Monday, March 31, 2008

Fitna Requires Clarification, Response

How does Geert Wilders propose we'll "stop the Islam from penetrating"?

The rioting that ensued after the 2006 publication of infamous Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad has long been a central point in the debate over whether or not Islam is inherently violent.

A recent film by Geert Wilder, a Dutch Member of Parliament, has managed to provoke similar responses, although Muslims have not yet taken to rioting in the streets.

The film has already drawn its share of supporters and detractors.

"there is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence," announced UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon. "The right of free expression is not at stake here. ...I acknowledge the efforts of the Dutch Government to stop the broadcast of this film and appeal for calm to those understandably offended by it. Freedom must always be accompanied by social responsibility."

Conversely, Islamophobia profiteer Robert Spencer is quite enthused.

The film itself walks a fine line between being, as Spencer himself admits, "insightful and inciteful."

The film contrasts various quotes from the Koran that clearly encourage violence against some of the horrific acts perpetrated by those allegedly acting in the name of Islam.

As the film concludes, an image of the infamous Muhammad cartoon (pictured here) appears with the fuse burning, as a timer started at the beginning of the film counts down.

"The sound you heard was a book," the film insists, referring clearly to the many Islamic militants quoted in the course of the film. "It's up to the Muslims to cut the hate sowing parts out of the Koran. Stop the Islam from penetrating. Defend our freedom."

To this regard, Wilders is right. It is up to Muslims to deal with the passages of the Koran cited by those who use Islam to spread hatred and incite violence.

Wilders has the right to make this statement in any free society. However, Ban-Ki Moon is right when he notes that freedoms are accompanied by responsibilities. While censoring Fitna would actually do more harm than good -- Muslims do need to answer the criticisms raised in the film -- Wilders also has to take responsibility for his comments.

Part of that is to clarify precisely how he thinks westerners should "stop the Islam from penetrating" and "defend our freedom." It does sound an awful lot like a call to resistance against what he seems to be deeming as an invader.

If Islam must be responsible for those who interpret the Koran as a call to violence against non-believers, then Wilders must realize that he, too, will be responsible for those who treat his work as a call to violence.

But to silence Wilders will accomplish nothing the moderate Muslim community needs to respond thoughtfully to Fitna and, most importantly, without violence or further demands for censorship.

Friday, March 28, 2008

You Know Who Should Really Be Offended?

Hindus outraged at what seems to be equal-opportunity offender

But you know who should really be offended?

Toronto Maple Leafs Fans.

And Quebeckers.

And Midgets.

And, yeah, probably Hindus, too.

But fuck that. Get a sense of humour.

What Brenda Martin Didn't Want Canadians To Know

Martin not as abandoned as she would like Canadians to believe

Sometimes, being injudiciously detained in a foreign prison means you never have to admit you were wrong.

This would seem to be the case for Brenda Martin, who, it was recently revealed, recieved regular visits and calls from Canadian officials ever since the beginning of her injudicious detainment. On some occasions, she was called multiple times a day.

Martin, who claimed the Canadian government wasn't doing enough to help her, and dismissed the most recent attempts to help as "a dog and pony show", has come up with a rather novel defence.

"I find it horrendous that my privacy would be breached in an attempt to smear my name," Martin insists.

She blames the leak on Conservative MP Helena Guergis, who, it was recently revealed didn't visit Martin during a recent visit to Mexico.

Naturally, Liberal MP Dan McTeague, who, along with various internet douchebags has been at the forefront of milking this particular story for partisan gain, agrees.

"There has been a serious breach in the privacy act," McTeague announced. "This is not only a smokescreen, it's... breaking the law."

What McTeague and Martin are overlooking, however, is that Martin's case is -- and has been -- the subject of foreign relations between the government of Canada and the government of Mexico. The document released -- "leaked" as Martin insists -- is actually a summary of the activities of Canadian diplomats on the Brenda Martin file.

It is not subject to privacy law.

Given that this document is not subject to privacy law, one has to wonder where the smokescreen is really being used: by Canadian consular officials defending their reputation by revealing how much work they've done? Or by Brenda Martin, who wanted to conceal that? The answer is obvious.

Keep in mind that this doesn't change the fact that there simply hasn't been enough work put in on this file by Canada's elected officials -- although our public servants in Mexico have been doing their job admirably.

And the real important question regarding this most recent revelation regarding the Martin affair is: what does this change?

Actually, absolutely nothing. The Canadian government still needs to do more to help Brenda Martin -- Foreign Affairs minister Maxime Bernier, in particular, needs to do much, much more.

But Brenda Martin herself needs to be honest as well. Blaming Canadian officials for revealing information she didn't want revealed is little more than a classic bully's defence: it's not her fault for being deceptive, it's the Canadian government's fault for revealing her deception.

If we don't accept that from five-year-olds, we absolutely should not accept it from grown adults.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Dealing in Half-Truth, Innuendo

Unfair Dealing tries to sell conspiracy theory to Canadian public

With the trial of the Toronto 18 now underway, some of the predictable conspiracy theorists are coming out of the woodwork, once again trying to insist that the so-called Toronto 18 were entrapped.

Entrapment is defined as a condition under which law enforcement officials encourage or coerce a person or persons to commit a criminal act in order to obtain an arrest.

As part of the charge on behalf of this particular claim is a film entitled Unfair Dealing: The Toronto Homegrown Terror Threat, appearing in six parts on Youtube.

In the film, Toronto-area broadcaster David Weingarten, who has a show on the University of Toronto's campus radio station, basically alleges that the Toronto 18 were entrapped as a result of an insidious conspiracy to push through Canada's anti-terror laws.

Unfortunately for Weingarten, his film doesn't stand up to scrutiny. In a film in which he claims a vast conspiracy is withholding the truth from Canadians, he himself goes to some remarkable lengths to conceal -- or obscure -- the truth.

A good deal of the film seems to depend largely upon the testimony of Tariq Abdelhaleem, identified as the father of Sharif Abdelhaleem, one of the terror suspects.

Unfortunately, for mr Abdelhaleem, however, he can't seem to maintain a coherent argument throughout his testimony -- this will become more and more apparent as the film progresses.

For example, Abdelhaleem doesn't seem to understand how an expressed desire to cut someone's head off can be taken "against the person". He claims his son didn't know any of the other terror suspects -- except as friends. Aside from that, the best defense he can seem to offer in this particular segment is the "6 degrees of Kevin Bacon" defence.

He also insists there was "no group". But we'll see very differently later in the documentary.

To make matters worse for Weingarten, he wants to rely almost exclusively on the evidence that is still available for public discovery. However, ClearGuidance, the reputedly militant website on which two of the suspects are alleged to have interacted, has been removed. Even so, some of the comments made via that site have been preserved elsewhere, and they are not pretty.

Interestingly, Weingarten rushes over such comments, refusing to pay them little heed. But here's a brief excerpt of some of the comments made on this site:

"In future we will see more of this stuff until those drunk leave Chechnya. And even then, many of the Mujahideen have said they will pursue them on their own land to avenge the 400 years of oppression they hammered down upon us.

And eye for an eye.

The Russians owe as a mountain of eyes.

"All Praise be to Allaah. I ask: If the Taaghoot (example: a president of any Arab country today) were to send him on a special mission, for the sake of his own personal Taaghoot good and that of the regime... what you mentioned will happen to your parents if you go for Jihaad for Allaah's Cause... but for the Taaghoot nothing? Is the Taaghoot greater and more honored in their eyes than Allaah?!?

The answer: If Jihaad is Fard 'Ayn upon someone, there is no permission sought nor obedience of the creation in remaining behind, because there is no obedience of the creation in disobedience to the Creator. And Allaah Knows best.

"Considering that most of us live in lands where the kuffar gov's come after even those remotely related to the mujahideen, shouldn't extra care be taken by the brother going in the Path of Allah? ie. In preparing for the family some sort of protection, (and indeed Allah is sufficient as our Protector but we know we have to make efforts as well).

I don't think I'm alone in having heard of stories of the families of the mujahideen being abused (in the least) back home. I remember this bro crying for the families of the mujahideen, subhan Allah. It made me realise how we tend to forget about them in our du'as, may Allah forgive us.

So if there was anything that addressed this, do post it insha Allah. Because I feel that some may interpret the answer above as "heck care, just leave them". The irony being that part of the jihad is to liberate the oppressed Muslims and in the meantime, you expose your own family to such danger.

The site was clearly used as an online meeting place for individuals with a rather keen interest in jihad. Of course, Weingarten doesn't want this to be fully known, because of the implications for the argument he's trying to make.

Weingarten also makes an effort to dismiss the poem "A Little Muslim From Palestine", reportedly posted by one of the suspects on the site:

"'ll always be a contender
Yes, I know my bones are very tender
And by Allah you won't see me surrender
Look at my eyes? You'll see no butterflies
My home is filled with cries... due to all the lost lives
But I swear by Allah I'll never compromise
I'll still throw the stones even with my broken bones
Why can't I hear from you, don't you have any phones?
Ya I forgot, your not on the chase, try it out and put your self in my place
Soon I'll return to my lord , the one that deserves every grace
Oh you don't have to worry cause of me you'll find no trace

It really is to late, why did you wait?
You could have sent me at least one dinner plate
I guess it is my fate
And La Ilaha Illa Allah is my mate.

At first glimpse it seems like a rather benign protest poem to the "occupation of Palestine" by Israel. But two lines in particular stand out. The author is returning to his lord. You'll find no trace of him.

Perhaps as in a suicide bomber?

This piece of evidence, in particular, however, is largely speculative, and wouldn't be admissable in a court of law, except perhaps during the course of testimony on behalf of the suspect, who cannot be forced to testify, and likely would not be forced to answer the question even if he did.

Weingarten also takes aim at a Globe and Mail article that cites the following message written in a High School friend's yearbook: "Before us there were many... after us there will be none... we are the ones."

Weingarten then tries to suggest that the passage is taken from Jay-Z's "Encore". (The line is actually "what the hell are you waiting for? After me, there should be no more", and actually refers to what Jay-Z had promised to be his imminent retirement -- he has since returned to making music.)

He then notes that the line is actually a direct quote from Konscious Kings, an Atlanta-area rapper. It almost seems fair enough. But Weingarten doesn't mention that some of Konscious Kings' music demonstrates clear terrorist sympathies.

Once again, this particular piece of evidence is purely speculative, and inadmissable in a court of law. But Weingarten is clearly skimming over portions of the truth.

But Weingarten turns the conspiracy dial nearly up to full blast in the second segment of his film:

In the second segment, Weingarten basically suggests that, as early as 2005, then-Liberal MP (now Conservative MP) Waijid Kahn was hatching a plot with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to betray the Muslim community in exchange for a job as the as-yet-unelected Conservative government's Middle East advisor, and a seat in the government caucus.

Despite the fact that, later, in the same year, Kahn would run for election as a Liberal. Yet somehow he was an "agent of Stephen Harper," in Abdelhaleem's words.

He starts off by noting that it was Kahn who initially complained about a speech given at the Al-Rahman Islamic Centre by Qayyam Abdul-Jamal, an individual known to hold extremist views -- even by those within the Mosque.

"I'm not surprised by the raids," remarked Fahim Bukhari, director of Al-Rahman. "I knew his views."

His neighbours had also noted suspicious behaviour from Jamal. Again, this evidence is speculative, and inadmissable in a court of law.

"Did Waijid Kahn sell out his fellow Muslims as initiation? To prove he was the right man for the Middle East position?" Weingarten asks. "We can only speculate."

And boy, do they ever.

Weingarten also insists that the investigation was "uneventful" until the arrests. Yet the CBC Investigation Timeline that he himself cites in his film says differently.

In particular it notes the flagging of ClearGuidance (17 November 2004), the August 2005 arrests of pistol-toting Yasin Abdi Mohamed and Mohammed Dirie -- caught smuggling weapons into the country in a car rented by fellow suspect Fahim Ahmad -- the winter 2005 training exercises and the summer 2006 attempt to buy three tons of ammonium nitrate.

Weingarten and Abdelhaleem also take aim at Mubin Shaikh, one of the undercover operatives used in the investigation.

"Mubin is a confused person," Abdelhaleem insists. "His problem is he wants money, he's a drug addict, he has some good intentions inside him. He doesn't want to hurt many people. He wants to hurt people enough to get the money."

In the course of editing, Weingarten goes out of his way to make Shaikh sound like as shady character a person possible. At one point in the film, Shaikh says, "...we're the potheads out in the corner there, and just it was an easy life."

Unfortunately, Weingarten ignores the next part of the interview, wherein Shaikh admits, "I got burned out. That's what happened. I was living — the fast lane was too slow. I was living the passing lane."

But, in Shaikh's own words, his life changed dramatically after 9/11:

"After 9/11 happened, I remember I was on my way to work and I told the story that "Oh, yeah, plane hit a building," and just right after that, somebody else came on and said, "A plane hit a building," and I was like, "I just said that," and he said, "No, another plane."

So I go upstairs and I'm working for a company that contracts for the federal government. And I'm hearing the Pentagon and this and that and everything else, and I'm like, what the hell is going on? I felt really bad because now I knew that every Muslim male or female who was identifiable was now on the defensive. Now you couldn't go to buy eggs without somebody saying, "Hey, why don't you go back to where you came from." Or "Hey, don't you know this is Canada, you don't have to wear that here."

And I remember specifically being at that stage where I was ready to go to Chechnya, I was ready to go to Afghanistan. I wanted to do some jihad-oriented thing, but I was lucky that I was exposed to people who, you know, who I could talk to, who could, you know, correct my understanding.

Shaikh would actually know an Islamic fundamentalist quite well. Before recognizing the error of those ways, he flirted with becoming one himself.

When more of Shaikh's views emerge, the subtext between Weingarten's treatment of him and Waijid Kahn begins to take on an alarming subtext: that the views expressed by Islamic militants are perfectly acceptable, and that any Muslim moderate who tries to nip that militancy in the bud is a traitor.

In Shaikh's case, this is very unfortunate. While airing Abdelhaleem's claim that Shaikh was selling out the Toronto 18 in exchange for money, Weingarten unfortunately overlooks Shaikh's intervention with CSIS on behalf of Mohammad Momin Khajawa, the first Canadian ever charged under Canada's anti-terror laws.

From the Fifth Estate:

"I go to Syria 2002 to 2004. I come back in March 2004, and I read in the paper Mohammad Momin Khawaja is arrested on terrorism charges. I know the family very well. We grew up together. His father taught us when we were younger. And so we have a good connection with the family.

So what happened was I contacted CSIS. I phoned them and I said, "Listen, I know the family, I know this guy, Momin, is there some way that I can help, you know, give some information in that, look, I've grown up with him, you know, I don't know him to be like this or his brother, definitely not his family, like his parents are not extremists."

So they're like, "Oh, Momin Khawaja, first terrorism case, sure, we'll talk to you." The guy comes down, he was head of the unit supposedly. We met at Timmy's, and, you know, I'm wearing my pin, the Canadian flag and the Metro police pin, because I was also doing I guess you can call it ethno-cultural religious awareness with the Toronto police, and just to let them know, you know, different things that could be of use to them, and so I met with the CSIS guys, and they were very interested in me now. So basically, you know, they put to me the prospect of working with them, giving information on people, certain groups, getting to leaders of certain groups, talking to them, seeing what kind of views they had and reporting on those views because I am convinced that I'm the best guy for them to have to comment on the different groups, because I have a solid foundation in Islam, you know, I'm born and raised here.

I mean, Toronto's home. So I understand what concerns they have, but at the same time as a Muslim, I understand what concerns Muslims have. So I felt that I could be a link between the two sides.

This despite the fact that Khajawa's links to Islamic terrorism (or, rather, terrorism in Islam's name) turned out to be quite extensive.

If Shaikh has any particular biases, it's pretty clear that they aren't against Islamic militants.

Weingarten also does a clever job of editing the CBC interview to confuse the issue of who, precisely, asked Shaikh to conduct the 10-day guerrilla warfare training. The complete unedited video, however, is available on Youtube.

As such, it may have been possible that, as a recent factum filed by defence council suggests, that Shaikh had the only gun present at the training exercise. However, the ringleaders of the plot asked him to conduct it, and the participants probably went along knowingly and willingly.

Weingarten's response to all of this is that Shaikh was acting as an agent provocateur. It's only one small piece in his overall conspiracy theory.

Weingarten also takes issue with the fact that Shaikh, while working as a CSIS agent, was actually paid for his services -- apparently, he must imagine that all of Canada's police offers and intelligence operatives are unpaid volunteers. It's outrageous, he suggests. He was paid with "your tax dollars".

"He is a drug addict," Abdelhaleem reiterates. "And this was published at the time. ...He is a drug addict."

Abdelhaleem also brings up an assault charge filed against Shaikh by a pair of 12-year-old girls who taunted him by shouting "Look look look, it's bin Laden, it's Taliban boy, it's Taliban boy."

Shaikh -- who in a court of law is considered innocent until proven guilty -- insists the story is "fabricated and exaggerated grotesquely", and that the girl tripped and fell on her own.

"He's not highly educated," Abdelhaleem adds. "He could not have a regular job. That's what I keep telling people."

Apparently, Abdelhaleem and Weingarten's response to the challenge Shaikh's background and testimony presents to their argument is to engage in a protracted attempt at character assassination.

"Because there's a presumption of innocence in any free country," Weingarten insists, "we won't refer to him by sensational labels."

Like drug addict? Whoops. Too late for that one.

But character assassination is not reserved for Shaikh -- or Waijid Kahn -- alone. Weingarten and Abdelhaleem also take aim at the other informant involved in the case. He's currently enrolled in the witness protection program and cannot be identified.

Weingarten in particular focuses in on Globe and Mail reports that the informant is an Agricultural Engineer. Weingarten then notes that, according to the MacKenzie institute's John Thompson, "trying to buy three tons of ammonium nitrate will get you thrown into jail pretty quick."

Which, of course, makes it necessary that he also obscure the fact that the suspects started attempting to buy the fertilizer in late May, and were arrested on 2 June, 2006.

They got thrown into jail pretty quick.

Weingarten notes that the informant's Agricultural Engineering degree enabled him to buy the fertilizer without suspicion -- although he probably would have still had some 'splaining to do regarding the fertilizer's urban Toronto delivery address -- but what Weingarten can't seem to answer is this: was this particular informant planted by CSIS, or did he come forward after being recruited into the terror ring?

As it turns out, the informant allegedly asked CSIS for $14 million in exchange for his services. Odds are, he came forward on his own.

But Abdelhaleem, predictably, has a few things to say about the second informant. "He is not smart whatsoever," insists Abdelhaleem "He is not a smart boy. That spy? He is not smart. He is criminally smart. ...We established ourselves in this country. This guy came. He became a failure. He couldn't find a good job to work."

Abdelhaleem also suggests that he only paid various debts only under CSIS direction (despite his alleged multi-million dollar payday). Although a later slip by Abdelhaleem -- "he negotiated from 12 down to four million dollars -- makes one wonder how much of Abdelhaleem's on-camera testimony was fabricated.

After all, it isn't as if an informant rendered entirely anonymous by witness protection can defend himself against such claims.

With few further details about the informant's past, it's hard to know what his past was before his participation in the investigation. But if it's anything like Mubin Shaikh or Waijid Kahn's, one can imagine the subtext Abdelhaleem and Weingarten would push pretty quickly: he's a traitor for opposing Islamic militancy.

From this sad, sad display, Weingarten moves on to the review of anti-terror law.

Ah, yes. There it is: the centrepiece of the conspiracy: the review of anti-terror legislation.

But Weingarten really drops off the deep end when he starts using footage from Alex Jones'9/11 Mysteries: Demolitions (when selling conspiracy theories, one may as well go for gold, one figures).

In essence, he suggests that the Toronto 18 were framed so CSIS and the RCMP could maintain their level of funding.

In order to try and support this thesis, Weingarten cites, through Richard Cleroux, RCMP Operations Project Shock and Operation Thread.

Considering that his argument is that the arrest of the Toronto 18 was done only to ensure that CSIS and RCMP continued to enjoy pre-budget cut levels of funding, one would in fact find it curious that the RCMP had been so active in tracking and detaining terror suspects before the 2006.

He cites a 1999 speech given by CSIS director David Harris as somehow being evidentiary of it.

Weingarten at this point also decides to lace his conspiracy theory with vague accusations of racism, noting that, in the course of Project Thread, "only the Mohammads were arrested".

But he fails to address what some of the "irregularities" provoking the investigation in the first place were. Consider the case of Anwar Mohammad, who, in the course of pilot training, he chose the airspace over and around an Ontario nuclear plant for his training flights.

That's a pretty alarming "irregularity".

Weingarten even suggests that the terror arrests even benefited the passage of the Conservative government's budget, and plans by Stockwell Day -- allegedly years in the making despite the fact that Day had been in office for mere months -- to expand Canada's intelligence and security capabilities.

"It's the political agenda of the Conservative party in order to justify their subservience to the Bush administration and to send troops to Afghanistan to serve Bush," insists Abdelhaleem, despite the fact that it was Paul Martin's Liberal government that committed to the war in Afghanistan in the first place, as well as the current combat mission in Khandahar.

In part five, Weingarten really takes a page out of the self-aggrandizing Alex Jones' playbook, insisting that the Toronto bomb plot somehow qualifies as "false flag terrorism".

Weingarten chronicles numerous illegal activities committed by the RCMP intelligence agency that were committed in the course of fighting Quebec separatism and communism.

He even attempts to milk the Air India tragedy as an example of "secrecy and scandal", despite the fact that the Air India bombing actually proves that Canada was in need of greater intelligence and security capabilities.

Weingarten notes that the ammonium nitrate purchased by the terror suspects was delivered to a warehouse in New Market, Ontario, one of the few cities in Ontario where an RCMP detachment exists. Moreover, the warehouse was less than a kilometer from the RCMP detachment.

"We don't want to insult your intelligence by telling you how suspicious that is," Weingarten says.

Too late.

The fact of the matter is that the suspects were doing something at that warehouse in order to be arrested there. And there just coincidentally happened to be three tons of ammonium nitrate -- or, rather, the white powder that it had been swapped for mid-transit -- there as well.

We don't want to insult anyone's intelligence by saying how suspicious that is.

However, according to Ken Kerr, who manages Magic Motorcycles, a motorcycle shop in the neighbourhood, he was told months later by the owner of the warehouse in question that "it was a set-up".

Weingarten insists that the RCMP must have rented the warehouse, although the building owners refuse to confirm or deny that.

Weingarten also notes that Shaikh -- the same individual whose character he went to such lengths to assassinate -- believes some of the suspects are innocent, pointing specifically to suspects Steven Chand and Jamal James.

However, this is by no means an admission -- implicit or otherwise -- that the arrests were the result of entrapment, but rather that some of the suspects, at certain stages of the plot, may have been unwitting dupes.

That is what we have criminal trials for: to ascertain guilt, and exonerate the innocent.

While the film does raise some important questions about who and isn't guilty in the Toronto bomb plot, the simple fact of the matter is that all of Weingarten's "evidence" that the plot was simply the result of a mass conspiracy between -- now, follow this closely -- Stephen Harper, Waijid Kahn, the Conservative Party, the Liberal Party, CSIS, the RCMP, George W Bush, Mubin Shaikh, Stockwell Day, Paul Martin and David Harris.

All of whom, according to Weingarten's feeble attempt at a slick editing job to conclude his film, are "terrorists", intent on leading Canada into "fascism".

Yet he can't even make his own case, and in the end has sold little more than another intellectually bankrupt Alex Jones-esque conspiracy theory.

Fortunately, the truth regarding the Toronto 18 will come out in a court of law. The reason why David Weingarten doesn't want that to happen will be harder to ascertain.

Toronto Terror: Trial by Media?

Trial for Toronto 18 Begins

The trial for the 18 individuals charged for a summer 2006 bomb plot targeting Parliament Hill and the Toronto Stock Exchange, amongst other targets, formally got underway today.

Of course, some insist that was has unfolded since the 2 June, 2006 arrest has been a "trial by media".

On that note, it becomes very interesting to notice that between Canada's two preeminent media outlets, one seems intent to play the role of the prosecution, by focusing on the case laid against the Toronto 18, while the other seems intent on playing the role of the defence.

This is quite unfortunate. For Canadians to fully understand the trial of the Toronto 18 and the key issues of law, order, and civil liberties underlaying such a case, they need to understand both cases.

So, first, from the prosecution:

Crown lawyers expect to present evidence against the Toronto-area terror suspects that show some of the accused planned to commit attacks more deadly than the London subway bombings, according to documents filed in court containing anticipated evidence.

New details contained in the Crown factum that was filed at the trial of the only remaining youth charged allege prosecutors have audio tapes and video tape evidence of some of the suspects plotting several explosions.

The factum contains transcripts of alleged conversations between suspects, including one where one of the accused speaks about the group's violent ambitions.

"They're probably expecting what happened in London or something," the man is quoted as saying. "... Some bombing in a subway kills 10 people and everybody gets deported.

"We're not doing that. ... So our thing it's, it's much, much greater on a scale ... you do it once and you make sure they can never recover again."

The July 2005 bombings in London, carried out by four suicide bombers, claimed the lives of 52 commuters.

One video allegedly shows the Toronto-area suspects at a wooded area in rural Ontario. A passionate speaker is heard saying the men have to "wage war against Rome" -- the Western powers including Canada, the United States, Britain and France.

"Our mission's greater, whether we get arrested, whether we get killed .... Rome has to be defeated. And we have to be the ones that do it," the speaker allegedly says.

The Crown alleges the accused attended two so-called training camps -- one near the town of Washago and the other at the Rockwood Conservation Area near Guelph. The suspects are accused of taking part in military-style exercises in camouflage gear and firearms training with a 9-mm firearm.

The group is accused of planning to storm the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, taking politicians (including the prime minister) hostage and beheading them.

The Crown's filing also alleges that the men planned to construct a radio frequency remote-controlled detonator.

None of these allegations have been proven or tested in court.

The 18 suspects of the alleged al Qaeda-inspired cell were arrested in July 2006. Fourteen men, four of whom are free on bail, are charged with various terrorism-related offences.

Four teens were initially charged, however, charges against three of the youths have been stayed.

The Crown is asking the judge to impose a publication ban to prevent the media from linking evidence at the trial to any of the other adult suspects by name, saying the evidence is "prejudicial" and could destroy any chances of the other suspects getting a fair trial.

The youth's trial has begun with numerous pretrial motions. Evidence is not expected to be heard until mid-to-late May.

Lawyers have said the trials for the adults could be months or even years away.
According to the factum filed today, prosecutors have audio and video evidence detailing the planning sessions for the attack. They allude directly to the London 7/7 Tube bombings, planning to eclipse them in the public mind.

The prosecution also alleges that the accused trained at two terrorist training camps -- one near Washago, Ontario, and the other near Guelph.

Although CTV does recognize that the accused are innocent until proven guilty, although their story contains little mention of the defence council's claims.

And on that note, now for the defence:

A defence lawyer in the alleged Toronto-area bomb plot case filed a court document Wednesday attacking the Crown's case as fanciful and based largely on the unsubstantiated allegations of an unreliable police informant.

The defence factum, a summary of the case that lawyers will argue during the trial, takes on some of the more dramatic allegations made in Crown documents submitted on Tuesday.

The factum was filed on behalf of one of the adult accused whose case has yet to go to trial.

The trial began this week of another defendant, who was 18 at the time of his arrest and cannot be named under the terms of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The factum says the defence lawyer will show that a so-called "jihadist" training camp run by some of the accused was nothing more than a screening exercise for possible recruits to Islamic militancy, and few of the participants in training at the camp — near the southern Ontario town of Orillia — knew what they were involved in.

Two of the other defendants who have yet to go on trial ran the camp, the factum says, and concealed its purpose from other participants. Trainees took part in winter camping activities but were so ill-equipped for the cold weather that they spent much of their time in a nearby Tim Hortons coffee shop.

Informant brought bullets: lawyer

The document acknowledges that some firearms training took place, but it alleges that the only person to bring live ammunition to the camp was a police informant. That same informant was the person who actually conducted the gun exercises, the factum says.

In addition, the document alleges that the only source of information about what was happening at the Orillia camp was the police informant. There was no "real time" police surveillance, it says.

Responding to transcripts of audio tapes of a police wiretap that the Crown claims were "damning and disturbing" proof of a militant Islamist bomb plot, the factum filed Wednesday said the defendant was not present at the time that other accused were talking about attacking Parliament and the headquarters of CSIS and the CBC.

The factum concludes with an argument against the Crown's request for a publication ban on the names of the defendants, or any evidence that might help identify them.

The document says police and government officials have already taken part in "orgiastic and self congratulatory press gathering[s] … during which evermore private details and 'investigative gossip' were revealed to inflame and misinform the public."

No witnesses until May

"Restricting the publication of evidence at a trial is the sharp edge of a slippery slope," the factum states, "which … results in 'Star Chamber' or military commission [-style] trials where the public's right to know is supplanted by the government desire to withhold."

The document says the defendant would suffer unduly from a publication ban because he wouldn't be disassociated from some of the worst allegations being made in the case.

In all, 18 suspects were originally charged with offences related to supporting terrorism, but three have had charges against them stayed.

None of the evidence detailed in the Crown review has been tested in court.

Although the trial officially began Tuesday, the first witnesses are not expected to be called until May 27.
In short, the factum filed on behalf of this particular defendant concedes that there was, in fact, a terrorist training camp in Ontario. However, it insists that only two of the accused were aware of the true purpose of the camp, and rest were unfortunate dupes.

Instead of participating in training, the defence insists, the defendant was merely being screened for suitability for Islamic militancy.

Moreover, the defence denies that there are any audio or video recordings incriminating the accused, and that the only evidence the crown can offer is the testimony of the undercover officer.

The defence also insists that a publication ban would harm his client by not allowing him to be disassociated from the alleged details of the case. But as the Youth Criminal Justice Act forbids identifying the defendant, it's important to note that his name hasn't been associated with the alleged details of the case in the first place.

With national security -- and the means by which we preserve it -- very much at stake in these proceedings, it's very important for Canadians to understand this case. One-sided representations of the arguments in this case don't serve this purpose, and should be considered alarming to Canadians.

That being said, if the Toronto 18 truly are being tried in the media, it's at least comforting that both sides at least are being represented, even if only separately.

It may be up to the Canadian people to play the role of the judge and jury. The only question is: how many will take the time to learn the whole story?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Solution to Challenges of Demobilizing Child Soldiers May Be More Apparent Than We Imagine

Could third-world warmongers inadvertantly be creating the next generation of peacekeepers?

In opposition to the International Day of the Unborn Child, various opponents of the pro-fetal rights movement have declared today to be the International Day of the Already-Born Child. While the clear desire to politicize various issues facing children in the world today should be condemned, it is an opportunity to shed some light on a few different issues -- such as the scourge of child soldiers.

Depending up whose estimate you believe, anywhere between 200,000 to 300,000 child soldiers may be active in the world today.

According to the United Nations parlance, a child soldier is anyone under the age of 18 who has been recruited into a military conflict. some are as young as eight years old.

For those who are unscrupulous enough to make use of them, child soldiers offer various advantages.

"There's all kinds of children. You just go and swipe them from their school and so on," says Lt-Gen (ret) Romeo Dallaire, "And you take them and you drill them and you incorporate them and they eat less and they're less problem if you have to get rid of them, there's lots of them."

Demobilizing child soldiers has been a top priority of UNICEF for years. However, there are various challenges associated with demobilizing child soldiers that are often overlooked.

"There's the mechanics of demobilization," says Neil Boothby of the United Nations Refugee Agency. "The sorting out of the kids, putting the guns down, transporting them back to the communities. But what we don't know very much about is once the kid goes home, what should we do? What kinds of education is most, most important? What kinds of vocational skills or training? What kinds of, you know, livelihood skills are needed? And I think that's the area which we, we have a, a lot further to go on. What do, what do we do once they put down their guns to ensure they don't pick it up again?"

Clearly, the challenges associated with demobilizing child soldiers are numerous: educational, psychological and emotional.

These children need to find a way to cope with the things they were put through. Sometimes, they have been so thoroughly conditioned that they don't even realize that the things did to them were wrong. Even if they do realize this, they have to learn to cope with having taken human lives -- more often than not, the lives of children no older than themselves -- and find a purpose in life.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing things about what has been done to them is that they've been exposed to combat, and all the hazards and the lifestyle of soldiering without any of the discipline taught in the modern armed forces.

Moreover, they've been used to sustain the conflicts that our western governments have purported themselves as being committed to putting a stop to, yet all too often have declined (Dallaire's experiences in Rwanda are a clear example).

All too often, the leaders of such countries argue that they don't have the troops to send, or that the risks are too great.

But what if the various warlords and despots around the world who are recruiting child soldiers and sending them out to do their dirty work were, in the most perverse way possible, providing us with an incredible opportunity to ensure that a shortage of peacekeeping troops would never again prevent intervention in the midst of an atrocity?

At its basest level, it almost seems unthinkable: recruiting demobilized child soldiers into a United Nations program that would transform them into our next generation of peacekeepers.

But then one must consider what such a program would require: one would have to provide them with psychological care (to heal the psychological and emotional wounds they've already sustained in combat), education (to give them the skills necessary to assist in the rebuilding efforts that, by necessity, must accompany peacekeeping operations), and military training (focusing largely on the discipline necessary for professional soldiering). It isn't simply a matter of taking child soldiers and pumping them back into combat under the guise of peacekeeping. It's a matter of providing them with a rehabilitation program tailor-made to the experiences they've already endured.

More importantly, these demobilized child soldiers would already have the combat experience necessary for modern peacekeeping operations (which are, whether idealists care to admit it or not, combat missions).

But most importantly, the generation of professional peacekeeping soldiers produced by such a program would know first-hand what the stakes of their missions are. If we could instill in them the motivation to stop what was done to them from happening to anyone else, the United Nations would finally have a dependable, professional corps of peacekeepers to dispatch where western countries shamefully cannot muster the political will to go.

And while the idea, at its basest level, may seem unthinkable -- and rightfully so -- one has to remember that the principal difference between these demobilized child soldiers and those enrolled in cadet programs in western countries is that these children would already have combat experience.

On a deeper, more philosophical level, training demobilized child soldiers for future peacekeeping duties (and naturally not to be used until they've reached the age of 18) may provide their experiences with the meaning that is often so necessary to foster the healing process.

Not that such a grand experiment would be without risks. And when one considers that an experiment such as this would be played out with such fragile human lives, one also has to realize that, the potential benefit aside, it simply may not be worth the risk.

For the most part, it's a question of whether or not world leaders are willing to think far enough outside the box, and whether or not they're willing to foot the price tag (likely in the billions) for such an initiative.

But it's an idea that's crazy enough that it just might work. And it could, in due time, provide some hope for some of the most hopeless places in the world, as well as hope for some of the most hopeless children.

How Will We Meet the Challenges of Fetal Rights?

Fetal rights may be necessary, but the concept raises important questions

Today, the Christian Feast of the Annunciation has been declared the International Day of the Unborn Child.

Today, activists the world over are agitating in favour of fetal rights.

In Canada, in particular, the law has yet to recognize unborn children as having any form of rights. Despite the indisputable fact that an unborn child -- or a fetus, as the pro-abortion lobby prefers -- is human life, a fetus has no forms of human rights.

While some individuals in Canada are working to try and change this particular state of affairs, many others are stringently defending the status quo, insisting that, despite the fact that an unborn child is still human, until birth it is only "a clump of cells" and can be aborted at the mother's whim at any stage of development.

In particular, issues regarding late term abortions have raised the importance of addressing fetal rights -- more importantly, questions regarding at what stage of development they should be granted.

Of course, the very concept of fetal rights raises some important questions that simply must be answered. Unfortunately, many of those in favour of fetal rights may or may not want to address them -- just as their opponents don't want to address the questions that reveal why fetal rights are, in fact, so necessary.

First off, one has to ask: what effect will the establishment of fetal rights have on a woman's right to obtain an abortion?

The answer among anti-abortion activists -- who most certainly make up a significant portion of the pro-fetal rights lobby -- is fairly obvious: it will force legislators to ban abortion outright, consequences be damned.

Unfortunately for these individuals, they clearly have not thought the consequences of such an act through -- or, moreover, have thought them through, and have simply chosen to disregard them.

First off, a ban on abortion will not put a stop to it. Women who want (or need, for medical reasons) abortions will still seek them out. The difference is that they'll be recieving these abortions not by qualified medical professionals bound by a hippocratic oath, but by anyone willing to perform them for a lump sum of cash.

The toll of back alley abortions is well known. A return to those days is not anything that social conservatives could possibly want.

We also have to address the issues of pregnancies that pose a health risk to the mother or unborn child. Forcing women to give birth at detriment to their own health clearly does not constitute a just state of affairs. Of course, some women will inevitably choose to give birth despite the risk to themselves. But not all women would make that choice. Using fetal rights to deny them the right to make that choice would frankly be a travesty.

There is also the matter of women who are impregnated in the course of rape. One also has to consider whether or not it would be just to use fetal rights to force a woman to have a child when she did not agree to sex in the first place. Certainly, abortion may not be the best option in this particular case -- that is a matter of individual opinion -- but it should remain an option for these particular reasons.

The debate in Canada over fetal rights currently rages around Bill C-484, which would make those who commit crimes against women who they know or should know to be pregnant also legally responsible for any harm they do to the unborn child.

The argument is that the bill would be used as a back-door attempt to ban abortion (despite the fact that the language of the bill explicitly forbids that).

Bill C-484, itself, however, does raise an important further issue: what would the law have to do about mothers who, knowingly, continue to drink, smoke or do drugs while pregnant, causing harm to their unborn children?

Bill C-484 also forbids charging the mother of the child under the act. However, the precedent set by C-484 -- that unborn children do have rights, would open a new can of worms, perhaps even forcing Canada's parliament to draft legislation to deal with women who, knowingly and willingly, harm their own children by smoking, or consuming alcohol or other drugs. Of course this begs a further question -- why the hell shouldn't they?

Of course they should. But even a bill such as that raises important questions about how to balance the rights of an unborn child with the rights of its mother.

As Claire Andre and Manuel Velasquez note, such a bill could wind up criminalizing women for not following their doctor's recommendations. In cases where fetal alcohol syndrome or other deformities are at stake, this is one thing. But what about matters pertaining to things such as diet? Things such as this pose a serious challenge to how far legislators should go in the definition and defence of fetal rights.

These are the kinds of challenges that fetal rights pose to Canada's legal system. Unfortuantely, one has to wonder whether or not those who support fetal rights are ready to address them.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Oh No, You Di'int!

Oh, yes, they di'id

When the George W Bush campaign suggested that John McCain had an illegitimate black baby, Democrats everywhere probably all thought the Republicans had reached the apex of dirty campaigning in a political contest.

And they were right.

But they probably thought the Democrats would never come close to that. They were wrong.

In what has quickly exploded into a full-blown outrage, Gordon Fischer, a member of Barack Obama's support team, took a shot back at Bill Clinton, in what is, without a doubt, the most predictable manner. Via CNN, an excerpt from Fischer's blog:

"Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot, and cannot possibly be said to be helping -- instead he is hurting -- his own party. B. Clinton should never be forgiven. Period. This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper, than the one on Monica's blue dress."
Since then Fischer has posted not one but two "sincere and contrite apologies" on his site.

Of course everyone knew this was eventually going to happen. It's actually quite remarkable that it took as long as it did.

What all of this really underscores, however, is how emotional the race for the Democratic presidential nomination has become. And when the primary race gets that emotional, one can fully expect that there will be hurt feelings come November.

If the Democrats want to win the presidency, they need to smarten up.

Congratulations to the Golden Bears

University of Alberta claims University Cup championship #13

Congratulations are clearly in order for all the players and staff of the University of Alberta Golden Bears, as the storied hockey club emerged as national champions for the 13th time in their history, and third championship in four years.

Congratulations, gentlemen.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This Just In: Garth Turner Still Doesn't Get It

Turner continues his obsessive feud with Preston Manning's ghost

When Garth Turner was expelled from the governing Conservative caucus just over a year ago, he feigned confusion over the matter -- even outrage.

At the end of the day, however, all too many Canadians knew precisely why he had been kicked out of caucus: that he engineered his own expulsion both by disregarding caucus rules and by helping foster a state of continuing conflict between himself as his ex-Reform party/Canadian Alliance colleagues.

At stake in the latter was his known disdain for what he had labeled HAH (Hats-and-Horses) Conservatives.

Now, unable to swallow his pride and his intellectual vanity, he sits on the other side of the aisle, banished to opposition benches with little hope of ever returning to government. In all likelihood, he will serve out the remainder of his career as an opposition blowhard.

One would think that perhaps Turner would, at some point, reevaluate where that vanity has led him.

But don't count on it. In a recent post at his blog Turner has proven himself all too eager to continue his Ahab-esque battle with the Great White political whale that has already taken his hand:

"Some suggest disgruntled Libs voted Green in this week’s by-elections to protest their own party. Be more aggressive, they urge. Kick Conservative ass.

Others decry a brief comment made here two days ago, chiding many people for simply staying home. Bad voters, I said, use it or lose it. The response: there’s nobody worth voting for.

In my mailbag, this letter from a voter, Ian, in Eastern Ontario. Not atypical of a few I’m getting:

"Dear Garth:

I recently became a new member of the Liberal Party. Sometimes I wonder why. Watching their performance in The House leaves a lot to be desired – skipping votes. I have been voting for the Liberal Party for nearly 60 years. My wife and I are among the many who lost in the Trust Unit fiasco. So much for Harper promises.

The main reason for this e-mail is The Finance Minister travelling about the Country advising Ontario is not the place to invest due to high taxes in the corporate field. Harper is now singing from the same song sheet. Moreover, Harper is merely a mouthpiece for Tom Flanagan. Small govenment, lower taxes, limited Govenment surplus, is the Flanagan manifesto. The Conservative (Reform-Alliance) Party objective to divide the Country. Much of the population cannot see this and do not care.

I do not know Stephane Dion. The information, I gather, is that he is a clever academic. I do, however, fear for his ability to lead the Party to a majority/minority Government. The Liberal Party has to get a more forceful message regarding exactly what is happening with our present governing power. I do appreciate in general the media coverage are not helpful towards Mr. Dion. Coverage from CTV (Conservative Television) including Duffy, Fife, Oliver et al.

Question Period in the House is disgraceful. The Speaker appears to have no control. The failure to answer questions, lying and insults are disgusting.

Again, I fear Mr. Dion’s ability to lead to a Liberal success are about as hopeful as the “South will rise again”!!!!!!"
Dear Ian. I’m glad you wrote. I’m glad you joined the party. Now you have a voice in changing it. As you decide how, let me give you a couple of thoughts from a guy who is also a new member – just over a year now.

The Liberals formed government for thirteen years and did much good, mostly (to my mind) turning a $40 billion deficit into a $14 billion surplus, taking inflation and interest rates to new lows and paving the way for an economic boom. Even as a PC during that time, I applauded the results.

Politically, well, another story. Face it – getting Libs into power was not rocket science while the PCs disintegrated, thanks to the efforts of the wingnuts in the Reform Party, which was basically unelectable. Given that, Liberals stopped being hungry, stopped being aggressive, stopped being insanely partisan, and concentrated on governing.
Sadly, this is a fairly predictable response among many disgruntled former Progressive Conservatives. Much like Liberals can't take responsibility for their own defeats, instead blaming the NDP essentially for existing, Turner, Joe Clark and his merry band of embittered demagogues blame the Reform party for their 1993 defeat -- more or less because they existed.

But it's funny how, even 15 years after that ignominious defeat, Turner can't accept responsibility for the fact that the Progressive Conservatives, through their utterly unapologetic attempts to placate Quebec at the expense of the rest of the country, in many ways made it utterly impossible for conservative-minded Canadians in many parts of the country to continue to support them.

Somehow, in Garth Turner's mind, the plebes in Western Canada were wrong to seek out and support political candidates who shared their vision of what Canada's future should be. Instead, they should have swallowed their principles and continued to vote for a party that no longer embodied them.

"Meanwhile, Conservatives (which is what those Reformers are now called), evolved in an opposite direction. Unburdened with power, they spent every moment plotting how to get it. They organized the shorts off their membership. They learned how to communicate effectively. They got very good at spin, attack, derision, debate, character assassination, smear, media relations, innuendo, tactics, tour and messaging. They set up a killer data system. They hired a mess of political field operatives. They honed a platform. They learned retail politics. They probed the many weaknesses of the guys in office. They hired tough nuts like Doug Finley and Ian Brodie to run the back shop. They lived and ate and drank and slept and breathed and peed politics. And they won."
"Spin, attack, derision, debate, character assassination, smear, media relations, innendo, tactics, tour and messaging."

Sounds an awful lot like the lot that Turner has thrown in with.

It's ironic that Turner would complain that the Conservative party -- or in his words, Reform party 3.0 -- has become adept at character assassination considering that the party to which he currently belongs actually mastered the act.

For proof of this, one really need look no further than the mass character assassination carried out against Preston Manning and the Reform party. Repeated insinuations of racism against the party -- often carried out through proxies and in open defiance of the fact that Manning acted decisively to rid the party of racists -- made the Reform party unelectable in many parts of the country.

Which was precisely how Garth Turner liked it at the time, and he's almost certainly longing for those good ol' days.

"Today Stephen Harper is therefore not only prime minister, but in charge of a bare-knuckle brigade of streetfighters who still dream nightly of standing over the torn-asunder carcasses of Liberals, holding aloft their still-beating hearts. Or close. You get my drift, Ian?

Thus, you might imagine the work I’ve been doing for the last few months as a special advisor to Stephane Dion. Feeding him raw steak. Hormone injections. Weights. Anger training. New glasses with hidden electrodes. Bought him a Harley. The works. When the House resumes March 31st, I’ll have the guy so hepped up he’ll rip out his desk during QP and crush Stephen Harper with it like a western pine beetle. Let the Speaker look irritated and call, “Order, order!” Bug juice on the mace. Bug bits everywhere.

Oops. Sorry Ian, forgive me. I had a CPC moment there.

The poor attempts at humour aside, Turner then indulges himself in a moment of comfortable delusions:

"Truth be told, Libs suck at political viciousness. Many of my colleagues are content to wait until the great pendulum of common sense swings back into their column, at which time they will continue to govern. They feel Mr. Harper and his knuckle-draggers will expose themselves for all the world to see. In due course, they reason, natural justice will prevail."

There you go again, Garth -- making friends with your former colleagues.

All joking aside, does Turner really not consider this ad, in which the Liberal party suggested that Stephen Harper is a jack-booted fascist in the making, politically vicious?

But don't ask Turner about that one. Turner's only concerned with Conservative attack ads.

"Those who actually know Stephane Dion never stop being impressed. They see a guy driven not by a naked quest for power, but by ideas and principles and the passion to pursue them. Even when sand is being kicked in his face. Even when not a day passes when the prime minister and the entire Government of Canada is obsessed with destroying him. Even when people who have never shaken his hand, and never will, pronounce him from their armchairs, brandishing remotes, as gutless.

Dion is anything but. It amazes me a guy of his background, morality and intellect would put up with this crap. After all, he could still be in the world of academia, applauded daily by his students, courted by premiers and prime ministers for his advice, adding to our collective wisdom and having a nice life with Janine and Kyoto.

So, we’re all better off that he perseveres. He stands for environmental rescue, social justice, economic sanity and the big ideas the rest of us miss. Mostly, he represents hope.

Not hope that he’ll be as mindlessly partisan, brutally aggressive or unashamedly ambitious as Mr. Harper, but rather, Ian, that he will never.

Indeed, Turner's obsessive attempts to settle the score with his alleged Reform party protagonists has led him into a realm of sheer fantasy.

Stephane Dion stands for environmental rescue: not when he had the opportunity.

Stephane Dion stands for social justice: when he trots out a 40-year-old unkept Liberal campaign promise.

Stephane Dion stands for economic sanity: when he suggests we should handcuff our economy with a carbon tax that will do little to curb climate change.

Since receiving the boot from the government caucus, Garth Turner really does seem to have slowly lost his grip on reality. Sadly, a good deal of that stems from his own political vanity -- the same vanity shared by Joe Clark, David Orchard and Danny Williams. He's not merely a conservative, he's a progressive conservative, they add with a wink.

He, like Orchard, still hasn't come to grips with why Canada's Progressive Conservative party wound up in the predicament it did: because so-called progressive conservatives lost touch with their supporters. Because they lost the faith.

He, like Clark, still hasn't recognized that in order for conservatism to remain a viable, potent political force in Canada, people like himself need to work with conservatives who don't share all of his views, instead of insisting that they be banished to the political fringe so that he never need dirty his hands working with them.

Brian Mulroney swallowed his pride. So did Peter MacKay. The day that Garth Turner can find it in himself to do the same, maybe he'll finally start taking responsibility for his own failings. Maybe he'll even convince Stephane Dion to do likewise.

But in the meantime, Turner just doesn't get it. And he probably won't get it any time in the near future.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

This Is Not Conservatism

Like it or not, federal inaction on Brenda Martin is inexcusable

The case of Brenda Martin -- the 51-year-old Canadian woman currently being held in Mexico without charge or trial -- has raised a significant question of how Canada addresses situations in which its citizens are held in foreign countries.

Some argue that Canadians who travel or live abroad must agree to live under the legal systems of those countries, regardless of how corrupt they are. Others argue that Martin must be brought home now, that Canadians must not be subjected to the corrupt standard of justice that is passed off as such in countries like Mexico.

Of course, various internet douchebags have done everything they can to politicize the situation -- transforming Martin into a point of contention between Canada and Mexico into the political pawn she's so worried about becoming.

Unfortuantely all too many douchebags from the other side are much too eager to join them.

The arguments seem to come down to two equally contemptible extremes: from the left-wing blogosphere, that the government has been sitting on its hands and doing nothing despite the fact that there have been approximately 100 visits between Martin and the Canadian Consulate in Mexico city; from the right-wing blogosphere, Martin never should have gone to live in Mexico in the first place.

The left-wing's politicization of the Martin affair is purely contemptible.

But the right-wing's assertion that Canadians who go abroad can essentially go fuck themselves if they ever run into any kind of trouble is equally contemptible.

Even more alarming is the fact that these people claim to be conservatives. But there's nothing conservative in the argument that we should abandon our citizens to the tender mercies of an authoritarian state in their time of need.

Conservatives everywhere should be the first to demand that we maintain the sanctity of Canadian citizenship by standing up for our citizens when they're locked away in some foreign gulag -- particularly one with the track record of Mexico.

Apparently, the vision for the future shared by many Canada's right-wing bloggers (alleged conservatives) is a world in which Canadians cannot safely travel abroad for fear of being thrown in a foreign prison indefinitely without charge or trial. (Frankly, one hopes they aren't planning any Mexican or Brazilian vacations in their near future.)

And when they suggest that Martin should be allowed to rot in Mexican prison, they are indisputably wrong.

Frankly, Stephen Harper and the Canadian government need to perform a gut-check on this issue, and bring Brenda Martin home. They should consider any means to do this, up to and including recalling Canada's ambassador to Mexico and expelling their Mexican counterpart from Ottawa -- or even use of covert ops to bring Martin home by force if necessary.

(And if Mexico doesn't like it, they can remember this: we have better guns than they do, and they don't want to be paid that particular visit.)

The Canadian government simply cannot be in the business of abandoning Canadians to the "justice" systems of countries like Mexico -- corrupt to the rotten core -- where justice takes on a perverse meaning that defies the definition of the word.

True Conservatives recognize that. Unfortunately, all too many bloggers who consider themselves conservative -- much like many bloggers who consider themselves liberal -- simply cannot pass that particular test.

They can feel free to check their phony political stripes at the door -- regardless of what they claim, they aren't conservatives.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Space: The Final Frontier...

Just don't tell that to Jim Prentice

In the future (theoretically) mankind will travel amongst the stars as easily as they travel around the planet today.

Unless, if a controversial plan to sell a publicly-funded cutting-edge space technology company to a US arms maker goes ahead, you're Canadian. Then you'll probably have to hire yourself an intergalactic taxi cab.

In the face of escalating public pressure, federal Industry Minister Jim Prentice has called for further review of a plan to sell MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates to Alliant Techsystems, a US-based arms firm.

MDA builds equipment such as the Canadarm and satellites such as the Radarsat-2, which will be crucial in maintaining Canada's arctic sovereingty -- a key issue being persued by Prime Minster Stephen Harper.

Although some of the outrage over selling MDA to a firm that builds and exports weapons is overblown -- Alliant also produces peaceful space technology -- this sale should simply not be allowed to go through.

First off, the price tag on the deal is insulting. $1.325 billion for a company that produces the quality technology that MDA produces is, frankly, ridiculous.

But the bigger issues underlying the sale deal with Canada's research and development sector, which are crucial to building a competitive 21st century economy.

Fortunately, some within Prentice's own party have recognized the critical importance of the issue and have spoken out against the plan.

"It is a waste of your money and a betrayal of the public interest," said Conservative MP Art Hanger. "It's about time Canada stop playing the nice guy at the expense of our own security and sovereignty -- not to mention our own research and development capacity."

"Why do we so rarely stand firm and fight for what's Canadian? Isn't it time we started protecting our own interests in this country?"

Hanger is 100% right. The sale of MDA would transform Canada from a leading nation in development of spacebound technology into just another straggler playing catchup -- and after we've worked so hard to put ourselves amongst the front of the pack.

The MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates sale must not go through.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Iraq War: Worth the Cost?

Bush defends Iraq war on five-year anniversary

Five years ago today, the first American and British bombs began to fall on Iraqi targets, as the two states launched a war that has, to many, become a symbol of everything that is wrong with the state of global affairs today.

Despite numerous "mission accomplished" pronouncements and promises of victory, the War in Iraq continues today, five years after what was supposed to be a quick war with coalition troops being greeted as liberators.

Five years later, the reality is very different.

"The battle in Iraq has been longer and harder and more costly than we anticipated," US president George W Bush admitted in a wednesday morning speech. "But it is a fight we must win."

Bush noted some of the most recent successes in Iraq and attributed them to the recent 30,000 troop surge in the country. "On this anniversary the American people should know that since the surge began, the level of violence is significantly down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down, attacks on American forces are down and U.S. forces have captured or killed thousands of extremists including hundreds of key al Qaeda leaders and operatives," Bush said. "The surge has done more than turn the situation in Iraq around; it has opened the door to a major strategic victory in the broader war on terror," he announced, but noted that these successes still need to be solidified. "We have learned through hard experience what happens when we pull our forces back too fast — the terrorists and extremists step in, fill the vacuum, establish safe havens and use them to spread chaos and carnage."

Yet Bush continued to demonstrate his ability to miss the point and his inability to concede that the American presence in Iraq has actually created more problems than it's solved.

"War critics can no longer credibly argue that we are losing in Iraq, so now they argue the war costs too much. In recent months, we have heard exaggerated estimates of the costs of this war," he continued. "No one would argue that this war has not come at a high cost in lives and treasure but those costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq."

But one has to seriously ask themselves whether American intervention in Iraq has prevented terrorists gaining the strategic victory he's alluded to, or actually opened the door for them.

The history of the Iraq war has been repeated ad nauseum, and so needs not be reiterated again here. But the question simply must be asked that, given that Iraq clearly had no weapons of mass destruction to distribute to terrorists (alhtough evidence clearly indicates they were trying to acquire them), and given that there were no credible links between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaida (Osama Bin Laden regarded Hussein as a socialist and unbeliever).

Certainly, as Bush noted today, Hussein was paying out Iraqi oil money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. Putting a stop to that at least takes some of the incentive away from those who would otherwise be more than content to strap a few pounds of dynamite to their torso in the name of profitably killing Israelis.

"Removing Saddam Hussein from power was the right decision, and this is a fight America can and must win. The men and women who crossed into Iraq five years ago removed a tyrant, liberated a country and rescued millions from unspeakable horrors," Bush insisted. And he's right about this.

There is value inherent in having removed Saddam Hussein from power. The international community has no business allowing any dictator who uses chemical weapons against his own country's population to continue to govern.

But the United States, in its mismanagement of a war that, considering the priorities of the day (the war on terror) it had no business launching in the first place, has made quite a mess in Iraq. Whether those who are opposed to the continued presence of US troops in Iraq like it or not, they have a responsibility to clean it up.

It has a responsibility to ensure that peace and stability reign supreme in Iraq. They have a responsibility to ensure that individuals as bad as Saddam Hussein or worse cannot come to power there.

"Because we acted the world is better and the United States of America is safer," Bush announced in a statement of absurdly extreme hyperbole.

"Five years ago tonight I promised that in the struggle ahead we would accept no outcome but victory," he added. "Today, standing before men and women who have helped liberate a nation, I reaffirm the commitment. The battle in Iraq is noble, it is necessary and it is just and with your courage the battle in Iraq will end in victory."

Of course, that's easy for Bush to say. He isn't the one who will have to worry about delivering victory in Iraq -- that task will fall to either John McCain, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton.

Of course, whether or not Clinton or Obama are serious at all about achieving victory in Iraq has yet to be seen, but that's another story for another time -- and one that has yet to be told.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Liberals Win Big, But Not Big Enough

Controversial Saskatchewan riding falls to Conservatives

In a set of by-elections in which Liberal leader Stephane Dion was looking for some redemption, he found it -- sort of.

Liberals Bob Rae, Martha Hall-Findley and Joyce Murray emerged victorious in the ridings of Toronto Centre, Willowdale, and Vancouver Quadra respectively.

However, the controversial riding of Desnethe-Missinippi-Churchill River, Conservative candidate (and now MP) Rob Clarke claimed 49% of the vote while Dion's handpicked alternative to disgruntled Progressive Conservative blowhard David Orchard tallied 32%.

"It's a great day for the Liberals," Stephane Dion announced at Rae's celebratory rally.

Certainly, Dion can now crow about winning three of four by-elections conducted yesterday. However, Liberals can't be comfortable with the fact that the race Stephane Dion had the most direct involvement in -- appointing Beatty and denying Orchard an opportunity to run for the nomination.

And while Dion may have finally managed to get two of his inner circle into the House of Parliament, he may also want to take into account the fact that the Liberals are a seat poorer -- and the Conservatives a seat stronger -- in Parliament after today. Cast in that light, maybe this wasn't such a great day for the Liberals after all.

It probably could have been an even better day for the Conservatives if they didn't have their own controversial candidate-swap to defend. In an equally controversial move, Conservative party brass disqualified Mark Warner, a candidate elected by the party's Toronto Centre riding association in favour of Don Meredith, an individual who turned out to be so stupid he deserved to lose the riding.

(How stupid, you ask? This bloody stupid -- an individual who doesn't seem to know it's Afghanistan Canada is involved in, not Iraq.)

If Stephen Harper and the Conservative party brass had reined in their heavy-handed tendencies they could have given Bob Rae a run for his money. They probably wouldn't have won -- theory has it that voters in Toronto Centre would elect Victor Von Doom if he ran as a Liberal -- but at least they could have done better than 15% of the vote.

All the same, the day was fairly good for the governing Conservatives -- they managed to claim a Parliamentary seat that they didn't have before.

But a "great day" for the Liberals? Not on a day when you come out of a round of by-elections weaker than you went into them. It's a big win for the Liberals, but just not big enough.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Dear Michael: How's That "Nonconfrontational" Thing Going?

Ready to address human rights violations with China yet, Mr Byers?

Those playing close enough attention to what passes for foreign policy debate in Canada may be aware of the rhetoric that is Michael Byers' specialty.

Byers has accused Canada's Conservative government of undermining Canada's role in the world -- or at least what he thinks should be Canada's role in the world. "Stephen Harper has been a disaster for Canadian foreign policy on almost every front," Byers said last year. "It's partly because he doesn't understand the issues, but it's also partly because he doesn't think–or he doesn't want to think–that Canada can play an independent role."

In an undisputably disastrous op/ed article in the Toronto Star on New Year's Day, Byers admonished Stephen Harper for confronting China over human rights abuses.

"[Harper] has also picked unnecessary quarrels with China over human rights," Byers wrote. This was actually proof that Byers doesn't understand the issues, as he in the same article suggested that Canada needed to pull its troops out of the NATO mission in Afghanistan and participate in a United Nations Peacekeeping operation in Sudan -- where China is a prolific investor in the oilfields at the heart of the lingering Darfur crisis.

In recent days, however, it's only been revealed why confronting China over human rights is so vital, as Chinese government crackdowns on Tibetan protests threaten to reach a Tienanmen-esque level.

Now apparently Michael Byers feels that we shouldn't confront China over human rights if it threatens to damage our relationship with them. "I don't think we should be silent when it comes to human rights in China," Byers said, "but you cannot influence a country of that size and that power by refusing to establish a relationship."

But in the wake of this newest round of protests -- videos of which have compelled the Chinese government to block YouTube from the country's internet -- it's clearly time to reevaluate the "let sleeping dogs lie" approach to human rights in China that is clearly favoured by Byers.

Decades of pressuring China on "good governance and the rule of law" -- former Prime Minister Jean Chretien quite deliberately tiptoed around the issue with Chinese authorities -- clearly have done very little to persuade the Chinese state that human rights are important.

Perhaps the video evidence -- which China doesn't want its citizens to see -- would be enough to persuade Mr Byers to change his tune on human rights in China:

Of course, it's only fair to point out that some of the Tibetan protesters are far from angels themselves, although the extent to which Chinese and Tibetan violence is being provoked by violence from the other side actually remains largely unclear:

Then again, when states react to protesters armed -- if at all -- with fists and rocks with tanks it's pretty clear what lies just around the corner.

And this is only the most recent episode in China's exceedingly poor -- to put it lightly -- human rights record.

So the question for Michael Byers at this point is thus:

How's that "nonconfrontational" approach to human rights in China coming along, Michael? Are you ready to cut out the double-talk and get serious about addressing this issue?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Proof That They Just Don't Get It

Let's define "illegal" and "unjust", if we may

If their previous rounds of sparsely-attended protests against the War in Afghanistan weren't embarrassing enough, Canada's "Peace" movement is at it again today, staging protests in 20 cities across Canada.

"This war has nothing to do with the defense of democracy or women's rights in Afghanistan and everything to do with advancing U.S. strategic interests in the region," wrote the Canadian Peace Alliance in a news release. "We reject sending our youth to serve as cannon fodder in Afghanistan, where 78 Canadians soldiers have now died, with hundreds wounded, and even more psychologically damaged in an unjust, illegal war."

But let's define, if we may, the words "unjust" and "illegal".

First off, let's define "illegal". One the principle complaints against the war in Iraq is that it's illegal.

According to Chapter VII of the United Nations charter, use of force against another country is legal if its perpetrated in self-defense or if authorized by the UN Security Council.

The war in Iraq was launched under dubious self-defense claims, and was not authorized by the United Nations. As such, the case for arguing that Iraq is an illegal war is actually fairly strong.

Meanwhile, however, the security and assistance mission in Afghanistan -- in which Canada is participating -- is approved by the United Nations. Thus, under Chapter VII, Article 42 of the United Nations Charter, the war in Afghanistan is legal.

Of course, it's unsurprising that the "peace" movement can't seem to tell the difference between the two wars.

The other claim made by the Canadian Peace Alliance is that the war is "unjust". Sadly, these people seem to have a very skewed idea of justice.

In the current state of Afghanistan, its armed forces and government, if NATO troops were to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban would almost certainly return to power. Is this really the "just" result that the Canadian Peace Alliance wants in Afghanistan?

The same Taliban who denied education and medical care to women? The same Taliban who engaged in ethnic cleansing? The same Taliban who destroyed priceless Buddhist artifacts in the country? The same Taliban who imposed brutal theocratic government on the people of Afghanistan?

A return to power for the Taliban in Afghanistan is the last thing that would resemble justice for that beleaguered country.

Not only does the Canadian Peace Alliance have a convoluted sense of the legality of the war in Afghanistan, but they have a very bizarre sense of justice.

Which is appropriate enough, considering that their idea of peace is also to allow regimes like the Taliban to continue harbouring terrorists with impunity, allowing them save haven from which to plan their attacks.

The "peace" movement just doesn't get it. They hold the most bizarre and untenable beliefs on legality, justice, and peace imaginable.