Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Avaaz Petition

The following is a petition from to try to reduce the usurious fees Western Union charges for money transfers to some of the world's poorest nations:

This holiday season, Josh, a Kenyan student in the Netherlands, scraped together a year's worth of savings and sent it home to support 10 struggling family members. Shockingly, the giant money transfer company Western Union skimmed off 20% of the cash meant for Josh's family in fees.

Josh’s story is painfully retold every day, the world over, on a staggering scale -- an estimated $44.3 billion worldwide was lost in transfer fees last year! The World Bank recommends that transaction costs not exceed 5% of the total, but Western Union has never faced serious pressure to lower its crippling charges. If we unite in a global outcry now, we can expose its predatory practices when its carefully crafted, family-friendly image is most vulnerable: the giving season.

Josh's generosity -- and that of millions of workers around the world -- shouldn't go to waste! Let's call on Western Union to lower its fees to 5% for the poorest countries, and when the petition reaches 250,000 we’ll deliver it to the company’s image-sensitive board of directors. Sign now and then forward this petition to family and friends.

A Slightly Less Rosy View

“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” So said Doctor Pangloss in what is probably Voltaire's best-known satirical work, Candide. And perhaps it is understandable that I briefly thought that The Hamilton Spectator had decided to devote part of its op-ed page to French literature upon seeing the title, 'All in all, things are getting a whole lot better' (Dec.30).

Written by David Seymour, described as a senior analyst for the Frontier Centre, a conservative/libertarian organization whose website boasts the article's original title, 'Cheer Up- The World Is A Wonderful Place,' the article extols the tremendous advances the world has made in a number of fields, including economic growth (hasn't Ebay enriched all of our lives immeasurably?) sanitation and longevity. At the same time Seymour hints at something deeply pathological about those who do not see the glass as half-full, dismissing them as 'the glum,' 'the moaners, and 'merchants of doom.'

To the reader with critical-thinking skills, perhaps most risible is Seymour's assertions “that everyone is getting wealthier and the environment is generally improving ...” and that “ freer and wealthier countries are better environmental custodians. “

Hmm... In his worldview, the writer has conveniently omitted that pesky problem of climate change which almost all balanced studies suggest will ultimately engulf low-lying lands in catastrophic flooding, make many parts of the world much more vulnerable to drought and consequent starvation, and cost world economies many many billions of dollars. Indeed, although no single year's volatile weather can be attributed to climate change, one cannot help but begin to see a pattern emerging in hotter summers worldwide, record snowfalls and freezes in Europe, and massive disruptions in travel throughout the world.

Indeed, I suspect that few would argue that it is the industrialized, free and wealthy countries who are responsible for the massive buildup of greenhouse gases at the root of these changes, the same nations that are proving quite intractable in their refusal to lower their emission rates in order to slow down the rate of earth's degradation.

And yet, according to Mr. Seymour, things just keep getting better for our species.

Would I prefer to live in an earlier time, before the advances of which the writer speaks? Of course not. But let's not kid ourselves that a world offering us greater longevity, sanitation, opportunity and technological marvels is one separate from the world of poverty, child labour, human exploitation, starvation, disease and early death that are constant realities for a significant percentage of our fellow human beings.

But let's face it. There is something beguilingly attractive about Seymour's premise that we can enjoy and exploit the world, guilt-free, because after all, things are so much better now than they were in ages past. Indeed, that nettlesome small warning voice in our heads can finally be put to rest – as long as we are also willing to cast out any sense of morality and concern for those less fortunate who have to pay a very heavy price for our indulgences.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ottawa Police Parody

The following video is making the news spoofing, as it does, the timid reaction and political pandering of management in light of the Tracy Bonds strip search. Reminds me of the sorts of stunts we would pull on management when the need arose!

Palestinian Doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish

I was listening to CBC's The Current this morning. Interviewed by guest host David Michael Lamb, Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish acquitted himself with great dignity on the subject of justice and reconciliation. Two years ago, the doctor lost three of his daughters when Israel conducted a military operation against the Palestinian enclave in Gaza. All Abuelaish has ever asked for is an apology from the Government of Israel, something they claim they cannot make because the innocent civilians were killed during a military operation.

Once more we are confronted with the situation of an intractable government claiming to be working in the best interests of the people when, in reality, it is obstructing the noble efforts of a man who, despite his grievous losses, has resolved to embrace love and forgiveness over revenge as he attempts to bridge the chasm that exists between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

You can hear the entire interview here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Pitch for

Because I believe in the good work that they do, I am reproducing below an email I received from, a world-wide organization that marshals wide-ranging support for numerous causes and issues that, if properly addressed, can make our world a better place. If you like what you see, you might want to consider making a donation to help them continue their good work.

Wow - we've almost reached our fundraising goal of 10,000 sustainers! We have 5 days left until the New Year - if we can find 150 more donors from Canada, we'll hit our goal and massively empower Avaaz in 2011! Here's the email -- 

Dear fellow Avaazers, 

I've had moments in my life when I doubted the strength of goodness and compassion in the world, and myself. 

But being part of Avaaz has been profoundly thrilling. Every day I read the most incredible messages from you (if you write 'dear ricken' at the top it comes through to my personal email) -- messages of hope, courage, and wisdom. I lived and worked in war zones before starting Avaaz. From Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, I saw some of the best and worst in humanity. But at Avaaz I have seen a humanity I didn't know existed. There are millions of us, we all just want to do the right thing, and we're willing to work for it. 

Week after week, we come together for a purpose. At the beginning it was often just to speak out. But as we've grown and our voice has grown, we've begun to create real magic. Time and again, we're winning - actually stopping those things that break your heart when you read about them in the paper. Actually building the world we all dream of. 

If you feel at all like I feel, consider becoming an Avaaz sustainer. It sounds incredible, but all the work of our 6.5 million strong network is made possible by just 4967 "sustainers" who donate a few dollars/euros/etc a week -- the price of a cup of coffee -- to sustain our core operating costs. As the holidays approach, we're looking to double that number, and with it our capacity to serve this incredible community. Click here to double the hope, change, and everything that we can do together.

Making a small but steady weekly contribution enables Avaaz to plan responsibly around long term costs like our tiny but awesome staff team, our website and technology, and the security of our systems (this can get pricy when our campaigns are taking on shady characters!). It also means we have the ability to respond immediately to crises as they occur and jump on opportunities for action without delay.

A very small donation of $3 or $5 per week from 10,000 Avaazers would enable our community to expand all our work next year, helping to save lives in humanitarian emergencies, protect the environment and wildlife, fight political corruption and organized crime, push for peace and reduce poverty.

Donating to Avaaz has a double-impact – because our donations not only make change now by empowering particular campaigns, every contribution builds our community that will be making change for decades to come. It’s an investment with both immediate and long term results for our children’s and our planet’s future. Click here to contribute. 

Fundraising is often a problem for social change organizations. Government or corporate funding would profoundly threaten our mission. Funding from large donors also often comes with strings attached. And high-pressure tactics like telemarketing, postal mail, or direct on-the-street programmes often cost nearly as much as they raise! That's why the Avaaz model - online, people-powered donations - is the best way in the world to power an engine of social change, and a huge part of our community's promise. 

If we can multiply the number of sustainers we have, it will take our community, and our impact, to a whole new level. I can't wait. 

I know that donating is an act of hope, and of trust. I feel a huge and serious sense of responsibility to be a steward of that hope, and my team and I are deeply committed to respecting the trust you place in us with your hope, time, and resources. It's a special thing we're building here, and if we can keep believing in each other, anything is possible. 

With hope and gratitude for this amazing community, 

Ricken Patel
Co-Founder and Executive Director

PS - In case you're mulling it over, here's 11 more reasons to donate to Avaaz :) :

Reason 1 – What we do Works

With 6.5 million members in every nation of the world, able to mobilize at a moment's notice to pressing needs and opportunities, Avaaz works –- together we've saved lives in Haiti and Burma, reversed government policies from Brazil to Japan, and won victories on international treaties from banning cluster bombs to preserving oceans. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown says of Avaaz "You have driven forward the idealism of the world... do not underestimate your impact on leaders" while the Economist says Avaaz is "poised to deliver a deafening wake up call to world leaders" and Al Gore says "Avaaz is inspiring, and has already made a difference". We're only 3 years old and growing fast, and the more our members get involved and donate, the more impact we have.

Make a donation here.

Reason 2 – An Avaaz donation is an investment with permanent social change returns

With Avaaz, our donations fund high impact campaigns that also recruit more people. More people means more donations, and more impact. So you're not only achieving a particular change with your donation, you're helping grow a community with new members that will multiply your donation many times over, and be a permanent and ever-increasing source of change. It's a tremendous philanthropic value to have this kind of double and permanent impact.

Reason 3 – We have no bureaucracy

Avaaz is a massive network of citizens, but our organization is absolutely tiny – just 15 full time campaigners with operational and technology support. Most large global NGOs have hundreds or even thousands of staff. Our small size means we have no time for red tape, layers of management, or being focused on anything but getting results.

Reason 4 – We're regularly audited, and fiscally responsible

There's a lot of fear out there about misuse of donated money. Most of the fear is misplaced – most organizations are filled with good people trying to do good things. With Avaaz you can be sure – partly because we're required by law to be audited every 12 months. This audit thoroughly checks every aspect of our books and financial practices. We've been audited 3 times since we launched and every time been given a squeaky clean bill of health (for details, click here).

Reason 5 – We have a world-class team that does outstanding work

Campaigning, advocacy and social change are a serious and demanding business – the more competent the team, the more impact our donations have. Avaaz attracts some of the best campaigners and advocates in the world. Many of our campaign directors joined us after being CEOs of successful multi-million dollar advocacy organizations, and most have degrees from the top universities in the world.

Donate now: 

Reason 6 – We're 100% Independent

Avaaz takes absolutely no money from governments or corporations. This is hugely important to ensuring that our voice is exclusively determined by the values of our members, and not by any large funder or agenda. While we received initial seed grants from partner organizations and charitable organizations, almost 90% of the Avaaz budget now comes small online donations. This means that the only agenda we have to follow is the people's agenda.

Reason 7 – We pass the money on when it makes sense, and give to the best efforts

Avaaz has donated almost $4 million to other organizations, because we saw them as better placed than us to have impact on a particular issue. For example, we've granted $1.6 million to Burmese monks and aid groups, and $1.3 million to Haitian aid organizations – see this video from the groups that received our donations. The way we support organizations is important too. Most foundations have endless process and constraints that make them slow, bureaucratic and risk averse in supporting advocacy. Avaaz finds the best people and organizations and doesn't micromanage them – we just empower them to do what they know best.

Reason 8 – We're political (this really matters)

Most charities offer tax deductibility for donations. But this means that they are, in a way, partially tax-payer funded, and governments use that to place a very thick set of rules on what they can and can't do. Chief among them is restricting what they can say to criticize, support, or oppose a politician. Avaaz is very rare in that our donations are not tax deductible, leaving us 100% free to say and do whatever we need to to get leaders to listen to people. Since so many important issues are won and lost in the political realm, this makes us much more effective than advocacy groups that shy away from speaking out politically.

Reason 9 – We go where the greatest needs and opportunities are

Most organizations focus on a single issue over a long period of time. This is very important to do, but that can mean that when desperate needs or amazing opportunities for social change arise, they get ignored because everyone is working on their own issue. Avaaz campaigns target the most urgent needs and opportunities, showing up just when a powerful burst of citizens' attention is needed most. We work continuously with top quality partners in the areas we campaign on, and all describe Avaaz as an amazing added value to their work.

Click to donate:

Reason 10 – Democratic accountability is hard-wired into our model

The Avaaz model of campaigning is people-powered. Our priorities are set at annual and weekly levels by polls of our membership and every campaign we run is first polled with members. Click here for results from our 2010 annual poll. No matter how much work we put into developing a campaign, if it fails to get the greenlight from members, we don't run it. So on a day to day basis, how we spend the donations we receive is determined directly by members.

Reason 11 – There's no other organization like us

Avaaz is the world's first and only massive, high-tech, people-powered, multi-issue, genuinely global advocacy organization. In a world where the problems we face are consistently global, and the solutions to them increasingly require global democratic action, Avaaz is uniquely placed to effect change. No other organization can rapidly mobilize large-scale, coordinated democratic pressure in over 150 countries within 24 hours. A new model of internet-based, people-powered politics has changed politics in several countries, and Avaaz is taking that proven model global. The result is already the largest global online movement in history, and we're just getting started.

Make a secure donation to Avaaz here

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Another Catherine Porter Article on Haiti

This morning I read another article by the Star's Catherine Porter on Haiti, one that reminds us once again of the power we all have to make this world a slightly better place. It is a story both about a little girl in Haiti named Lovely Avelus and the effect she has had on the lives of others as they responded to that country's earthquake. It is a story that also reminds us of the truly valuable in this season of conspicuous consumption.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Reminder of the World Outside Our Cocoon

There is a beautiful piece in today's Star by Catherine Porter, who has spent a great deal of time in Haiti since the earthquake. It is a reminder both of how fortunate we are, and also of our obligations to the larger world.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How The G20 Radicalized Me

Just a short thought for today. Although I am now at the stage of life where I have more years behind me than I have ahead, and have been an inveterate cynic for many years, I am now starting to wonder if there is just a glimmer of hope for the possibility of real change. Ironically enough, my smattering of optimism arises from the violation of our Charter Rights by the police during the G20 last summer in Toronto.

Much has already been written about that infamous weekend, and I'm sure much more will be, but what I find so heartening, much to the dismay, I'm sure, of politicians and police chiefs, is the fact that the public will not let the issue die. People are refusing to be placated by the usual platitudes such as 'mistakes were made,' and 'the police did their best under very trying circumstances.' While such bromides might have been effective in the past, judging by the wide array of societal engagement on this, they have clearly lost their currency. The fact that a rally at Queens Park is planned for January 8th to demand a full inquiry is yet another indication of public passion and engagement.

I read an article in the December issue of The Walrus, a reflection by Pasha Malla on the G20. In the essay, she interviews activist Jaggi Singh, who says:

 “In Toronto, with over 1,000 arrests, mostly arbitrary, many idealists were swept up in the police repression, or observed it close at hand. This was meant to scare those idealists into pulling away from radical politics. Some folks are definitely traumatized and scared. But many, definitely, have become radicalized, too.”

It is his observation about radicalization that struck a responsive chord for me. While watching the G20 events unfold, I was disgusted by the property destruction wrought by a small group, but I was appalled by the police repression and physical violence they perpetrated against the peaceful protestors. So I guess, to use Singh's language, I became radicalized, affecting, as it has, my decision not to vote for the McGuinty Government again, and reflected in the fact that I can't stop thinking, writing, and talking about how precarious our Charter Rights really are.

And I doubt that I am alone in reacting thus. I think the same has happened to traditional police media supporters such as Rosie Di Manno and Peter Worthington. The Globe's implacable Christie Blatchjford, of course, continues to downplay the gravity of what went on, but I find her musings less and less relevant today, one of the reasons I cancelled my longtime subscription to the Globe and Mail.

But I digress. The thought occurs to me that if people are being reminded of the power they potentially have through the ongoing outrage over the police in Toronto, might we not reach a point where we can apply that power to other pressing issues, such as climate change, sacrificing young people in a futile war, etc. etc. ?

Perhaps all we need are a few more epiphanous moments.

Just a few thoughts from a cynic whose hardened heart has started its journey back into the light.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rosi DiManno on the Arrest of A G20 Police Officer

Rosie DiManno has a good column in today's Star on the public's role in bringing about the charge of assault with a weapon against Babak Andalib-Goortani, one of at least eight officers depicted beating Adam Nobody for no apparent reason during the G20 Summit.

While DiManno cites the sad fact that none of the other officers in the video were able to identify either themselves or the others assaulting Mr. Nobody, I couldn't help but wonder what has become of Chief Bill Blair's much-vaunted facial recognition software he was touting earlier this year as a good means of identifying those engaged in violence during the demonstrations. Or perhaps that software only works on civilians?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Too Much Evidence to Ignore

Thanks largely to the diligence of the Star, the SIU, confronted with high profile evidence that it could no longer ignore, has finally charged one officer with the assault of Adam Nobody. Even though the video appears to show at least eight officers tackling and pummeling Mr. Nobody, I guess we should be thankful that at least one person (perhaps a sacrificial lamb?) will face some consequences. Perhaps that will help to keep the spotlight on the G20 abuses, and more charges will eventually be brought.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Suggestions For Poverty Reduction

The Recession Relief Coalition has released a 10-point plan to combat rising poverty in Canada. While some will likely dismiss these suggestions as 'pie-in-the-sky', the question remains; Given the huge costs to our economy of poverty, can we continue with the half-measures currently employed?

A Graphic Depiction of the Dangers of Drinking and Driving

A very powerful video from Australia on the consequences of drinking and driving. Perhaps we in Canada need this kind of 'shock therapy' to be aired on our networks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And Now A Word from Our Sponsors

Like me, I suspect many in the blogosphere are deeply cynical about governments both domestic and foreign. We tend, for example, to despair of governments' capacity to bring about meaningful change when it receives or gives foreign aid. The recent imbroglio over the termination of CIDA support for KAIROS is but one example of many that come to mind. The slow nature of the reconstruction efforts in Haiti is another.

In this season of giving, many turn their thoughts to philanthropy that benefits people in other parts of the world. For those seeking such an opportunity, I would like to suggest an entity that has a tremendous track record and one which I volunteer with. That entity is Kiva.

A fine example of an NGO doing tremendous work in the developing world, Kiva uses a particular model of microfinance that will appeal to many. For as little as $25, a person can lend to an entrepreneur from an extensive list of people seeking to better their lives and the lives of their families through a slow and gradual development and expansion of their businesses.

One of the exciting aspects of Kiva is that all of the money lent goes to the recipient through a finance organization in the target country. Each financial entity, before becoming a partner with Kiva, is carefully vetted, with Kiva performing all of the due diligence to determine its viability and adherence to philanthropic lending policy. Once the loan is repaid, the lender has the option of either receiving back the money or re-lending. (I should warn you that the lending can become addictive!)

Kiva receives nothing from the loan, depending extensively on both donations and a large network of volunteers to do most its work, including the translation and editing of loan descriptions.

So if you a seeking a worthy cause that requires only a small commitment of funds, I heartily recommend and endorse Kiva.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More About the KAIROS Defunding

I wrote a post the other day about the decision, mired in controversy and obfuscation, by CIDA Minister Bev Oda to cut off the funding to KAIROS, a church-based coalition that promotes social justice issues. Despite the fact that CIDA staff had recommended a continuation of funding, Oda overruled them for reasons that have been speculated upon, including the allegation by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney of anti-semitism which, in the Harper Government, seems to include any criticism of Israel or its policies.

In a story from The Embassy, the tale gets even murkier, reflected in the report of Ms. Oda's testimony before the Common's Foreign policy committee:

After soliciting feedback from CIDA sections and embassies in the relevant countries, a number of memos and background documents were prepared for Ms. Oda in advance of approving the $7.1-million KAIROS proposal.

However, while the entire memo recommends the project, a hand-written notation has added "NOT" into the final sentence, which as a result reads: "RECOMMENDATION — That you sign below to indicate you NOT approve the contribution of $7,098,758."

"You were the one who wrote the 'not,'" Liberal committee member John McKay said at one point.
"I did not say I was the one who wrote the 'not,'" Ms. Oda replied.
"Who did then?" Mr. McKay asked.
"I do not know," Ms. Oda replied.
That evoked a stunned silence in the West Block committee room before Mr. McKay said: "That's a remarkable statement."

Near the end of the hearing, Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae asked Ms. Oda whether the "NOT" was on the document when she signed it.

"I did not put the 'not' in," the minister said, before adding: "I did not sign the document."

Confused, Mr. Rae noted that Ms. Oda's signature was on the memo, to which the minister said it may have been signed by a machine known as an automatic pen.

"I, personally, did not sign that document," she said. "It's my signature, which is either a pen-signed or a personal-signed. I do not sign, as any minister does not sign, every document required to be signed."

"I would say that CIDA staff in the department certainly did its job," Ms. Oda said. However, "the ultimate decision is made by the minister, and the minister does have that responsibility, not only just to endorse recommendations coming out of any department, but also has to use their own judgment in every case."

When asked what was wrong with the KAIROS proposal, however, Ms. Oda would only say that "it's not the minister's responsibility necessarily to find what's wrong, it's to find the best projects for the utilization of the public funds."

I could make predictable observations about government incompetence here, but to me the more disturbing aspect of Oda's testimony is that she, and by extension, her government, care not a whit what anyone else may think of the high-handed manner with which KAIROS was treated.

Yet one more reason one can only hope that the Harperites never get that majority they so deeply crave.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Guess Rules Really Weren't Made to Be Broken

In a decision that one might think came from some kind of bizarro parallel world, the Ontario Minor League Hockey Association has extended to a full season the suspension of coach Greg Walsh as a consequence for pulling his team from a game in November after an opposing team member hurled a racial epithet at one of his players. While the offending boy's coach benched him for the second period, Walsh became outraged when he rejoined play in the third period without so much as offering an apology.

Owing to a Hockey Canada rule on 'refusing to start play,' Walsh had been immediately suspended after the forfeiture, but the new ruling, doubtlessly intended to emphasize the sanctity and supremacy of hockey rules over integrity and human decency, means that Walsh is out for the season as a coach.

Tell me again how playing sports helps build young people's characters?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Truth About KAIROS Defunding?

NGO KAIROS, a social justice church-based coalition, finally has learned part of the truth about its loss of CIDA funding about a year ago. At the time, CIDA Minister Bev Oda said the organization was cut as an aid partner because its project proposal did not meet the government's new aid priorities.

That decision was met by much suspicion at the time, with KAIROS insiders believing that "its involvement in corporate social responsibility work related to mining in developing countries and oil sands awareness in Canada was a factor. In addition, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney linked the decision with KAIROS's supposed role in leading a boycott, divestment and sanction campaign against Israel in December."

According to a story in today's Toronto Star, CIDA in fact had recommended the continuation of funding, but was overruled by Bev Oda, who now admits "it was her decision alone to discontinue funding arrangements with KAIROS, in spite of the advice she was given."

In the old days, such blatant lying by a cabinet minister would have created a real furor. Today, I suspect, such a revelation will create nary a ripple.

The Unfair Practices of Visa and Mastercard

According to a story in today's Toronto Star, The Federal Competition Bureau is asking the Competition Tribunal to strike down the rules that allow both Visa and Mastercard to impose restrictions on merchants that ultimately lead to higher costs that are passed on to the consumer.

Apparently the current agreements, in addition to the fairly high fees charged to merchants when the cards are used, prevent vendors from offering discounts for cash payments or suggesting to the purchasers less costly means of buying, such as the use of bank cards or cash.

Given the huge profits that banks already enjoy, one hopes that the Tribunal will make a quick decision on this matter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Young British Student Speaks

I love this young man's passion. It seems to me that his words, based on police reaction to the student demonstrations in Britain, are equally applicable to what many experienced during the G20 police repression of protesters.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Vatican – Just Another Corrupt Political Entity?

I have reached the point in my life when I regard (and indeed hold) spiritual beliefs as completely distinct from any religious organizations that purport to convey the word of God. Nonetheless, I continue to be filled with revulsion over new revelations that demonstrate the craven political nature of the Vatican and the clerical elites that do its bidding. It has long been obvious to me and many others that the Church, one of the largest and wealthiest of the world's organizations, has been acting in a typically craven organizational manner in its dogged refusal to accept any real responsibility for the decades-old coverups of its priests' paedophilia. To my knowledge, the closest it has come is to apologize for clerical abuse, totally avoiding the central role it played, and continues to play, in the whole sad, sordid, and sinful imbroglio.

The latest proof comes from a WikiLeaks' document regarding Ireland's probe into the abuse:

According to the deputy to the Irish ambassador to the Holy See, the Irish government gave in to Vatican pressure and allowed ... church officials to avoid answering questions from the inquiry panel, according to one of the cables from a U.S. diplomat.

So much for wanting to ferret out corruption. What would Jesus say, indeed?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dalton McGuinty and The Smoking Gun

I have written extensively about my long-standing suspicions of Premier McGuinty's weak explanations for his failure to reveal the truth about the 'secret law' (the regulatory change under the Public Works Protection Act) which permitted police to violate the Charter Rights of thousands of peaceful protesters during the G20 Summit in Toronto. Today, the Toronto Star reports that the Marin Investigation uncovered emails revealing a concious decision not to inform the public that the '5-meter rule' did not, in fact, exist:

On June 25 — the day before the weekend summit of world leaders at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre — the Starreported ministers had quietly designated areas within the G20 security zone a “public work.”

Blair led people to believe that his officers had been granted the authority to arrest anyone who failed to provide identification or agree to be searched within five metres of the secure conference site.

Later on June 25, Bartolucci’s ministry drafted a press release outlining the changes under the Public Works Protection Act that specifically said “it does not authorize police officers to require individuals to submit to searches on roads and sidewalks outside the zone.”

But the news release was never distributed because, according to Marin, “by the end of the day, the ministry had decided to scrap the idea of going public altogether” since there was only one media call on the five-metre rule.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that a full and independent inquiry into the entire sad episode be held. For the government to do anything less is to demonstrate complete disdain for the sanctity of our Charter Rights as Canadians.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

McGuinty's Weak Apologies and Bill Blair's Misdirection

Having to watch two politicians, Premier Dalton McGuinty and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, working hard at damage control today over Andre Marin's excoriating report and calls for their respective resignations, was not pleasant. Listening to their efforts to obscure their culpability in lying to the public regarding the so-called 'five-meter' law was even harder. Fortunately, our digital world allows us an electronic record that is indelible. Therefore, I am reproducing a blog post I wrote on June 29th that reflects the duplicitous nature of both the aforementioned gentlemen.

If you have the patience to read the entire post, please pay particular attention to Blair's explanation as to why he didn't reveal to the public the fact that there was no law that allowed his forces to arrest people coming within five meters of the perimeter fence. As well, note Premier McGuinty's comments that summit weekend about the necessity of having extreme measures in place, surely an allusion to the non-existent law, a fact he only revealed after the summit had left town.

Police Chiefs and Premiers

I have to confess that my nose is presently feeling quite abraded and raw, not surprising given its strenuous workout in today’s smell tests, beginning with the spectacle of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair displaying a cache of ‘weapons’ seized from protesters that turned out to be less than claimed. First, an astute CBC reporter asked about the cross bow that was given prominence. Hadn’t that, in fact, been seized from a car before the summit began and determined to have nothing to do with the G20? Well yes, the good chief sheepishly admitted that it shouldn’t have been there, as reported in The Globe and Mail:

A car search last Friday netted a cross bow and chain saw but they were not determined to be G20 related, and no charges were laid. When this was pointed out, Chief Blair acknowledged the items should not have been displayed but said “everything else” was seized from summit protesters.

However, police also included objects taken from a Whitby, Ont., man who was heading to a role playing fantasy game in Centennial Park Saturday morning. As was reported by the Globe on Saturday, Brian Barrett, 25, was stopped at Union Station for wearing chain mail and carrying a bag with an archery bow, shield and graphite swords. His jousting gear was seized by police, but was on display Tuesday, even though he was not charged and police told a Globe reporter it was a case of bad timing.

The critical thinker, of course, would have even more reason after this display to question the veracity of what he or she was being told. But then things got worse. Blair announced that there was no five-metre rule in place allowing police to search bags and demand identification from interlopers who had violated the police’s ‘comfort zone.’ His justification for this alleged lie: “I was trying to keep the criminals out.”

I say alleged lie, because this came only after an announcement from the Ministry of Community Safety made an announcement that “all the cabinet did was update the law that governs entry to such things as court houses to include specific areas inside the G20 fences — not outside.

A ministry spokeswoman says the change was about property, not police powers, and did not include any mention of a zone five metres outside the G20 security perimeter. “

However — and my nose was really starting to hurt by this point — we remember Dalton McGuinty’s statement of support for the police on Friday after word got out about the secret order-in-council suspending some of our Charter Rights:

Premier Dalton McGuinty denies it was an abuse of power for his government to secretly approve sweeping new powers for police.

“I just think it’s in keeping with the values and standards of Ontarians,” McGuinty told the Toronto Star on Friday amid a battery of complaints from opposition parties, city councillors, civil libertarians and regular Torontonians that the new rules were kept secret and, some say, may go too far.

The rules allow police to arrest and potentially jail anyone refusing to produce identification or be searched within 5 metres of the G20 security zone.

“Most Ontarians understand that there’s something extraordinary happening inside our province,” the Premier said. “We’ve tried to limit the intrusiveness to a specific secure zone as much as we can by working together with our police.”

Despite the fact that it was front page news on several of Ontario’s dailies, Premier McGuinty did nothing to disabuse the public about this seemingly inaccurate information, which leads me to conclude a number of limited possibilities:

He is so inept a Premier that, despite the alleged regulation having been passed secretly by his Cabinet, he knew none of the details;

Chief Blair was lying about these special powers, promulgated throughout the media and eliciting mass confusion and outrage. Were this so, wouldn’t it be incumbent upon McGuinty to immediately terminate the Chief, having gone far beyond anything General Stanley McCrystal did to warrant firing?

He was colluding with the police to continue to perpetrate this ‘falsehood,’ a possibility that would justify our asking how committed the Premier is to Charter Rights and basic democracy;

The regulation was as everyone understood it, but because of the widespread revulsion it inspired, the Liberal Government, realizing the potential political consequences to be so very costly, disavowed any relationship to the odious regulation, therefore requiring Bill Blair to ‘fall on his sword’ over this issue.

The fact that the position of Chief of Police is, de facto, a political one, would likely have convinced Blair that his future would be far better served by obeying his political masters than hewing to the path of integrity.

Further evidence of government and police lying to the public emerges as the McGuinty Government is now stating that no one was arrested under any extended laws, but only regular criminal laws. The critical thinking public will, of course, want to know why 31-year-old Dave Vasey was arrested when he ventured within the allegedly non-existent boundary, refusing to either show his i.d. or allow his bag to be searched, believing he was only enjoying his basic rights of citizenship. Told he would then have to leave, he refused, after which he was arrested under this ‘non-existent’ rule. What then, was the offense for which he was arrested?

These and other questions must be forcefully asked and re-asked in the days to come. To do anything less would be criminal.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Ombudsman's Report on the G20

I just read the newspaper account of Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin's report on the 'secret security law' that was passed by the McGuinty Liberals before the G20 Summit in Toronto, a report that calls the law illegal and likely unconstitutional, and "almost certainly beyond the authority of the government to enact.”

While his report is described as scorching, condemning the law's lack of transparency and its anti-democratic nature, one glaring omission seems to be any criticism of the fact that both Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and Premier McGuinty lied to the public. Neither did anything to correct the erroneous assertion both had made about the extent of the law, waiting until after the G20 was over before revealing that the law allowing authorities to search, question, and even arrest those who came within five metres of the perimeter fence did not, in fact, exist.

It is wholly inadequate for the provincial government to simply admit that it could have done a better job in communicating the truth. Such a stance reveals a deep contempt, not only for the citizens of Ontario, but also for their Charter Rights.

Nothing short of a full and complete inquiry into the provincially-sanctioned totalitarian tactics of the police is acceptable.

An Internet Scam Warning

I imagine that all Internet users at one time or another have experienced a browser popup claiming that they have won one of the many technological baubles that seem to dominate our culture, be it an IPad, Ipod, or whatever. Recently I decided to click on a claim that I had won an Ipad, just to see where it would take me. My advice is simple: resist the urge.

It initially seemed innocent enough, a rather challenging IQ test (the kind of test I generally resist taking, lest they confirm my worst cognitive fears). After taking it, I had to enter my cellphone number to receive the results. What followed were two more questions, on the cellphone, to which I did not respond.

We then went away for a week to Cuba, having left the cellphone behind since it doesn't work there. Upon my return, I was appalled to find that I had insufficient balance left on the prepaid to make a call. Upon investigating the balance online, I saw that I had received several more messages from the Internet company that had provided the IQ test, each with a charge of $2.

I called my cellphone provider to ask it to block the messages and to restore the funds to my account. While they did the latter with alacrity, they said that I was listed as subscribing to a service from, and provided me with a number to call to halt the emails. The number is 1-866-257-4586.

All is now restored and the messages have stopped, but what I most object to is the fact that there was nothing obvious that I saw on the site stating that by providing my cellphone number, I was in fact entering into a contract with

Personally, I would like to see some kind of CRTC regulation governing such misleading and unethical practices.

Just a word to the wise from someone who should have known better.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Tracy Bonds

I just finished watching video obtained by The Ottawa Citizen showing the manhandling of Tracy Bonds, the 27-year-old woman arrested in 2008 for 'public intoxication.' According to police, they stopped her for having an open bottle of alcohol, although that bottle has never been produced. After running her name through the computer and finding nothing, they told her to keep walking home. When Ms. Bonds, a black woman who perhaps suspected racial profiling, asked why she had been stopped in the first place, they arrested her for public intoxication.

The videotapes given to The Ottawa Citizen speak for themselves, showing her being physically abused by the booking officers at the station, and speak volumes about the way Canadians can be treated when they dare to question the powers that be.

While watching the videos, I couldn't help but think of the myriad instances of police abusing their powers during this past summer's G20 summit, and the fact that despite the plethora of evidence of police wrong-doing, the SIU recently concluded that there was no way to charge the offending officers, as they refused, as is their right, to speak to the SIU. In ways I don't understand, invoking their rights somehow has given them immunity from any prosecution.

Dalton McGuinty, while he stayed strangely silent and was, in my view, complicit in the G20 Charter rights violations, has ventured forth to comment on the Tracy Bonds case. Perhaps recognizing a political opportunity, he is on record as saying:

“I think I would ask . . . our police to remember (that) this is somebody’s daughter, this is somebody’s sister. For all they know this might have been somebody’s mother,” McGuinty said.

The Premier acknowledged that an incident like this “shakes our confidence” in police and added it is incumbent upon the provincial Attorney General’s office to review the case, including the conduct of the crown attorney in the case.

A shame he was hardly as forthright about the massive police wrongdoing at the Toronto Summit.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Michael Ignatief's Problems

The Globe and Mail's online edition (the only one I will henceforth have access to, given my termination of our subscription) today has an article by Bruce Anderson entitled 'Michael Ignatief faces daunting enthusiasm gap' offering a variety of reasons that the Liberal leader has failed to 'catch fire' with perspective voters. In my humble view, none of them fully explains his failure as leader.

As I have written before, I am convinced that Ignatief's failure to convey any semblance of integrity, given his repeated practice of ensuring an insufficient number of Liberals in the House of Commons when key votes occur, votes with the potential of bringing down the Harper Government, are at the core of the Liberal Party's problems. I am of the view that, even worse than contending with a government whose views and policies may run counter to one's core values, is contending with a political party that ultimately stands for nothing but the acquisition of power for its own sake.

Even though the electorate may at times be befuddled, apathetic, even misguided, I am certain that they can spot insincerity and hypocrisy very adeptly, qualities that the Liberal leader has displayed in abundance since his ascension to the leadership.

Friday, November 19, 2010

We've Finally Cut the Cord

It is with some sadness that I announce the termination of our subscription to The Globe and Mail, a paper that we have subscribed to continuously since our return to Ontario in 1988. Prior to that, in the 70's my wife was a Globe reader.

This was not a spur-of-the-moment decision, since we wanted to give every chance to the 'new and improved' Globe. Unfortunately, our vision of a good paper sharply diverges from John Stackhouse's, in that it has become obvious to us that the paper is trying to ensure its long-term viability by appealing to a younger and more politically conservative demographic. The most recent inkling of the latter came with the dismissal of long-time columnist Rick Salutin, who had a unique and original perspective on the people and events that make the news. With his dismissal came the elevation of Neil Reynolds, whose libertarian views seem tiresomely repetitive and predictable - he clearly lacks the wide-ranging intellect of Mr. Salutin.

In terms of the Arts and the Life section, the fact that most of the topics are of little interest to my wife and me seems to confirm the shift to a younger demographic. Personally, I think the Globe's strategy is a mistake, given that it is we baby boomers who have the most disposable income. It also ignores the fact that young people today tend to get most of their news from the Internet in general and social media in particular.

On a final note, I think we also recognize that as we get older, we inevitably have less and less influence on the world around us. That is, I suppose, the natural progression of things, and while I hardly begrudge younger generations the opportunity to exert their own influence on things, I wish, in the case of the new Globe and Mail, a better balance had been struck.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Changes at the Hamilton Market

One the one hand, I am reluctant to use this blog to address a local as opposed to a provincial or national issue. On the other hand, however, it is generally accepted that local government is the level that most directly affects citizens and should, at least in theory, be the most responsive to citizens' concerns. With that in mind, here is a piece I recently wrote on changes about to be implemented at the farmers' market in Hamilton, Ontario:

Much spirited discussion has taken place recently over the changes to be unveiled early in the new year at the Hamilton Market. Anna Bradford, the city’s director of culture, has been quoted in The Hamilton Spectator as wanting to 'change the dynamic' of the venerable institution in order to appeal to those seeking 'a trendy shopping experience', asserting that the marker needs to attract young families and hip urbanites in order to survive.

The consequence of that vision is the imminent ejection of many long-term stallholders because, owing to space constraints in this 'improved' facility, the number of stalls will be reduced from 172 to 146.

I find myself wondering if the bureaucrats setting this new direction have ever spent any time at the facility. If they had, I doubt that this rush to make it a more 'upscale', 'trendy' and 'hip' place to attract a new and improved clientele would hold much currency.

The notion of the market place spans thousands of years. The Greek agora, for example, was a place of assembly where people from various walks of life exchanged ideas and made purchases from a variety of stall holders, a community hub for a society that valued true democracy.

The Hamilton Market, an institution dating back to the 19th century, has, until now, held hard to that ideal. Thinking back to my own childhood, I remember an open-air facility where produce was in abundance but amenities were not. Little shelter was offered in inclement weather. A multitude of languages were spoken. And the people came.

It was a time when interactions with both the crowds and the vendors were key parts of the market experience. The destination functioned as a kind of social equalizer, a place where people from all walks of life and social stature, from the recent immigrant to the store merchant to the captain of industry, mingled within an environment where such distinctions were at least temporarily suspended. It was and up till now has been a world both dynamic and animated, much as I imagine the agora of long ago was.

Today, we come from outside the city every week for that experience, plus the opportunity to buy products that are not readily available elsewhere, from the fine apples of a local grower to the range of organic produce available at Dilly's, whose winter tomatoes rival those of summer but, unfortunately, will no longer be available because the vendor somehow failed to qualify for a place in the revamped facility.

In my view, most people who patronize markets are seeking neither an aesthetic nor an antiseptic experience. Nonetheless, I fear that is exactly what is in store for them thanks to the vision of bureaucrats that acknowledges neither the history of the Hamilton Market nor the special place it holds in the hearts of its long-time patrons. It will be everyone's loss.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Liberal Party Fecklessness - Part 3

I really have to move on from writing these posts that sadly show the Liberal Party of Canada to be the party of nothing but its own self-interest; however, just about every time I read about the party led by Michael Ignatief, more confirmation of my thesis stares me in the face.

The latest affront to those of us still naive enough to hope the organization will somehow find its spine comes in a report from the Oct 25th edition of The Hill Times entitled Grits helping Tories set 'dangerous precedent' on calling committee witnesses, say MPs. The piece makes reference to the Harper Government's decision earlier this year to refuse to allow staffers to appear before Parliamentary committees, despite the fact that only MPs and Senators can legally decline such invitations.

Taking exception to Tory intransigence, NDP MP Bill Siksay raised a motion to the Ethics committee asking the House to respond to the believed breach of privilege in an investigation. Of course, the predictable happened. While Bloc and NDP MPs voted for the motion and the Conservatives against, the Liberals abstained and the motion died.

It would seem that the 'big tent' metaphor Michael Ignatief uses to describe the Liberal Party is filled with nothing but empty air. Or, to paraphrase Macbeth, one of my favourite plays, it is 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Michael Ignatief's Fecklessness - Part 2

In yesterday's post I wrote about the lack of principle that is manifest in Michael Ignatief's leadership of the Liberal Party. Time and time again, he has chosen to take the expedient route by consistently failing to back bills whose principles he has claimed to support, ever-fearful that a real stance against the Harper Government might trigger an election.

On Wednesday night, he ensured that a sufficient number of his MPs, including himself, were absent for the vote on Bill C-300, a private member's bill that would have imposed sanctions on mining companies violating human rights and environmental laws in countries whose resources they are extracting. The vote result: 140 against to 134 in favour.

Just prior to the vote Mr. Ignatief, as reported in the Globe's Ottawa Notebook, once again proving his unfitness to lead a once-great party, had the hypocrisy to claim he supported the objectives of the bill in a memo he sent out:

Liberals recognize the importance of the mining, gas and oil industry to Canada. We believe that a commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – at home and abroad – makes good business sense and is a Canadian advantage. We are sending a strong message of the government that they cannot continue to ignore CSR for Canadian companies.

Perhaps one of the most odious aspects of his behaviour is that he seems to think that none of the electorate that would like to support the Liberals will notice or care about his lack of integrity. That may be true for some, but it essentially ensures that I and others like me who insist on a modicum of morality in the political arena will not be supporting him in the next election.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just Another Example of the Fecklessness of Michael Ignatief's Leadership

It was hardly surprising to read in The Globe and Mail's online edition that Michael Ignatief is ambivalent over Bill C-300, introduced by Scarborough Liberal John McKay, which would impose sanctions on Canadian mining companies that are found guilty, as a result of investigations initiated by Ottawa, of violating environmental or human rights in the countries they do business in.

Frightened by the predictable Conservative rhetoric that if such a bill were passed, mining jobs would be lost, the Liberal Leader has said that “there are problems in the bill,” code, I suspect, for fears that the next poll might show decreased support if he supports it.

Strange how he doesn't even consider that taking a principled stand for a change might actually earn him some respect and support instead of the widespread scorn so many express over the opportunistic stances he has regularly taken since assuming leadership of the party, a leadership that seems to be defined by little else but a bald and avid thirst for power.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Chile's Window To The Soul

While the world has been transfixed by the drama of Chile's rescue of 33 miners trapped almost half a mile underground, an effort that has helped us remember our shared humanity, I have been struck by the eyes of Chilean President Sebastian Pinera.

Despite my deep cynicism about politicians in general, and Canadian ones in particular, as I watched Pinera, both recently during an interview on The Charlie Rose Show, and last night as he greeted the miners as they each emerged from the rescue capsule, I couldn't help but be reminded of the old saying that the eyes are the window to the soul. What I see in Pinera's eyes are a deep compassion and love of humanity, something that stands in sharp contrast to the meanness of spirit and naked ambition emanating from most of our elected officials.

Of course, I could be wrong about the Chilean President. With his background as a media baron, perhaps he has learned to be a consumate actor, masterful at projecting an image of compassion and concern, but somehow I don't think that is the case.

A letter about Pinera in today's Globe and Mail nicely summed up the need for people of character and integrity in public life. I am taking the liberty of reproducing it below:

I have watched with great admiration the strong and inspiring leadership of Chilean President Sebastián Piñera throughout his nation’s mining ordeal. By quiet, competent example, and great generosity of spirit, he has shown us that a true leader is not divisive, mean-spirited, self-aggrandizing and other-blaming. Instead, a true leader brings out the best in others, speaks to the heart of the nation, gives credit where credit is due, and accepts responsibility without discount, disparagement or deflection. – J. Phillip Nicholson, Ottawa

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

G20 Summit Inquiry

While I have written extensively
elsewhere on the abuses of Charter Rights that took place during the G20 Summit in Toronto last June, I was heartened by some information received from the Real News Network about the extent of the latest inquiry, to be conducted by the Office of the Independent Police Review director. The information is as follows:

Ontario G20 Police Review Director Makes a Pledge

Gerry McNeilly: Will conduct a systemic review of police actions during G20 after complaints from citizens indicate a ‘pattern of behavior concerns’.

Oct. 5 TRNN - A review by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) will delve into the method behind the madness of Toronto’s G20 policing fiasco.

In an interview with The Real News, Senior Editor Paul Jay asked director of the IOPRD, Gerry McNeilly about whether his review would address specific incidents, such as the kettling of peaceful protesters on Queen Street, the intolerance of self-identified journalists, to the extent of arresting or being violent towards journalists, and the absence of police during the notorious police car burnings being a strategic move to validate other police hostility. McNeilly, said the review will be systemic, and will address all incidents mentioned in complaints received by his office, including unlawful arrests, detainment, treatment of journalists, and the training and culture that police were exposed to in preparation of the summit.

In an interview with The Real News, McNeilly said both the nature and volume of complaints received by his office compelled him to conduct the review. He said the complaints pointed to a pattern of police behavior that warranted investigation.

“And that led me to look at the authorities that I have under the legislation, and the authorities indicated that I have the ability to conduct a review of a systemic nature when a pattern of behavior concerns developed. And this was that situation,” he said.

The IOPRD has the legal authority, under the Public Inquiries Act, to issue subpoenas and conduct searches if evidence or testimony is not forthcoming.

“I have the power, and if I have to use the power, I will,” he said.

Investigating the Integrated Security Unit, the policing body responsible for security during the G20, is tricky as it consisted of Toronto police but was headed up by RCMP chief superintendent Alfonse McNeil. McNeilly said his jurisdiction doesn’t extend to the RCMP.

“I cannot review the RCMP and its role. I will talk to the RCMP to find out about its role and what part that they played in policing and providing security for the G-20, but I don't have the authority. That's the Canadian Police Commission's role,” he said.

He said he doesn’t know of any review being conducted of the RCMP’s role in the G20, but said he would be talking to chief superintendent Alfonse McNeil.

“And, as I said, to date I have not had any indication that they are not prepared to cooperate with me,” he said.

The Real News has raised concerns over the Public Works Protection Act, and the Breech of the Queen’s Peace legislation, that were cited in most of the arrests during the summit, as they appear to negate the constitutional right to free assembly. McNeilly said his office will be investigating unlawful arrests, including ‘the tools that were used’, but said his authority doesn’t permit him to review the constitutional legitimacy of legislation.

“I am not specifically going to be reviewing any piece of legislation as to the appropriateness of that legislation, you are correct. That's for the courts to do.”

He said his review will be transparent, but will not include public hearings in order to expediate the process. He said his biggest challenge is addressing the volume of complaints quickly enough that the findings remain current and meaningful to the public.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Rick Salutin's Demise

The phone rang this morning about 8 o'clock as we were skimming the new and 'improved' Globe and Mail, filled with pretty colour pictures printed on glossy, magazine type paper in some sections. My wife noticed immediately that the physical size of the paper was smaller (explained in the Globe as a way of making it easier to handle for the reader), but it wasn't until the phone call that we realized the changes were much more than physical.

It was our daughter calling to inform us that she had been listening to C.B.C.'s Metro Morning and learned that Rick Salutin has been fired from the Globe, with no reason given. While I might not always have agreed with Salutin's points, (indeed, there were some columns where I wasn't really clear on what his point was) I always looked forward to reading the thoughts of a man who interpreted events in a way few others did, putting forth a point of view that usually hadn't occurred to me at all. The only other Globe writer whose work I had savoured as much was David Macfarlane, who for a number of years wrote a column entitled Cheap Seats before being reassigned to one concentrating on Toronto. He inexplicably met the same fate as Salutin.

So the pace of journalistic decline continues at The Globe and Mail. I suggested to my wife that we give the paper one more week, but without a reversal of the Salutin decision, I believe we will be cancelling our subscription to the paper after having received it for an untold number of years.

Monday, September 27, 2010

John Allemang Looks to 2050

In Saturday's Globe and Mail, columnist John Allemang wrote a piece from the perspective of Canada in the year 2050, examining the country's place in the great scheme of things after climate change has wrought its full effects. It concentrates on the advantages that will accrue to Canada with the opening up of the North West Passage, the export of water and hydroelectricity to the parched southern United States, the development of thriving Northern communities, etc.

My quibble with the article is three fold:

First, it echoes an increasingly common opinion that since climate change is happening and much further changes are inevitable, we need to spend our time and resources adapting rather than trying to mitigate its effects now.

Secondly, it pays little attention to the negative consequences of climate change within Canada, only making reference to it being responsible for more mosquitoes and the fact that prairie farmers had to abandon the parched and eroded land where wheat used to grow.

Finally, while the article purposely takes an admittedly entrepreneurial approach to climate change, the fact that so many parts of the world will suffer tremendously is given short shrift; the closest he comes is reference to the lack of water in the drought-stricken southern U.S.

The dearth of compassion or concern for the rest of the world led me to wonder whether, in John Allemang's view, climate change will also entail another completely different cost: the loss of Canadian compassion from our national identity.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Where Are Your Charity Dollars Going?

I doubt there are many amongst us who have not experienced the following: You are sitting down for a mid-evening meal, or perhaps settling in to watch an hour of television when the phone rings. At the other end of the line is someone calling on behalf of a charity, either one you currently patronize or one seeking your support. You do one of three things: you either agree to increase your support, say you can't give more, or agree to sponsor the new charity.

It may surprise you to know that in some cases, the person you have just dealt with is not necessarily a volunteer calling on behalf of the charity, but rather an employee of a professional fundraising company that will be receiving anywhere from 35 to 80% of your donation.

These startling facts were presented on last night's edition of C.B.C.'s The National in a report by Diana Swain. The value of the report lies not in discouraging us from contributing to worthwhile causes, but rather in allowing us to make better-informed decisions as to where to allot our philanthropic dollars.

The full report, with links to a searchable database breaking down the expenditures of registered charities, can be found on the C.B.C. website

Friday, September 10, 2010

Canada's Shame

While I shall always be proud to be a Canadian, I have never subscribed to the mantra, "My country, right or wrong," which to me means uncritical acceptance of every action taken by one's country simply because it is one's country. In my mind, such a philosophy is an abdication of one of the responsibilities of citizenship, not an expression of it.

With that in mind, I am reproducing below an article from yesterday's Globe and Mail that addresses an issue of fundamental wrongdoing, the export of asbestos to developing countries. As most people know, asbestos is a leading cause of mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining that is invariably fatal. In fact, it is what killed the actor Steve McQueen many years ago. Despite the well-established link between asbestos inhalation and this cancer, the Quebec provincial government, aided and abetted by the federal government, continues to mine and export it, the result being increased rates of mesothelioma and other lung cancers in places such as Mexico, where it is used as an additive to strengthen cement. No amount of jobs (700 in Quebec) can justify this export of death.

Government investment in asbestos is morally bankrupt

Quebec has lent Jeffrey Mine Inc. $3.5-million to keep it alive when the asbestos industry should be allowed to die a natural death

Andre Picard

From Thursday's Globe and Mail Published on Wednesday, Sep. 08, 2010 12:48PM EDT Last updated on Thursday, Sep. 09, 2010 12:08PM EDT

Investissement Québec, a government agency, has provided Jeffrey Mine Inc. with a $3.5-million loan, allowing it to continue mining asbestos for a month longer and giving it one last gasp at attracting foreign investment.

One has to wonder why.

Why are the governments of Quebec and Canada so hell bound in their support of a deathly, dying industry?

How can a country and a province that claim to care about human rights and international health justify peddling tonnes of a carcinogen to the developing world for a few shekels?

What horrors are being wrought in the name of economic development, and in a bid for a few votes?

To date, 52 countries have banned asbestos. It is a cancer-causing product, and we have known so since the 1950s. The tiny fibres, when inhaled, can cause lung cancer, mesothelioma and asbestosis.

Asbestos was once a miracle fibre because of its resistance to fire, rust, rot and termites.

In Canada, the “white gold” was once used liberally, in everything from pipe insulation to car brakes, modelling clay to talcum powder.

As a result, we have one of the highest rates of asbestos-related cancer in the world. In Quebec, asbestos is responsible for half of all workplace-related deaths.
Domestically, the use of asbestos is now strictly regulated under the Hazardous Products Act. We go to great lengths and much expense to remove it from public buildings, including Parliament and 24 Sussex Dr.

Yet Canada allows – and actively promotes – the export of asbestos. Ottawa even opposes the inclusion of asbestos in the Rotterdam Convention, a treaty on the use of hazardous substances.

The federal government also provides $250,000 a year to the Chrysotile Institute so it can flog asbestos abroad and propagandize at home.

The institute is a master of Orwellian doublespeak: It calls asbestos “chrysotile”; it promotes the “safe use” of the product, glossing over the scientific evidence that there is no practical means of safe handling; its lobbying is responsible for the fact that, in Quebec, the “safe” level of exposure to asbestos is 10 times what it is in other provinces; and one of the group’s favourite rhetorical claims is that asbestos is invaluable and safe because even NASA uses it.

Indeed, asbestos is used on the space shuttle so that it won’t catch fire during launch and re-entry. But the reality is that the principal buyers of asbestos are India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, where the mineral is used in construction. Needless to say, the workplace safety standards in these countries aren’t exactly comparable with NASA’s.

“When it comes to the asbestos industry, you readily abandon science and put forward the lie that Quebec asbestos can be safely used, when even your own government health experts have told you this is not true,” Mohit Gupta, co-ordinator of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network of India said in a stinging letter to Quebec Premier Jean Charest.

Every credible health organization in Canada, from the Quebec Institute for Public Health to the Canadian Cancer Society has condemned the federal and provincial governments for their unethical promotion of asbestos.

More than 100,000 people worldwide die of occupational exposure to asbestos each year, according to the World Health Organization.

But that is only the tip of the iceberg. Asbestos-related disease has a long latency period; workers breathing the fibres today will be sick and dying in decades. And, unlike Canadian workers, they will have little legal recourse.

Canada – one of the top five asbestos exporters in the world – is a major contributor to the carnage, but we turn a blind eye to it.

It is apathy tinged with more than a slight hint of racism. Killing workers in India is no more acceptable than killing them in Canada, regardless of the jobs the practice creates in small-town Quebec.

There are two asbestos mines in Canada: the LAB Chrysotile Mine in Thetford Mines, Que. is a few years from exhaustion; and the Jeffrey Mine in Asbestos, Que., which is in bankruptcy protection. Between them they account for 7 per cent of the world production of asbestos, worth a few hundred million dollars a year.

These mines should be allowed to die an overdue death. Monies that go to promoting and subsidizing the sale of asbestos should be redirected to retraining and supporting the remaining workers – about 500 in total, almost all of them close to retirement age.

But Bernard Coulombe, owner of the Jeffrey Mine, has grand plans. He wants to massively expand and extract 200,000 tonnes a year of asbestos (oh, sorry, chrysotile) for the next 25 years.

He needs a $58-million investment to make a go of it.

Quebec was prepared to make a loan guarantee in that full amount, with a few token conditions, such as attracting some private investment and asking importers to respect safety standards. But the support seems to be wavering.

It is time to stop “exporting death made in Quebec,” according to Gilles Paradis, scientific editor of the Canadian Public Health Association Journal.

“The decision by the Quebec government to continue exporting chrysotile asbestos is a public health tragedy for Canada and the rest of the world. Asbestos kills workers and citizens. … The decision is wrong, unethical, indecent and we should be outraged.”


Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Thoughtful Piece by Roger Ebert

I'm just back from a brief holiday, so I don't have anything of my own to offer. There is, however, a piece I recommend by noted film critic and intrepid blogger Roger Ebert. Lamenting the cancer of ignorance that has infected American democracy, he has some incisive and insightful comments to offer about people like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and others of their ilk in his latest entry.

Some of what he writes is also applicable to Canada, especially with the divisive tactics employed by the Harper Government that often mirror those of American extremists.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Holding Harper to Account

Writing in today's Chronicle Herald, columnist Ralph Surette offers an interesting perspective on what Stephen Harper has thus far done to Canada, and what will be required to unseat him. Check it out here.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Politics of Student Part-Time Work - Part One

Having taught high school for 30 years, one of the issues of interest that I carried over into retirement is whether or not students should work part-time. While students have always worked for any number of reasons, ranging from saving for post-secondary education to purchasing things their parents either wouldn't or couldn't buy for them, over the years it was my perception that the number of hours young people were devoting to their jobs rose significantly. A recent article in the Globe and Mail addressed the problem, and some interesting and startling conclusions were reached.

Jorgen Hansen, an associate professor of economics at Montreal’s Concordia University, used data from Statistics Canada’s Youth in Transition Survey, a survey that follows cohorts of students over a number of years. His conclusion: working part-time hurts grades. The more you work part-time, the greater the harm to grades.

According to Wendy Patton, a dean of the faculty of education at Queensland University at Brisbane, Australia, the upper limit should be 12 hours per week. Other studies showed a deterioration in academic performance commensurate with the number of hours worked.

From my own personal experience, it was not unusual to have some students, usually seniors, working almost the equivalent of full-time jobs, and, of course, their grades, homework completion rates, and assignments all suffered. Plaintively, they would tell me they had to work to save for university; my usual response was that if they continued to put in those kinds of hours, they likely wouldn't be going to university anyway, as they wouldn't have the marks. Such harsh observations generally, of course, fell on deaf ears.

And this is where we come to the political aspect of the equation. For a number of reasons that I will outline in my next post, I strongly believe that government has a role to play in regulating how many hours high school students can work.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Do Big Brother and the Harper Conservative Government Have In Common?

The simple answer is, "They both know what is best for us."

In so many ways, it is such a relief to know that we Canadians no longer have to think for ourselves, as the Harper Government has assumed that burden for us. The latest evidence of their benevolence comes from a story by Richard Brennan in today's Toronto Star about the long-delayed release of a report on the effectiveness of the long gun registry.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

More Reasons for Mr. McGuinty to Worry

I've been writing lately about the declining political fortunes of the Ontario Liberal Government. Another reason for the Premier to worry about his political fate comes from the latest inflation statistics, which are being pushed up thanks to the HST that was imposed this past July. The Star has a story well worth reading in today's edition.

From my perspective, this is just another example of what happens when a pro-business agenda is aggressively promoted at the expense of the citizen-consumer-taxpayer.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Ontario's Insurance Reform

One of the biggest pitfalls in striving to practice critical thinking is the risk of either appearing to be, or actually being, a bit paranoid, especially when it comes to government pronouncements. Quite frankly, I am immediately skeptical when government tells me that a change they are imposing or championing will be good for me.

Like the HST, which the McGuinty government tells us will actually result in lower consumer costs as businesses rush to pass on their savings to customers, the latest change in automobile insurance should be met with a healthy skepticism. By lowering the payouts that companies have to make for injuries sustained in car accidents, we are being told that insurance premiums will moderate. One, of course, immediately notes that there is no promise of premium reductions, despite in some cases the impending halving of payouts to accident victims.

Once more, the McGuinty Government is showing a pro-business agenda that is being implemented at the expense of the consumer and taxpayer, something that should be remembered when the next election comes.

Jim Coyle's Column

Although the last person I would like to see leading Ontario is Jim Hudak, a protege and clone of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, according to the latest poll, written about by Jim Coyle in today's Toronto Star, the head of the Ontario Conservative Party poses a real threat to the increasingly disliked and distrusted Dalton McGuinty.

Given his unpopular tax measures, and, from my perspective, his patent dishonesty during the G20 Summit and his lies to the people of Hamilton regarding the Pan Am Stadium, one wonders whether this poll will have a sobering effect on the Premier

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Two-Part Interview with Clayton Ruby

Before starting this political blog, I wrote extensively on my other blog about the abuses of Charter Rights during the G20 Summit in Toronto by both the police and the Dalton McGuinty Ontario Liberal Government.

In this two-part interview by The Real News with Clayton Ruby, the well-known Toronto lawyer discusses both the legality of what happened on Toronto streets in late June, as well as possible ways to prevent future suspensions of our rights.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

An Article on Critical Thinking

Allan Levine, a history professor from Manitoba, has written an excellent article on critical thinking in today's Globe. An excerpt from the article offers a clear and concise explanation of the concept, and what its goals are:

“Critical thinking is self-guided, self-disciplined thinking which attempts to reason at the highest level of quality in a fair-minded way,” explains Linda Elder, an educational psychologist and president of the Foundation for Critical Thinking. “People who think critically consistently attempt to live rationally, reasonably and empathically. They work diligently to develop the intellectual virtues of intellectual integrity, intellectual humility, intellectual civility, intellectual empathy, intellectual sense of justice and confidence in reason.”

Illustrating its importance by examining the current controversy surrounding the building of a mosque a few blocks from the twin towers' terrorist attack, Levine demonstrates that those lofty goals are well-worth striving for throughout our lives, even if complete attainment eludes us.

Cynicism and Hope

Reading or writing about politics can be an exercise in both cynicism and hope: cynicism because the worst of human nature is often on display in the performance of our elected officials, and hope because of an underlying belief that our democratic system always allows for the possibility of change and improvement.

The following video, although not political, offers an antidote to our cynicism. I hope you will be as encouraged about humanity's potential as I was after viewing it.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Bob Rae's Political Judgement

Having lived in Ontario during Bob Rae's tenure as Premier, I do not regard him with any degree of esteem (a polite understatement). The latest confirmation of the correctness of my opinion came recently when a friend sent me the following email:


It will receive second reading at the next sitting of parliament...

Please read the bill and make your own decision..if you disagree with the bill, please send this to every Canadian of voting age in your address book..

Hopefully by letting your member of parliament know your feelings on the bill, it will be defeated.

If you agree with the bill, you don't need to do anything..

Bill C-428 An Act to Amend the Old Age Security Act (residency requirements)

Bill C-428 will allow recent immigrants to apply for OAS (the CPP) in 3 years instead of the existing 10.

This bill had first reading in the house on June 18, 2009. It was seconded by Bob Rae!! MP Ms. Ruby Dhalla who introduced the bill represents the riding of Brampton whose population is mainly East Indian. Right now you have to have lived in Canada for 10 years in order to qualify for Old Age Security (CPP). She wants the time reduced to 3 years. Thousands could come to Canada when they are 62 years old, never having worked or contributed to this country's tax system etc, and qualify for full Old Age Security (CPP) benefits. 10 years minimum is reasonable. 3 is not!

Look this up - Google C-428 and you will see this bill has only one purpose, to featherbed a select group of people for votes.

I certainly hope this bill does not get passed. It is about time we called our elected MP's to ask them to NOT support this bill. Their response may be one factor in helping us determine who gets elected in the next election.

What Can You Do?

1. Spread the message
to family, friends and email buds.

2. Write letters, send emails to all your list, and call Members of Parliament

It is time Canada looked after it's Vets and long-term citizens before tossing OUR hard-earned money around on people who have no right to this money, never having paid taxes or contributed to our economy. If a family wishes to bring elderly relatives here and are willing to waive their own right to collect these funds in order that the elderly relatives can receive them...fine...otherwise, look after them yourself and do not expect the Canadian taxpayers to do it.

There are too many people abusing the generosity of the Canadian people. We need to stop the madness....NOW!

While I do not agree with the rather inflammatory tone in part of this message, I do think it shows a key Liberal, Mr. Rae, badly out of touch with the sensibilities of many Canadians, especially with regard to their sense of fair play. While it is probably no mystery as to why Ms Dhalla authored the bill, given the bad publicity she weathered about a year ago over her treatment of Phillipino nannies, as well as the fact that her riding houses many immigrants, I find it hard to understand why Mr. Rae would have seconded the bill.

In my view, should Michael Ignatieff ultimately be deposed as Liberal leader, the worst mistake the Party could make would be to select Bob Rae as his successor.

Helping People to Help Themselves

If you have read my other blog, you may know that I am an enthusiastic supporter of and volunteer editor with Kiva, a non-profit microfinance organization dedicated to helping people in various parts of the world help themselves.

The concept of Kiva microfinance is surprisingly simple: by circumventing the often arcane and corrupt machinations of governments and working directly with lending institutions in developing countries, the micro financier reads online the loan request of the entrepreneur, and for as little as a $25 loan, can help that entrepreneur meet his or her loan goal for purposes that can range from buying more chickens for a poultry-raising business to buying more seeds for a farm.

Kiva's motto: Loans that Change Lives, is an accurate description of the possibilities for the incremental improvements in living standards through microfinance.

I hope that you will visit their site.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Criticizing the Harper Government Can be Harmful to Career Prospects

I was going to write a post exploring the casualty list of those whose criticisms of specific Harper Government policies have resulted in dismissals, demotions, or resignations, but the Globe and Mail has already done it this morning in its online Political Notebook.

The latest victim is RCMP Marty Cheliak, whose vigorous support of the long gun registry has earned him much praise and recognition amongst police forces across the country but apparently incurred the ire of Harper, who dearly wants to eliminate it, no doubt another sop to his hardcore constituency. While the Government denies any role in the matter, citing it as an RCMP decision, his removal as head of the Canadian Firearms Program, nine months after his appointment, does not pass the smell test and appears to be part of the growing pattern of intolerance of criticism that Mr. Harper is known for.

The official reason for Cheliak's removal? He is not bilingual. Funny, that didn't seem to be an issue until now.

Message received loud and clear, Mr. Harper.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Heather Mallick

In today's Toronto Star, Heather Mallick has an interesting column pertaining to the McGuinty Government's decision to permit Mixed Martial Arts in Ontario. She raises the question of whether or not all governments' mortal fear of directly raising taxes is justified.

Read it and see what you think.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Dalton McGuinty

In his column in today's Toronto Star, Jim Coyle has an interesting view of Premier McGuinty's decisions to venture into online gambling and permitting Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) in Ontario. While I tend to see the two as cynical moves based on a need to raise provincial revenue regardless of the detrimental effects, Coyle sees them as evidence of progressive and canny leadership, at the same time observing contrasts in both style and substance with Conservative Leader Tim Hudak.

Well worth reading.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

James Travers' Column Today

In his column today, Toronto Star political columnist James Travers insightfully addresses a situation that I have written about a couple of times, the fact that the Federal Liberal Party seems to stand for nothing, judging by its feckless opposition to Stephen Harper's harmful policies. I am taking the liberty of reproducing the entire column, with parts that I have bolded for added emphasis:

Liberals look on as Tories vandalize Canada
by James Travers

OTTAWA—This country has a problem. It has a ruling party that twists the truth and an Official Opposition that can’t, or won’t, straighten it out.

This summer’s oddly hot topic is one example. Gutting the census is nothing less than another Conservative act of public vandalism. Wagging an angry finger is nothing more than another empty Liberal gesture.

Opinion polls reflect that repeating pattern. For more than four years now Canadians have consistently told pollsters they don’t support Conservatives and don’t trust Liberals.

One unlikely way to end that impasse is for Stephen Harper to come clean about what he doesn’t like about Canada and how Conservatives are changing it by stealth and increment. Another is for Michael Ignatieff to screw Liberal courage to the sticking point and declare enough is enough.

Harper owes that explanation. Since taking control of a universally admired country in 2006, the Prime Minister has been altering Canada without a majority mandate or clear statement of ultimate purpose.

Ignatieff has a duty to oppose that strategy. Since replacing Stephane Dion, the Liberal leader has threatened elections and fumed at Conservatives while drawing flexible lines in this capital’s blowing sand.

Harper’s determination and Ignatieff’s vacillation are connected by opportunities seized by Conservatives and missed by Liberals. Without significant resistance or the debate democracy demands, the Prime Minister has consistently advanced policies that are at best controversial and at worst corrosive.

Too often Harper manages to tip-toe dubious schemes past a dozing electorate. While the nation slept, Conservatives grossly abused the budget process with an omnibus bill bulging with unrelated plans to sell the public stake in the atomic energy sector and, even more remarkably, to relax environmental regulations just when the world is reeling from the BP oil spill.

As always, there’s more. There was little discussion of military priorities and less outcry over public safeguards in the sole-sourced contract committing Canada to spend some $16 billion replacing CF-18 fighters. Much was muttered and nothing done to stop Conservatives silencing diverse civil society voices by attacking Montreal’s non-partisan Rights and Democracy and stripping core funding from the umbrella agency has advised federal governments on overseas development for more than forty years.

To Conservative credit, Harper routinely gets the best of a fissured Parliament and an Official Opposition in disarray. The result is a country being forced marched to an unknown destination.

To Liberal shame, serial leaders, with the notable exception of Stephane Dion’s quixotic defence of a carbon tax, have failed to find principled places to stand. In trying every which way to regain power they continue to fall far short of convincing Canadians that a once great party would now gladly risk its hegemony to protect the national interest.

No party or leader willingly commits political suicide. Instead, they lurk in the shadows, weighing odds and waiting for a promising moment to strike. Still, parties risk everything when what’s good for them is seen to be more important than what’s good for the country.

Ignatieff knows that Liberals have taken too long to discard the tattered cloak of Canada’s natural governing party. Liberals are proving equally slow in grasping that an opposition afraid to oppose is an empty vessel voters will fill with blame when the ruling party goes too far.

Conservatives go too far when they trample widely shared Canadian values by twisting truth to fit narrow ideology. Liberals will go nowhere until they are willing to risk something straightening it out.