Sunday, February 28, 2010


Canada 3 USA 2

...after 67 minutes and 40 seconds of brilliant, clean, rapid-fire, edge-of-your-seat hockey. And they saved the best for last! What a show! Kudos to both teams!

Parliament resumes: will anyone notice?

A new Parliament opens with a Throne Speech on March 3. I can't wait.

But National Post commentator John Ivison can:

Two months after MPs last met on Parliament Hill, the House of Commons will once again echo to the characteristic sounds of Question Period....the opposition asking fatuous questions and the government not answering them. [emphasis added]


[T]he engine of government, which has been roaring away like a Rolls Royce during the absence of all honourable members from Ottawa, will return to levels more normally associated with the parliamentary session - that of the average garden lawn mower.

The return of democracy may certainly prove inconvenient, as Ivison fears. It will slow things down, no mistake. The train of government, if I may put it another way, will no longer run on time.

Which, by me, is fine and dandy. So what will the rabble be discussing when the new Parliament kicks off on Wednesday?

Obviously the deficit and how it is to be addressed will be a central theme. The government has been caught between the Scylla of stimulus spending and the Charybdis of tax cuts, and needs opposition support to figure a way out of the mess. The Liberal criticisms have been a mite disingenuous, given that they essentially frogmarched Harper into massive stimulus spending in the last budget, but the government's aversion to taxation is a key part of the problem.

Tax revenues are down because of the recession, of course, and will increase as the economy improves. But Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page warns of a structural deficit--one that will not resolve itself unless something is done.
The choice is stark: reduce program spending, or increase taxes, or do both.

We can, then, expect an attack on public service spending, and possibly a go at public service pensions, although my sources tell me that the latter, despite an earlier trial balloon, is not presently on the table. Certainly the unions were girding for battle, and they had right on their side. It wasn't too long ago that the government creamed off a $31 billion surplus from the pension fund, arguing that this was of no consequence because public employees have a defined benefit plan. Now it was being suggested, when the fund showed a deficit because of the recession, that those same employees should pay more into the plan, or move to a defined contribution plan, the norm in the private sector.

This government, like previous Liberal and Progressive Conservative ones, might well have been expected to foster the usual ressentiment against the public service, almost always a popular move. I well recall from my PSAC days the voices screaming for public service cuts and complaining about the deterioration of public services in one breath, but the glaring contradiction never seems to get noticed. In any event, if the pension discussion has been deferred, the same is not the case with program spending. Perhaps the government might want to look at this sort of thing first, but I'm not holding my breath.

According to Ivison, spending priorities will be in the areas of health, safety and national security:

Among [the government's] priorities are: a determination by the Prime Minister to assert Canada's sovereignty in the Arctic and settle the dispute with the United States over the Beaufort Sea; a plan to create a new democratic promotion agency; a strategy for the upcoming G8 and G20 meetings, including Canada's position on the international financial architecture; purchase of the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor; a new Air Passenger Assessment and Security program; a plan to protect critical infrastructure; a national cyber-security plan; a national security statement; and plans to strengthen air cargo security. As part of that package of security measures, Transport Minister John Baird was asked to come up with a strategy to make the Canadian Air Transport Security Authority fiscally sustainable. He did so late on Thursday, getting the bad news out of the way in advance of the Throne Speech and budget, when he announced new fees on travellers to pay for extra security staff and body scanners.

(Anyone pick up on the portion I bolded? It's been good to know you, Rights and Democracy.)

The "war on crime" nonsense will be coming back too, with the opposition being asked to allow the reinstatement of the Conservatives' ideology-driven crime bills, to allow them to proceed where they were when Parliament was prorogued. In the last Parliament the Liberals capitulated in the House over the minimum sentences issue, but showed some mettle in the Senate. Now the Harper government has stuffed the upper chamber with cronies, the ultimate outcome is much less in doubt.

But the bills, in whole or in part, may have to be reintroduced rather than reinstated, at least the way the Liberals and NDP are now talking:

NDP MP Joe Comartin and Liberal MP Dominic LeBlanc both said their parties will review the crime legislation on a bill-by-bill basis.

“The government can no longer pretend that there’s some earth-shattering urgency to pass these,” LeBlanc said. “If the government was sincere about wanting to pass these criminal code changes, they wouldn’t have prorogued parliament and with the stroke of a pen, killed 14 justice bills.” Comartin said it’s likely the NDP won’t support the Conservatives’ grow-op bill.

“The drug bill is one we will likely be doing whatever we can to oppose,” he said. “The likelihood is they won’t get blanket support (for all of them).” But even if some of the government’s crime legislation isn’t reinstated and has to be introduced as new bills, Nicholson said he’s “more confident” they won’t face as many delays in the now Conservative-dominated Senate.

“I’m much more confident now with new committees at the Senate and the appointment of new senators, I have a much better chance of getting that legislation through,” [Justice Minister Rob] Nicholson said.

The Afghanistan detainee issue is also on the boil, and we can expect that the showdown between the government and Parliament over the release of the unredacted Colvin memos will ramp up. The Speaker has yet to rule on a question of privilege raised by the NDP's Paul Dewar, and the Committee examining the matter will be back in session shortly.

We'll also see the re-emergence of a proposed free trade agreement with the narco-state of Colombia, where aboriginal people are being forcibly removed from their lands and their leaders subject to summary execution, and where more trade unionists are assassinated by death squads every year than in the rest of the world combined. Look for shameless Liberal collaboration on this file.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will no doubt continue to grasp for issues--EI reform? Abortion?--with no coherent line of policy yet discernible. He mooted some proposals a couple of weeks ago for restricting the government's power to prorogue, but this one, I confidently predict, will die a-borning.

Ignatieff could introduce a comprehensive package of reforms to address Canada's growing democratic deficit while public interest in the subject is still high, but, as I've noted before, he never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The Liberals, in any case, are most unlikely to propose serious curbs on government power, or to favour electoral reform, when they themselves are hoping to govern in the not-too-distant future with that magic 40% of the vote that virtually guarantees a majority in the House.

NDP priorities are very clear indeed: job creation, addressing the structural deficit (in part by by opposing further corporate tax cuts), and long-overdue pension reform. In addition, given the Harper government's recent unexpected show of sympathy for women and children abroad, the NDP is insisting that the same concern be shown right here at home.

Much to chew on, and those endowed with crystal balls may be able to predict which of the many issues currently in the air might become the hot-button one that triggers the next election. I'm just relieved at this point to see Parliament back, that vast, untidy mass of milling, gesticulating representatives, especially the opposition
with their "fatuous questions" trying as best they might to hold the government accountable. Stay awake, Canada. It ain't much, but it's all the democracy we've got.

[H/t wmtc]


The layers of surveillance and counter-surveillance in this one photograph are both amusing and unsettling. Here a legal observer at a protest in Vancouver is filming a cop who is filming her. Note that the picture, taken by another legal observer, is further surveillance, as is your viewing of it on my blog.

[H/t Mike Soron]

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (2)

I've blogged about the IRQR before. This morning I attended a brunch meeting at Ottawa City Hall in support of this relatively new NGO (it started up in 2008 and was incorporated in 2009). I am pleased to report that it had to be moved to a larger room because attendance exceeded expectations.

The mission of the Toronto-based organization is to assist gay and lesbian refugees from Iran who have ended up in Europe with no money and no resources, to help them obtain Convention refugee status, and to get them to places where they can live their lives without fear. They have helped, or are helping, 250 or so refugees at the moment, providing information, moral and material support.

I had the opportunity to meet the incomparable Arsham Parsi, IRQR's Executive Director. He's been through a lot, but it doesn't show: he's affable and open and very willing to talk. A recent Iranian refugee himself, he first fled to Turkey in 2005, where he was beaten and had his shoulder dislocated by homophobic toughs. When he went to the police, they told him to stay indoors.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire. To add insult to injury, when refugees eventually leave Turkey, as they must by law, they are charged huge exit fees.

Parsi has developed an amazing network, dealing directly with UNHCR officials, Canadian cabinet ministers, and well-heeled donors. How did he develop these contacts? I asked. "Internet and telephone," he said. "Particularly the Internet. "

Europe, as it happens, is resistant to taking refugee claims based on sexual orientation seriously. Even though Iran's penal code explicitly punishes homosexuality with death--sometimes graciously allowing the condemned to choose between hanging, stoning, being cut in two or being dropped from a height--European countries seem unable to accept the stark reality of life in a theocratic state.

Parsi spoke of one young man in Norway who tried to claim asylum there, then in Denmark and then Sweden. Refused in all three countries, he is presently in a Norwegian detention centre--waiting to be deported to Iran.

As an aside, I asked Parsi about the seemingly paradoxical openness in Iran to transgender surgery. He shook his head sadly. "The religious authorities believe in two rigid gender classifications," he said. If you believe you're a woman in a man's body, or vice-versa, he said, better to have the surgery than engage in sexual activity that appears homosexual.

"45% of those having the surgery are gay," Parsi said. They just want relief from persecution: if a man feels attracted to other men, he said, it's safer to be surgically changed to a woman. "But women have no rights in Iran," he continued. The suicide rate among transgendered Iranians is very high.

Parsi, safe and sound in Canada, cannot forget those he left behind. His decency and concern will not let him rest. Yet, somehow, he retains a sunny disposition and enormous optimism. I hope it is justified, and I wish him--and the IRQR--continued success in the future.

Judicial savagery in Ontario

I have come late to the saga of Peter Fonteece and his remorseless pounding by the Crown, but this Globe & Mail editorial says it all. I'd be hard-put to cite a riper example of judicial abuse than this.

No doubt we'll be hearing from the likes of that insufferable busybody Margo Somerville shortly. Oh, wait--we have (scroll down). Her perhaps predictable claim--that suicide is wrong and that we obviously have a duty to prevent people from ending their lives because hospitals treat unsuccessful suicide patients--is suitably dissected by an ethicist and a lawyer in the Globe's letters pages:

Yanisa Fonteece...unless she was mentally incompetent, had a right to decide her life was no longer worth living, and no one else, including her husband, had a legal right to stop her unless they reasonably believed she was mentally ill or otherwise incompetent.

If Ms. Fonteece had been brought to hospital after attempting suicide and judged legally competent, then any health-care professional who forced life-saving treatment on her would be committing a criminal assault.

Arthur Schafer, director, Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, University of Manitoba

...I strongly disagree with Margaret Somerville’s assessment that there’s a duty to prevent someone from committing suicide because, otherwise, “people who have attempted suicide and are brought to hospital must not be treated but allowed to die.” If that person is brought to hospital conscious and lucid and not mentally incompetent, and they refuse treatment, they must be allowed to die. No doctor will be prosecuted for disregarding their expressed wish.

Andrew Martin, Toronto

From where I sit, the ethics involved are simple. A blind man and his spouse, poor, isolated and desperate, despaired of living. Both attempted to take their lives. She died; he did not. It was their individual choice to make in any case. Suicide has not been a crime in Canada since 1974. And there is no legal compulsion to intervene--indeed, there may be a legal compulsion not to intervene--if someone chooses this route.

The man's defence lawyer did him no favours by agreeing with the Crown that the law required him to act. It does nothing of the kind. There is no legal requirement for Canadian citizens even to try to stop a crime in progress, much less a legal act of suicide. The Crown's position was wrong in law, but Crown Attorney David MacKenzie forced a plea bargain on the man, who had been stuck in jail for 70 days. Fonteece, to put an end to his judicial persecution, pleaded guilty to criminal negligence.

Even health practitioners in Ontario who have been found guilty of assisted suicide--which remains illegal under Section 241(b) of the Criminal Code--have received suspended sentences. But MacKenzie, clearly a man who enjoys public moral preening, wants Fonteece to do another nine months in jail:

The court must, MacKenzie said, impose a sentence that takes into account the duty family members owe to one another, and shows that society "will not tolerate the inattention or disregard for another family member‘s life, even in circumstances as tragic as those in the life that Peter and Yanisa Fonteece had made for themselves."

A judge will decide on a sentence on May 13. A contrite apology from the bench would be far more appropriate.

Friday, February 26, 2010

It's that week again

Starts on Monday. By this time next year, it could be illegal.

On the core issue, I can't really add much more to what I said last year. Is Israel an apartheid regime? Or is this simply a kind of moral analogy?

In South Africa, a Black majority was super-exploited by a white minority. In Israel plus the occupied territory of the West Bank, the Palestinians are the minority. They are oppressed, and many are exploited to the point that they may even have been forced to pay the costs of their own colonization. But, on the basis of economics, one might want to make a distinction.

Nevertheless, that there are apartheid-like elements present in Israel and the West Bank is beyond doubt. Ask any Israeli Arab, any West Bank Palestinian, any family evicted from their home in East Jerusalem, any displaced Bedouin in the Negev region shunted aside to make room for Jewish residents, their villages bulldozed, their crops destroyed. (For the geography-challenged, that's in Israel proper.)

Or ask any Black South African. Bishop Desmond Tutu knows all about apartheid. Is he less of an authority on the subject than Peter Shurman, PC MPP from Thornhill, who presumes to speak for South African Blacks? Why not actually ask them what they think?

There is, obviously, a debate to be had. In my experience, that's what Israel Apartheid Week is all about. At my own school there will be a series of public panel discussions. I attended one of those last year.

But the pro-Israel folks have, this year, launched a few preemptive strikes. There's the viral video "Size Doesn't Matter." There's the timely release of B'nai Brith's catalogue of incidents, large and small, of anti-Semitism in Canada--an annual list about which even the National Post's Jonathan Kay has expressed healthy scepticism. Then there's yesterday's bizarre resolution in the Ontario legislature condemning Israel Apartheid Week. (I note that Liberal Phil McNeely, who once spoke his mind but was slapped down in 2006, remains cowed.)

Said Shurman, who introduced the motion: "Israeli Apartheid Week is not a dialogue, it's a monologue, and it is an imposition of a view by the name itself – the name is hateful, it is odious." And to ensure that only one monologue is permissible, B'nai Brith's Frank Dimant welcomes this as the beginning of a process to ban the event entirely.

Of course there is no "monologue" going on during the week's events, but public opportunities for engagement. The "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" campaign is likely to be a focus. (I'm unhappy about academic boycotts, myself, but not with this sort of divestment.)

So let's talk. I urge folks of all stripes to go to some of these panel discussions in their own communities, as I plan to in mine, and raise all the points they wish. While there's still time.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rights and Democracy: Wells running dry

Paul Wells, the senior Maclean's columnist who has been doing most of the heavy lifting on the Rights and Democracy mess, is burning out:

I am going to very substantially scale back my writing about this issue. I have reached the point where I am wasting my breath. My consolation is that many tens of thousands of Canadians now see this charade for what it is; that this has turned into a very, very bad day at the office for all concerned, including a few strategic geniuses who thought they could narrow-cast their way to electoral gain while the rest of the country missed this story; and that I have managed to shine a bit of a light on some of the most squalid behaviour I have ever witnessed in 20 years as a reporter. I am so grateful to Maclean’s readers for following the details of this often-complex story.

But if he is indeed exiting, it's with a bang, not a whimper.

To put his for-now closing remarks in context, you need to read the Magnificent Seven's second salvo of self-justification in the National Post on Tuesday. It is so transparently false, so disingenuous, so jam-packed with falsehoods and innuendo, that Wells loses his cool altogether.

"It's not about the Middle East" is the staggeringly disingenuous lede, and it's all downhill from there. The Braun Bunch score several own-goals, besmirching the memory of the late President, Rémy Beauregard, mauling their own management team, and taking a kick or two at their staff.

"[T]he real story here is a board doing its duty," they claim.

We on the board found the problems; we did not create them. The current “crisis” has been produced by a staff misled by its leadership and prone to periodic eruptions.

Everyone's out of step but the Seven. We get a "politics, shmolitics" defensive line that one might sum up as "yes we have no agenda." It's all about transparency and accountability, they say. One can almost hear them whistling innocently--in unison.

But it quickly emerges that the late Beauregard is the reason for writing the piece
. He's in no position to fight back, of course. I had always thought there was a law against offering indignities to a corpse, but the Seven seem to have little compunction in that regard.

Readers will recall that a central aspect of this bordel was the preparation of a negative evaluation by three Board members, constituted as an executive review committee. Beauregard was forced to use Access to Information to see it.

Secret evaluation? What secret evaluation? ask the Seven, wide-eyed. Beauregard had plenty of chances to meet with Chairman Aurel Braun, Elliott Tepper and Jacques Gauthier, who had prepared the report, they say. "He chose not to avail himself of those opportunities."

And this is simply breathtaking:

The former president rejected the criticism of his presidency found in the presidential performance report. That was not surprising. But his response was misguided: He tried to mobilize the staff and board to counter it. Even informing the staff of the contents of his personnel report was a gross violation, given his authority as their superior. In any case, the performance review report was advisory only and not constitutive. The review was advice to the Privy Council which the Privy Council could accept or reject as it saw fit. Instead of rallying the troops internally to support him, the former president could have just written to the Privy Council, expressing his disagreement with the review and asking the Privy Council to ignore it, which it was free to do. He did not take that path.

Read that paragraph carefully. The glaring absence of a timeline is telling. In fact the impression is given, to readers unfamiliar with the controversy, that the President had the evaluation in his hands and chose to inflame his employees rather than write a rebuttal. The President, we are told, could have written to the Privy Council but "did not take that path." What we are not told is that he had to spend months to obtain the evaluation, while his efforts were vigorously countered, at considerable expense, by the Braun faction.

Then the Seven unleash a volley of accusations against all and sundry:

Senior managers failed to protect the former president from damaging behaviour over a personnel dispute with the board, and failed to protect their staff from the distortions, disruptions, insubordination and poisoning of the atmosphere which ensued, and which were amplified when the former president died. CEOs and senior managers in Canada are not entitled to pressure boards over personnel matters, nor abuse their authority over subordinates, nor declare independence from the board of directors. Staff cannot use tax dollars without oversight. This organization cannot engage in politics at home instead of doing its job of promoting human rights overseas. [emphases added]

The Seven don't merely smear--they bring out the ol' super-soaker and go after the entire organization they're supposed to be managing. That should promote harmony and a healthy, well-functioning workplace.

In the midst of their thrashing and flailing, they manage a now-obligatory shot at the three Middle East human rights organizations that are, pace the Seven, at the centre of all this: B'Tselem, Al-Haq and Al-Mezan, referred to as "suspect organizations." And critics like Paul Wells and maybe even myself, are dismissed as "conflict entrepreneurs." I shall have that one framed.

As noted, Wells is nearly undone, calling this outrageous bit of rhetorical flim-flam a "display of bulbous rubber noses and floppy shoes from the seven clowns running Rights and Democracy." And that's just for starters.

The charge that the late President could have met with his three evaluators at any time? Turns out that the beleaguered Beauregard addressed that very point in a letter on October 26:

“With respect to the efforts made to accommodate the President for a meeting of the [executive review] Committee,” he wrote, “it is important to clarify that of the 55 days proposed by the Secretary of the Board for such a meeting, the President indicated he was available for 45 of those days.”

Why then no meeting? Wells asks. Well, the Committee never could find a day when the three of them could get together.

What about the organizational running of Rights and Democracy? The Seven keep referring to a critical evaluation by Foreign Affairs in 2007, but, as Wells points out, they keep ignoring altogether DFAIT's positive final evaluation a year later that capped a five-year audit of the Centre.

Here's the exasperated Wells on the Seven's persistent misinformation about this matter:

I’ve written [about] that a half-dozen times here, and I know for a fact that the Braun Circus has many friends who read this blog closely now as part of their work day. I repeated it on TVO’s The Agenda With Steve Paikin on Friday night. And still this bunch refuses to ever mention the 2008 evaluation, and still this bunch claims the problems “regrettably remain,” and still this bunch hauls in an audit firm with a vague mandate which their own public statements define in contradictory ways. The staff is terrified that their due-process rights will be run roughshod. Who can blame them? Ask Rémy Beauregard. Oh, that’s right. He’s dead.

Although I would regret not seeing more of Wells on this issue--I hope that he might soon change his mind--I can hardly blame him for being tired and frustrated as the slimy alibis and attacks continue unchecked, with government connivance. Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon has defended the interim President's pointless forensic audit, and tapped as the new President a man with decided views on Muslims and immigration that, to be charitable, have little to do with human rights. What was once an admired organization with an international reputation continues its downhill slide, and there is an awful air of inevitability about it.

As someone with a long and abiding interest in governance, I might agree that we should try to leave our entrenched positions on Middle East affairs at the door and look at the current antics at Rights and Democracy simply as a model of how not to manage an institution. But it's hard to ignore the Middle Eastern elephant in the room, frightening the hired help and bothering the guests. To pretend that there's no such animal, as the Seven do with an utterly unconvincing look of injured innocence, is frankly an insult to our intelligence. And to carry on in this fashion, as we have every indication they will, sullies the very notion of human rights that the Centre was intended to promote.

[For those who want background and personalities, be sure to watch the entire 36-minute clip from The Agenda
up at Well's place. And why not send Paul a warm word or two?]

Mr. Bernier: Caution is the right tone for Canada, denialism is not!

Mr. Bernier has written an opinion letter discussing the debate over global warming and the position of the Canadian government titled Caution is the right stance for Canada. While politicians are entitled, even obligated, to form opinion, no one is entitled to their own facts. So I thought some fact checking of his article was in order. Here is my rough cut at the scientific errors Mr. Bernier makes (the quote from Mr. Bernier is given in italics and my reply in bold text after). I am on a couple of deadlines and short on time and there are other scientific errors in his text so please feel free to add your own in comments.

The many errors made by the IPCC that have been recently unveiled add more weight to the various alternative theories that have been put forward for a number of years. The errors (both of them) by the IPCC are not particularly important. They neither support or call into question any of the science.

Satellite data show less warming than terrestrial stations, which may have been contaminated by heat coming from more extended urban areas. No, in fact there are two satellite records. Taking into account the errors in the measurements, both are not significantly different than the ground measurements (one is a little lower, the other is almost exactly the same).

Data from tree rings in the forests even show some cooling; No, the tree records do not show cooling, they show a decrease in ring measurement which could be due to a number of different factors.

Moreover, we realize that during the period of greatest concern about warming – the last decade – temperatures have stopped increasing! No, there is not enough data from 10 years to get statistically meaningful trends. For example it is just as correct for me to say that based on the results from the last 2 years there is a warming trend of 14C/century! If you go back in the data far enough to get statistically significant data, then it does indeed show a warming trend.

Mojib Latif, a German researcher associated with the IPCC who essentially supports the warming theory, said last fall that temperatures may decline for two decades before warming resumes. No, Dr. Latif did not say that and in fact said “what I said is that the cooling in the Atlantic and Pacific may offsset global warming for a decade so that there may be not much of an additional warming.” Deep climate has the story and a series of e-mails exchanged with Dr. Latif.

The topic of climate change is important and serious. As such it requires serious science and discussion. It is disappointing to see that some politicians resort to incorrect science in advancing a policy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What a friend we have in CSIS

With all the talk of reforming the RCMP recently, there's another out-of-control organization that appears to need a top-to-bottom scrubbing as well: the Canadian Security Intelligence Service.

Supposedly CSIS is overseen by the Security and Intelligence Review Committee, but SIRC appears to be largely restricted to scolding. The CSIS interrogation of Omar Khadr caused SIRC's finger to wag, not to mention the agency's concealing of evidence, and its involvement in the torture of Abousfian Abdelrazik. In the latter case, we were assured that SIRC would go from wagging to probing, but that was seven months ago.

Readers will remember, too, Justice Frank Iacobucci's independent examination in 2008 of possible involvement of "Canadian officials" (from the RCMP and CSIS) in the detention and torture overseas of three more brown-skinned Canadian citizens, Abdullah Almalki, Ahmad Abou-Elmaati and Muayyed Nureddin. He issued a public report with a lot of hemming and hawing in it.

But there was also a section of the report that the Harper government insisted be kept secret, for "national security" reasons. And now we have some idea why.

Justice Iacobucci fought against the government-imposed secrecy, and today was able to release a short supplemental report.

It's pretty damning. CSIS agents actually travelled to Egypt to interrogate Abou-Elmaati in his dungeon, after corresponding with Egyptian officials. He was badly tortured as an indirect consequence, Iacobucci concluded.

But this paragraph, in which the judge demonstrates his mastery of understatement, stands out in particular:

Several witnesses, from both CSIS and the RCMP, told the Inquiry that it was not the responsibility of intelligence or law enforcement officials to be concerned about the human rights of a Canadian detainee, which were for DFAIT alone to consider. This approach, is not, in my opinion, satisfactory.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, however, had been left out of the loop, and so had no human rights decision to make.

"Not my department" ranks right up there with Befehl ist Befehl as a catch-all alibi for casual CSIS and RCMP involvement in the violation of human rights. But this sort of poisoned thinking is fostered at the top.

Once again, as in the Colvin torture-memos, over the release of which Harper is defying Parliament, "national security" seems too often to be synonymous with "Conservative government security." These fresh revelations provide even more reason to make this government as insecure as possible. And to find a better mechanism to hold our runaway secret police accountable.

No need to juxtapose...

Already done.

[H/t ftbt, b/c]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rights and Democracy: meet the new boss (2)

Gérard Latulippe, the incoming president of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, turns out to possess the appropriate anti-Muslim credentials to pass muster with the Harper government. He should fit in well.

Thanks to Chantal Hébert, our attention is drawn to a number of comments made by Latulippe during the period of the "reasonable accommodation" debates in Quebec in 2007, and earlier. It's the sort of "enemies at our shores and in our midst" stuff that delights conservatives. Indeed, he was solidly on-side with former far-right Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ) head Mario Dumont on the subject of immigration:

Mario Dumont a eu le courage de soulever un débat public sur l’immigration qui tardait à venir. De plus en plus d’immigrants proviennent de pays où se pratique un intégrisme* religieux. Ils exigent alors l’application sur notre territoire des règles de comportement social dictées par leur religion, comme s’ils se trouvaient encore dans leur pays d’origine. L’exercice de ces pratiques heurte de plein fouet nos valeurs et est même souvent incompatible avec certains des droits fondamentaux de nos chartes, comme le droit des femmes à l’égalité, la liberté d’expression et le droit à l’intégrité de sa personne. C’est le cas, entre autres, d’une partie importante de la communauté musulmane, des juifs hassidiques et des Sikhs.

...[C]ette problématique récente ne se posait pas lors des vagues d’immigration que le Québec a historiquement connues, que ce soit avec les Italiens, les Polonais, les Grecs, les Latino-Américains, les Haïtiens ou les Vietnamiens. Même si leur mode de vie était différent de celui des Québécois dits de « souche », ils ont enrichi notre culture et ont fortement contribué à l’ouverture du Québec sur le monde. Personne ne parlait alors d’accommodement raisonnable. Il n’y avait rien d’incommodant dans l’apport de ces communautés culturelles à la société québécoise.

[Mario Dumont has had the courage to open up a public debate on immigration, which has been late in coming. More and more immigrants hail from countries where religious fundamentalism is practised. Now they are demanding, here in our territory, rules of social behaviour dictated by their religion, as in their countries of origin. These practices collide head-on with our values and and are often in conflict with certain fundamental rights in our
[Canadian and Quebec] charters , like women’s equality, freedom of expression and the right to safety and security of the individual. This is the case, to give a few examples, with a significant section of the Muslim community, Hassidic Jews and Sikhs.

This recent problem did not arise during the waves of immigration that Quebec has historically experienced—Italians, Poles, Greeks, Latin Americans, Haitians or Vietnamese. Even if their lifestyles were different from those of native-born Quebecers, they have enriched our culture and contributed strongly to Quebec's global outlook. No one spoke about reasonable accommodation then. There was nothing unaccommodating in the contribution these cultural communities made to Quebec society.]

This playing off of one minority against another is a well-worn gambit, but perhaps someone should ask immigrants living in Montreal just how accepted they feel—or talk to the grieving family of Fredy Villanueva.

Latulippe seems fixated on the dangers to "social cohesion" allegedly posed by Muslim immigrants:

[D]epuis l’an 2000, entre 16% et 20% des nouveaux immigrants du Québec proviennent des pays d’Afrique du Nord où l’on parle français, mais de culte musulman. Et nous commençons à vivre ce qui, en fait, est un phénomène occidental. L’incompatibilité des valeurs est devenu un problème majeur sur le continent européen où la population actuelle de 20 millions de musulmans aura probablement doublé d’ici 2025…

Cette nouvelle réalité sociale résultant de l’immigration des 20 dernières années met en danger la cohésion sociale du Québec d’aujourd’hui…

Les revendications actuelles de pratiques d’accommodements sont un signe précurseur de dérives du refus de s’intégrer de communautés animé par un intégrisme qui les mène à se regrouper au sein de ghettos religieux ou sociaux culturels. Dans le cas de l’islam, la radicalisation religieuse, peut mener à l’émergence d’un terrorisme intérieur comme il y en a eu en France, en Espagne, en Angleterre. Et comme Toronto y a échappé de justesse…”

[Since 2000, between 16% and 20% of new immigrants to Quebec come from North Africa: they speak French, but are Muslims. And we are beginning to experience what is, in fact, a Western phenomenon. Their incompatibility of values has become a major factor in Europe where the current population of 20 million Muslims will likely double by 2025.

This new social reality resulting from the past 20 years of immigration threatens the social cohesion of Quebec today.

The current demands for accommodation are a forewarning, by communities motivated by religious fundamentalism,
of a refusal to integrate, leading them to create religious or sociocultural ghettos. In the case of Islam, religious radicalism can mean the emergence of domestic terrorism as in France, Spain and England. And as Toronto narrowly escaped.] [emphases added]

And he has no time for "reasonable accommodation," which he sees as playing into the hands of Muslim fundamentalists:

Et en ce qui concerne les accommodements, il faut regarder la situation en face: des intégristes religieux sont bel et bien en train de tester le système de valeurs de notre société dans l’objectif manifeste d’en faire reculer le plus possible les limites afin de permettre la progression maximale des limites de leur propre système de valeur.

[As for accommodation, it’s necessary to look at the matter squarely: religious fundamentalists are fully engaged in the process of testing the values of our society with the clear objective of pushing the limits of our values as far as possible to allow their own system of values the widest possible scope.]

In another article, Latulippe appears to blame Muslim immigrants themselves for the rise of racism against them:

Il faut revoir le mandat de la Commission sur les accommodements. Il faut qu’elle considère les exemples des autres pays occidentaux. Tout comme la montée du racisme a pris de l’ampleur en Europe, il pourrait en être de même chez nous.

Il faudrait d’abord se demander si l’intégrisme religieux existe au Québec. Si c’est le cas, quelle est son ampleur. Et ensuite se poser les difficiles questions suivantes : sommes-nous disposés à accepter sur notre territoire des intégristes religieux qui vivent suivant des règles de vies incompatibles avec nos valeurs communes (des droits fondamentaux), en particulier celui de l’égalité entre les sexes ? Sommes-nous déterminés à nous accommoder à l’existence de ghettos religieux vivant en marge de la société québécoise, notamment à Montréal ?

Il faut avoir le courage d’aller au fond des choses et d’explorer les causes profondes de la crise qui secoue le Québec depuis plusieurs mois maintenant. Si nos gouvernements n’ont pas la lucidité de faire face dès maintenant aux risques que peut constituer l’intégrisme religieux pour nos valeurs et nos droits fondamentaux, un piège insidieux se dessine: celui de voir la montée de l’intégrisme religieux nous mener droit au racisme.

[It’s necessary to take a second look at the mandate of the Commission on accommodation [Boucher-Taylor]. It should be considering examples from other Western countries. Racism has increased in Europe, and it could happen in the same way here at home.

At the outset, we need to ask ourselves if Muslim fundamentalism exists in Quebec. And if so, what its scope might be. And then to ask ourselves the following difficult questions: should we accept Muslim fundamentalists in our territory, who live under rules of life that are incompatible with our common values (fundamental rights), in particular equality between the sexes? Are we determined to accept the existence of religious ghettos at the margins of Quebec society, notably in Montreal?

It's necessary to have the courage to get to the bottom of things and to explore the root causes of the crisis that has been shaking Quebec for several months. If our governments can’t see their way clear to face the risks right now that are posed to our values and fundamental rights by Muslim religious fundamentalism, an insidious trap is prepared for us: a rise of Muslim fundamentalism that leads right to racism.]

So there we have it: the aliens are among us, breeding like rabbits, with dark designs upon our way of life. The enemy is within, and also at our gates. Racism is the fault of its victims.

Latulippe is no rube, and he puts his message far more elegantly than did the good burghers of Hérouxville. But his xenophobic message is exactly the same: Quebec society is threatened, immigration is creating problems, these dangerous new arrivals are sequestering themselves in ghettos.... Anyone who cannot hear in his words the echoes and resonances of an earlier unsavoury period in the history of Quebec pure laine nationalism just isn't listening.

Muslims are the new Jews in Quebec, alien and threatening, an unsettling presence. And, says the new president of ICHRDD, who is none too keen on Hassidic Jews either, as it happens,
something has to be done about it.

Gérard Latulippe, the high-functioning
hérouxvilliste. Bravo, Lawrence Cannon: just the right man to head up an agency promoting human rights.

[H/t commenter Alison]


UPPERDATE: (February 25) Even more about Latulippe's "exceptional qualifications," which include opposition to same-sex marriage and support for the death penalty.
*In case readers think that I am adding something of my own to the translation, the Robert and Collins dictionary defines the unmodified word "intégrisme" as "Muslim fundamentalism."

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rights and Democracy: meet the new boss...

...same as the old boss? The announcement of a proposed new president of the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, Gérard Latulippe, was made today by Lawrence Cannon, who also expressed strong support for the ludicrously redundant forensic audit of ICHRDD ordered by outgoing interim president Jacques Gauthier.

A Liberal turned member (and candidate) of the then-Canadian Alliance Party (now
there's a leap), Latulippe is certainly chevronné. But credentials are merely a means to an end--and what end is that?

Paul Wells, who moves with lightning speed, covers some of Latulippe's background--and emphasizes the man's
souverainiste credentials. I wouldn't make too much of that: some folks change political parties like underwear, and I offer you Lucien Bouchard as a case in point. Whatever the party, though, it's same old, same old:

The office of former solicitor general Gérard Latulippe broke government rules last year by not reporting a contract worth about $73,000 awarded to a Montreal consulting firm owned by friends of Latulippe and lawyers linked to his former law firm. --Jennifer Robinson, Montreal Gazette, July 3, 1987

But more pertinent, I think, is Paul Wells' point: absent from Latulippe's cv is any expertise in
rights. Perhaps, however, given the current government's agenda, that's of no importance.

Meanwhile, Radio-Canada has obtained another document, throwing further light on the affairs of ICHRDD over the past several months. It's the original negative evaluation of the late president Rémy Beauregard written by three recent Board appointees, a secret trash-job that Beauregard had to use Access to Information to see.* It indicates, contrary to disingenuous protestations by Jacques Gauthier and new Board member David Matas, that transparency and so on had nothing to do with the strife at Rights and Democracy and the eventual coup--it was all Israel, all the time

Let's see what happens now, but readers will forgive me for not being particularly sanguine.

Red Serge Revival?

Six Liberal Senators on the Senate Committee on National Security and Defence have gone ahead and put out a moderately hard-hitting report on the current state of the RCMP. The full text is available here.

The Senators are blunt: business as usual is not an option. They are less than impressed by the flabby performance of Commissioner William Elliott, and they are appalled by the shape the RCMP is in at the moment.
They focus upon four key issues [emphases added].

1) Oversight and review

espite a series of deaths and other tragic outcomes involving RCMP officers – and despite repeated recommendations that the current limp system of reviewing these kinds of incidents be strengthened – there has been no change to the system whereby the RCMP polices itself. RCMP Commissioner William Elliott finally came up with a plan to put an end to this practice, but it’s full of half-measures that won’t do the job.

The Senators agree with the outgoing Chair of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, Paul Kennedy, that the Commission is "toothless." They go on:

Investigations of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP are currently based on evidence voluntarily provided by the RCMP. The Commissioner of the RCMP is free to dismiss the CPC‟s findings, and to ignore its recommendations.

Former public safety minister Peter Van Loan promised three years ago that his department would recalibrate RCMP oversight structures, but nothing has been done....

The government's major move on the oversight file has been to refuse to renew the contract of Commissioner Paul Kennedy, effectively firing him at the end of 2009 after he had complained repeatedly about his office's weak mandate and lack of funding.

And they sum up succinctly: "RCMP reform is never going to be believable to the public until a credible method of policing the Service is put into place."

It is not the RCMP's role to jury-rig a hodge-podge system of its own design to police itself, and to fall back on its own investigators whenever it can't get anyone else to do the job. It is the federal government's responsibility to design and fund a federal review agency that deals with all serious allegations against the RCMP across the land, and so far it hasn't come through.

The Senators also make the commonsense suggestion that officers videotape their own operations:

In addition to introducing an RCMP review institution with teeth, the RCMP should adopt the use of body cameras that would protect both police and members of the public from inaccurate accusations against one another. These cameras won‟t get in the way – modern electronics means that these units can be smaller than cell phones. They should also be installed in RCMP vehicles, as they are in taxis in many cities.

2) Diversity in hiring practices

The Senators point out that only one in five (19.9 percent) of the RCMP's officers are women. At the top echelons, 6 out of 75 officers are women. 6.1% of RCMP officers are from visible minorities. Only 3 out of 169 officers at or above the superintendent rank are visible minorities, none of whom, in fact, rank higher than superintendent.

On the issue of recruitment, the Senators are exercised enough to forego parliamentary language:

You don’t have to look far to find staunch traditionalists who argue that bringing more women and minorities into the RCMP will weaken the service in the name of “political correctness.” Forgive us, but that’s bull---- of the highest order....

They find no commitment on the RCMP's part to remedy current deficiencies in this respect. Diversity has "proceeded at a snail's pace," and the RCMP has set itself such absurdly easy recruitment targets that they are already exceeded in the force.

3) Inadequate resourcing

[P]art of the reason the RCMP isn’t performing the way it should is that its people are stretched way too thin. There are staff vacancies everywhere, and a successful recruiting program is likely to be cut back before the holes are filled....With federal government cutbacks in the works, we see a distinct possibility that RCMP reform will never get out of the starting blocks.

This is obviously a concern, but much of this overstretching arises from an ever-widening mandate, of which the Senators (unwisely I think) approve.

4) Leadership

The Senators believe that an RCMP Commissioner should be from the ranks. With a strong, toothy civilian oversight system, this makes a lot of sense: an outsider is unlikely to have the detailed knowledge of policing that is required for effective leadership.

Whoever leads the RCMP after current Commissioner William Elliott leaves the job will have to stand up to a government intent on cutting costs. The new leader will also have to have the strength to shake off traditions and lead breakthroughs on the issues such as diversity and policing the police. Such a person should not be a bureaucrat this time around....

There is much to chew on in this report. Do the proposed reforms go far enough, or should the "horribly broken" RCMP, with its toxic organizational culture, be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up? Should the force keep its ever-widening ragbag of a mandate, as the Senators would like, necessitating the hiring of between 5000-7000 new officers, or should that mandate be restricted?

Although several recommendations attack serious institutional problems, including the leadership structure, there is no recommendation for a detailed top-to-bottom organizational audit, something I believe is essential.

The Senators detail 10 years of warnings about the failings of the institution. Clearly the blame doesn't lie entirely with the Conservatives, although they have shown every sign of upholding the hands-off tradition of their predecessors. In any case, a combination of ineptitude, benign neglect and sheer lack of political will on the part of our successive governments has permitted a malign, top-down paramilitary culture to become deeply entrenched.

Matters have been allowed to deteriorate to such a degree that, even if the Senators' recommendations were acted upon (which is unlikely), it is questionable that the RCMP can be transformed merely by implementing the few piecemeal reforms suggested. But as a starting-point for a public discussion, one that we badly need to have, "Red Serge Revival" is a serious contribution, and well worth a read.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Rights and Democracy: Church and State

The troubled International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development (ICHRDD), familiarly known as Rights and Democracy, is a microcosm of a cultural and political struggle playing itself out in Canada today: progressive values versus a combination of far-right ideology, extremist theology and Middle East politics.

That's an explosive mix. It's blowing ICHRDD apart as I write this. Readers are probably aware by now that Stephen Harper
's new appointees to the Board have a clear ideological mission: to exempt Israel from human rights scrutiny. To that end, small grants to three respected human rights organizations in the Middle East--Al-Haq, Al-Mezan and B'Tselem--were "repudiated" this past January. They have since been slandered by the Chair of the ICHRDD Board, Aurel Braun, who called B'Tselem (an Israel-based group that has been praised even by the Israeli Attorney-General) "toxic" and "Israeli in name only."

But as we now know, Braun's Gleichschaltung went much further than that. Internally, the now-late president of the organization, Rémy Beauregard, was subjected to gross mistreatment, including gratuitous slander. Employees have been terrorized, to the point that all but one or two of the staff wrote an open letter demanding that three new Board members, Braun, Jacques Gauthier and Elliott Tepper, be removed.

The staff complained of
psychological harassment, intimidation and ethnic profiling--the latter confirmed, it appears, by interim president Jacques Gauthier. A gag order has been placed on all employees, three top managers have been suspended pour encourager les autres, and a horde of what Maclean's commentator Paul Wells calls "freelancers" have been brought in, including a private investigator (Claude Sarrazin), forensic auditors, a new office manager (Charles Auger) and now a new communications director--Peter Stockland.

More on Stockland in a minute.

Braun has not been content to focus on Middle East matters. As Chair of the Board of a supposedly independent agency, he has been unusually protective of the current government. He went so far as to administer a tongue-lashing last year to the late president and to senior manager Razmik Panossian (now suspended). Their sin? They had publicly pointed out that Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon, despite his denial, had been informed months in advance of Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai's plans to legalize marital rape. He was apparently mortified that the Minister--with that ever-convenient memory of his--was being contradicted.

But Middle East politics, nevertheless, have been foregrounded at ICHRDD for months.
The new Board appointees include two active members of B'nai Brith (Braun and David Matas). Jacques Gauthier wrote a PhD thesis defending the annexation of East Jerusalem by Israel. The Board also has a couple of Conservative Party trained seals (failed CPC candidate Brad Farquhar and Marco Navarro-Génie, who did his thesis work at the University of Calgary under Tom Flanagan), and a business-oriented Christian think-tanker, Michael Van Pelt.

In this affair, some of the dots connect themselves. The involvement of veteran pro-Israel propagandist
Gerald Steinberg is probably worth its own story. But let's step back and look at the wider picture. The ICHRDD imbroglio, in fact, has much to do with a troubling convergence of church and state in Stephen Harper's Canada.

Canada has no constitutional separation of church and state. The "Establishment Clause" is part of the First Amendment to the US constitution, but far too many Canadians believe we have something similar.

We don't, and it's beginning to show. The Harper government, for example, has just awarded a $3.2 million grant to the evangelical organization Youth for Christ. (As NDP critic Pat Martin quipped, what if the outfit had been called Youth for Allah? He was promptly scolded for his opposition by that moral paragon, Public Safety Minister Victor Toews.)

Our Prime Minister is an evangelical Christian, a member of a denomination that believes Christ's return to earth is imminent. He has called criticism of Israel "anti-Semitic" and suggested that some Members of Parliament were akin to Nazis. Jason Kenney, no slouch in the religion department either, is perhaps even more zealous on the subject of Israel.

Where does this inflexible stance come from?

There is, in fact, a theological explanation for the solidarity now being shown by right-wing pro-Israel Christians. Put simply, Israel must persist because the Bible says it must--until the Second Coming of Christ and the Rapture (watch this clip to get the flavour).

So the anti-Semitism of evangelical Christians and Catholic demagogues in bygone days has been replaced? Hold on. Not so fast.

The Rapture--the bodily taking up of the faithful into heaven when the world ends--will only be available for Jews who convert to Christianity, "perfected Jews" in far-right commentator Ann Coulter's parlance. The rest will be incinerated.

The state of Israel, then, not the Jews, is the focus of so-called "Christian Zionism." If the difference is obscure for some, the evangelicals are quite clear on that point. And so are disillusioned Jews like Stephen Scheinberg, who watched B'nai Brith Canada lurch into the arms of the Christian Right:

[A] state of pluralism in B’nai Brith lasted until about five years ago. (It has now been totally eliminated with the expulsion of eight dissenting members...) At a rump national board meeting, with a bare quorum, Dimant introduced a resolution to forge an alliance with the Christian right in Canada. Knowing something of their American counterparts, I challenged the motion, but was the only one to do so. I turned to well-known Liberal human rights lawyer David Matas of Winnipeg, but he was not similarly alarmed, perhaps because his own unabashedly pro-Israel position was consistent with such an alliance, or perhaps he did not share my fears. [B'nai Brith president Frank]Dimant and others tried to assure me that the alliance was only for Israel advocacy.

I soon learned that was not the case.

(Scheinberg and ICHRDD Chair Aurel Braun--small world--once co-authored a book on the far Right. Those were the days.)

What in fact is emerging in the US and in Canada is a politico-religious alliance of what once upon a time might have been considered strange bedfellows indeed: conservative Jews, ultra-Christians and the extreme Right. The Christians are, to varying degrees, Dominionists, who want the state to govern according to the Law of God. And, in a further shifting of alliances, zealous Catholics like Jason Kenney have taken their places alongside the evangelicals.

Stephen Harper's personal commitment to Dominionist notions is hardly a secret (the linked article is long, but well worth reading). And he has a powerful ally in "Doctor" Charles McVety, a Christian extremist who holds undue and unelected sway over the policies of the Harper government.

All of these elements and alliances have been brought to the fore by the civil war raging in ICHRDD. The Conservative government, a forgetful Minister of Foreign Affairs, B'nai Brith and various enthusiastic pro-Israel Christians are ranged against those who take universal human rights seriously (almost the entire staff of Rights and Democracy, for starters)--those, in other words, who think that even Palestinians have rights worthy of protection.

It should be no surprise, then, that the interim president of ICHRDD has now appointed Peter Stockland as his contracted-out director of communications. Stockland is, not to put too fine a point upon it, a right-wing religious zealot who used to write a column for the
Sun chain a million years ago, and in that capacity (declaration of interest here) tried to smear me as anti-Catholic when I took on a local homophobe who was trying to shut down a university radio station for being too gay-positive.

Stockland is presently the Executive Director of the Centre for Cultural Renewal, and runs a Montreal communications firm. What is the Centre for Cultural Renewal? In their own words:

The Centre for Cultural Renewal is an independent, not-for-profit, charitable organization that helps Canadians and their leaders shape a vision of civil society. To this end, we focus on the important and often complex connections between public policy, culture, moral discourse and religious belief, and produce discussion papers, forums and lectures on key issues affecting Canadian society, public policy and culture.

Our goal is to provide a vision of civil society that addresses the fundamental connections between public policy, culture, moral discourse, and religious conviction. We provide journalists, politicians and the interested public with quality resources, and believe that the quality of contemporary public dialogue is improved with the inclusion of many aspects of the rich and complex vision of the human person viewed in relationship to others, and bearing rights and responsibilities.
[emphases added]

What does that mean in reality? This sort of thing:

In late 2009, the Quebec government published its new policy to combat homophobia. Though far-reaching,the policy has generated little commentary of substance. The Centre for Cultural Renewal, in keeping with its mandate to build understanding between faith and culture, has agreed to post a provocative critique written by Douglas Farrow, professor of Christian Thought at McGill University in Montreal.

After analyzing the policy and the thinking behind it, Professor Farrow warns "no society that adopts such (thinking) can hope to survive for long, for along with the reforming and redemptive effects of religion it has rejected the natural, self-replenishing diversity that is the root of its own vitality, in favour of an artificial, stifling “diversity” that can only degenerate into a culture of compulsion and despair." He further urges citizens inside and outside of Quebec to make public their vigorous dissent from the policy. Whether or not those who read Professor Farrow's document dissent from the policy or from his critique, we welcome all thoughtful, fair-minded responses and will try to publish a representative selection. [emphasis added]

What does the organization stand for? No boundaries between public policy and religion, and genteel homophobia, for starters. Extreme religious ideology, in other words, if cloaked in relatively moderate language. And now the organization's Executive Director has been injected directly into the on-going Rights and Democracy war.

More oil, as Yogi Berra might have said, on troubled flames.
And the fire is not by any means confined to a small office in Montreal.

[H/t Norman Spector via BCL]