Monday, December 31, 2007

Privacy in Canada: How are we doing?

Well, the good news is that things could be much worse. But the bad news is that our privacy rights are slipping.

According to the 2007 Privacy International report, Canada's overall rating is summed up by the statement, "Some safeguards but weakened protection". (See the site for a map and summaries for the surveillance status of 46 other countries. Could be worse - we could be the US which received a black rating as an "Endemic surveillance society").

Here's their general breakdown on Canada's status:


* Privacy not mentioned in Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but courts have recognised the right to a reasonable expectation of privacy
* Statutory rules at the federal level (public and private sectors) and provincial laws apply to sectors and governments
* Federal commission is widely recognised as lacking in powers such as order-marking powers, and ability to regulate trans-border data flows
* Variety of provincial privacy commissioners have made privacy-enhancing decisions and taken cases through the courts over the past year (particularly Ontario)
* Court orders required for interception and there is no reasonable alternative method of investigation
* Video surveillance is spreading despite guidelines from privacy commissioners
* Highly controversial no-fly list, lacking legal mandate
* Continues to threaten new policy on online surveillance
* Increased calls for biometric documents to cater for U.S. pressure, while plans are still unclear for biometric passports

We do have one of the highest ratings along with Greece and Romania according to the report's findings, but we obviously still have a lot of room for improvement and we definitely have to maintain the privacy rights that we do have while not allowing our provincial and federal governments to chip away at them as too many conservative governments would like to in the name of the GWOT which they like to claim is for our own good. Revamping the RCMP should also be aimed at protecting our rights considering the horrible way it handled the Maher Arar situation in its attempt to "cooperate" with US intelligence agencies.

From Privacy International's press release:

Both Britain and the United States fell into the lowest-performing group of "endemic surveillance societies."

"The general trend is that privacy is being extinguished in country after country," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International. "Even those countries where we expected ongoing strong privacy protection, like Germany and Canada, are sinking into the mire.

"I'm afraid that Canada has kind of lost the plot a plot a little bit this year and hence its move downwards," Davies told the Canadian Press in comments about Canada.

He cites the C-I-A's accessing the banking records of Canadians through the SWIFT banking information system, the Canadian no-fly list, and the Toronto Transit Commission's installation of security cameras as examples of the erosion of privacy rights.

He also decried the increasing number of programs involving the United States, which he said unfortunately has no federal privacy law.

"What's happening, is that Canadian information, sensitive information, is flowing across the border in increasing volumes," Davies said.

"Frankly, that's the sort of situation where government should put pressure on the U.S. government to protect that information legally," he said, "But it's not doing so."

The report came two days after Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart warned in a release that 2008 will be "another challenging one for privacy in Canada."

"Heightened national security concerns, the growing business appetite for personal information and technological advances are all potent - and growing - threats to privacy rights," Stoddart said.

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.
- Benjamin Franklin


Canada's Privacy Commissioner

Tory database draws ire of privacy experts (comprehensive site with privacy news and info by law professor Michael Geist - definitely worth bookmarking)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sunday Food for Thought: Democracy

"The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment.

- Robert Maynard Hutchins

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Why is Omar Khadr Still in Gitmo?

The answer to that question is painfully simple: Canada's government refuses to do anything to bring him home.

How can Canadians let that stand while these 2 news stories hit the wires today?

Ten Saudi Guantanamo inmates free:

Ten Guantanamo Bay detainees have been freed and returned home to Saudi Arabia, US and Saudi officials say.

The government in Riyadh will mitigate any risk posed by the former detainees with a programme to integrate them into civilian life, the Pentagon says.

Around 275 people remain at the detention centre in Cuba and the Pentagon says another 60 inmates are now eligible for transfer or release.

The US has returned dozens of Saudi former detainees over the past year.

And, Convicted Guantanamo detainee walks free from jail:

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The only Guantanamo Bay inmate convicted of terrorism offences, Australian David Hicks, was released from prison on Saturday morning after spending over six years behind bars, the majority in solitary confinement.

Hicks, 32, returned to Australia from the U.S. military prison on the island of Cuba in May after pleading guilty to terrorism charges. He left prison in his hometown of Adelaide in south Australia.

Wearing a green polo T-shirt and blue jeans, Hicks walked out of Adelaide's maximum security Yatala prison and was immediately driven away to a secret location in a blue sedan, escorted by police.

In a statement read by his lawyer, Hicks asked for privacy and said he would need time to readjust to society.

"I had hoped to be able to speak to the media but I am just not strong enough at the moment, it's as simple as that," Hicks said through his lawyer David McLeod.

Hicks also said he would need to get medical help for "the consequences of five and a half years at Guantanamo Bay".

He added that he would not speak to the media before March 30, 2008, as stipulated under terms of his release from Guantanamo Bay.

And yet, Omar Khadr continues to rot away in the Gitmo gulag while the Conservative government here asserts he is just too dangerous to bring back to Canada - a claim based on what? A conviction? No. Actual proof of his guilt? No. Hysteria, paranoia and fealty to the Bush administration? Absolutely.

Omar Khadr - imprisoned as a child soldier - the first child soldier facing war crimes charges - a fact that the US government has conveniently ignored when it comes to allowing an appropriate defence for the young man:

...when Khadr’s lawyers appear before military judge Peter Brownback, they will not be able to use the fact he was 15 at the time (and by most legal definitions, a child soldier) in his defence. Brownback has already said he will not allow the defence to raise matters of international law at trial.

For example, the United Nations Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Child, which the U.S. ratified in 2002, says that people under 18 who are enlisted or conscripted into armed conflict are not adults and therefore “are entitled to special protection.” But the protocol will not be allowed into evidence. Nor will Khadr’s lawyers be allowed to describe his upbringing in an al-Qaeda family.

Are we going to let the Bush administration get away with assuming that Omar Khadr is a "high value detainee" - that he possesses some vitally important information after all of these years about what al Qaeda is up to today? Does anyone really buy that besides those who have participated in his torture? And, since Bush has repeatedly said (quite half-heartedly and as a result of massive international pressure) that he wants to close Gitmo, where exactly would Khadr be housed if he was actually found guilty and sentenced? And why isn't he being allowed to mount an effective defence? What is Bushco afraid of? That it might actually lose the case?

The legal hoops Bushco has set up for Khadr's lawyers to jump through during this military tribunal process circus are stunning and an insult to international law and human rights. As more time goes by, this case looks more like a classic case of revenge and guilt by association rather than a search for justice. And there's no way Canadians can count on the Bush administration to move one inch to do anything in favour of Khadr but let's get one thing straight: the minority Conservative government in this country is supposed to work for us - not Bushco. Make more noise. Contact your MP. Bother the Foreign Affairs department. Do something.

There is absolutely no reason for Omar Khadr to spend one more day in Gitmo when other countries like Saudi Arabia, Australia, Yemen and the UK have repatriated their detainees.

What, exactly, are we waiting for?


Letter in support of repatriating Khadr from Lawyers Against the War

The Canadian Bar Association's call for Khadr's release

Harper gets heat from U.K. on Khadr; British legal experts take government to task for violating international laws protecting children

Khadr's lawyer ordered not to reveal witnesses for prosecution to his client

Military Judge Dashes Hopes that Guantánamo Detainees Have Rights as Prisoners of War

Jonas v Fisk: Diverging Views on Bhutto's Death

Did you know that Musharraf's declaration of martial law saved Bhutto's life and that the rounding up of lawyers and human rights activists was the right thing to do? That's what the National Post's George Jonas thinks.

The White House has clout, so Bhutto returned in a triumphal procession to Karachi in November. As anyone could have predicted, Islamist extremists pounced almost immediately, raining fire on Bhutto’s parade, killing and maiming hundreds. They were getting ready to kill and maim thousands more, when Musharraf imposed a state of emergency, suspended the constitution, deployed troops and locked up hordes of lawyers and journalists, claiming it was necessary to prevent a takeover by the militants of Islam.

Locking up journalists and lawyers comes naturally to strongman, but Musharraf’s concern about militants wasn’t unwarranted. At present, a democratic Pakistan is likely to be a brief prelude to the long, dark night of a Taliban-style tyranny. Bhutto, as it turned out, lived only as long as Musharraf’s emergency measures lasted. When he lifted them under renewed American pressure, she died.

The Independent's Robert Fisk commented today on the "childish coverage" of Bhutto's death and Jonas' simplistic screed is a prime example of that reality.

Not only does Jonas let Mush off the hook, he then goes on to blame liberals for this push towards democracy in other countries. I guess he's never read the neocon PNAC credo.

Pressuring Pakistan to act out America’s fascination with democracy is minimally naïve. So is forcing Musharraf, who perches precariously at the edge of a precipice, to audition for a speaking part in a psychodrama called “elections” that Western liberals believe is therapeutically efficacious against every conceivable malady in the body politic.

I didn't know George W Bush, the mouthpiece for the west's democracy crusade was a "Western liberal". Did you?

Jonas seems convinced that countries over there just aren't suited to a democratic style of government - that they're 'allergic' to it, as his metaphor goes. He's right only up to a point: democracy isn't a system that should be forced on any country, which you'd think the American empire would have learned by know. It does not then logically follow that countries that are currently undemocratic can't ever find a way to make the system work for them. "Childish coverage", indeed.

Stick to Fisk if you want a realistic view of what's going on in the world and in Pakistan at this moment. When it comes to who's really responsible for Bhutto's death, no matter which theory is used to explain it, Fisk nails it:

So let's run through this logic in the way that Inspector Ian Blair might have done in his policeman's notebook before he became the top cop in London.

Question: Who forced Benazir Bhutto to stay in London and tried to prevent her return to Pakistan? Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who ordered the arrest of thousands of Benazir's supporters this month? Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who placed Benazir under temporary house arrest this month? Answer: General Musharraf.

Question: Who declared martial law this month? Answer General Musharraf.

Question: who killed Benazir Bhutto?

Er. Yes. Well quite.

You see the problem? Yesterday, our television warriors informed us the PPP members shouting that Musharraf was a "murderer" were complaining he had not provided sufficient security for Benazir. Wrong. They were shouting this because they believe he killed her.

According to Jonas, if only Musharraf had kept Bhutto under house arrest in a state of martial law, she'd still be alive today. Only a fool would make Musharraf out to be a hero in this situation.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Bush Declares a Global War on Sunroofs

Pakistan's Interior minister is now claiming that Benazir Bhutto did not die from gunshot wounds. Instead, he says her death was the result of banging her head on the car's sunroof when she tried to duck back into the car after shots were fired. The fact that no autopsy was done seemed to bolster his revelation.

International reaction to this news so far can be summed up as 'Yeah. Right.'

Bush, always on the ball when it comes to rooting out terrorist elements and tactics, (bin Laden who?), immediately declared a Global War on Sunroofs (GWOS). And, with that, he went back to the never-ending job of clearing brush at his Crawford ranch - confident knowing that he had saved America and the world from evil sunroofs everywhere.

Do you know what your sunroof is really planning for you?


How did Pakistan's Bhutto die? (There have been 3 different explanations thus far.)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto's Assassination: The US Political Sideshow

If there's one phrase that exemplifies US politics, it is this: crass opportunism.

While Bhutto's body wasn't even cold on Thursday, presidential candidates from both of the major parties stood over her corpse like vultures ready to feast on the recent kill; birds of prey who would use the reality of her death to pump up their own foreign policy credentials (as if they all actually have any) while making the case against their opponents whom they tried to push aside as they craved more blood and glory.

Crass opportunism at its absolute worst.

Need some examples?

Here's one - after predictably working 9/11 into his commentary on the news of Bhutto's assassination in the immediate aftermath earlier in the day, Giuliani (no doubt corrected by his handlers - certainly not by his conscience) had this to say on Larry King Live while Blitzer was filling in as the guest host.

We'll start off with this tidbit of cluelessness:

BLITZER: ...I want to bring in the Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani right now. He's the former mayor of New York.

Did you ever meet her, by the way, mayor, Benazir Bhutto, over the years?

RUDY GIULIANI (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't believe so, Wolf. I know quite a bit about her, but I don't believe I've met her.

Either you met her or you didn't, Rudy. Yes or no. Sheesh.

BLITZER: John McCain was trying to make the point that you need a president of the United States with extensive national security and foreign policy experience. He said today: "My theme has been, throughout this campaign, that I am the one with the experience, the knowledge and the judgment. So perhaps it may serve to enhance those credentials, to make people understand that I've been to Pakistan, I know Musharraf, can pick up the phone and call him. I know Benazir Bhutto.

What do you say to that argument he's now making that the American people should trust him...


BLITZER: deal with national security?

GIULIANI: I would say that each of us has our own different kinds of experience. I've had foreign policy experience negotiating with governments when I was in the Justice Department. I was mayor of a city that required a significant amount of crisis management and problem solving, where foreign policy issues are something you had to be familiar with. And then over the last five or six years, I've been on 90 plus foreign trips in 34 or 35 different countries. So I believe I have a full range of experience.

But I don't think tonight is the night to be making a political point on my behalf or somebody else's behalf. Tonight is the night to offer our sympathy and support to the people of Pakistan, to the Bhutto family and to work internally in a very, very careful and measured way -- without a lot of political arguments being made on the outside -- to make sure that we help to achieve stability in Pakistan, get them back to that as quickly as possible, and then get them on a track to democracy, again, as quickly as we can, consistent with a stable Pakistan.

I think that, you know, getting it involved in a presidential campaign obviously -- it's -- questions should be asked about it, but you don't want to make too much of a political point out of this. This is a national security issue for them and it has implications for us, as well, since there's this challenge of Islamic terrorism that has us all kind of united here in understanding that we have to deal with it.

See how he snuck in his foreign policy experience along with a vague reference to 9/11 and then made the point that it shouldn't be the issue while her body is still warm, going on to highlight how it actually is an issue?

Crass opportunism.

And he certainly wasn't the only one. Both CNN and MSNBC were quick on the draw within hours of the news of the assassination to present coverage of the presidential candidates' reactions: Hillary's memories of her personal relationship with Bhutto, Obama's dry statement of standard condolences, Biden appearing on both channels saying 'I told you so' since he has been in the forefront pushing for tougher action on Musharraf.

Check out this headline (more crass opportunism) from the Washington Post: 'Clinton, Obama Seize on Killing'.

As if the Republicans acted any differently. Romney used the standard talking point with a mistake and a condemnation of guilt that he then immediately rescinded. Via MSNBC:

"This points out again the extraordinary reality of global violent radical jihadism. We don't know who is responsible for this attack but there is no question that the violence we see throughout the world is violence which is not limited to Iran, excuse me, Iraq, and Afghanistan -- but is more global in nature."

Iran? Whoops. Wrong warmongering point there, Mitt. Note how he blames it on GVRJ (global violent radical jihadism) and then admits he has no idea who killed her. That doesn't seem to matter though. Despite the fact that Musharraf had a lot to gain from Bhutto's death as well (and Bhutto held him responsible, regardless of who actually pulled the trigger*), it's the bogeyman "jihadists" who were immediately judged guilty as soon as the news was announced. The FBI and so-called Homeland Security Department were quick to say they received a claim of responsibility from al Qaeda - a very unreliable one though, but who cares, really? Right? And, of course, the thread running through all of the candidates' reactions was the supposition that only the US can save the world - once again.

Well let's get real here:

1. Bush has backed Musharraf to the tune of billions of dollars since 9/11 after which Richard Armitage threatened to bomb Pakistan back to the stone age if Mush didn't cooperate in the GWOT. And how has that worked out? Hint: He signed an agreement with the insurgents in Waziristan to take the pressure off of them so they could keep supplying fresh bodies for the Afghanistan war.

2. Bush and all of his preciously tough Republicans dropped the ball on Afghanistan after they dropped tons of bombs there to pursue his misadventure in Iraq. As a result, NATO has been left to clean up the mess. And how has that worked out? Hint: there isn't one week that goes by without NATO begging for more troops while the situation stagnates in the hands of the warlords and the corrupt Afghanistan government. Did I mention the countless number of civilians who have died as a result - not to mention the troops?

3. Bushco then came up with a secret deal with Bhutto to bring her back to Pakistan - setting her up as a sacrificial lamb.

4. Mush 'cooperates' by declaring martial law and rounding up all of the lawyers and human rights activists who he claimed were the real threat to so-called democracy in Pakistan.

Robin Wright in WaPo confirms what those of us who have been following Bhutto's return knew all along:

For Benazir Bhutto, the decision to return to Pakistan was sealed during a telephone call from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just a week before Bhutto flew home in October. The call culminated more than a year of secret diplomacy -- and came only when it became clear that the heir to Pakistan's most powerful political dynasty was the only one who could bail out Washington's key ally in the battle against terrorism.

Condi - worst.US.secretary.of.state.ever. Her faint efforts at 'diplomacy' (in between her shoe-shopping trips and photo ops) have left a trail of murder and mayhem throughout Asia and the Middle East. No doubt, she will be given a Presidential Medal of Freedom for the heckuva job she's done on the neocons' behalf. Her modus operandi has simply been to let them all kill each other so they can sort things out later - somehow - while the US government swoops in for the spoils. That is the American Way™.

Meanwhile, cable news commentators were tripping all over each other on Thursday to proclaim that news of Bhutto's assassination will now make the GWOT the number one issue in the US election again. I doubt it. This event is just another blip on the American news scene that will soon be overshadowed by whatever the networks pick up on next. According to the most recent polls, Americans are more concerned about domestic issues now like the economy and health care and the Iraq war has dropped off as the main bone of contention in the country - mainly because the meme that the so-called surge is working has medicated the maddened masses. Conveniently calmed by the "there hasn't been another 9/11" mantra, terrorism against America has become a miserable memory (unless you're one of the many radical right pants-wetters like Michelle Malkin and her ilk who think Islamic terrorists are behind absolutely every bad thing that happens.)

Through all of the Bush years, it seems the American public has kept as much distance as possible from the fact that its country is involved in 2 major wars - only getting really upset when it seemed that military glory was not to be found in Iraq. There appears to be a limit on the amount of outrage that can be sustained by a people whose country has been completely fucked over by an administration that continually violates the constitution and breaks laws with impunity enabled by a congress - whether Republican or Democratic - that does absolutely nothing to punish the boy king and his dangerous, cunning jesters. That outrage died earlier this year. It shouldn't be allowed to RIP.

It is truly unfortunate that it's taken Bhutto's murder to once again shine a light on the situation in Afghanistan. But you certainly can't take it for granted that the US government will actually do anything about it - not those in power now or those who are running to lead the next government. Both parties are too busy balancing their interests (ie. warmongering lobbyists) with their political ambitions and fortunes. In the meantime, those who might actually provide a different plan of action are considered too 'fringe' to take seriously - the Ron Pauls (not that I'm endorsing his platform) and Dennis Kuciniches of the world. No. Just stick with the status quo. That, as well, is the American Way™.

Pakistan continues to exist in turmoil. Bush-backed Musharraf still rules with impunity. al Quaeda remains protected. bin Laden is a faint memory. More people will die in Afghanistan in an unwinnable war. But hey, why miss an opportunity to tout yourself as the next US superhero who can spread American-style democracy around the world?

Crass opportunism. It might win elections, but it doesn't win any peace - for anyone. It's all a very deadly, staged sideshow and it's not about 'democracy'. It's about power.


* Musharraf failed to protect me: Bhutto in e-mail

Justin Raimondo: Election '08: The Collapse of the 'Frontrunners'

The Nation: Another Death in Rawalpindi

Bhutto Assassinated

Benazir Bhutto, courted by the Bush administration to bring democracy back to Pakistan, was murdered this morning by a gunman who shot her twice and then blew himself up, killing 20 more people.

The Independent reports: "Suspicion for the blast fell on resurgent Islamic militants linked to al Qaida and the Taliban who hated Bhutto for her close ties to the US and her support for the war on terror."

No one has claimed responsibility at this point and the fate of the January elections is now up in the air.

Bhutto's return to Pakistan was not without controversy since she had left the country having been convicted of corruption charges (which were dropped by Musharraf this past October) only to return with the encouragement of Bushco to help deal with Musharraf's failures.


In September, Bhutto penned a piece that appeared on the Huffington Post site: "Why I'm Returning to Pakistan", selling herself as Pakistan's great hope for the future and ending with "I didn't choose this life. It chose me."

The Guardian offers a chronology of her political life.

Coverage from The Pak Tribune, The BBC and Pakistani Bloggers.

The WaPo has Bush's reaction (text and video).

The initial financial impact: U.S. stocks fall sharply, unsettled by Bhutto death; Dow falls more than 100 points amid thin trading, heightened geopolitical risk while Loonie up after oil rises following Bhutto killing in Pakistan.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Obligatory Xmas Tunes

The fun -

The feline -

And the sobering -

All the best to all of you!

(And, next year, I will start the crochet projects in July.) (right, sure, uh huh)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Stuffmas Countdown

Yes, I'm still alive.

Busy (still) unpacking, getting organized (it never ends) and doing some top secret (tasteful, not tacky) crocheting and knitting projects for my 3 grandherbs - 12, almost 2 and 2 months.

Only one trip to the mall so far (thankfully) but I'm in no shape to fight the hordes of crazed shoppers anyway because of these (damn) sore hips I have right now (weather + fibromyalgia = agony). One of my avid readers, who has become a close friend, reminds me that last year at this time I could barely walk because of pain in my ankles. I did survive though, despite the Painapalooza last year and the crochet catastrophe and this year's baking extravaganza (such as it is) isn't scheduled until next week.

Stuffmas™: I'm a buddhist. I do all of this stuff for the grandherbs and others I care about. I did note, with some disgust (and probably because I was tired and cranky at the time), that when I did go to the mall there was an enormous amount of crap - cheap crap. Is that where the wise men (if there really were wise men) would have shopped? I.think.not. And it seems to get worse out there every year (or maybe I'm just old, tired and cranky now).

So, here's the deal: make something for someone for Stuffmas™ - even if you only have 5 minutes. Fight the commercialism and the crap. Be unique. Show some heart. Give something to someone you don't know. Find a place to help out. Anything to take xmas back from the tentacles of the major corporations and their craptacular offspring.

And, if you're one of the millions of people who think you can't afford a so-called 'decent' xmas, please read this. You can make the holiday much, much more than 'decent'. If you do it for others, that will be your gift to yourself.

Me? I'm just glad I can still manage to get these projects done, despite the pain and grumbling, and that my grandherbs will appreciate that granny catnip gave them something special. No matter how big or small, how much or how little, I know they'll smile when they open their gifts (of course, the little one may smile just because he has gas, but you never know).

Unfortunately, I won't be spending xmas with my daughter's family this year but there's a family in the house I'm living in so it can be my surrogate for the day. I may also volunteer somewhere if I'm feeling up to it. I worked with the homeless for years and wouldn't mind spending a few hours on xmas day serving food or doing something to make their lives a little brighter. They sure need it.

I'll try to get back on track with the actual political blogging sometime soon. Thanks to those who contacted me to find out how I'm doing. That's definitely appreciated.