Police State or State of Police? Part 2

November 14, 2011 7:06 pm
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A few other notable Canadian cases involving allegations of misconduct against the police:

Fredy Villanueva, Montreal, QC – August, 2008: Over three years after Fredy Villanueva was killed, no answer has been offered as to why police opened fire on the 18-year-old teenager. Villanueva , who was playing a game of dice on the street with friends, was shot after an officer attempted to arrest his brother. The unexplained shooting sparked a riot, public outcry and subsequent discussion into racial profiling.

Photo: Toronto Star

Toronto G20 Summit – June 2010: Lacy McAuley from Washington, DC was documenting arrests made outside of the G20 detention centre on June 27, 2010, when she was arrested for taking photographs. McCauley alleged she was tossed to the ground by officers, dragged three metres into an unmarked van and placed face down, before an officer sat on her back, held her throat and threatened her – causing her to wet herself. This is only one story of hundreds of protesters who reported alleged beatings, assaults or hostile detainments during the week-long political summit that has led lawyers, protesters and civil rights groups to speak out.

Harold Hyde, Halifax, NS – November 2007:  Hyde, a mentally ill prisoner apprehended for assault in Nova Scotia, was stunned five times after trying to escape a police station, before going into cardiac arrest. Paramedics revived him and he was released from the hospital on the condition that he be returned to the emergency department if the court did not provide him with a psychiatric assessment. Hyde was returned to jail without medication or the ordered assessment, and following hallucinations of “demons” and another attempted escape, Hyde was repressed on his stomach and died.

Aron Firman, Collingwood, ON – June 2010: The 27-year-old schizophrenic was shocked when he was aggressive towards Collingwood OPP officers after they responded to an assault complaint. The unarmed victim, who lived in a home for mentally ill patients, died from “cardiac arrhythmia precipitated by electronic control device deployment in an agitated man,” according to the medical examiner’s findings.

Photo: Globe and Mail

Buddy Tavares, Kelowna, BC – January 2011: The investigation into suspended RCMP officer Geoff Mantler’s videotaped misconduct is set to begin this time next year; a civil lawsuit that is one of two assault charges against the officer. RCMP received a call to shots fired at Kelowna golf club, where they proceeded to arrest a compliant 51-year-old Tavares for the careless use of a firearm. Videotape then caught Mantler kicking Tavares in the face – who at the time was recovering from a brain injury suffered in a car accident – while he was on his hands and knees. Following the incident, Tavares and the BCCLA have also alleged a civil breach in which the RCMP released an unverified statement saying Tavares’ charge was related to a “domestic violence situation” – information Tavares and his family say is untrue.

Mario Hamel, Montreal, QC – June 2011: Montreal police knew of Hamel, a homeless man with a history of severe mental illness who had been living in a rooming house downtown Montreal, when they approached him before dawn on June 7th. While tearing into garbage bags and threatening officers with a knife, Hamel was unable to be repressed with pepper spray and the officers opened fire. How many rounds were shot is unknown in the ongoing investigation, but it is known that enough were fired to kill Hamel and claim another casualty nearby. The next day, Public Security Minister Robert Dutil said he was “dumbfounded” by the shootings.

Patrick Limoge, Montreal, QC – June 2011: Patrick Limoge was on his way to work at St. Luc Hospital when police opened fire on Hamel at Ste. Catherine and St. Denis. Limoge was struck by a stray bullet and rushed to the hospital, where he later succumbed to his gun wound. The deaths of Hamel and Limoge have sparked the debate surrounding Quebec’s tactics of police-investigating-police.

Photo: Globe and Mail

Jamie Haller, Williams Lake, BC – September 2011: Haller, a 17-year-old Williams Lake girl, was being chased by gang members when she stopped a passerby to call the police. Once RCMP officers arrived on the scene, Haller was quickly placed in handcuffs and jostled into the back of a cruiser. Confused and struggling in the backseat, Haller was then held down by an officer while the other punched her several times in the face.

High-school student Tasered, London, ON – September 2011: During a quickly unfolding street brawl involving two 17-year-old students, police officers approached and shot a Taser into one of the teenager’s ears. Witnesses say the weapon was deployed without the officers yelling at the students to stop or attempting to pull them apart, and despite the fact that provincial regulations advise against Tasering sensitive areas like the head – the Special Investigations Unit has said the incident doesn’t meet its criteria for an inquiry. London police instead opted to probe into the matter internally.

11-year-old boy Tasered, Prince George, BC – September 2011: After stabbing a 37-year-old male, a young boy fled the scene of the crime into an empty building; he had been drinking wine, was reportedly wielding a knife and was prone to violent outbursts. Police tried to verbally coax the boy out of the building, which failed because he is hearing impaired and was not wearing his hearing aid. The next time he stepped out of the building, police Tasered the boy to subdue him.

Armande Cote, Sorel, QC – June 2006 – October 2011: Armande Cote placed a call to 911 in the summer of 2006 to say she had found her husband dead in the home’s gazebo from gunshot wounds to the head. Although Cote was fit to stand trial in what would have been a murder case against her (a rifle was found in the house) – the Supreme Court of Canada has been forced to throw out evidence based on police misconduct that systematically violated Cote’s Charter rights. The judge found police actions to be “aberrant” when they barged unannounced into her house in the middle of the night, searched her home without a warrant and interrogated her for hours without access to a lawyer – causing Cote to recently be set free. Criminal lawyer Frank Addario told the Toronto Star that the scenario sends a “strong and clear message” to police what happens when they do not follow minimum Constitutional criteria.

Police State or State of Police?

6:29 pm

By: Dan Donovan & Claire Tremblay

A 27-year-old theatrical make-up artist was walking along Rideau Street, Ottawa in September 2008 when she was stopped by police. Officers ran her name through their database and let her go when nothing turned up. When she then inquired as to why she’d been stopped, she was arrested for “public intoxication”. Police took her into custody. She was stripsearched, her underwear was cut off with scissors and she was placed semi-naked in soiled clothing in a police cell for three hours. The woman had been out on the town with friends.

In another case, a reporter was stripped of her press pass at a political protest. Police, she alleges, threatened her with gang rape. This, police allegedly informed her, would teach her a lesson – keep reporting and you’ll pay the price.

At the same event, a man alleged police pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him. An amputee, the man alleged police pulled off his leg and told him to hop to the police van. He refused. His leg was confiscated by police as a weapon. He was arrested.

These are not cases from Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain Syria, or Mexico. Welcome to Canada in the first decade of the new millennium. The Canadian citizen referred to in the first paragraph was Stacy Bonds of Ottawa. Her case is well known because the video of her being beaten went viral on the internet. The other two individuals, Amy Miller of the Dominion and Alternative Media Centre and Revenue Canada employee John Pruyn alleged they were beaten at the G20 protests.

The allegations are shocking. But it gets worse,.Canada has the dubious reputation of being one of the few Western countries to fire a weapon at a child. Worse, it has happened twice in 12 months. In April 2011, in Prince George, British Columbia, Canadian police fired a stun gun at an 11-year-old boy. The outside police force that conducted the investigation won’t reveal the most basic details about what happened. The case raised questions about why “trained police officers” would need to use the weapon on a child. The boy is believed to be the youngest person ever to be stunned with a police Taser in Canada. An “outside investigation” by the West Vancouver Police Department did little to address the controversy, other than to conclude the officers involved didn’t break the law. West Vancouver police Chief Peter Lepine reported: “My team spent much of this spring and summer interviewing witnesses, collecting and analyzing evidence and consulting with those in the legal profession as well as subject matter experts in topics like police use of force. We have concluded that the actions of the officers involved did not violate the Criminal Code of Canada and we are not recommending charges.” Few details about the confrontation have ever been released. Police have never said whether the boy was armed or if he was attacking or threatening the officers at the time. It was later reported that the boy had serious mental issues and was holding a pen when tasered and not a knife as police had reported. Months later, in September 2011, in London, Ontario another 11-year-old boy was tasered in the head by a city of London Police Sergeant. A video of the incident shows the Sergeant walking towards an altercation and firing his Taser without warning at and knocking the boy unconscious. Before any investigation, London Police Chief Brad Duncan issued a terse statement saying the sergeant was justified in deploying the Taser without giving a verbal warning. The national standard for Taser use in Canada is that Tasers are to be used only when an officer’s life or another person’s life is in immediate danger.

The RCMP have had so many complaints against them in the past decade for improper behavior and incompetence that the Canadian public is no longer confident in the leadership, management and training levels of its once hallowed national police force. In 2010, former RCMP Commissioner Bill Elliottt had to get the Minister of Public Safety to intervene to stop an internal mutiny against him by senior RCMP officers who said he needed anger management training. Elliottt was sent to Texas on the taxpayer’s dime to take an anger management course. Elliottt, commissioner since July 2007, finally stood down this summer.

In another incident, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association is calling for an independent investigation into allegations an RCMP officer in Williams Lake, B.C., assaulted a 17-year-old girl. Jamie Haller was repeatedly punched in the face by an RCMP constable while she was handcuffed in the back of a police car. The incident happened on Sept. 10, 2011 after Haller herself had called the RCMP for assistance. Her mom Martina told local media that “I saw Jamie on the ground, crying and handcuffed and I got out and ran towards her. She was having a panic attack. She is very small and has never been in trouble with police before.” Jamie Haller claims she was mistakenly arrested and was kicking at the inside of the car windows trying to get the attention of her mom, who was nearby. Martina Jeff said she looked at the cruiser and saw the constable “put his whole upper body in the car and started punching… When I looked in the car I saw my daughter. Her face started swelling really bad. There was blood coming down on each side of her mouth. She was handcuffed, with her hands behind her back.” Haller was released the next morning without charge and alleges she did not receive any medical attention. RCMP Sgt. Warren Brown said the accounts of police officers on the scene differ dramatically from Haller’s account and police are recommending the teen be charged with assaulting a police officer.

Then there’s Ashley Smith. Sent to a youth detention centre in New Brunswick for a one-month sentence at 15-years-old, Ashley Smith came out of the centre four years later in a body bag. Prior to Ashley’s suicide at age 19, she had been placed in isolation and body restraints for years. The reason Smith was initially detained? She tossed crabapples at a mail carrier. Smith points to systemic problems from arrest to incarceration.

What is happening to the state of our police? The primary role of the police is to protect the public interest, not protect each other or cover for each other in the case of wrongdoing. Key to the effectiveness of any police force is strong leadership, competence and good training of police constables. Leadership, training, good judgment and common sense seem to be missing from the RCMP, Ottawa Police and other police forces across Canada. Police forces are better and communities stronger when they know serious allegations against police will be investigated fully, promptly and impartially and that if wrongs are committed, police will be dealt with in accordance with the law.

Where has this alleged police aggression sprung from and what is the extent of it in Canada? How do we stack up internationally? No one knows for sure. And that’s because no one is “officially” counting. Police services, according to a University of Toronto criminology report, “do not routinely release official statistics on police shootings or other use of force incidents.” The report, Police Use of Force in Ontario: An examination of Data from the Special Investigations Unit Final Report conducted for the Ipperwash Inquiry, adds research on police violence is “almost impossible to conduct because there is an informal ban on the release of any type of information that breaks down criminal justice statistics…”

In the absence of facts, there is perception. And if media reports are to go by, multiple cases of police misjudgment emerge. This includes using force when force is not necessary, breaching the Charter Rights of Canadians, questioning the decisions of judges in cases where police are found culpable of criminal conduct and conducting strip searches when they are not permissible. Then there are police chiefs who are not always providing the best example to officers under their command. From coast to coast to coast, there are cases of misjudgment all on the public record.

First, look what happened at the G20. People were crammed up in wire holding pens and female journalists covering the event alleged sexual assault by police. Not to be forgotten is G20 protestor Adam Nobody. Nobody claims police kicked him in the face after a police officer asked him his name – and he gave it.

Then there is the 2007 now legendary case of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski who was tasered to death by the RCMP at Vancouver International Airport. Police fired at Dziekanski five times (even after handcuffing him). A report released in June 2010 concluded the RCMP weren’t justified in using a Taser and that officers misrepresented their actions to investigators. Since Dziekanski’s death, the RCMP allows officers to use Tasers only when risk of bodily harm or death is imminent.

In Eastern Canada, a police officer in Labrador showed poor judgment by taking the law into his own hands. In May 2009, Constable James Woodrow, who was off duty at the time, had drinks with a woman. They went back to his home. She refused to leave. His response? Put her in the police lock up. The constable was charged with assault and forcible confinement.

Of all cities in Canada, the record of the Ottawa Police force under current Chief Vern White seems to be one of the worst. Ottawa Police have the lowest clearance rate among Ontario’s 17 largest police departments at
31 per cent, putting them at the bottom of the pack among Ontario’s largest police services when it comes to solving crimes. (Police Resources in Canada Statistics Canada report). The clearance rate is a percentage indicating how many crimes among all those reported annually to police are solved. In addition, Ottawa is the second most investigated force in Ontario for sexual assault. That means the Capital ranks second to Toronto for the number of sexual assault complaints against police officers. Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has investigated 15 allegations of sexual assault by Ottawa police since 2005. Toronto, in first place with a much larger police force, has had 37 investigations. Out of Ottawa’s 15 investigations, two officers were charged with assault compared with three in Toronto. Among Ontario’s biggest police forces, Ottawa actually has the highest rate of investigations per officer. It also has the highest number of criminal charges laid per officer of the three largest forces (Toronto, Peel, and York) in the last five years.

Ottawa Police’s dirty laundry list is made up if a litany of people being manhandled after being charged with minor offences. Combined five citizens, Stacy Bonds, Terry Arthur Delay, Roxanne Carr, William Sarazin, and Ernest Schuhknecht are now suing Ottawa police for more than four million dollars. (Police investigations also took place in the cases of Velvet LeClair and Hugh Styres.) The true cost may never be known (lawyers for the police often put a non-disclosure clause on a settlement). However, Ottawa Police Services Board data released to the Ottawa Citizen, shows a total of $85,671 was paid out in settlements against the police in the first nine months of 2010. Another $486,500 was paid out in 2009 and $162,750 in 2008. More may be in the works. The Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) has received 300 complaints against the Ottawa Police Service since 2009.

The individual allegations are shocking. In the most public incident, Stacy Bonds was arrested in September 2008 for public intoxication. Video tape evidence showed Special Constable Melanie Morris kneeing Bonds and pinning her to the ground. Sergeant Steve Desjourdy then cut off Bond’s shirt and bra with scissors. Police then left Bonds topless in a police cell for hours. Justice Richard Lajoie threw out charges against Bonds labeling her treatment as “an indignity toward a human being.” Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty also chimed in telling the media in November 2010, “it is very, important that the police act in what is keeping in what is right, and appropriate and lawful.

Ottawa women Velvet LeClair and Roxanne Carr alleged similar treatment. LeClair, arrested in 2007 in the ByWard Market for obstructing a police officer, claimed police twisted her arm, made sexually explicit remarks and groped her. Roxanne Carr contends police broke her arm and wrist, banged her head and left her naked in a cell. Charges against Carr for obstructing police and damaging property were withdrawn upon review of a video of Carr’s treatment in a police cellblock. (Interestingly, the same officer, Detective Steven Desjourdy was implicated in the sexual assault of both Stacy Bonds and Roxanne Carr, less than two months apart. The Carr incident occurred on August 23, 2008, the Bonds incident on September 6, 2008. Carr is suing for close to $1 million and Bonds for $1.2 million. Special Constable Melanie Morris was also implicated in the Bonds and Delay (see below) cases.

Photo: Globe and Mail

As recently as August this year, a homeless man Hugh Styres alleged police forced his arms behind his back and pushed his head on to the sidewalk. Tasha Doucette, a Carleton University criminology student took photos of police hosing down the sidewalk afterwards. Styres was charged with assault. The Special Investigations Unit is investigating.

Another homeless man, Terry Arthur Delay was arrested for public intoxication and assaulting police – the same charges laid against Stacy Bonds. Like Bonds, charges were stayed after the judge saw videos of Delay’s treatment while in custody. Video evidence showed Delay being dragged into a cellblock. Special Constable Melanie Morris then kicked Delay to the ground. Judge Dianne Nicolas stated in October 2009 that Morris kicked Delay like “you wouldn’t kick a dog.” Delay is suing police for $750,000.

In yet another intoxication case, Ottawa police took William Sarazin to the cellblock after finding him sleeping in his car in a hotel parking lot in July 2010. Police accused Sarazin of having the care and control of a motor vehicle while his blood-alcohol level was over .08. A videotape captured part of what happened next. Police pulled a handcuffed Sarazin to the ground, then kicked and punched him, stripped off his pants and pulled his shirt over his head. While it is not recorded, Sarazin’s legs were allegedly pulled through the bars, crossed followed by having his body yanked up against the bars. In this case, the Crown withdrew criminal charges after reviewing “evidence of (his) time and treatment in the police cells.” Sarazin is suing police for $650,000.

In another cellblock incident a year in July 2009, Ernest Schuhknecht alleges police kicked him, kneed him and slammed his head against a table. Like the Sarazin incident, police found Schuhknecht intoxicated, this time on the floor of a Bell Street apartment building. Schuhknecht is suing three police officers and police chief Vern White for $700,000.

When you look at Ottawa statistics for sexual assaults committed by criminals, an interesting observation can be made. In a radio interview in September 2011, Holly Johnson, Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, told the CBC that a third to a quarter of sexual assaults reported to Ottawa police are coded unfounded. According to Statistics Canada, an unfounded sexual assault means police concluded an assault did not occur or was not attempted. Statistics Canada also reports that unfounded reports in 2002 to 2003 range from 7 per cent to 28 per cent, which puts Ottawa at the high end of unfounded sexual assaults. Wide variations, the study stated “raise the possibility of varying police beliefs and attitudes on the dynamics of sexual assault.”

Despite Ottawa’s poor Special Investigations Unit record, the City of Ottawa has been largely silent. Few councillors, if any, have spoken out in the media about the need for police to pull up their socks. The Police Services Act states every municipality “shall provide adequate and effective police services in accordance with its needs.” This includes crime prevention, law enforcement, and assistance to victims of crime, public order maintenance and emergency response. However, according to Executive Director of the Ottawa Police Services Board Wendy Fedec, regulating police behaviour is not the Council’s role. In an email to Ottawa Life Magazine, Fedec stated “City Council does not have any responsibilities in these areas, and the role of the Police Services Board in issues pertaining to police conduct, discipline and complaints is extremely limited.” Instead, regulating police conduct lies with statutory bodies such as the Special Investigations Unit, enumerated under the Police Services Act.

Darryl Davies, Professor of Criminology and Social Justice in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University disagrees and says that while the City of Ottawa has no statutory role to regulate police conduct, it needs to speak out. He says that “we have had too many cases of police malfeasance in this city and across the country where nothing of any consequence seems to happen to police officers for egregious acts of wrongdoing.”

Velvet LeClair’s lawyer, Karin Galldin is not surprised. “Unfortunately, there are not a lot of mechanisms available to hold police accountable,” Galldin says. “Police videotape their own behaviour and they work in partnership, so their notes are very consistent with each other.” LeClair’s cellblock footage included only the parts of the video that do not show LeClair. In the Carr case, videotape evidence went missing from the court file. Coincidentally, charges against Carr were dropped.

And while Ottawa’s record is of concern, Ottawa is not alone. Police wrongheadedness is everywhere. If you ask Davies, this points to poor leadership and training of police and a police culture that places allegiance to the police service above public service.

Poor training may be responsible for the mishandling of Stacy Bonds. Bonds’ lawyer, Matthew Webber told CBC News that “at the station we have the police officers not only assaulting my client, but we have the police engaging in a strip search which is in clear contravention of the Supreme Court of Canada’s directions as to when you can engage in a strip search. It’s a lack of knowledge. It’s a lack of training.”

Judge Richard Lajoie who heard the Bonds case stated police had “no reasonable explanation” for the strip search of Bonds. The 100 pound Bonds, was “clearly cooperating.” Police actions on the other hand were “appalling,” a “travesty” and an “indignity.”

Poor training or just plain bad judgment may be a factor in Styres’ situation as well. Doucette said when she made her initial call to police she was asked “is the man an Aboriginal?”

Davies argues the poor leadership starts right at the top, from the Attorney General of Ontario down. Davies questions why – given Justice Lajoie’s harsh criticism – was Bonds still hauled in front of the courts. The Crown, led by the Attorney General of Ontario gets to decide if a prosecution should go ahead. Bonds’ chief prosecutor, John Ayre, who is also Assistant Deputy Attorney General, reviewed Bonds’ case and confirmed there was a reasonable basis to proceed. Ayre’s decision was rubberstamped by Attorney General Chris Bentley. Davies is critical of Bentley’s decision to allow the charges to proceed.

Davies also questions the judgment of President of the Ottawa Police Association, Steven Boucher, in stating Lajoie’s comments to Bonds were “shocking and disappointing.” This was in reference to Lajoie’s ruling in October 2010 describing police conduct against Bonds as vengeful and malicious. Davies argues that making a public statement on the judge’s comments indicates that the police believe themselves to be above the law.

Then there is Ottawa Police Chief Vern White. In December 2010, White told CTV News he had offered his resignation to Ottawa Police Services Board Chair Eli El-Chantiry over Bonds. Conveniently White didn’t mention was how the offer was made. In an email obtained by Ottawa Life Magazine from Eli El-Chantiry to Keith Egli, El-Chantiry states: “With regard to the matter of the Chief offering his resignation, the subject was raised by the Chief in a personal conversation with me, in which he stated that if I thought it was in the best interests of the Police Service, he would be prepared to offer his resignation. I did not think it was in the best interests of the Police Service and told him that. That was the end of the matter…” In other words, there was no written offer made by White nor was the offer made to full membership of the Ottawa Police Services Board. El-Chantiry is a personal friend of White’s and shortly after rejecting his “resignation offer” attended White’s wedding in Finland. A request for an interview with White by Ottawa Life Magazine was refused.

Two years before the Bonds’ incident, City of Ottawa auditor Alain Lalonde raised concern. In a 2005 report, Lalonde stated “caution needs to be exercised that the relationship between the Board and Ottawa Police Service does not become too familiar.” If it became too cozy, it would be “counterproductive when difficult and contentious issues need to be dealt with.

Other police foreces have had their problems too. Toronto Chief of Police and President of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Bill Blair misinterpreted an Ontario regulation enacted before the G20 Summit as giving police carte blanche power to detain bystanders outside the perimeter fence and demand identification. The regulation accorded police no such power. Blair failed to apologize immediately once the error was realized. It was only in December 2010 after Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin released a critical report that Blair expressed regret over the incident.

Then there’s Montreal. In June this year, Montreal police shot and killed a knife-wielding homeless man and an innocent bystander. Montreal police chief Marc Parent told the media in October that police are best equipped to investigate other police. Only limited civilian oversight, if at all, is necessary according to Parent.

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu was condemned for his poor handling of the Stanley Cup riots. During the riots, more than 100,000 people rampaged for three hours, damaging 29 businesses and a dozen vehicles. Chu was criticized for insufficient policing of the downtown core. Worse still, some claimed Chu had a template on how to do it right and just didn’t follow it. Consultant Bob Whitelaw claimed he co-authored a report of the 1994 Stanley Cup riot – the how-to-guide to Stanley Cup riots – and Chu ignored the report’s advice.

But poor leadership may be a symptom of something bigger – police culture. The Police Use of Force in Ontario: An examination of Data from the Special Investigations Unit Final Report points to five elements that contribute to a violent police culture. They are; a militaristic “war on crime” orientation where every citizen is a potential “enemy”; “war stories” that depict minorities as dangerous; an emphasis on “toughness” and “courage” and on respect. “Contempt of cop” merits punishment to those who breach it and then there is a “code of silence” which dictates police do not “snitch” on other officers. Canada, it would appear, has each of the five elements.

Take a “militaristic war on crime orientation.” Ottawa’s Tough on Crime strategy resembles a war chest, not a crackdown. Canada’s Federal Corrections system will cost $2.98 billion in 2011-12 – an 80 per cent increase of 2006-07. In 2014, it will jump to $3.1 billion. By contrast, the Afghanistan mission cost $1.5 billion in the 2009/2010 fiscal year – all this when crime is at a 38-year low. (This amount does not include the $2 billion in equipment and infrastructure in Afghanistan nor soldier salaries for that year.

The effect of a war on crime? Every citizen is a potential enemy. At the Toronto G20, 19,000 police arrested 900 people in two days – 400 for being “engaged in a criminal conspiracy to attack the city.” (This compares to 1,100 arrests in five days in five cities during the English riots in early August 2011.) The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says hundreds of people were randomly searched and did not have timely access to lawyers or medical treatment.

Then there’s contempt of cop syndrome. The Police Use of Force in Ontario study states police are more likely to use excessive force against belligerent citizens. Karin Galldin points to Velvet LeClair and Stacy Bonds. LeClair questioned police over the arrest of her friend. Bonds also asked the reason for her arrest. Both allege abuse. Roxanne Carr also claimed police punished her for supposed disrespectful conduct.

Even legitimate questions pose a risk and can result in a charge of resisting arrest. “Once they have decided to charge you with something,” says Galldin. “They are capable of detaining you and you have to defend yourself. There is a definitely a fine line between interaction with a police officer and showing enough deference to diffuse the situation.”

There’s no doubting though that policing is a tough job. Based on occupational mortality rates, policing ranks ninth (behind fishing workers, forestry workers, airline pilots and flight engineers, farmers, coal miners, roofers, refuse and recyclable material collectors and truck drivers) in the most dangerous jobs in the United States. As Matthew Torgian, President of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police explains, “police officers are required to expect the unexpected and be prepared to respond to the most unforeseen circumstances with strong judgment, high levels of mental acuity and accountability. Unique to policing is that officers run toward danger when our natural human instinct is to run away.” Given this reality, brotherhood is an understandable response.

But brotherhood can show itself in nefarious ways too. Executive Director of the Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Canada, Kim Pate, said “by and large, they (police and correctional officers) are diligent and they want to do a good job. But they find it difficult to call out anybody who is acting in a way they may not agree with.” Pate says mistakes may be concealed. “A culture of punishment infiltrates the staff, so instead of being encouraged to report breaches, they are ignored.” As minor breaches are forgiven so are larger ones. “By the time you get to a Stacy Bonds’ situation, someone has turned their head so many times, why would they not turn their head again?”

And beware cops who snitch. Perry Dunlop, the police whistleblower in the Cornwall Inquiry, pedophile ring said his family received “non-stop vindictive targeting by the police, church and justice system over the past 15 plus years… “After Cornwall, Dunlop and his family moved from the East Coast of Canada to the West.

Another police cultural element is “war stories” – the labeling of marginalized groups as dangerous. It may explain why Aboriginals are 3 per cent of the general population but 17 per cent of federal penitentiary in-mates or why in Saskatchewan the incarceration of Aboriginal people is 35 times higher than average. Then there is racial profiling. In February 2010, the Toronto Star reported Toronto police are three times more likely to stop a black person than a white person.

Perhaps most disturbing about the state of Canada’s police is that problems appear to start from the get go – starting with police training. Last spring 75 officers from the Niagara region wrote tests and went through rounds of interviews, vying for 17 supervisor jobs as sergeants and staff sergeants. In June, it was reported that several police officers “were caught cheating on exams that are part of the force’s promotion process.”

Niagara Regional Police Service Chief Wendy Southall wouldn’t say how many officers were involved, but confirmed that between six and eight officers are facing informal discipline. “It’s very disappointing yes, and it’s very difficult,” she said. She added “The most important thing I believe in their day-to-day duties, aside from the operational techniques that they know, is honesty and integrity. And do some breach it? Unfortunately they do… it’s a very small number.” This small number it would seem has a large influence on Canada’s police force, to the detriment of honest hard working cops.

But whatever the reason for police malfeasance – police culture, poor leadership, or a lack of accountability – something is not working and it needs to change. It appears that  many of the people who are in the current leadership roles for Canada’s police are not providing a standard of service and integrity that communities deserve.

It is notable that Vern White is on the RCMP’s short list to be the next Commissioner even though under his tenure, the Ottawa Police have the worst record of solving crimes in Canada. White has overseen a police force subject to numerous allegations of abuse of citizens at the hands of police. The allegations have hurt the City of Ottawa and made its residents question the legitimacy and competence of its police force.

White has stated publically he will stay on with the Ottawa Police until 2015. If his offer to resign over the Stacy Bonds case is any example, the seriousness of his intent remains to be seen.

Canada’s 20/20 Vision

September 13, 2011 11:19 am
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By: Claire Tremblay

Political think tank Canada 2020 wants Canada to have great vision – the type of vision that secures Canada’s prosperity into the next decade. Some might even call it 20/20 vision – the best sort of vision there is.

A self-described centrist progressive think tank, Canada 2020 started in 2006 with the idea of gathering up Canada’s greatest minds to generate ideas to solve Canada’s problems. Twenty leading thinkers were asked to pick a single issue that could transform Canada by 2020. Luminaries including journalist Chantal Hebert, health sciences expert Dr. David Walker, environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki and literary critic George Elliott Clarke offered up their ideas. They identified the rise of Atlantic Canada, Western separation, the Arctic, baby boomers health needs and the prospect of Québec as America’s 51st state as emerging issues.

Five years on, think tank Chairman Don Newman says Canada 2020 has grown substantially. Since then, Canada 2020 has hosted symposiums, overseas politicians and established a web site. Issues already addressed by the think tank include the need to make multibillion dollar upgrades to Canada’s electricity infrastructure, foreign ownership of Canada’s natural resources, inflation targeting, a pre-budget debate and the creation of a sustainable health care system. Symposium speakers have also included Bank of Canada Governor, Mark Carney, the President of the Canadian Medical Association, Jeff Turnbull, Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, President and Chief Executive Officer of Suncor Energy, Rick George, and Ontario Minister of Economic Development, Sandra Pupatello.

And Canada’s 2020 symposiums and dinners and lunches are proving more than just high-level gab fests. Ideas percolated through Canada 2020 have been picked up in the media (including editorials in the Globe and Mail) and by influential audience members including politicians and business leaders. By getting ideas out into the public forum, says Newman, Canada is better able to direct its destiny.

“The idea with Canada 2020 is to bring out ideas that help Canada,” says Newman. “If you don’t address your problems and try to deal with them in the changing international landscape, you are just throwing the dice,” says Newman.“If you can think about the things you have to deal with and at least exchange ideas first, then you can put out different ideas on how to deal with important issues.”

On the world front, America’s foreign debt problems rate highly as an emerging issue for Canada. In September, Canada 2020 is holding a global strategic outlook conference on the long-term economic outlook for the US. and its implications for Canada. The conference hopes to gain insights on international analysis and forecasting from both Canadian and international minds. Notables attending the conference include Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group based in London, David Emerson, former Canadian Minister of International Trade and Martin Wolf, from The Financial Times.

Canada 2020 will also hold an event in November with the United States Embassy on North American innovation. Newman says some “high-powered” people from the United States and Canada will attend the conference, including the Mayor of Minneapolis R.T Rybak, a scientific advisor to American President Barack Obama and the American Ambassador to Canada, David Jacobson.

“One of the reasons we are doing all this is to think of policies for Canada in 2020 and to have some idea of what the world is going to look like, how those trends will impact Canada and how we can take advantage of the trends.” says Newman.

The Canada 2020 web site states its goal is to “create and environment of social and economic prosperity for Canada’ through the “engagement of Canada’s business and political and community leaders.”  As to what this looks like in practice, Newman says, it is “about not just some people prospering but everyone prospering.” This includes making social services “that are available and affordable while also knowing what the cost of them are and how we can afford them in a global economy,” Newman says. “If we as Canadians have good ideas about international problems then we will have influence in a multi-power world,” says Newman. “For example how we came through the recession has made the world look at us and ask how did we do things differently.”

An issue closer to home says Newman is energy policy in Ontario. John Podesta, President and CEO of the Centre for American Progress and former White House Chief of Staff has spoken at two Canada 2020 events in Ottawa and Washington. Podesta spoke out in July this year on the Ontario Green Energy policy urging Ontario not to scrap its renewable energy policy.

Issues concerning Ontario are front and centre for Canada 2020 in the lead up to the upcoming provincial election later this year.

Just as impressive as the issues Canada 2020 tackles are its founding members and supporting organizations. Newman for one is a Canadian icon.  A veteran journalist of 40 years and former Senior Parliamentary Editor of CBC Television News, Newman is now a senior consultant with Ottawa public relations firm Bluesky Strategy Group and columnist for iPolitics.ca, an online political hub. Other founding members include Tim Barber and Susan Smith, owners of the firm. (Both Barber and Smith worked on Parliament Hill in the 1990s as political aides). Fellow Hill veteran and award-winning author Eugene Lang is Vice-President at Bluesky.

High profile Canada 2020 backers include the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Scotiabank, Telus, pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association and Canadian National Railways.

However, Canada 2020 is not just about high-profile Canadians working to affect positive change in Canada. The think tank also welcomes all concerned Canadians to participate

in Canada 2020. Sign up to its newsletter, contribute as a sponsor, participate in Canada 2020’s blog or watch Canada 2020 events online.  More information on Canada 2020 can be found on the organization’s web site, www.canada2020.ca.

The Politics of America’s Economic Decline

September 6, 2011 9:27 am

America’s economic crisis is showing no signs of abating. Late last week it was announced that no new jobs were created in the month of August. The most recent figures suggest over 14 million Americans are jobless; the real figure is undoubtedly much higher. Panic grips the stock market every second day or so. The U.S. housing market remains depressed in many pockets throughout the country. Perhaps most distressing of all, governments seem either ineffectual or simply powerless to address the economy’s chronic problems. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that Congress finally passed a motion to raise the debt ceiling. But even that measure has done little to inspire confidence among either businesses or regular citizens. Nor have the Federal Reserve’s relatively tepid measures done enough to stimulate any sort of real recovery. President Obama will address the nation on Thursday of this week with a new jobs creation plan. But few anticipate the sort of initiatives that will dramatically stimulate job growth and thus reduce unemployment. Many Americans are no doubt feeling hopeless about the country’s economic future.

Though it’s no longer in vogue to think so, the crisis is in keeping with what Karl Marx anticipated and John Maynard Keynes understood had to be corrected if capitalism wasn’t going to collapse under the weight of its own contradictions. America’s economy is suffering from a classic combination of high rates of joblessness and insufficient consumer demand. The two problems are self reinforcing. Slumping consumer demand undermines the incentive to hire more workers, which, in turn reduces demand even further. The crisis has been prolonged in part because of the preceding collapse of America’s housing market.  An over inflated market was cause and consequence of too many Americans being over leveraged. Once housing prices started their precipitous decline, personal indebtedness also increased. Record numbers of foreclosures is the most dramatic symptom of the housing market’s collapse. Another has been to further depress consumer demand. So long as this remains so, job growth will remain anemic. It’s a vicious circle.

Tea Party's Michele Bachmann

As Keynes understood, In such scenarios governments must assume a more active role in stimulating job creation if recessions are to be avoided. Contrary to what most Republicans suggest, there are ways of doing so that are fiscally responsible.  As many economists have argued, the housing market’s collapse will continue to play a central role in keeping America’s economy mired in recession like conditions. Mitigating its effects will thus require some sort of mortgage relief for distressed home owners. Investments in necessary infrastructure programs should be forthcoming. Companies should be given strategic incentives to hire more workers. Getting most of America’s millions of unemployed back to work will remove an important drag on the system. Instead of collecting employment insurance or welfare, they will be paying taxes. In the case of America, fiscal responsibility must ultimately entail tax increases for the most wealthy. (Warren Buffet, one of America’s richest citizens, recently stated that he and others in his income bracket should be paying far more in taxes.) As the economy grows, reducing the deficit in a responsible fashion is much easier.

For members of the Tea Party and most Republicans, however, the jobs crisis is at best of secondary importance. Instead they insist that the country’s economic problems all more or less stem from an over reaching, over spending government. A combination of deep spending and tax cuts, from their perspective, is thus the only viable path towards economic recovery. Towards this end, the Republican controlled House refused to raise the debt ceiling until the threat of default seemed perilously real and President Obama agreed to their very disagreeable package of demands. Among other things, the president agreed to immediate and back loaded spending cuts.

US President, Barak Obama

President Obama and his team of economic advisers are smart enough to know that such measures will only exacerbate the country’s unemployment problem. But somewhere along the way Obama seems to have lost his nerve. He has too readily capitulated to Republican demands, in part because the GOP controls the House of Representatives. His capitulation is most reflected in the narrative he constantly invokes in explaining what his administration must do. Too often Obama refers to the very misleading analogy of the government being like a “family” that must “tighten its belt” and “reign in uncontrolled spending.” But like it or not, the government is not like a family. On the contrary, its responsibilities are different and far greater in scope. In addition to sound financial management, they involve generating conditions conducive to higher employment and protecting the air we breathe and the water we drink.  In supposedly democratic countries, they have a profound responsibility to nurture democratic approaches to problem solving. Besides families wouldn’t be living in homes or buying vehicles or other large scale items if they weren’t themselves going into debt. This is why financial institutions issue mortgages and lines of credit. President Obama should be more forthright with American citizens and find more effective analogies when describing what his administration must do to improve the country’s prospects.

But for all of the Obama administration’s failures, it is highly misleading when equal blame is assigned to both the Republicans and the Democrats for the dysfunction in Washington or the prolonging of the economic crisis. On the contrary, the sources of the toxicity hanging over American’s capital can almost all be attributed to the Republicans and their Tea Party members. Their approach to the economy has been to hold it at ransom as a way of advancing a very partisan agenda, namely, to ensure Obama is a one term president. Perhaps there’s an element of racism in their determination to sabotage his presidency. In any case, doing their part to sustain high levels of unemployment is their best chance of achieving their objective. The Tea Party and the GOP also seem intent on widening the gap between America’s rich and poor while simultaneously severely restricting the government’s capacity to address the country’s problems. For this is what a combination of deep spending cuts and tax cuts amounts to. Yet they talk as though their twin demands reflect virtue of the highest order. They are either very cynical or simply unaware of the extent of their extreme narrow-mindedness. When it comes to the Tea Party and most Republicans, it’s always hard to know.

Counting on the Drinkers’ Vote

September 2, 2011 2:03 pm

A few weeks ago I sat down at my computer and opened an email  that had a link to a special interview with the leader of the Provincial Conservatives, Tim Hudak. With an election only weeks away the rhetoric and the promises are flowing like water. However, in terms of the main concern for Ontario’s wineries, greater access to the market, these have been largely ignored by the McGuinty government; but it seems that Mr. Hudak has got himself a plan.

Tim Hudak’s promise of  VQA-Only stores seems like a genuinely great one. However, the recent past suggests that the Leader of the PC Party will have quite the fight on his hands. Particulalry from LCBO and the Californians, who have achieved unparallel success here in Ontario, and who are threatening to blow the Free Trade whistle if Tim goes forward with his plan to loosen the market for VQA wines.

Tim Hudak

In the past, Mike Harris, a conservative and once premier of the province – who had a Common Sense Revolution – also had plans to revolutionize the LCBO. However, this was a promise he did not fulfill.  Mr. McGuinty also made some noise about the liquor board and even followed through with a study and report, called the BASR report, but  similarly the issue was scrapped and the report buried.

Mr. Hudak has not said he’ll take on the Board, in fact he is promising greater access to market for local wines (being a Niagara-boy he’s doing his riding proud), but the KGBO knows that would be the first step in losing control of the whole system.

Although the idea to take on the Board and the Californians, is potentially a good one, the question remains: How many Ontario/Canadian wines are in Californian liquor stores?  Can we lodge our own complaint against them?  The question will be how far will Mr. Hudak get in his endeavour to bring VQA wines to the masses?  History doesn’t bode well for the would-be premier of the province and that’s too bad, because many Ontario vintners would love to see the marketplace pried open; but something tells me the LCBO will take the Charlton Heston NRA approach:  you’ll have to pry the control of booze out of their “cold dead hands”.

Vineyards of Ontario

A quote found in a Globe & Mail article from July 6, 2011 sums up the situation brilliantly: “If Ontario wants to boost market share for local winemakers, then it should simply privatize alcohol sales and give fair treatment to all vintners.” Mr. Jim Clawson [chief executive officer of JBClawson International, US industry’s top trade consultant since the early 1980s] said, “You make it awfully difficult for consumers to buy a bottle of wine in Canada.” With this one statement, Jim has said a mouthful, but this now leads to the next question for the campaigning PC leader:  Why stop at VQA?  I think Clawson has given us a better idea; if you’re gonna pick a fight, might as well be for the whole enchilada, not just for the cheese topping.

Remembering Jack Layton: 1950 – 2011

August 23, 2011 2:16 pm
FedElxn NDP Layton 20081015

For many Canadians yesterday began as an ordinary day. The sun rose on a prematurely cool August morning. A new work week had begun. And then the news that Jack Layton passed away at approximately 4.45a.m. that morning at the age of 61 started to spread. In this era of instant communication and social media, on-line vigils sprung up like shoots of grass after a heavy rainfall. But many Canadians were not content to share their grief merely on facebook or twitter. Well into the evening last night Canadians across the country were holding vigils in public parks or on city streets. People wrote condolences on sidewalks or in any public space where people were gathering to mourn Jack’s passing. When asked about the man, many people who didn’t even know him could hardly contain their tears. Prime Minister Harper recalled conversations with Jack during which they talked about “jamming” together. That possibility is now lost and the prime minister seems genuinely sorry for it. The spontaneous and shared outpouring of grief speaks to the power of Jack Layton’s convictions. As he eloquently conveyed in his last letter to all Canadians, he believed in our ability to shape our world for the better. Love was better than anger, he reminded everyone; hope better than fear and optimism better than despair. In a world in which many feel both hopeless and powerless, this sort of message resonated. That he conveyed it knowing that he was about to succumb to the cancer that had so aggressively ravaged his body made it all the more poignant. How could people not be moved by his courage and grace in the face of his imminent death? In the last year of his life, Jack secured his place in our hearts.

Jack Layton on Parliament Hill on June 2, 2011.

It was not, of course, always this way. Jack has been in politics for years, most of it spent as a Toronto city counselor. There he learned politics was less about securing sweeping victories and more about mastering the art of compromise. Progress could be painstakingly slow and there would be many setbacks. He ran for mayor of Toronto in 1991 but lost to June Rowlands. On this and many other occasions, his political obituary was prematurely written. If he wasn’t being written off, he was often spoken of derisively. He was called a “career politician” who was no more trustworthy than a used car salesman. He would never be trusted to hold the reins of power at any level of government. This perception hardly changed when he was elected leader of the federal NDP in 2003. Some  commentators believed that his leadership would merely accelerate the party’s descent into obscurity.  It wasn’t that long ago that he was contemptuously referred to as “Taliban Jack,” for his suggestion that ending the conflict in Afghanistan may require negotiating with the Taliban. I always thought the dismissive reaction to this suggestion wasn’t so much because politicians and media analysts found the notion too odious to consider. Any thoughtful observer realized that the Taliban, for all of their medieval ways, are strategically capable of prolonging the Afghan conflict indefinitely and therefore at enormous human cost. It was more a reflexive response, intended to immediately marginalize Jack from a critical debate. For too long, it seems to me, Jack Layton didn’t get the respect he deserved.

Somewhere along the way this all changed. Family members and those who worked closely with him must have realized long before ordinary Canadians that Jack possessed an increasingly rare combination of skills and gifts. As he got older and became more comfortable as a federal leader, those skills and gifts were refined. He was, by all accounts, a charming man with a smile that could immediately win over a room.  Jack really would want to have a beer with you.  But charm cannot, in the end, take you a long way in politics. He was also thoughtful and intelligent. And he firmly believed that whatever intelligence he possessed should be used to help the socially disadvantaged and politically excluded. If this strikes the reader as hyperbole, it is worth remembering that Jack wrote a book on homelessness. Such an endeavor neither was a sure fire way to get elected or to make a lot of money. On the contrary, writing a book on any subject requires sustained commitment over a prolonged period of time. There must have been bouts of frustration, perhaps even a sense of pointlessness. Yet he finished it. That he chose to write on the socially disadvantaged and excluded was a testamentto his commitment to a better type of politics. It was also in keeping with his work for those suffering from HIV/AIDS at a time when the disease was still poorly understood. In the wake of the Montreal massacre, he co-founded a campaign to counter male violence towards women. Politics, he believed, had to address some of society’s most troublesome inequities.

Jack Layton

But charm and intelligence alone do not account for Jack Layton’s extraordinary rise. There was also the man’s equally extraordinary determination. Among the most memorable images from the last federal election are of Jack walking everywhere with a cane. At the start of the campaign, he had only just finished treatment for his prostate cancer. But there was to be little reprieve: after the cancer he had to have hip surgery. The walking aid was necessary but it did nothing to diminish the perception that Jack was exceptionally energized. After the votes were counted on election night and he had secured his greatest political achievement, he still managed, with cane in hand, to gallop up the stairs to give the party their own victory speech. The NDP had not, of course, won the election but they had increased their seat count from 37 to 103. They had won over Quebec and were now the Official Opposition. Party members were rightfully proud. So too were most Canadians. His fight with cancer, his seemingly inexhaustible energy, the grace with which he conducted himself and his belief in the power of people to still shape our world had finally resonated with Canadians on the sort of scale he must have hoped for when he entered politics so many years ago. It was no longer possible to dismiss him. The respect – nay the love – people had for him ran too deep.

Life’s ironies can sometimes be cruel. As he stood on the stage on May 2nd with his wife Olivia Chow, energized by the party’s achievements, the cancer that he thought he had beaten was about renew its presence. With a vengeance.  We would see him in subsequent days, still vigorous and seemingly healthy. But before long the public appearances grew fewer. When he gave his extraordinary press conference on July 25th it was startling to see how aggressively this new cancer had advanced. He was gaunt and frail, his voice prematurely aged. Cancer had clearly taken its grim toll. Yet he still spoke with optimism about the prospect of making a full recovery and being back in the House of Commons come September.  It was not to be.

Layton with wife, Olivia Chow.

Jack’s death comes a pivotal moment in the life of the NDP. Various factors help explain the party’s sudden rise and electoral success. But none was more important than Jack Layton himself. Their continued success can hardly be taken for granted. How will the party respond to the challenge of moving forward without their beloved leader? How will Canadians respond now that the face of the party so many have recently embraced is suddenly gone? It’s hard to know. What is certain is that Jack reminded us that hope and human decency still matter in Canadian politics. He will be sorely missed.

Jason Kenney Hits a Nerve with Blunt Letter to Amnesty International (Canada) That Questions Their Credibility and Objectivity

August 10, 2011 10:05 pm

By Dan Donovan, Publisher and Managing Editor

The Credibility of the actions of Amnesty International (Canada) and their continual and constant criticism towards the Harper government have been questioned by many over the past 5 years as the organization has consistently aligned itself with whatever position the NDP or “left” in Canada takes on most human rights matters. This usually involves a narrative where the Conservatives are always bad and are pre-disposed to things like handing over detainees to be tortured in Afghanistan, etc. Never mind the absence  of evidence to back these claims. Instead, Amnesty International would rather attack the government with the same media lines as the NDP caucus.  They did this on the Afghanistan detainee file, with Richard Colvin, and with several matters involving Canada’s’ Foreign policy regarding the Israeli –Palestinian question.  However, their latest assertion that war criminals hiding in Canada may be innocent and should somehow get preferential treatment was a bit much for many, including Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. When there are thousands fighting for democratic freedom being  murdered by their own government in Syria, when there are millions dying of starvation in the Horn of Africa, largely  due  to the ineptitude of diplomats at the  United Nations and the genocidal actions of warloads, and when there are hundreds of women in Papua New Guinea and Tanzania being raped by security forces at mines  controlled by Canadian Mining giant Barrack Gold, Mr. Neve finds time in his day to write a letter to scold Ottawa for aggressively targeting and going after war criminals hiding out in Canada. Make no mistake about it-these are people on the lam here who have committed atrocious human rights crimes. Has Amnesty International Canada become so jaded they can’t even give Harper a gold star when he does something right.  Apparently, not. The current management team at Amnesty International (Canada) has diminished itself, its supporters and Amnesty International (Canada) with its dumbfounded defence of what they believe to be the rights of war criminals hiding out in Canada.

Immigration Minister Jason Kenney responded to the Amnesty International (Canada) criticism on Canada’s new policy to hunt down and remove war criminals hiding out in Canada. The full text of the letter from Immigration Minister Jason Kenney to Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada is below. It raises serious questions about the credibility and objectivity of Amnesty International Canada and its current leadership in Canada.

August 9, 2011
Dear Mr Neve and Mrs Vaugrante,

I must confess that my first reaction upon reading your open letter to Minister Toews and myself was one of surprise and joy.  For your organization to muster its formidable powers of suasion against the orderly and innoxious proceedings of the Canadian immigration system must mean that the world’s most truculent regimes have discharged their last political prisoners and advocates of democracy are free to march in the streets of Tehran and Pyongyang.  I have since learned this is not the case, leaving me puzzled as to why Amnesty International (AI) would waste its time and resources opposing the legal deportation of war criminals and serious human rights violators from Canada.

When I joined AI in high school, it was to defend the rights of political dissidents like Andrei Sakharov and to oppose brutal regimes, including those still doing bloody business in Iran and North Korea.  I am disappointed to learn you are now squandering the moral authority accrued in those campaigns on targeting one of the most generous immigration systems in the world, and protesting the actions of Canadian public servants applying rules and laws that far exceed our international obligations.

I will take your points in order.  You begin by expressing “concern” that the government published the names and photos of individuals “who have been accused of having committed war crimes or crimes against humanity who are believed to be residing in Canada.”  Let me pause here to correct a common misconception, one shared by many in the press.  These men are not merely “accused” or “alleged” human rights violators; the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) does not make allegations or accusations – it makes formal findings of fact and its decisions may be appealed to the federal courts.  Every one of these men was found to be inadmissible to Canada under section 35 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.  This means that the IRB found that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that each of these men committed “an offence referred to in sections 4 to 7 of the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act,” i.e., they were complicit in genocide, crimes against humanity or a war crime.  These findings were based on evidence – including, in many cases, voluntary admissions – after formal proceedings during which these men had the right to be represented by counsel.

You are further “concerned that the initiative does not conform to Canada’s obligations with respect to human rights and international justice.”  Poppycock.  The due process these individuals have already been afforded exceeds both the requirements of the Charter and Canada’s international treaty obligations.  Individuals are not lightly or easily deported in Canada; it typically involves multiple levels of review and appeal and can take years or even decades.  Casually asserting that this generous system violates “human rights and international justice,” without elaboration or specific citations, is sloppy and irresponsible.  In fact, this is precisely the slander you wrongly accuse the government of directing at the deportees.  More troubling, it dilutes the meaning of the words “human rights and international justice,” the moral authority of which is threatened by such reckless imprecision and promiscuous misapplication by self-proclaimed “human rights” organizations.

You correctly note that these men have “been found ineligible for entry into Canada on the basis of these accusations, and have been ordered deported” (though the snide preface “apparently” is unnecessary and unworthy), but you object that “the details about the nature, basis or seriousness of the accusations against them have [not] been made public.”  This is not entirely true and, where true, not fair.

Where the individuals have made their records public, either voluntarily or in federal court, the details of their cases are well known.  For example, we know that one of the 30 men still at large, Jose Domingo Malaga Arica, admitted to participating in helicopter raids on villages in which women and children were machine-gunned indiscriminately and to transporting accused criminals to be tortured.  We know this because his federal court record is public.  However, in cases where no exception to the Privacy Act applies, the government has not revealed such detailed information.  What would AI’s reaction be if we did?  I think I can guess from your demand at the end of your letter that we do more to “safeguard” the “privacy” of these scofflaws.  You can’t have it both ways: you can’t protest that we have not revealed enough information about these men at the same time you oppose our identifying them at all.  Is it your position that the Canadian public does not deserve to know that these men are hiding among us unless or until each of them has signed privacy waiver allowing details of their complicity in crimes against humanity to be made public?  If so, I respectfully disagree.  I believe the Canadian public deserves better.

You also complain that we have chosen to deport these men, instead of trying them for war crimes or crimes against humanity.  Our primary duty as a government is to protect Canada and Canadians.  Deporting these men discharges this duty and ensures Canada will not become a sanctuary for international war criminals and serious human rights abusers.  We are not obligated to conduct full-blown trials, at the cost of millions of taxpayer dollars, to prosecute every inadmissible individual for crimes committed in distant countries, often decades ago.  In addition to the extraordinary time and cost this would require, it would burden an already-strained legal system and clog our courts with foreign criminals.  Moreover, in many cases the lack of accessible evidence, local witnesses and a meaningful connection between Canada and the crimes committed would make prosecution a quixotic proposition.  That said, where an individual is the subject of a warrant from a foreign court or tribunal, we will consider turning him over to the appropriate authorities.  Our preeminent goal, however, is defending Canada and upholding the integrity of our immigration system by enforcing these outstanding deportation orders.

On one point, at least, I am pleased to be able to allay your concerns.  You fear that these individuals “might be at risk of serious human rights violations,” such as “torture, extrajudicial execution or enforced disappearance,” when they are returned to their home countries.  As you know, every one of these men is entitled to a pre-removal risk assessment (PRRA), which ensures that Canada complies with its existing treaty obligations and does not refoule even the worst of offenders to face “torture, extrajudicial execution or enforced disappearance.”  They are also entitled to apply for judicial review by the federal courts of a negative PRRA decision, providing for multiple layers of protection.

Finally, you claim to be “concerned about the fact that these cases have been so widely publicized” given the “reputational harm” it may cause these men and the hypothetical risk it may impose on them or their relatives.  No doubt such exquisitely burnished sympathy does you credit.  However, as a former AI member, may I suggest that ostentatious hand-wringing over the good name of war criminals and human rights violators may sit uneasily with those AI members who, perhaps naively, believe your compassion should be reserved for their victims.

The Canadian public understandably wants war criminals and human rights violators kept out of Canada.  When they sneak in or escape before they can be sent home, the public wants us to find them and remove them.  Not coincidentally, this is also what the law requires.  Your calls for more time, more process, more deference and more protection for war criminals and serious human rights violators, by contrast, come across as self-congratulatory moral preening.  I have listened to your concerns, and, frankly, I prefer the common sense of the people and the law.

The Hon. Jason Kenney, M.P., P.C.

Strange Weather, Terrible Politics

July 26, 2011 10:05 am

It is July and, like an annual summer ritual, much of Canada and the U.S. are in the grips of a sweltering heat wave. Record temperatures were set for much of the country last week. The forecast, moreover, is for sustained heat with very little or no rain over the next short while. Many of those living in urban centers welcome the scorching hot days. The unrelenting heat makes the relief of spending a day at the beach and swimming in a cold lake or drinking beer on a shaded patio all that much sweeter.  Venture beyond the city, however, and the issues the weather raises are often more immediate and pressing. In Northern Ontario, the intense heat has sparked hundreds of forest fires. The leaders of the Keewaywin First Nation and Land Lake First Nation respectively are asking the province to declare a state of emergency, as entire communities are being evacuated to escape the approaching blazes. Only weeks after the flooding of the Assiniboine River, the combination of sustained heat and rainless days has created fears of drought in the prairies. Farmers understand in a much more intimate way the dangers of an unstable climate generating extreme weather conditions. Flooding followed by unrelenting dry conditions weeks later is hardly conducive to good harvests.


A consequence of extreme drought.

To be sure, intense summer heat is nothing new. Moreover, the sources of weather patterns vary. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation, El Nino-Southern Oscillation and the North Atlantic Oscillation: all are climatic systems capable of playing havoc with weather.  Thus who is to say that a couple of intensely hot and dry weeks in July can be attributed to something as relatively specific as greenhouse gas emissions? The problem is that record heat and dry days constitute only one example of extreme weather. Much of the U.S. mid-west has endured a particularly brutal tornado season and much of the Southern U.S. is contending with its own threat of drought. In Somalia, drought is fuelling the latest threat of famine.

Or consider Canada’s Arctic region. The Arctic has long been considered a bellwether region in the ongoing efforts to understand our climate. The area is thus always a focus in the reports published by the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In them, the panel uses complicated computer models to predict the rate of melting of Arctic sea ice and glaciers. The IPCC has been criticized in the past for, among other things, selectively choosing data and alarmist projections. Yet a recent study sets out to answer the question of why arctic ice is melting much more rapidly than IPCC climate models anticipate. A group of UK scientists have made the following hypothesis. More recently formed ice has a heavier salt content than older ice. When recently formed ice melts it is thus denser and heavier than the surface water. It thus sinks and in so doing displaces warmer water, which rises to the top. The warmer water then accelerates the melting of the arctic ice. In keeping with the scientific method, the UK scientists insist more evidence is required before any definitive conclusions can be drawn. Nevertheless their hypothesis is very much in keeping with theories of how changes to the climate will unfold. That is to say, there is a very real risk that the warming process will initiate feed-back loops which will, in turn, amplify warming’s effects. Warming and its many consequences will thus not necessarily proceed in an incremental fashion.

Melting sea ice in the Canadian Arctic.

This is precisely what climatologists have been warning us about. Changes to our climate will produce more examples of strange weather. Storms will be more violent and frequent. Weather patterns will be more volatile, thus rendering something as fundamentally important as farming much more difficult. This is especially true in arid or semi-arid landscapes, as the ongoing tragedy in Somalia demonstrates. Sea ice will melt and snow cover throughout much of the Northern hemisphere will continue to diminish. Such patterns will, in turn, initiate changes to biological systems. In order to stem these changes, most climatologists argue, greenhouse gas emissions must be dramatically curtailed.

One legitimately wonders how hot it must get or how much Arctic ice must melt before the Harper government understands the threats posed by a radically altered climate. Harper insists his government is prepared to act, but only in tandem with their U.S. counterparts. The problem, of course, is that all the forces in the U.S. are conspiring to minimize any concerted effort to actually address the issue. Congress is now controlled by the Republicans, many of whom consider climate change merely a hoax peddled by members of the media and rogue elements of the scientific community. They regard any government led efforts to address the dangers of a changing climate like universal health care, namely, as part of President Obama’s insidious campaign to create a more intrusive state. Indeed their rhetoric is a sad reflection of how shallow, unscientific and intensely partisan the GOP has become.  Regrettably Obama has seemingly capitulated to GOP pressure tactics.  In the early days of his administration Obama acknowledged the threats associated with climate change and promised action. But a moribund economy, persistently high unemployment, a staggering debt and the ongoing challenge of having to contend with a Republican controlled congress have created an alternative set of priorities for his government. Now he doesn’t use the term ‘climate change’ when speaking about American energy policy or when speaking at a memorial for the latest tornado victims.

With rising temperatures, the heat is certainly on politicians.

The Harper administration has no such government impediments to addressing the issue. The Conservatives now have a majority and, besides, the Liberal Party, the NDP and the Green Party acknowledge the reality that many of the changes to our climate are anthropogenic induced. Nevertheless so long as the Obama administration does nothing substantive on the climate change file, we can expect a similarly dispirited effort from our own government. Despite his occasional claims to the contrary, this suits Harper just fine. He still doesn’t utter the term climate change when speaking publicly and indeed has expressed doubts that it is a real phenomenon worthy of our attention.

More importantly, any attempt to reduce Canada’s carbon emissions would require a dramatic shift in the government’s approach to Alberta’s tar sands development. Oil production is a source of carbon emissions and is thus a vital contributor to climate change. This has done nothing to stem the demand for oil, the price of which has been steadily rising for years. Alberta’s tar sands were too expensive to develop so long as the price of oil remained below a certain threshold.  That has long ceased to be a problem.  On the contrary, Alberta’s sustained economic boom is largely due to the tar sands. Harper would risk alienating his core constituency to address a problem he has yet to declare actually exists. Small wonder then that Canada has repeatedly received a “fossil of the year,” given to the country which demonstrates the least resolve in reducing green-gas emissions and addressing climate change.

Terri-Jean Cracks Her Whip

July 20, 2011 11:20 am
Cover of Terri-Jean Bedford's new book "Dominatrix OnTrial"

With a new book entitled “Dominatrix On Trial” which hit the book shelves this week at Chapters, Indigo, and Coles, as well as a e-book version currently available,Terri-Jean Bedford, Canada’s most famous Dominatrix, is a determined woman who is anxious to tell her story.  Dominatrix, woman’s advocate, activist, painter, writer, and her most prized title “Grandma”, Terri-Jean gives us her take on the law, its limits, politicians, and Prime Minister Harper.

Terri-Jean has stared adversity in the face most of her life.  Throughout her childhood, teenage years, and as an adult, she was strong willed and determined yet unconventional.    She is not someone that could be bullied nor silenced.  She has faced the law in the past, most notably with charges of operating a common bawdy house under the then current anti-prostitution laws.  Now she finds herself in a constitutional fight that has brought down those same laws and divided a province.

Photo: Book cover of Terri-Jean Bedford’s new book “Dominatrix On Trial”.

Crimes Against Children

July 11, 2011 9:06 am
child soldiers

When you look deep into a child’s eyes, you can see their complete trust in the world and their vulnerability. You can hear it in their voices and laughs. They are little people that simply wear their hearts on their sleeves showing their bravery, trust, love, and fears. Their lives are literally in our hands.  We have the ability to help mould and support creative, compassionate, intelligent adults that will lead our world into a state of peace, longevity, as well as economic and environmental sustainability.

Although 194 countries have ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is a human rights treaty that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children around the world, the reality of the current situation brings us to reflect on the question of whether or not we are doing all we can to protect the children of the world.

Crimes against children are of the most deplorable acts in the world. They are crimes that cannot be forgiven, nor forgotten. There is the military use of children in which children, sometimes as young as 7 years old, are used as human shields or child soldiers. Children are more likely to experience racial discrimination. The genital mutilation of girls and boys still happens in parts of the world and within certain cultures. Children are trafficked, sold, and traded for sex, drugs, and/or money. From young ages many of them experience violence, homelessness, child abuse, disease, hunger, and neglect. Every day, millions of children are subject to some type of victimization.  Some of them are right here in our communities. What are we doing to protect them?

From a global perspective, the statistics are astonishing. Various studies and reports that were completed between 2000 and 2006 by several world organizations including the International Labor Organization, UNICEF, and the World Health Organization, demonstrate the severity of the issue. They revealed the following:

Child Soldiers: Over 50 countries are recruiting child soldiers in their wars and there are over 250,000 children participating in war.

Child Labour: In 2004, it was estimated that 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 were involved in child labour and 126 million of those were in hazardous work. In 2000, estimates suggested that 5.7 million children were in forced labour, 1.8 million in prostitution and/or pornography, and 1.2 million were trafficked as sex workers.

Genital Mutilation:  It is estimated that between 100 and 140 million girls and women worldwide have been subjected to female genital mutilation. An estimated 3 million girls in Africa are at risk of undergoing female genital mutilation every year.

Sex Trade: Estimates suggest that EACH year, 1 million children all over the world are sold internationally and across borders into the sex trade.

Murder: Estimates gathered from country-level data suggest that 53,000 children died worldwide as a result of homicide (2002)

Infrastructure: 30,500 children under 5 die each day of mainly preventable disease and thousands more are ill due to poor sanitation and the lack of clean drinking water.

Racism: Groups of children that are most vulnerable to violence are those with disabilities, from ethnic minorities, refugees, and other displaced children.

These are not just numbers and statistics. They represent countless living, breathing, human beings that suffer this victimization. As a collective force, all nations need to express our abhorrence towards those who commit heinous acts against the most vulnerable people in society. The indifference of the world governments and leaders must be shaken to create awareness that these atrocities, including the negligence of providing adequate infrastructure, education, and health care to children, are simply not acceptable and are against international laws. How do we do this? We begin to make a difference in the lives of children that are closest to us.  Then we open ourselves up to the ideology that “it takes a village to raise a child”. We have a collective responsibility toward the most “at risk people” in our society, to those who have no voice.  We are the ones that must stand up for them when their parents, their schoolmates, their teachers, and their governments won’t.

Have you ever turned a blind eye on a child that is being victimized? Have their eyes met yours for a few seconds only for you look away because you thought it wasn’t your business? Perhaps afterwards you’ve had it in the back of your mind that you could have made a difference in that child’s life? Simply put, you probably could have.


Canada : In a State of Denial

June 17, 2011 9:00 am

There are so many people even today who have a very negative perception of Canada’s First Nations People.  Not only do they have a negative perception, but many times they feel contempt, indifference to their current detrimental predicament, and a sense of unfairness that they glean certain benefits from the federal government that other Canadians do not.  How is it that in 2011 many Canadians continue to share these views? Why is it that First Nations People are the brunt of their antipathy? Why do we continue to deny that there is a grave injustice being carried out in present day Canada against the First Nations People.  Most of the answers cannot be found in history books but rather in the close examination of individual pieces of history.  The problem is etched into our past and so deep and profound, that it will take all of us collectively to begin changing our attitudes and creating awareness of the truths of the past and the present, in order to bring about progress.

Rolf Hicker Photo.

“Knowledge is power”.  Inaccurate knowledge of the facts is dangerous,  and can  have repercussions that echo generations. In Canadian history classes, we were taught who “discovered” this great vast land. We were educated on the collaborative relationships of the Natives and our European ancestors. Our education system neglected to mention the very important ugly aspects of that history.  It didn’t educate us on the treaties, what they meant, what the Europeans guaranteed the Natives in exchange for their land. It didn’t educate us on the manipulative means by which they convinced leaders and communities (providing them alcohol, a substance foreign to them) to agree and sign the treaties. We didn’t learn about  Duncan Campbell Scott, the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Superintendant who vowed to “get rid of the Indian Problem” and to “kill the Indian in the child”. They didn’t tell us about the atrocities at the residential schools where not only in some instances did they take kids by force from their families, but at the hands of the church and state, the kids in many cases were subject to physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. They neglected to tell us that 50% of children that were sent to the schools either died or disappeared.  They didn’t tell us about the graveyards and burial sites at these schools.

“It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resilience to illness by habituating so closely in these schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of the Department, which is geared toward the final solution of our Indian Problem.” (Department of Indian and Northern Affairs Superintendant Duncan Campbell Scott to B.C. Indian Agent – General Major D. McKay, DIA archives, RG10 series)

The apprehension of children from their homes at ages as young as 4 to attend the residential schools greatly impacted the generation that attended the school s and has had a ripple effect through subsequent generations.  Those children, who are now grandparents, in many instances lost their ability to form emotional connections, to be autonomous, to think or act independently, to love or be loved, and to provide support.  This has been an impediment to  forming healthy relationships, to raising children, to holding jobs, bringing up leaders, and to running healthy productive independent communities.  It has contributed to the poverty, substance abuse, and very high suicide rates that are commonly identified as First Nations’ issues.

Photo from Remy Scalza.

Unfortunately, the omission of these very important pieces of history from our educational careers may lead us to accept as fact Prime Minister Harper’s erroneous statement that Canada has “no history of colonialism”.

We can also look at our present ignorance of facts which form our perception of the First Peoples.  Even though under international human rights laws, First Nations children are guaranteed the same level of services, and education as non-native children, this is not the case in Canada.  There is up to $2,000 less funding per child.  As of May 31st, 2011, there were 111 First Nation reserves on drinking water advisories.  The average duration of a drinking water advisory for a First Nation community is 343 days! The maximum has been 12 years!  Some reserves share one tap of potable water for the entire community.  Many reserves do not have adequate housing. There are sometimes up to 4 generations living in a house. Sometimes there are up to 15 people in a 1,000 square foot bungalow. These are all provisions that were dealt with in the treaties but are evidently currently not being respected.

The Government of Canada has spent billions of dollars improving the living conditions in other countries and have demonstrated a commitment to providing foreign aid.   By doing so, they get good press.  Canada gets a big pat on the back from the international community.  If the federal government were to redirect some of their efforts to improve the current situation of its First Nations People, it would mean admitting the dysfunction at “Home”.   It would mean airing Canada’s dirty laundry for everyone to see.

As reported by the Auditor General Sheila Fraser, not only is the situation dire, but despite numerous reports through the years  documenting the importance of implementing change to improve the situation, the situation has worsened.  If drastic measures are not taken soon, the conditions will never begin to ameliorate.

By denying our true history and continually absolving ourselves of our responsibility to making Canada a just and equal society, we collectively perpetuate an inaccurate account of First Nations’ past and present.  What is interesting is that we would expect so much more from our children.  In the school yard, we expect them to stand up to bullies, act with compassion, and to lend a helping hand, for the simple reason that it is the right thing to do. In team sports, we teach them to win and lose as a team. The stronger players pick up the slack for the weaker ones.  Regardless of who makes the mistake on field, court, or ice, collectively we take responsibility for our wins and losses.

Claiming responsibility for the wrongs of the past affords us with a great deal of control over the situation, the path to progression, and subsequent outcome.  Canada is equipped with the knowledge, tools, and resources to make significant positive changes to improve the lives of First Nations People and to do it immediately and effectively.  The question is will we do it? Or will we continue to hide behind our false recollection of the past, the bureaucracy, and denial?




Wrestling Canadian Cultural Identity

June 7, 2011 9:00 am

The government has every obligation to foster, support and promote the artistic activities of the nation it serves. That participatory relationship should be no more than recognition through fostering of the fact that by virtue, the work of its people is virtually the work of the people’s collective culture. Canada sometimes passively and sometimes blatantly finds itself often mired in struggles to grasp its identity. It is a nationally shared pastime. Indeed an increasing western world attitude of an economic and social global vision competes with notions of national differences. That collectively allows for a vibrant sense of diversity across the plant. It does not mean equality by any means, but it allows for recognition. That very diversity and the ability for many to contribute to a oneness of humanity may be within the realm of Pollyanna-like thinking, but as a vision it is a comforting dream at the very least.

Culturally, the concept of Canada has been one that has been difficult to define and as equally challenging to demonstrate. Candidly many Canadians, from a myriad of cultural backgrounds, would find themselves arriving at the same conclusions about what it is that makes this country as great as it is and was always meant to be. Maybe the struggle with its identity and the healthy argument of its definition says who and what it is that we are. Open to healthy debate and conjecture, impressions and dreams, the Canadian attraction is that we can freely have those aspirations and be just as Canadian as the next person.

Many things go into the mix when realizing a sense of national pride and belonging. Depending on perception not all of them resound comfortably but all can be integrally important to the whole. The arts afford a culture venues for its stories; places to relate our diverse histories, and present ideas about our future directions. Commentary, whether visual, written, danced or acted focuses our minds on how we look at the world around us. That essence of us is a key. The creativity of artists gives all of us avenues to take in new ways of looking, liking or even hating. There is an exchange between the artist and those of us who observe or partake in a presentation. There is tremendous give and take, enough to ignite volumes of ideas for commentary and criticism. Inspiration flows in both directions. Canada’s endearing and enduring love of the ‘Canadian hockey game’ overflows into all aspects of its culture and has seen representation in many art forms. Those who argue that the arts are expendable should open their eyes wider to the effective and affective, provocative, fast bonded three-way symbiotic relationship between sports, culture and arts. In Canada with hockey that is a unique love triangle.

All art created by Canadians is Canadian art by default, virtue and inspiration. Not that long ago at the Vancouver Olympics the Canadian award winning slam poet/spoken word artist Shane Koyczan touched and moved us all with “We Are More”. He represents a burgeoning not so new literary reality in this country; part hip hop, part poetry, all about the word it is massively literary and very Canadian, again by default, virtue and inspiration. It is as deserving of experts in its field to champion and sensitively curate guide and present its glory to its ultimate levels of excellence and possibility (video available here).

Recent cuts to staff at the National Gallery of Canada are a wound on national institutions that present the country’s cultural fabrics. There is always debate about the importance of the arts to this country. Strong opinions point to how the arts have shaped the nation and others point to the issue of government support and perceived interference. The arts have importance and viability regardless of the state of a country’s economic fortitude. There could only be consensus on that point. Post NGC curatorial staff cuts it may be true that the museum still has the largest curatorial staff in the country but the loss of the five talented specialists is no small affair. Specialists in arts and culture are essential and integral to the defining foundation of a people and nation. They help us to answer the question – what kind of people are we? They literally curate more than the art in the building but also set it out in such a way that in its celebration it includes Canada – by default, virtue and inspiration. As such they are integral to the blood, sinew and muscle that underlay the ever evolving definition of a nation and particularly this one. The reasons for the cuts are in keeping with an age of austerity whether real or fabricated it is a sign of the times we are in. Reasons have been given; this is not a forum for any of them. Cultural integrity is always at stake. The adage of Canada’s motto, ‘From Sea to Sea’, the phrase from the Seal of The United States, ‘Out of Many One’, and the Lyrics of Bob Marley’s, ‘One Love/People Get Ready’, “One Love, One Heart, Let’s get together and feel all right…”. Maybe simplistic but they are also they also are inspiration and thought worthy. Canada is a young diverse nation as countries go, we are still weaving our fabrics together and to interfere with that, or see it as a done deal, at any point along the way, is tragic and myopic.

Artists thrive because they reflect and challenge their broader communities. This is true at a national level and very evident at local levels. Ottawa as a city is a case in point, a city bursting at the seams with an impossible, and yet, vibrant festival calendar. It rivals cultural capitals worldwide. Its charm is in its matter of fact manner and humility at times as it shows the world that the arts, culture and diversity are a not to be ignored element of its definition. No matter what you may think of it from inside the ‘fence’ from the outside see it as a growing, attractive destination of choice thanks to its festivals, size and atmosphere.

Is Liberalism Dead in Canada?

May 17, 2011 10:11 am

On election night in my area of North Toronto, the cold days that dominated most of April were finally being driven out by the warm gusts of spring. Perhaps that is why few people noticed the gusts of change that were about to sweep across the Canadian political landscape. Everyone knew the conservatives would win, but the expectation was that Canada would likely enter another minority parliament. The Bloc might suffer at the expense of the NDP, but would still retain its dominant status within Quebec. And at the end of the night the liberals, for all their misfortunes, would still seem like the only likely alternative to Harper’s conservatives. The early tallies did little to alter this overall impression. The conservatives were leading from the word ‘go,’ but the liberals and NDP remained close in terms of projected seat counts. Among the first early signs that something was amiss for the liberals was the early lead assumed by conservative Bernard Trottier over Michael Iganatieff. The race was very close but as more votes were counted the gap widened just enough that it was clear Ignatieff would lose his seat after holding it for only one parliament. Other developments were equally ominous for the party. Long time Liberal MPs who once easily held their respective ridings – Ken Dryden, Joe Volpe, among many others – were suddenly on the losing end of races. Their long term presence in the House of Commons was once a source of stability; on this night, it had become a liability. Many younger liberals – Gerard Kennedy among the most prominent – fared no better. Liberal urban heartlands were, by the end of the evening, liberal urban wastelands.

Indeed, what was most striking was the sense by the evening’s end of a party that suddenly seemed antiquated, as though the rest of the country had passed them by. Not surprisingly, party members were stunned. Michael Ignatieff spoke that night with subdued passion and conviction. But for all its strengths, his speech also conveyed bewilderment, as though he couldn’t begin to explain what had just happened, why Canadians didn’t warm to him or why the party that dominated Canadian politics for so long could only win 34 seats in a 308 seat parliament. This impression was fuelled by visuals. The jet black backdrop in a room that was half empty made it seem as though he was speaking at a funeral and not at a political event. The few people there could scarcely contain their mix of disbelief and despair.  They too were no doubt wondering how a liberal campaign could have gone so spectacularly wrong.

The post election hand wringing has seemingly only confirmed that the liberal party is adrift with no sense of direction. Although there is constant talk of the need for ‘renewal,’ party members seem deeply uncertain as to what this process might mean. What’s worse, there remains internal disarray and in fighting. Some party members would like a leadership convention sooner rather than later. Others, such as Jean Chretien, insist that Harper’s majority gives the party the luxury of time. Meanwhile both Bob Rae and Carolyn Bennett publicly expressed their displeasure with the party executive’s silly determination that any interim party leader will not be able to run in the actual leadership race. Their leadership problems run deeper. Historically one of the party’s strengths was the number of quality people who many could imagine as leader and prime minister. Now, by contrast, there is an utter dearth of obvious choices. Some even question if the party has a future.

Not all of the post election analysis has been doom and gloom. Some party members and pundits correctly note the role of vote-splitting in securing the conservative majority. Minimize the splitting, the thinking goes, and Harper will have a harder time next election winning so many seats, particularly in Ontario. The vital role of leadership has also been emphasized. The right leader, possibly young and charismatic, will lift the entire party’s fortunes. Yet it was widely believed that Ignatieff would prove more effective than his immediate predecessor, Stephane Dion, and couldn’t possibly do any worse. Of course, he did much worse! Could it be then that the liberal’s woes reflect a more fundamental shift in the country’s politics? Could it be that the party’s miserable election outcome, its internal disarray and the questions surrounding its future are symptomatic of a deeper crisis for liberalism as a political philosophy?

One of the defining features of Canada’s political landscape in the 20th century was the dominant role of both Quebec and Ontario in federal politics. Liberal majorities more often than not were won in Quebec and Ontario. The vital importance and role of the two provinces is typically attributed to the high number of seats found in both. Quebec has 75 seats, Ontario 106.  More fundamentally, however, the dominant role of the two provinces was a function of the economy. Both were manufacturing heartlands, the basis of Canada’s economic development and strong rates of economic growth throughout much of the last century. Liberalism thrived largely because the economy made it possible for it to do so.

Quebec and Ontario’s shared dominance produced its own echoes throughout western Canada. Throughout much of the last century Alberta’s resentment towards Central Canada festered. Alberta’s political establishment in particular took exception to their limited role in national politics and to intrusions into their own provincial affairs. Equally important was the gradual emergence of a different set of ideological priorities. Most Albertans thought the Canadian state was too expansionist and committed to programs that were too costly. Taxes were too high. Liberalism, from the perspective of many in the west, was the problem with how the country was governed. This was the impetus fuelling the formation of the Reform Party, the Conservative-Alliance Party and finally the revived conservative party under Stephen Harper. They have spent years maneuvering their way towards power in Ottawa. Their efforts have been aided by Canada’s altered economic landscape. Ontario and Quebec’s manufacturing base has withered. Alberta in particular is, of course, rich in oil, a limited resource that more and more of the world needs.

This gradual shift westward in economic power has had various long term consequences, some of which account for the waning appeal of liberalism and for the liberal party’s malaise. Governments, we are told, can no longer assume an active role in meeting important social challenges. For doing so might require taking on a deficit or worse, increasing taxes. Any policy initiative that might require increasing taxes is immediately characterized as irresponsible and unaffordable. Stephane Dion’s proposal in 2008 to use a taxation scheme to combat climate change was ruthlessly – and successfully – pilloried by the conservatives. This election, Michael Ignatieff’s promise to rescind the conservative’s last round of corporate tax cuts was similarly dismissed. Liberalism hasn’t been able to withstand the strain to which it has been subject. And the liberal party hasn’t figured out how to successfully challenge the prevailing economic wisdom the conservatives keep preaching to Canadians. Until they do, the party’s fortunes are not bound to improve.


Our Shifting Political Landscape

May 3, 2011 10:11 pm
Michael Ignatieff

“Politics,” as Michael Ignatieff graciously acknowledged last night, “offers hard lessons we all must learn.” This is not only a hard truth for defeated politicians and for those who still invest hopes in the political process. It is also the case for prognosticators of the political scene. It’s not so much the conservative majority that was unexpected last night, but the evening’s accompanying storylines. For who would have predicted even a few days ago that the Bloc would be so thoroughly defeated in Quebec? At the campaign’s start, who would have thought such a historic breakthrough for the NDP was possible, particularly inside Quebec? And who would have believed a party with as many high profile candidates as the Liberals would suffer such a devastating setback? Indeed, Canada’s political landscape has shifted. The wave of change inspires its own set of questions. With the Bloc effectively eliminated, what is the future of Quebec’s sovereignty movement? How should we understand the Liberal Party’s dreadful showing? How might the conservatives govern now that they’ve finally won their long sought majority?


The rout of the Bloc Party is, to be sure, a blow to Quebec’s sovereignty movement. Gilles Duceppe lost his seat and immediately resigned as party leader.  The Bloc now have only 4 seats. To suggest, however, that the election results presage the demise of the sovereignty movement is premature at best, pure folly at worst. As the political analyst Allen Gregg remarked last night,

Gilles Duceppe

the Bloc’s presence in Ottawa represented a “safety valve” for Quebec voters, particularly those ambivalent about sovereignty. That safety valve has now been eliminated. Their near sweep of the province notwithstanding, it is easy to imagine the NDP’s surge in the province as tentative and potentially short lived. After all, some of the NDP candidates to win last night don’t even speak French; others didn’t even campaign in their own riding. Astoundingly, one winning candidate was in Las Vegas for much of the campaign. The learning curve for the party as a whole in Quebec and their representatives in the House of Commons will be steep. It is easy to imagine the mood that gave rise to the NDP’s strong showing ultimately shifting. That sort of scenario could manifest itself in a renewed push for sovereignty.


The Liberals suffered from the conservative’s relentless attack ads. The attacks on Michael Ignatieff were especially appalling, but ultimately effective. The liberal leader lost his own seat and has also just resigned as party leader. One of the election’s ironies is that Harper’s ambition for a majority was fuelled by his unrelenting attacks of Ignatieff’s personal ambition. To pursue a career outside of Canada, to teach at Harvard, to engage in worldly affairs as Michael Ignatieff has spent his working life doing and then dare to return to Canada and aspire to govern is a form of elitism that Canadians can do without. This was the essence of Harper’s attacks on the liberal leader. Considering much of the country’s love for Pierre Trudeau, it is perhaps strange and more than a little sad that such a strategy worked so splendidly. As one liberal candidate lamented, “the hatchet job on Michael Ignatieff is complete.”


Michael Ignatieff

Yet we should caution against attributing the liberal demise to simply conservative attacks. Another source of the Liberal party’s misfortune last night is perhaps less obvious. The Liberal strategy was to position themselves in the center of the political spectrum, in the expectation that enough Canadians would have an aversion to any party too far to the right or too far to the left. But in a very crucial sense, the Liberals were the victims of the move to the center of the political spectrum among all the major parties. In addition to their unrelenting attacks on the Liberals in particular, the conservatives were determined to allay any lingering fears of a conservative majority. They did so largely by presenting themselves as competent managers of the country’s finances and targeting particular ridings where liberal or NDP incumbents were vulnerable.  But they also promised annual 6% funding increases to medicare, thereby effectively eliminating health care as a point of vulnerability for the party.


Similarly the NDP has long recognized the need to challenge the notion that the party is comprised of “socialists” who would radically reshape the country if it was ever in a position to govern. Jack Layton deserves a lot of credit for recasting the party’s

Jack Layton

image. By the mid way point of the campaign he no longer scared people; on the contrary, his energy in the face of illness and his relentless optimism finally resonated beyond the party’s core constituency. But that was made possible by a platform best characterized as progressive but hardly sweeping.  To be sure, there are some crucial differences between themselves and the conservatives, but those differences are not as wide as many may think. Among the major planks in their platform was a promise to quickly address the doctor shortage in the country’s rural areas and reversing the conservative’s last round of corporate tax breaks. This is hardly the stuff of a revolutionary platform! Indeed this was campaign marked by the utter absence of competing visions for the country. Differences between the parties were ones of degrees. The combined effect of these subtle shifts in strategy and mood was to deliver a conservative majority despite a relatively minor increase in popular support for the party and for Harper in particular.


How then can we expect a Harper majority to govern? It used to be that conservatives won on the basis of a rural/urban split. They won many rural ridings but were often shut out of the

country’s biggest urban centers, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Not so anymore. Outside of Montreal, the conservatives now have seats in urban areas as well. This sort of realignment

could precipitate important changes in the way the country is governed. The more dramatic changes will likely be with respect to areas of social policy dear to Harper’s heart. Thus there will be nothing stopping him now from proceeding with changes to the criminal justice system. Bigger prisons will be built, sentences for various types of offenders will be harsher and

Stephen Harper

rehabilitation will become a less vital element in the treatment of prisoners. The long gun registry will be ripped up and thrown away. The party’s expectation may very well be that these types of measures will not damage their standing in urban centers. Economically, the conservatives will likely be more cautious. However, their promise to increase annual investments in medicare, eliminate the deficit in a few years and implement further tax cuts will eventually dictate hard choices be made.  When that happens, Canada may begin to feel like a much different place.


Why Isn’t Health Care A Major Campaign Issue?

9:18 am

Canadians’ commitment to a publicly funded universally based health care system remains as strong as ever. Yet the debate over the future of health care continues to rage on. The competing narratives should be by now familiar. On the one hand, commentators incessantly remind us that our health care system is unsustainable and that difficult choices must be made. A failure to rein in costs will result in enormous pressures on governments to curtail spending in other areas of crucial importance such as infrastructure and education. On the other hand, defenders of medicare insist that cuts in health care spending will lead to the gradual erosion of government commitment to upholding the principles of the Canada Health Act. The pressures are exacerbated by the country’s shifting demographics. The population is aging. As people get older they are likely to require health care. How should costs be contained enough that the principles underpinning the Canada Health Act are preserved?  Should we allow the private sector assume a greater role in the delivery of health care? These are the sorts of questions ceaseless reports have attempted to answer and Canadians have pondered for the last two decades at least.

Tommy Douglas, Father of Medicare

Strangely, however, health care hasn’t assumed any meaningful role in this campaign. This is due, in part, to the apparent uniformity in health care platforms among the major parties. All federal parties commit themselves to preserving medicare, for the simple reason that failing to do so will severely compromise their election prospects. Indeed a highlight of each party’s platform this campaign is the promise to increase annual health care spending well beyond the anticipated rate of economic growth. The conservatives especially hope to benefit by the apparent sameness in party promises: if all parties are committed to a funding increase, then the election need not be a referendum on the future of health care in Canada. More importantly, Canadians need not fear what a Harper majority would mean for the future of health care in this country. But is it really true that there is nothing to distinguish the party platforms where health care is concerned?  Is it true that Canadians have nothing to fear in a Harper majority?
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recently attempted to answer the first question; in doing so they perhaps unwittingly shed light on the second as well. The CMA conducted an election survey designed to encourage the main political parties (the conservatives, liberals, NDP and the Bloc; the Green Party was not part of the survey; no reason is given for their exclusion) to address the specific issues that will most shape the health care system in the coming decades. Research, home and palliative care, pharmacare and human resources recruitment strategies are the four issues singled out by the CMA. The respective party responses to their survey questions are revealing.

What is perhaps most noteworthy about the survey was the conservative party’s refusal to participate in it. Their repeated response to the CMA was to point to their election platform where, it was promised, all answers to all pertinent health care questions could be found. The response is in keeping with the arrogance demonstrated by the conservatives this election. Is it too much to ask of the party how they would address specific health care related problems and priorities? Or do they feel, as their former leader Kim Campbell once remarked, that elections are not a good time to answer difficult questions? For although the conservatives insist otherwise, their platform states little more than a promise to work “collaboratively” with provinces and territories, to reduce wait times and to address the doctors and nurses shortages in rural areas of the country.

Those promises, however, do not begin to address the precise issues raised by the CMA. For example, the survey asks if the parties in question would consider “introducing a comprehensive national pharmacrare program or a national catastrophic drug costs program?” They also ask what parties would do to ameliorate the growing crisis in home care. Both questions stem from a worrisome trend: health care costs are increasingly being transferred from medicare to individuals and families. By refusing to participate in the survey, the conservatives give no hint as to how they would address these twin challenges.

Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull

Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull

By contrast, the Liberals and NDP at least acknowledge the challenges associated with both pharmaceutical drugs and home care. In both areas provincial standards vary and costs are escalating at an alarming rate for many Canadians.  The liberal response thus includes a promise to harmonize standards among provinces and territories. The NDP, among other things, promises to ‘bargain’ with pharmaceutical companies to reduce the costs of drugs. Both parties propose various tax breaks designed to ease the financial burden of home care and drug costs on families. The problem, according to those who study the issue, is that tax breaks are but one strand of the sort of comprehensive response that is necessary. More needs to be done. None of the parties, for example, address the need for better access among home care patients to nurses and doctors. Their reluctance is no doubt attributable to the costs of doing so. Indeed, the challenge for governments is to at once assume and contain costs associated with home care and drugs. How is this conundrum to be resolved? Parties don’t have the answers.

They should be paying closer to attention to ideas emerging from the CMA. Under Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull’s presidency, the association has more emphatically committed itself to not only defending medicare, but transforming it into a more sustainable system. Medicare, according to Dr. Turnbull, isn’t characterized by wasteful spending; but it is characterized by inefficiencies. Many chronically ill patients, for example, can be treated at home at a fraction of the cost required to treat them in the hospital. Money saved in this way could then be used to improve home care. Hospital acquired infections could be dramatically reduced through the widespread adoption of checklists reminding health care providers to wash their hands before seeing a new patient. Housing and treatment facilities for the homeless prevent the sort of illnesses that land them in hospitals on a regular basis. Give a homeless alcoholic a drink and a place to sleep and chances are he will not acquire liver disease, tuberculosis or HIV. His life chances will also be improved. Indeed, preventative measures save money as well as restore lives. Dr. Turnbull’s work at Ottawa’s Salvation Army and Sheppards of Good Hope is a testament to this idea. If medicare is to be saved, it will be because of these sorts of innovations in our approach to treatment and human health.

The CMA was right to attempt to make its presence felt in this campaign. The survey goes a long way towards making the health care debate at once more expansive and precise. And it sheds a revealing light on where the three major parties outside of Quebec stand on the issue of health care reform. It’s too bad not many Canadians seem to have noticed.


Public Service campaign defends future of professionals and vital services to Canadians

April 28, 2011 4:07 pm

Come election time, ballots turn into wagers as every Canadian’s vested interest in what will happen with their tax dollars is left in the hands of the future, undetermined government. The stakes are high for one particular group of professionals who create a large proportion of Ottawa’s population and who also deliver vital services to the rest of the people. In every election, they are not only voting for their country, but also determining their employer. They are public servants and under the Professional Institute for the Public Service (PIPSC), they have launched a successful media campaign this election to generate awareness of their contributions to Canada’s prosperity through all sectors of science, research, health and IT. Called ‘forthepublicgood.ca,’ the campaign serves as a resource tool for voters to read latest news updates from all national media, profiles of professionals in their work environments and analyze contentious election issues including budget cuts to services affecting all Canadians.

“Professionalism, like the public good, is founded on a few simple values: integrity, independence, accountability. For public service professionals, like the rest of Canadians, failure to uphold these values can affect not only people but the public good itself,” states PIPSC president Gary Corbett on the campaign’s website. “That’s what’s happening today in the federal public service, where years of mismanagement of resources and the wrong decisions are threatening to undermine the capacity of Canada’s public scientists, engineers, auditors, health, IT and many other professionals to serve Canadians and the public good.”

PIPSC President Gary Corbett

Aside from budget cuts, outsourcing or externally contracting services, pose a threat to public service jobs. Millions of dollars each year are spent on contracting temporary work for services that can be done by public servants inexpensively. Actual costs from hiring temporary workers through agencies are costly as they must make a profit and charge additional fees. In a recent report titled The Shadow Public Service: the swelling ranks of federal government outsourced workers, outsourcing costs have skyrocketed by 80%, costing approximately $5.5 billion in the last five years.

“On top of a shameful waste of taxpayers dollars, there is the incalculable cost and potential risk to Canadians when critical knowledge goes out the door with private contractors,” said Corbett in a press release last month. “In the wake of a serious cyber attack against critical federal departments, our government should be all the more alert to the importance of data security and the privacy of Canadians’ information.”

To bring attention to challenges faced by public servants, PIPSC, in partnership with the University of Ottawa, held a successful debate on April 26 with Richard Nadeau, MP for Gatineau, Pierre Poilievre, Parliamentary Secretary to Prime Minister Harper and MP for Nepean-Carleton, Mauril Bélanger, Vice-Chair of the National Policy and Platform Committee of the Liberal Party of Canada and MP for Ottawa-Vanier, Paul Dewar, Foreign Affairs Critic and MP for Ottawa Centre, and Green Party by Jean-Luc Cooke, candidate for Nepean-Carleton. Under the topic of the Future of the Public Service, candidates voiced their opinions in accordance with their party platforms on scientific research and evidence-based policy, government transparency and accountability, outsourcing and attracting young professionals to serve.

As voting day approaches, PIPSC has elevated their campaign with an impressive following on Twitter and facebook. Founded in 1920 and currently boasting over 59,000 members across Canada’s public sector, PIPSC has made their presence on the national scale known as well as informed voters of the importance of public service to everyday Canadians, especially those residing in Ottawa.

Visit www.forthepublicgood.ca. Connect on Twitter: @4publicgood and facebook.

Greener days are not ahead: Where is Elizabeth May and the Green Party in this campaign?

April 20, 2011 3:34 pm

Today is the first anniversary of the explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig located in the U.S. Gulf coast that killed twelve men and initiated the worst oil spill in history. But even the memory of that tragic episode will not prevent similar endeavors in Canada’s Arctic. On the contrary, the combination of melting Arctic ice and the pressing need for economic opportunity among many northern communities has rendered off shore drilling in the Beaufort Sea inevitable. Companies aggressively bidding on mining leases promise to have learned from BP’s experience this past year. But even in the absence of another oil spill, deepwater drilling will surely contribute to the ongoing process of average temperature increases, melting ice and rising sealevels in the Arctic region. Meanwhile both the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that together devastated Japan last month has reminded the world of the ongoing risks associated with nuclear power.  For all of their protective features, nuclear power plants can still leak radiation into the atmosphere, particularly in the wake of catastrophic weather events. And there remains the unresolved issue of how to safely store nuclear waste. Abstaining from going nuclear would be easy if the alternatives weren’t also damaging to the environment.  But energy sources such as coal and oil are responsible for unsustainably high carbon emissions going into the atmosphere. The question then of how we fuel our economies in an environmentally sustainable manner is fraught with challenges. Indeed how we address energy issues and the emerging impacts of climate change will assume a central role in the country’s evolution in the coming decades. Yet more than half way through this campaign, the environment merits nary a word from the major parties.

Their silence on most matters environmental could have presented an opportunity for Elizabeth May and the Greens to raise their shared voice.  Yet more than three weeks into the campaign, the Green Party’s momentum strikes me as utterly stalled. Elizabeth May’s absence from the English and French leaders’ debates accounts in large part for her party’s apparent invisibility.  Her protests over the media consortium’s decision generated sympathy and served to keep her and the party in the public eye; but once May’s exclusion was confirmed, any focus on her and the Greens also ceased.  And now, despite the scattering of Green party candidate signs across the landscape, May and the Greens are more an afterthought than a viable alternative to any of the other major parties. She and a few other party candidates could win their respective riding, but if the election were held tomorrow it is hard to imagine the Greens getting as much of the popular vote as they did in 2008.

Beyond May’s exclusion from the debates, how do we account for the Green’s sagging fortunes? One obvious explanation is that all parties incorporate the environment into their platforms. People may thus not feel the need to vote Green in order to feel as though they are advancing an environmental agenda. To be sure, all parties do make at least vague references to promoting economic growth without compromising the environment. But all parties also have an interest in avoiding the environment as a key campaign issue. Stephen Harper will not publicly acknowledge the reality of climate change, in part because he is suspicious of the science and in part because the conservative’s core constituency remains in Alberta. The province’s tar sands remain the country’s biggest source of carbon emissions. To confirm the legitimacy of the science behind climate change would thus be to implicitly acknowledge the need to more aggressively reduce those emissions. Both the liberals and NDP better appreciate the scale of our environmental issues and advance some noteworthy initiatives in their respective platforms. Nevertheless both parties fear any perceived connection between their plans for environmental security and increased taxes.  The Greens thus remain in a position to distinguish themselves from the other parties.

A related possibility is that the Greens are paying too high a price in voter support for potentially compromising Canada’s economy as a way of advancing a radical environmental agenda. The perception may persist in some quarters that the Green Party is comprised of a bunch of aging hippies and young idealists whose ideas would only sabotage the economy if they were ever put into practice. In truth, however, to judge by the Green’s election platform, their declared agenda is more vague than radical. The few concrete policy initiatives include a transition from our first past the post to a proportional-based electoral system, increased corporate taxes and less money spent on making war in Afghanistan. These ideas are all worthy of consideration and debate, but where are the initiatives that stem more directly from the environmental crisis? For example, why is there no national urban sustainability strategy when more than three quarters of Canada’s population resides in cities and it is to cities where most new immigrants migrate? How do the Greens propose to realistically shed Canada’s dependence on fossil fuels, especially given their opposition to nuclear power? How does the Green Party propose to manage the Arctic’s looming economic development in a way that is environmentally sustainable? The party’s platform provides no answers to such questions. It’s as though in being deliberately vague, the Greens were hoping not to alienate moderate Canadians considering voting for them.  If so, the strategy is shortsighted and bound to fail.

It is of course understandable that May’s priority is to win a seat in the House of Commons. But she should not be attempting to do so on the strength of her personality alone or on the basis of vague promises. Such a strategy would be at the expense of her party’s modus operandi. The Green Party should aspire to be the country’s authority on ways of directing Canada’s economy in a more environmentally sustainable direction. In the end, such an approach will build a more secure foundation and more popular support than the Greens appear to have now.

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