupying the PMO someday, is proposing as little as he dares. Goodale's statement should be taken very seriously:
"proper circumstances" can mean just about anything.

What are the dangers of this equivocating approach to democracy? Well, here are a couple of easy examples. The Prime Minister may sign and ratify treaties, and even declare war, all by himself. (Cabinet approval, as we have seen under this government and indeed under previous Liberal administrations, is a virtual guarantee: the powerful PM, after all, can appoint and dis-appoint Cabinet members at will.)

Until prorogation, the Liberals were in full support of a government move to sign a free trade treaty with the genocidal Colombian regime of Álvaro Uribe. (I've posted rather angrily about this before.)

Imagine a hypothetical minority Parliament where the opposition were actually opposed to this sort of thing, and were threatening to make noise about it during Question Period. It's not unthinkable that a one-month-less-a-day prorogation could be called to silence Parliament, while Ignatieff went about signing a bloody treaty with Colombia to help out our mining companies. Parliamentary approval of treaties is not mandatory: it's simply a courtesy extended to Parliament by the government.

Nor is it inconceivable that Prime Minister Ignatieff could decide, all on his own, and without a sitting Parliament to ask impertinent questions, to declare war on some country or other, perhaps as a member of a fresh new "coalition of the willing" led by the US.

And one can imagine many other circumstances under which a four-week break from the Opposition could stand a PM in good stead.

There's another problem, too, and one of more immediate consequence. With the current groundswell of public concern about Canadian democracy, this is precisely the time when fundamental democratic reform as a whole should be up for review: the electoral system, the question of the Senate (elected or abolished), checks and balances to offset the
entire range of the Prime Minister's considerable powers, and so on. Call it a democratic recalibration.

But the Liberal piecemeal approach will change very little about our cobbled-together, historical pastiche of a democracy, that odd and increasingly dysfunctional amalgam of elected representation and Royal Prerogative. This is, of course, exactly the way the Liberals want it. Just as Jean Chrétien, concentrating vast power in the Prime Minister's Office, paved the way for even more egregious abuses of power by the present Prime Minister, so too has Harper established precedents undreamed of even a decade ago.

Ignatieff's weak prorogation proposals will be a minor impediment indeed if he manages to leapfrog Stephen Harper to exercise for himself the ever-expanding powers of the Executive over an ever-more-weakened Parliament. His current shallow pro-democracy stance falls lamentably short of defending the fundamental notion of Parliamentary supremacy. And if we have learned anything from recent Canadian history, we know that's no accident.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Give those lug nuts another quarter turn.

I know that a common phrase by the crowd doubting AGW is that "the wheels are falling off the bus". Well, it turns out that the wheels are still on and the nuts are getting tighter all the time.

The latest wrench is a new paper published early in January titled On the reliability of the U.S. Surface Temperature Record. If you are like me and have done any looking around skeptical sites, you are exposed to shot after shot of US weather stations that show poor siting factors followed by claims that the data is hopelessly corrupted. This paper has looked at the actual data involved, not just the photos of the stations.

The authors took the data from the poorly sited stations and compared it to the best sited stations and found very little difference (hat tip to John V who did this years ago). However the efforts of Mr. Watts and his team of volunteers has not been in vain. The paper does detect a small problem with the current temperature trend - the current trend is actually a little (very little) biased towards the cool. This means that the temperatures are actually increasing slightly more than thought.

If you are interested in the details, John Cook over at
Skeptical Science has a nice analysis and I encourage you to visit. Now, this is obviously not the last word (there seldom is a last word in science), but what is interesting about this is that since the paper has been published, the responses should be published as well. Reading those will be interesting.

Rights and Democracy: dirty work at the crossroads

Since my post last Thursday, more information has emerged about the internal squabbling that has paralyzed the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, and in particular about the behaviour of Stephen Harper's recent appointees.

Haroon Siddiqui, writing in yesterday's Toronto Star, has been speaking to Board members who recently left in protest, as well as to four previous chairs of the Board. What emerges is an ugly picture of political partisanship, secretiveness and bully tactics.

[Aurel] Braun, a University of Toronto professor of political science, was named chair of the board early last year. It was not long before he clashed with [the late President Rémy] Beauregard, who it seems was not duly deferential.

Worse, Beauregard had approved the three Mideast grants of about $10,000 each – to B'Tselem, Israel's leading human rights group, and its partner agency in the West Bank, Al Haq, as well as Al Mezan in Gaza.

All have repeatedly criticized both Israeli and Palestinian human rights violations, including the Israeli war on Gaza last year.

Beauregard had also attended a 2008 Arab League meeting on freedom of association in Cairo.

Braun did not like any of that.

But Beauregard had already been given a highly favourable evaluation by the board in March.

Braun initiated a new evaluation. He did not show it to the majority of the board, nor to Beauregard, who got a copy of it anyway, by filing a Freedom of Information request.

On June 1, four directors complained to the Privy Council about the secrecy. On Sept. 8, one director suddenly resigned. Donica Pottie, a career diplomat who had served as ambassador to Cambodia, was said to have been eased out by the Prime Minister's Office because she had sided with Beauregard, not Braun.

Her departure left no Canadian woman on the board.

On Oct. 23, [Sima] Samar* and four others wrote to Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, saying the board was "dysfunctional." They wanted Braun replaced.


In approving the three Middle East grants [terminated by Braun and his colleagues], Beauregard had the support of the Department of Foreign Affairs, according to both [Warren] Allmand and [Ed] Broadbent [former Board Chairs].

Said Broadbent: "After the war in Gaza, the two Palestinian and one Israeli group were checking if there had been human rights abuses. When Mr. Braun found out, I'm told, he went completely bonkers."

Braun could not be reached Saturday. But he told The Canadian Press the three groups were "toxic" and linked to "extremists" and terrorists. [emphases added]

The backgrounds of two other Board members in the Braun faction are slowly becoming better known. Michael Van Pelt is the president of CARDUS, a fundamentalist Christian think-tank.

He has over 20 years of experience in public life, including advocacy with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Chamber of Commerce and serving as a municipal Councillor. He continues to consult widely, helping institutions connect their beliefs with their behaviours.

Brad Farquar, an old Saskatchewan Party hand, ran (unsuccessfully) for the Conservatives in 2006, with the enthusiastic endorsement of the far-right "pro-life" Lifesite News: he opposes same-sex marriage. Rights and democracy, eh?

Paul Wells, meanwhile, is stuck to this story like a limpet.

Today he reveals that one of the three Board members whom the entire staff demanded be fired for harassment, Jacques Gauthier, is now the new Chair of the Board--by a vote of the Board.

Wells fishes up even more sordid details about the treatment of the late President by Harper's late arrivals. This snippet about another new appointee (David Matas, chief counsel to B'nai Brith) is particularly precious:

[I]n a thoughtful analysis of events that took place before he rejoined the board, Matas takes issue with a staff allegation I repeat in my own column, which is that a small group on the board, led by Braun, had sent an evaluation of Beauregard to the Privy Council Office in Ottawa without letting Beauregard see it. Matas writes:

The (staff) letter omits to mention a number of relevant facts. One is that the performance evaluation committee had obtained a legal opinion that its evaluation was a confidence of the Privy Council and could not be disclosed to the President. Second, the President nonetheless obtained a copy of the evaluation through an access to information request. Third, the committee had agreed to reconsider and amend its evaluation based on the comments the President had made after having seen the copy of the evaluation he had obtained through access to information. Fourth, the committee had made a number of changes based on these comments. Fifth, the President was free to write to the Privy Council himself to express any disagreement he might have with the evaluation as amended.

Students of logic, or of its glaring absence, will note that this is a bucket defence. Beauregard couldn’t see the evaluation because it was a “confidence of the Privy Council.” Beauregard could see the evaluation, so what’s the problem. The board committee agreed to change the evaluation after Beauregard saw the evaluation he wasn’t allowed to see, so double-what’s-the-problem. Finally, Beauregard could examine the changes to an evaluation he wasn’t allowed to see and suggest further changes, so what’s the etc. etc.

But it gets better. Just as selected memos were leaked to the Globe & Mail's hawkish Christie Blatchford awhile back to make Richard Colvin look bad, so too are documents in this case finding their way into the public gaze--from a perhaps not unsurprising source:

But here’s what’s most intriguing about Matas’s essay defending the new board majority’s claim that all Rights and Democracy needs is a little transparency and openness. It’s that the essay is, for the moment, available here and nowhere else. On the website of author, erstwhile publisher and 2008 Conservative war room staffer Ezra Levant. That’s fair, but it seems worth pointing out.

Oh, it does, indeed it does. Keep digging, Paul. The rest of us will hold our noses.
*Sima Samar was, until her resignation, one of three foreign members on the Board. Siddiqui: "She was an Afghan women's rights advocate who won world fame for standing up to Taliban rule in the 1990s and is now chair of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission."

[H/t Alison at Creekside and commenter Holly Stick]

RCMP watchdog replaced by kitteh

A Conservative real estate lawyer has been appointed "interim chair" of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP. Ian McPhail replaces outgoing chair Paul Kennedy, whose critical reports offended the Harper administration.

McPhail cheerfully admits knowing next to nothing about policing, criminal law or federal oversight agencies. His role doesn't require it, he says. He just has to know "how an administrative agency should operate." He is in place for a minimum of one year.

Kennedy says, "If you don't know the law, I don't know what value you can bring to the job." His predecessor, Shirley Heafy, is more blunt: the Mounties, she says, "are going to love to have him there. He's just a caretaker. There's no power to do anything unless you really push the envelope. He's coming in cold. There's no way he can do anything in a year … he's a complete neophyte."

Critical public reporting has really been the only lever for change available to the largely toothless CPCAR. "My style tends to be collegial,” says McPhail. Purr-r-r.

UPDATE: Over the protests of Conservative Senator Pamela Wallin, a report from the Liberal majority on a Senate Committee inquiring into the practices of the RCMP is due to be released shortly. It is expected to be deeply critical of the RCMP, and to call for more effective civilian oversight--which Kennedy had been pressing for before his ouster. Conservative Senators reportedly disagree with the draft report's "tenor and tone."

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Our Adolf

"Harper = Hitler." Unacceptable. Over the top when progressives do it; surely even worse when Tories do it!

The photograph above is of two Tory agentes provocatrices at the anti-prorogue demo in Winnipeg yesterday, taken by
an agent provocateur. For your delectation, here are the straight goods, from a student at the University of Manitoba:

Hey guys, I attended the rally in Winnipeg today. Very impressive. Great organization. But one thing really got to me.

I was enjoying the speeches today, and I noticed someone I know to be a big Tory supporter and a member of the University of Manitoba Campus Conservatives observing the event, and taking pictures. I figured he was trying to get pictures of radical signs and what not to malign the protestors, but that didn't bother me much. It's his right to be there and observe.

Anyways, I got back to watching the speeches and noticed that this Tory had climbed the fire escape of the University of Winnipeg building to get a better view, and I noticed he motioned at people beyond where I was to come forward or come into view. So I turned around and saw some people wearing masks, coming forward, and one of them was carrying a sign that said, I kid you not, in big letters, "Harper = Hitler."

I thought no, there's no way, this Tory guy would go to these lengths to get these people to come to the rally to make the people there look bad, and radical. I couldn't tell for sure that he had motioned at these specific people. So I went back to watching the speeches and what not. But as the speeches were winding down I turned around again, and what do I see? I see the Tory guy getting together with the masked people. He took the Hitler sign and walked away with the phony radicals!

I was pretty angry to see that garbage. So I chased him down and called him out about it. It is disgusting to see such a horrific historical character as Adolf Hitler used in this surreptitious and disgusting way. I imagine the victims of Hitler's genocidal actions in Poland, Germany, Hungary, Ukraine, and elsewhere would be appalled.

Those of us at the rally oppose Stephen Harper's latest maneuvers but the overwhelming majority of us would never make such an obscene comparison.

I know a lot of Tories. Many of whom are some of the nicest people I know. It's too bad their reputation will be marred by this event.


Needless to say, the pic, prominently displaying a spelling error as well for the riffraff to mock, has been duly seeded on the right side of the blogosphere. Award-winning blogger Kate McMillan is on the job, spreading the hoax widely, although to be fair she might have been duped. (Turnabout is fair play.) The huffing and puffing from the Usual Suspects is, in any case, something to behold.

Similar signs were, reportedly, seen at other protest sites as well. I think we might be forgiven, at this point, for suspecting that the balaclava-clad Winnipeg infiltrators were not the only ringers in the festive Saturday crowds.

[H/t Scott Tribe and Canadian Sentinel]

UPDATE: Now there's a Facebook group, calling them out. Join!

"Rip Van Winkle"

That would be Mohamed Harkat, Ottawa resident and bailed security certificate detainee, who CSIS stubbornly insists is a "sleeper" agent for the bin Laden network. Given the length of time that his client has been in the country, and his apparent lack of suspicious activity for many years, lawyer Matt Webber was being forgiveably sarcastic.

All week, at a hearing to determine whether the security certificate against Harkat should be quashed, a federal court has heard testimony from John the Agent (his identity is protected).

John read books on the subject of terrorism to prepare him for what has been a gruelling cross-examination. He has reviewed what must be at least a five-foot shelf of documentary material. He's bright, and has been careful on the stand. But I suspect the outcome of this hearing is not in doubt, despite an interesting comment from the bench by the judge hearing the case, Simon Noël.

The judge seems to be scrupulously fair, and he has been scathing in the past about the reliability of CSIS. I suspect that he was sending that signal (about secret evidence concerning Harkat's time in Pakistan) to the defence team, to allow it to prepare a response.

In any case, this is how John's testimony has come under question during the past week:

  • Meeting with Ahmed Said Khadr:

    John agreed there was no public information linking Khadr to terrorism at the time, and he was known to be a man who ran a legitimate charity once supported by the Canadian International Development Agency. John acknowledged that the meeting could have been an innocent one. Khadr's arrest for terrorism came much later. [emphasis added]

  • Links with another figure, Ibn Khattab, in Pakistan:

    When he lived in Pakistan, Harkat is alleged by CSIS to have worked for Kattab. But, whatever the truth of this allegation, another judge, Richard Mosely, has already rejected CSIS' contention that Khattab was a terrorist in any case.

  • Harkat's possession of a fake passport when entering Canada:

    Harkat, an Algerian national seeking refugee status, declared to immigration officials upon entry that his Saudi passport was a fake. As the defence points out, this is odd behaviour indeed for a sleeper.

  • Harkat's behaviour in Ottawa:

    In the course of his work at a gas station and then as a pizza deliveryman, Harkat had several encounters with the Ottawa police, to whom he reported a robbery, thefts and one assault. The defence argues that sleepers, by virtue of their profession, lie low rather than making their presence continually known to local law enforcement.

    CSIS declares that Harkat carried out one mission as a sleeper, allegedly on behalf of Abu Zubaydah, described as a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant: he paid $1000 towards the immigration legal fees of Abu Messab Al Shehre, a man later deported to Saudi Arabia as a security risk. Harkat visited Al Shehre in the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre. As the defence notes, visitors there are logged in and out, and their actions monitored--again, such a visit was atypical for a sleeper.

  • CSIS' use of questionable sources:

    Zubaydah, whose alleged importance to al-Qaeda is now in some dispute, was waterboarded 83 times by US officials. The suspect validity of his evidence had, I thought, already been acknowledged by Canadian officials. Judge Noël has stated, in any case, that he will not accept evidence obtained through torture.

    CSIS' own informants, meanwhile, seem to escape close scrutiny by the agency that utilizes them:

    Boxhall [a lawyer for Harkat] then pointed out that a critical source in the agency's case against Harkat had failed "all relevent questions" when issued the polygraph in 2002. [emphasis added]

    "You place great weight on the polygraph," Boxall suggested, asking how such a fact could be left out of the report that led to Harkat being arrested in 2002. He was released in 2006, but faced the most stringent bail conditions in Canadian history.

    "It should not have happened," the agent replied.

  • Muddled timelines:

    Boxall zeroed in on a 2005 letter the Algerian government sent to Canada's foreign affairs department, detailing an alleged sojourn by Harkat in Afghanistan in 1991 -- information John acknowledged was inaccurate.


    Earlier in the day, "John" acknowledged he "muddled up" a timeline in previous testimony that put Harkat on a Toronto-bound road trip with high-profile Canadian al-Qaida operative Ahmed Said Khadr.

    "It’s not that I didn’t know the details. I simply muddled it when I was testifying on the stand," said the agent about incorrectly testifying in November 2008 that Khadr had already been arrested on terrorism charges when he took the van trip with Harkat.

    "John" said his error occurred to him a few days after his testimony but he didn't inform lawyers representing the federal immigration ministry, which is seeking Harkat’s deportation to his native Algeria.

    "It didn’t occur to me that anything else was required," "John" told Webber of correcting his testimony.
Whether Harkat is a sleeper, John conceded, is "a judgment call." "I could see there would be a difference of opinion," he said.

Indeed so. But Harkat himself awaits the opinion of the judge--for him, and for his spouse Sophie Lamarche, the only opinion that really counts.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Canadians don't care." —Stephen Harper

Could have fooled me.

3,500 in Ottawa, 7,000 in Toronto, thousands more in Vancouver, 60 rallies across the country. Canada's very own democracy movement.

Trevor Strong of the Arrogant Worms: "As a good Canadian I'm most comfortable sitting on the fence. If I'm at a rally, something's gone horribly wrong."

Bloggers were there too.

UPDATE: David Akin eats crow.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blog for choice: a matter of trust

What does "Trust Women" mean to me? That's easy in the pro-choice context. A pregnant woman has a better grip on her own circumstances than I do, or a judge, or Stockwell Day, or a priest, or the guy down the block, or even her husband or partner or boyfriend. And I, for one, trust those who actually have the required knowledge when they make decisions. So if a woman chooses to have a child, who am I to say no? And if she chooses not to, who am I to say no?

For anyone who believes that women are full-fledged, thinking human beings, trust is the default position.

We're actually pretty big on trust in Canada, even if it is sorely tested on occasion. And I'd say that if we can trust that woman-hating punk
Jean-Guy Tremblay, who went to the Supreme Court in 1989 to try to prevent his girlfriend from obtaining an abortion, and has been criminally harassing and assaulting women ever since--then trusting women ought to be a slam-dunk.

Seventeen convictions he's had since 1981. Not a "dangerous offender," said the judge. Not a danger to "all women." Just the ones, it seems, who wander into view.

A man who assaults, harasses and forcibly confines women on multiple occasions--and was the "pro-life" poster boy twenty-one years ago for putting his partner through judicial hell--can be trusted to do the right thing. He still has time to turn his life around, said the judge. It's not as though he's ever committed a sexual offence. Narrowly construed, at least.

Yet trust, as it turns out, isn't nearly so simple where women themselves are concerned.

Women have apparently not earned the trust of nearly half of the Canadian public, who think that our health care system should cover abortion only in medical emergencies--or not at all. A medical procedure, in other words, should be denied because...women simply can't be trusted to make the right choice. Which is nearly always, of course, procreation.

So we need the state, argue the anti-statists, to tell women what to do, say the advocates of individualism, and if they won't, shriek the get-the-government-off-our-backs folks, then make them. Or, failing that, at least ensure that abortion is as difficult and expensive to obtain as possible.

We aren't really talking about choice here at all, of course. We're talking about its opposite: compulsory pregnancy. If you want the other, then here are some hoops and hurdles for you. Jump! Jump! And if you make it, here's the bill.

Abortion is legal in Canada--there has been no law against it since the Supreme Court struck down the last one in 1988. But that doesn't mean that all Canadian women have reasonable access to it. As reported by the feminist website, some of our provinces are in direct violation of the Canada Health Act (which is meant to guarantee consistency of medical services across the country):

  • New Brunswick will only cover the cost of an abortion if a woman has received approval from two doctors and if the procedure is performed in a hospital (but not in a clinic); procedures by family physicians are not covered. [The battle continues --ed.]
  • There is no access to abortion in Prince Edward Island, no funded clinics in Manitoba, and no clinics at all in Saskatchewan.

  • Similarly, women in northern Canada, which is made up mainly of Aboriginal communities, must often travel hundreds of kilometers to the nearest clinic. Whether abortion is funded or not, this distance often means women cannot go. Statistically, Aboriginal women experience significantly higher rates of sexual assault and domestic abuse than other populations.

  • Access is limited in areas where procedures are only covered at hospitals, because fewer than one in five hospitals across the country offer abortions, most require a doctor’s referral (which can be difficult to obtain in more conservative areas), and hospitals generally offer little or no counseling. Moreover, many hospitals have long waiting lists – up to six weeks – but will not perform abortions after the first trimester.
There is obviously a systemic problem here. We've been in a stalemate, in fact, ever since Prime Minister Brian Mulroney tried to bring in a new abortion bill in 1988, draft legislation that met its end with a tied vote in the Senate. Judges, senators...wouldn't it be great if our elected officials did the right thing?

But they're in no hurry. The issue consumes enormous quantities of political fuel, and the outcome is never a certainty. Better to duck and cover, talk about EI reform or the economy, anything, anything at all, while Aboriginal women take those long sad bus rides into the city, and PEI women take the ferry to New Brunswick with a wad of bills in their purse and a story they hope will satisfy two doctors who will sit in judgment over them.

This is 2010, and here we are.

A combination of political inertia and the package of prejudice, fossilized religion and misogyny known as social conservatism remain solidly in the way of full reproductive choice for Canadian women. And trust is part of it--or rather, distrust, that lurking patriarchal paleo-notion that women are "the weaker sex," requiring protection and, more importantly, direction. In an important variation on this theme, the "pro-life" crowd sees women as mere vessels, incubators, soft procreation machines.

As I said at the beginning of this post, trust is, or should be, a given when it comes to a woman's right to make what I suspect is rarely an easy decision. Yet there is still so much troubling and widespread resistance, a blank refusal to concede that women have that right, the fundamental, unquestionable right, to decide their own reproductive futures. And this on-going social and political obstinacy has already caused, and is still causing, and will for the foreseeable future continue to cause, no end of real suffering and humiliation.

Will Canadian women someday be deemed more trustworthy than Jean-Guy Tremblay? Almost certainly. But, unfortunately for too many of them, not this year, or the next--or the one after that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The best government that money can buy

...bought to you by the US Supreme Court.

[H/t A Creative Revolution]

Rights and Democracy: Board members strike back

Readers will remember a post I wrote recently about the current imbroglio at the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development.

The seven Board members in the thick of the controversy are
David Matas, Aurel Braun, Jacques Gauthier, Marco Navarro Génie, Michael Van Pelt, Elliot Tepper and Brad Farquhar. As reported, staff members have, by letter, explicitly demanded the resignations of Braun, Gauthier and Tepper, for what they describe as on-going harassment and intimidation, not to mention racial profiling:

À l'interne, des membres du CA auraient demandé l'origine ethnique de plusieurs employés et s'ils parlaient arabe. «Ils estiment que l'organisme est trop pro-arabe, ce qui est ridicule. On fait du développement démocratique là où la situation l'exige. Mais il y a du harcèlement constant depuis quelques mois», souligne une source à l'interne.

[Internally, the Board members have asked about the ethnic origin of many employees and if they speak Arabic. "They think that the organization is too pro-Arab, which is ridiculous. We do democratic development there, as the situation demands. But there's been constant harassment for several months," an internal source emphasized.]

All seven of the Board members in question have now responded.They attempt to throw doubt upon the reported unanimity of their opposition amongst their staff, claiming that managers pressured their employees to sign the letter, and that not all of them did so. They have heard from concerned non-signatories, they claim, but no numbers are provided.

Certainly some welcome clarifications have now been offered
: for example, the freezing of the late President's discretionary fund had the support of the President himself, while a new financial accountability framework was being put into place. The reported refusal to fund a project assisting rape victims in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is apparently erroneous: funds were indeed allocated, but there were "some adjustments to the staging of the project."

As I suspected, the central issue here is Middle East politics. And on that subject, the seven Board members reveal their own political parti pris. Here are the salient paragraphs:

[I]n February 2009, three questionable organizations were provided grants through discretionary funds which have had little to no board oversight. These organizations are Al Haq, headquartered in the West Bank, Al Mazan, headquartered in Gaza and BT’selem, headquartered in Israel. They were each granted $10,000.

Al Haq’s general director, Shawan Jabarin, has been denied exit visas by Israel and Jordan because of his ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The PFLP is a listed terrorist organization in Canada. In 2007, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected Mr. Jabarin’s petition to have his travel ban lifted because “he is an activist in a terrorist organization.” It should come as no surprise that the board reacted with shock when it found Mr. Jabarin’s own signature on the paperwork accepting this grant from Rights & Democracy.

Furthermore, two of the three named organizations are active in the lawfare movement, which is a strategy of abusing law to achieve military objectives — in this case, to punish Israel for anti-terror operations. Al Haq has even pursued a strategy of lawfare in Canada, where it has backed the use of the courts to harass Canadian companies based in Quebec which have business operations in Israel.

Shawan Jabarin is a respected human rights worker in Ramallah, who has been harassed by Israeli authorities since 2006. He is accused by the Board members of having "ties" to a listed terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. ("Is linked to" is my favourite non-specific innuendo, followed by "associated with," but "ties" is effective as well.)

Jabarin himself strongly denies any such "ties," but the guilty always protest their innocence, right? After all, the Supreme Court of Israel says otherwise, and that's good enough for the Board members.

But the Court in question, it turns out, heard secret evidence ex parte, and upheld a travel ban on Jabarin, preventing him from receiving, on his organization's behalf, a prestigious human rights prize from the Netherlands last year. Ten Israeli human rights groups were less than impressed, and wrote to then-Defence Minister Ehud Barak to protest:

The blatant blow to the freedom of movement of one of the best-known human rights activists in the West Bank is contrary to the basic principles of a state that is governed by the rule of law.

Jabarin himself asked: "How can it be that my stay in the Netherlands constitutes a higher security threat than my being in Ramallah?" Good question.

So try to follow the chain here: secret evidence was delivered to a court in Israel, without the opportunity for an accused person to respond, much like the now-discredited CSIS evidence in two recent security certificate cases right here at home. The court ruled in favour of denying the man an exit visa to collect a human rights prize. And for the seven Board members, this was proof of guilt, and a grant to his human rights organization was accordingly repudiated.

We then learn that two of the "questionable" organizations that received grants from the President before his discretionary account was frozen have been going to court to settle issues of concern to them. Terrorism is bad enough: but now these wily Palestinians are pursuing legal remedies! "Lawfare," the seven Board members call this. But perhaps we should let the courts, and not the seven Board members, decide whether the legal cases in question have merit or not.

Never mind. The two organizations Al-Haq and Al Mezan have suitably Arabic-sounding names, and they're critical of Israel. Case closed.

But wait. There's a third "questionable" organization on the list: BT'selem, an Israeli human rights group. At this point the collective mask of the seven Board members slips.

There are no terrorist "ties" here: in fact, the organization is merely named by the Board members in classic McCarthyist fashion, and then never mentioned again. The very first commenter on their National Post piece is not slow to see what's going on:

The inclusion of B'Tselem in a list of groups called "questionable" and associated with the word "appalled" is a shameful smear. B'Tselem is a mostly Jewish organization of Israeli human rights advocates, and one of the beacons of democracy in the region. B'Tselem members face harassment and threats daily; it is an example of non-partisan courage.

Readers may quickly assure themselves with a Google search that B'Tselem is indeed a respectable human rights organization, painstakingly collecting data, distributing cameras in the West Bank to record human rights abuses, lobbying members of the Knesset (Israel's parliament), and so on.

No doubt it is a thorn in the side to the settlers and the Israel Defence Forces who would prefer not to be embarrassed by such publicity. Assuredly it has been a pain in the neck for various Israeli governments. Its data and methods have certainly been debated by organizations with their own right-wing agendas, like CAMERA and NGO Monitor. But B'Tselem is a prominent mainstream advocacy organization within Israel, and enjoys considerable international credibility.

By including B'Tselem in their mix of "questionable" organizations, the seven Board members reveal nothing less than crass partisanship on behalf of official Israeli state policy.
It is their right, of course, to hold strong political opinions. But is acting upon them in this narrow fashion, throwing up clouds of innuendo and unsubstantiated accusations and smears, appropriate conduct for governing members of a non-partisan institution created by, funded by and accountable to Parliament?

UPDATE: (January 22) Paul Wells weighs in on destructive Board member hi-jinks and the underlying politics. [H/t Antonia]