Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Write Your Own Caption

CP: 'Harper pays peanuts for personal use of government jet'

OTTAWA (CP) - Documents show that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are paying only a fraction of the cost of using the government's Challenger jets for partisan and personal junkets.

Invoices obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show that the Defence Department billed the Tories for three flights last year. The first flight cost a hefty $2,100 per hour of flying time.

But on the two subsequent flights, the Tories decided they would only pay the equivalent of commercial airfares, which don't even come close to covering the $9,000-an-hour cost of operating the Challenger.

One of those flights was for Harper and his entourage to attend a Maple Leafs game in Toronto.

The use of the military executive jets was a big issue for the Conservatives when they were in opposition.

The Tories, including Harper, accused the Liberals of blowing $11,000 an hour flying around the country in "flying limousines" for partisan purposes.

Oh, the irony.

I'm sure the "new government" of "accountability" will get right on top of paying its proper dues, right?

Not bloody likely.

It looks like Defence Minister O'Connor wasn't quite as forthcoming as he should have been back in October, 2006 in parliament:

Hon. Navdeep Bains (Mississauga—Brampton South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the minority Conservative government's obsession with secrecy and silencing public servants has spread to National Defence.

When asked by journalists to provide information on the Prime Minister's partisan political use of Canadian government jets, defence department officials were ordered by the powers to be to hide the true cost of the trip.

Why is the government muzzling defence department officials? Was the minister ordered by the PMO to participate in this Challenger cover-up?

Hon. Gordon O'Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, there has been no political interference at all within the practices of DND, which were originally set by the Liberal Party. We are following precisely the rules set by the previous administration.

Hon. Navdeep Bains (Mississauga—Brampton South, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, information previously available through access to information is now regularly blacked out, just like the names on these flights. Derek Burney's name was scrubbed from the Stealth flight to Washington. The names of the Conservatives who took joyrides to Halifax and went to hockey games with the Prime Minister are gone.

Last year the Conservatives said it cost $11,000 per hour to operate these flying limousines. Now they only claim 10%. Why will the government not release the passenger list? Will the Conservative Party settle its outstanding bills?

Hon. Gordon O'Connor (Minister of National Defence, CPC): Mr. Speaker, as I said, we are following the practice of the previous government. We have paid for any flights that were not on official government business. I want to point out that the previous government was using Challenger jets at twice the rate that this government is.

Those payments, however, were "peanuts" as we now see.

Lock your doors! Bar your windows!

According to MP Rahim Jaffer on CBC's Politics show, as of midnite tonite Canadians will be less safe now that the two provisions of the Anti-terrorism Act were struck down in parliament on Tuesday.

(Just ignore the fact that they were never used. That's not the point. Hide your puppies too. al Qaeda doesn't like puppies, so I've heard.)

Jaffer: ...It's clear that after last nite's vote in the house there's only one party that takes security seriously...blah blah blah

[insert more tory whining here]

Newman: But just so I understand, as of now because at midnite these things expire and won't be used obviously between now and midnite, Canadians will be less secure than they were before. Is that right - is that your position?

Jaffer: That's right. Well exactly, because you know the two provisions. It does limit the police to actually be preventative when it comes to potential problems.

Leahy: DHS and DoJ Are Stonewalling Arar Investigators

Via the Canadian Press:

WASHINGTON (CP) - U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy says U.S. investigators are getting stonewalled in internal reviews of the case of Canadian engineer Maher Arar.

In letters to the independent investigative arms of the Homeland Security and Justice departments, Leahy says he wants to know the status of any probes.

And he notes that a former Homeland official reported delays and obstruction in July 2004 in obtaining documents and interviewing officials about Arar.

Leahy, chair of the Senate judiciary committee and ranking Republican Arlen Specter also want the U.S. Government Accountability Office to conduct an inquiry into whether people like Arar can effectively challenge their presence on terrorist watch lists.

Leahy and Specter have been briefed by Justice officials on Arar this month but have complained they still have a lot more questions.

And who can forget Leahy's smackdown of Gonzales in January?

When Leahy was given that briefing in early February some commenters here and elsewhere thought Leahy had somehow caved to the Justice Department and falsely concluded that Leahy might have been convinced that Gonzales et al had some incriminating evidence about Mr Arar - assertions they were unable to prove, of course.

As I said in a previous post, this is far from being over. Meanwhile, our Conservative government has pulled back from applying pressure on the US government with MacKay simply agreeing to disagree with his US counterparts (ie. Condi) about the fact that Mr Arar is still on the US no-fly list. Mr Arar deserves much more than that from the Canadian government. If it wasn't for Leahy, joined by Republican senator Specter, this case would simply disappear into the ether.

Related: Leahy/Specter press release

Name That Senior Administration Official

The White House has posted a briefing on its site titled 'Interview of a Senior Administration Official by the Traveling Press'. Let's play Name that senior administration official just for fun.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:...Let me just make one editorial comment here. I've seen some press reporting says, "Cheney went in to beat up on them, threaten them." That's not the way I work. I don't know who writes that, or maybe somebody gets it from some source who doesn't know what I'm doing, or isn't involved in it. But the idea that I'd go in and threaten someone is an invalid misreading of the way I do business.

I would describe my sessions both in Pakistan and Afghanistan as very productive.

Cheney: he who shall not be named...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Fog of War in Ramadi

Lost in the background of the story about Cheney being targeted by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan on Tuesday was a reported bombing in Ramadi that killed 18 children. But I soon found, as did Robert Fisk of the Independent, that the US military issued an odd statement:

Well, as usual, nothing is as it seems in Iraq. Within hours of the mass deaths in Ramadi yesterday came a disturbing statement by the US military. They knew of no deaths in Ramadi, although - and here was the sinister part of the whole thing - it was true, the Americans said, that 30 people had been "slightly wounded" in Ramadi when US troops set off a "controlled explosion" near a football field. "I can't imagine there would be another attack involving children without our people knowing," an American officer announced. Quite so.

Then he apparently half-acknowledged that there was another explosion near the soccer field, a "barbaric crime" by al-Qa'ida. The police said it was a car bomb. The American-funded Iraqi television service said it was a roadside bomb. A local tribal leader said that of the 18 dead, six were women - not, presumably, football players.

As Fisk notes, it's almost impossible to get accurate news from the Ramadi area:

But exactly what happened in Ramadi remained suspiciously unclear. The football stadium where the 18 youths were reported to have been killed was near a US base. But there are no American troops on the campus at Mustansiriya. There was talk yesterday that a local Sunni imam in Ramadi had denounced al-Qa'ida - which operates in loose co-operation with Sunni insurgent groups - and that this might have prompted a revenge attack by the organisation.

But such is the level of violence and anarchy in Iraq today that all such events are filtered through pro-American Iraqi security officials or through the US army or through insurgents' websites. Insurgents' victims are claimed to have been killed by the Americans, civilians killed by US troops are said to have been murdered by insurgents. Who knows if that did not happen in Ramadi? In fear of their lives, Western journalists can no longer investigate these atrocities. The Americans like it that way. So, one suspects, do the insurgents. Accurate information in Iraq is like water in the desert: precious, rare, often polluted.

Ramadi is a no-go area for every Westerner, including most US troops.

So here we are, left to sort out yet another atrocity with no immediate way to determine what happened or who is responsible.

This war has been ugly in so many ways but, when we can't even determine who is killing children anymore - even in such close proximity to the US military presence - what are we left with?

The Anti-Terrorism Act Vote Results

The debate has been had, the "soft on terrorism" smears have been flung and now parliament must decide whether or not to renew the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism Act that were subject to sunset clauses - unlikely considering the lack of support in the opposition parties. I'll post the results when they come in.

What's at stake

Of the two clauses that are at the heart of the debate, one allows police to arrest suspects without a warrant and detain them for three days without charges if police believe a terrorist act may be committed.

The other would allow a judge to compel a witness to testify in secret about past associations or perhaps pending acts under penalty of going to jail if the witness doesn't comply.

Neither clause has been used by police or prosecutors in the five years the act has been enforced but, in October, a parliamentary committee recommended extending the two provisions for another five years. they say...


All of the Conservatives voted yea, as expected. When the nay votes were being recorded the tories just couldn't restrain themselves from heckling loudly. So much for decorum in the house once again.

Yeas - 124
Nays - 159

Irwin Cotler abstained. Bill Graham and Ujahl Dosanjh were absent due to illness.

Dirty, Ugly, Nasty Politics

By the time election 2006 came around, the Canadian public was absolutely fed up with the lack of proper decorum in the house of commons. The Conservative government promised change:

Bringing Accountability Back to Government

No aspect of responsible government is more fundamental than having the trust of citizens. Canadians' faith in the institutions and practices of government has been eroded. This new government trusts in the Canadian people, and its goal is that Canadians will once again trust in their government. It is time for accountability.

Hollow words.

Just this past week, the prime minister had no qualms about trying to smear a Liberal MP, a Conservative MP was railing in public about "extremist" elements in the Liberal party, and the public safety minister was caught using his taxpayer-funded website to state that the Liberals are "soft on terrorism".

Where's the "accountability" for that behaviour?

All of these incidents surround the current debate about anti-terrorism measures as they relate to the Air India bombing inquiry and the two provisions of Canada's anti-terrorism law that are set to expire soon. What better way for this tory government to try to score points than by using a page from the Republicans' playbook which dictates the use of emotional fearmongering and shady tactics to bludgeon opponents and the public into submission? This tory government has learned that lesson well. The only problem they have is that they're in a minority government situation which, thankfully, does not give them the power they need to set their agenda in stone.

The more they fight back with these dirty tactics, however, the more ammo the opposition parties have to use against them and that will all come out during the next election. You don't need to be a political junkie in this country to know that the tories have been acting like pompous thugs and all Canadians should be demanding better behaviour since this government has refused to honour its promise to bring decorum back to our national political scene.

This is just dirty, ugly, nasty politics at its worst. We deserve better than that. They need to be held accountable.

Related: The vote on the Anti-terrorist Act is due to happen at approximately 5:45 pm ET. You can catch it live on CPAC. The Globe and Mail has more.

Blast in Afghanistan; Cheney Unhurt

Via the IHT:

KABUL, Afghanistan: An explosion outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan killed at least two people and wounded 12 on Tuesday during a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, though the vice president was apparently not in danger, officials said.

The blast happened near the first security gate outside the base at Bagram, killing two people and wounding 12, said Kabir Ahmad, the district chief of the Bagram region.

Maj. William Mitchell said it did not appear the explosion was intended as a threat to the vice president, who was "safely inside the base" during the blast.
Cheney, who spent the night at Bagram, ate breakfast with U.S. soldiers Tuesday morning, Mitchell said. He was expected to later meet with President Hamid Karzai after their meeting was scrapped on Monday because of bad weather that prevented him traveling to Kabul.

Makes you wonder, with all of the corruption in the Afghanistan government, if someone leaked Cheney's presence at the base (which is huge, btw) to whoever set off the blast.

Update: Apparently, the IHT has decided to update the article I linked to above with new information:

BAGRAM, Afghanistan: An explosion outside the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan killed 19 people and wounded 11 on Tuesday during a visit by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, though the vice president was apparently not in danger, U.S. and Afghan officials said.

The blast happened near the first security gate outside the base at Bagram, killing 19 people, said Khoja Mohammad Qasim Sayedi, chief of the province's public health department. Gov. Abdul Jabar Taqwa said "18 to 20 dead bodies" lay on the ground after the blast.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Action Alert: Help a Canadian Boy in US Detention

The Situation: As the result of an unforeseen set of circumstances, a 9 year old Canadian boy and his Iranian parents are being held at the T. Don Hutto Residential Center in Taylor, Texas. The living conditions at the facility resemble those of a prison yet those detained there have no criminal records and are simply asylum seekers. The American Civil Liberties Union is considering a lawsuit for possible human rights violations and several humanitarian groups have been protesting the facility's conditions since it opened in 2006.

The Women's Commission For Refugee Women and Children recently released its report (.pdf file) on the conditions at the Hutto facility. Here is a summary of some of their findings:

• Hutto is a former criminal facility that still looks and feels like a prison, complete with razor wire and prison cells.
• Some families with young children have been detained in these facilities for up to two years.
• The majority of children detained in these facilities appeared to be under the age of 12.
• At night, children as young as six were separated from their parents.
• Separation and threats of separation were used as disciplinary tools.
• People in detention displayed widespread and obvious psychological trauma. Every woman we spoke with in a private setting cried.
• At Hutto pregnant women received inadequate prenatal care.
• Children detained at Hutto received one hour of schooling per day.
• Families in Hutto received no more than twenty minutes to go through the cafeteria line and feed their children and themselves. Children were frequently sick from the food and losing weight.
• Families in Hutto received extremely limited indoor and outdoor recreation time and children did not have any soft toys.

Background: The details surrounding how this particular family ended up in the Hutto detention ceneter are as follows, in the words of the father (using the pseudonym Majid), in an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! on Friday, February 23, 2007. Goodman also spoke to the child, "Kevin".

AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to be clear, you were never planning to end up in the United States, is that right? You were flying to Canada, but another passenger on the plane had a heart attack, and so you guys had a forced landing in Puerto Rico, and when you had to come out of the plane, while he was taken off the plane, that's when they took you?

MAJID: Yes. This happened, yes -- was a Canadian Zoom Airline, and our ticket was direct from Guyana to Toronto. And this happened. They hold us -- my son is Canadian -- hold child is nine-and-a-half years old, and they put us in detention in Puerto Rico. And from Monday to Friday, I was in the jail in Puerto Rico between criminal people, and my wife and son was other place. We had no news from each other from Monday morning until Friday at noon, until we see each other in a Puerto Rico airport. After that, they brought us here to Hutto Detention Center, and here we are in same part, but different room. My wife and my son is room, but it’s totally inside the room, uncovered toilet. My son has asthma, and he’s very bad and still comes here. It’s very horrible here. And we are in very bad situation. We need help. We need the people help me --

JUAN GONZALEZ: Majid, in other words, basically, what reason did they give you for holding you if you never intended to enter the United States at all? What reason did they give for locking you up?

MAJID: Because they said, “You have an American visa?” That's why you have to stay here. Just plane was waiting one hour for us, but they didn't let us pass. A few officers came. They said Immigration officers -- six, seven -- they said, “We’re going to send you, but let us make decision.” After that, they called the police chief. He came there. He said, “Let me think five minutes.” After five minutes, he came, he said, “I’m going to send you to Canada, but I’m afraid to lose my job. But usually we have to send with your plane, but we keep you here. America is much better than Canada. Here you have safer place. We send you to hotel, and after a few days, you're going to be free.” But they broke their promise. That's why they keep us here, and we have very bad situation here.

According to this Toronto Star article, this is why the family fled from Iran:

The parents, who have no status in Canada, asked that their names not be published out of fear of eventually being returned to Iran, where they say they were previously imprisoned and suffered physical and sexual abuse.

The family's complicated journey began after the couple fled Iran and arrived in Toronto in January 1995. They lived here for 10 years while seeking asylum, giving birth to a son. But on Dec. 6, 2005, with all legal avenues exhausted, the parents were deported back to Iran.

The boy's father claimed he had been originally persecuted in Iran after he was discovered with novelist Salman Rushdie's book. Once they were sent back there from Canada, they were detained and tortured for three months while the boy lived with relatives. Once released from custody, they again fled, reaching Turkey with the help of relatives. They bought fake passports and eventually travelled to Guyana, the parents said.

So, now they are stuck in detention limbo with no chance of their case being resolved any time soon.

Proposed Actions: At this time, people working behind the scenes are coordinating a media campaign, so our request right now is that you don't contact the media on their behalf. Let's leave that to those who have the connections and resources to do so effectively.

What we're calling for now is for Americans and Canadians to contact their government representatives to express support for this family; to demand that their case be handled as quickly as possible; to bring to light the inappropriate conditions at the Hutto facility and others like it on behalf of all families currently detained; to express concerns about their human rights while imploring our politicians to act immediately.

At this point, it is not clear if the family will be able to seek asylum in the United States or Canada. That's up to the lawyers to figure out. We can certainly have an impact with our elected representatives in the meantime. They all need to be made aware of this situation and they also need to know that we will be watching them closely to gauge their reactions or lack thereof.

It's important to note that many elected officials simply choose to ignore e-mails or take a long time to actually respond to them. Snail mail letters, phone calls and faxes seem to get their attention much more quickly.

American contacts: You can find a guide to contact your representatives here.

Canadian contacts: This is a directory of Canadian government contacts.

Non-governmental organizations:
Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch

The ACLU and Amnesty International Canada are aware of this case. Please support their efforts. We don't know if UNICEF or HRW are on the case yet but there are several agencies in Texas and the United States that are attempting to bring more attention to these cases as well. You can find them by searching for the facility's name: "T. Don Hutto Residential Center", which will also inform you about the number of protests made against the center since it opened.

Annamarie and I will post updates on our blogs as they become available.

Annamarie's blog: Verbena-19
My blog: liberal catnip

Please spread the word throughout the blogosphere and in your offline communities. These detainees need your help.

Feel free to copy this action alert in its entirety to post on your site.

Thank you.

- Annamarie and catnip

Update: 27.02.07 The Globe and Mail has picked up this story. (h/t The Next Agenda)


New Evidence of Iranian Weapons in Iraq? Not Exactly.

The New York Times headline says this: 'U.S. Says Raid in Iraq Supports Claim on Iran' but, once again, the fine print reveals the details:

Major Weber said the use of precision copper discs combined with passive infrared sensors amounted to “a no-brainer” that the explosive components were of Iranian origin, because no one has used that sort of configuration except Iranian-backed Shiite militias.

Could copper discs be manufactured with the required precision in Iraq? “You can never be certain,” Major Weber said. But he said that “having studied all these groups, I’ve only seen E.F.P.’s used in two areas of the world: The Levant and here,” meaning in Hezbollah areas of Lebanon and in Iraq. Hezbollah is thought to be armed and trained by Iran.

If, as the article states, US officials believe the weapons cache found in Hilla amounts to the "best evidence yet", they still don't have much to stand on, do they?

Just how much more of this propaganda will we have to put up with while the Bush administration tries so desperately to make a case for Iranian government involvement in Iraq so it can justify an attack on that country?

Maybe the US military should just focus on fighting the damn war in Iraq instead of producing these dog and pony weapons shows for the media.

Public Safety Website: Opposition Parties "soft on terrorism"

An interesting question came up during question period on Monday asking why the government's Public Safety website is being used for Tory propaganda against the opposition parties.

Here's the page in question:

OTTAWA, February 23, 2007— Minister of Public Safety, Stockwell Day, issued the following statement on the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision regarding the constitutionality of the security certificate process as set out in the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA).

“We have just received the Supreme Court’s decision. We are reviewing it carefully.

The Government intends to respond in a timely and decisive fashion to address the Court’s decision. The Court has given the Government one year to address the concerns it has raised with respect to the process for hearing confidential information. In the interim, the security certificate process remains in place.

The security certificate process has been in place since 1978 to protect Canadians against threats to their safety and security.

At a time when the Opposition Parties are being soft on security and soft on terrorism, Canada’s New Government remains unwavering in its determination to safeguard national security and is committed to working with all its partners to protect the safety and security of Canadians.”

Harper responded by basically saying they'd change the website but...blah blah blah blah...

Stockwell Day said the news release contained a "direct quote" that he made. No big deal then, right? Wrong. It's his department's site owned by all Canadians and he's responsible for what it contains.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Sunday Food for Thought: Peace

We will not build a peaceful world by following a negative path. It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but on the positive affirmation of peace. We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody, that is far superior to the discords of war. Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity's creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race. If we have a will - and determination - to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.

-Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968)

If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.

- Lao Tzu (570-490 B.C.)

Peace is not an abstract ideological concept. We all know it when we experience it. Those who marginalize others who believe there can be peace in the world only marginalize themselves by denying the reality and effects of their own peaceful experiences.

Sy Hersh on Bushco's Covert Iran War Plans

Sy Hersh has a new article in the New Yorker, The Redirection, which provides an in depth examination of the Bush administration's war planning for a conflict with Iran and its deepening relationship with the Saudi monarchy in order to influence events in the region which could well explode into an all out Sunni/Shi'a civil war beyond the borders of Iraq.

In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The “redirection,” as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran.
Some of the core tactics of the redirection are not public, however. The clandestine operations have been kept secret, in some cases, by leaving the execution or the funding to the Saudis, or by finding other ways to work around the normal congressional appropriations process, current and former officials close to the Administration said.

That reality was highlighted by Hersh in a Sunday interview with Wolf Blitzer. Think Progress has the video.

Hersh summed up his scoop in stark terms: “We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11.”

Central to those funding operations are Cheney and Negroponte - the usual suspects one would assume would be a part of such covert activities. See: Iran Contra for which Cheney was a Reagan White House apologist.

Hersh has certainly done his homework to connect all of the dots and the intricacies of what's been happening behind the scenes ought to be of interest to anyone concerned not only with a pending war against Iran but also with the growing instability in the region. The Bush administration has started fires that it doesn't know how to put out and it looks like millions of people will end up paying the price for its interference once again.

These are dangerous men making dangerous deals.

Will this be enough for the Democrats to pursue impeachment now? If not, what the hell are they waiting for?

Canada's Tax Auditors Treat Corporations with Kid Gloves

Don't just take my word for it. That's the conclusion of an audit of the Canada Revenue agency:

OTTAWA (CP) - Federal tax auditors are reluctant about ordering Canada's largest corporations to turn over key financial records because they don't want to damage relations, says a new audit.

Damage relations? If corporations owe tax money, it seems they ought to pay up just like everybody else. Who cares if those relationships are damaged? There's a pesky thing called "the law" that applies here.

And that kid-glove approach is adding to the massive backlog in a program that roots out $1.4 billion in unpaid corporate taxes each year.

The finding is highlighted in a report about how effectively the Canada Revenue Agency manages a $51-million program that focuses on the country's biggest businesses, those with annual revenues of more than $250 million.

The agency dedicates more than 600 auditors to the task of examining the books of these 9,400 corporations, most of them in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

The October 2006 document found a raft of problems unresolved since they were first identified by the auditor general of Canada a decade ago, including poor planning, training and documentation.

Investigators also found that fewer than four per cent of 719 audit files closed between 1999 and 2003 were completed on time.

The issue is key because once a public corporation has filed its income-tax return and receives a notice of assessment, the agency has just three years to reassess.

Beyond three years, the return cannot by law be reassessed unless the company agrees to waive the deadline or there's been deliberate fraud.

That's willfull negligence - plain and simple.

The audit report found that the current backlog exists largely because big corporations fail to provide key financial information on time.

In a sample of 16 files in which corporations voluntarily agreed to a timetable for turning over their books, for example, investigators determined that only five of them actually met the deadlines.

Canada Revenue Agency can issue compliance orders, but "legislated enforcement tools to obtain books and records were not considered or issued for these files," says the report.
The agency says it is analyzing the timeliness problem and developing a strategy, but warns "it may take a number of years to achieve the desired results."

Years? Just bring down the hammer on the corporations and the slacking tax auditors and get on with it.

On Arar: Agreeing to Disagree is Not Enough

Fact: Maher Arar is still on the US's no-fly list.

Fact: Foreign Affairs minister Peter MacKay doesn't seem to care.

"We agree to disagree at times," MacKay said. "It's clear Canada and the United States hold a different position on this issue.

Agreeing to disagree is not enough.

MacKay went on to praise the "tremendous unprecedented co-operation" between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico in areas of security.

How nice. Then why are these discussions secret? Canadians deserve to know what's being discussed and decided upon in our names.

Rice reiterated previous comments on the Arar affair, saying the United States respects Canada's decision on Arar, but makes its own security decisions based on "our own information."

So-called 'information' that continues to cast suspicion on Mr Arar even after he was cleared in Canada. MacKay should be demanding a thorough review of this situation. Even Stockwell Day, who said he's seen the so-called evidence the Americans are using against Mr Arar, has stated he saw nothing to indicate keeping Mr Arar on such a list. Instead, MacKay is playing footsies with Condi every chance he gets while selling out who knows what to the Bush administration.

We deserve transparency and Mr Arar deserves more than a wishy-washy foreign affairs minister whose main objective seems to be winning over the Bush administration.

Late Nite Video: Aguilera Sings 'It's a Man's World'

Performed at the 2007 Grammy Awards ceremony

Update: Vancouver Sun Reporter Says There Was No Leak

Kim Bolan, the journalist who wrote the Vancouver Sun article about Liberal MP Navdeep Bains' father-in-law's appearance as a potential witness on a list in the Air India bombing inquiry says there is no need for a leak investigation, as the Liberal party has called for.

Bolan had this to say to the Canadian Press on Saturday:

Vancouver Sun reporter Kim Bolan told The Canadian Press on Saturday that there was no leak from anyone and that the story was done on her own initiative.

The Liberals demanded Friday that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office look into whether anyone in government or law enforcement provided that confidential "security information" to the Sun.

"The story was not a plant by anybody," Bolan said. "All this talk of plants by the government or the RCMP is ludicrous.

"Nobody has disputed a single element of the story because it's true," said Bolan, who has covered the Air India case since the tragedy in 1985.

Bolan said it's ridiculous that politicians are reacting as if the information is some kind of security breach. She said anyone who has covered the Air India case in any detail has the information.

She gave the same basic statement (minus the anger) via e-mail to Ross at The Gazetteer blog on Friday. Ross also has an update on this story and I want to add that Bolan's certainly being defensive. I haven't seen anyone claim that what she reported wasn't true. That wasn't the issue here. It was about whether or not there was a leak and the outburst that resulted in parliament after Harper tried to read from the article. She had also told Ross that she got her information from an "Ontario contact" who supposedly told her that Bains was related to a potential witness, so it's not surprising red flags were raised - especially considering the currently contentious political climate.

Whether or not this will satisfy the Liberals remains to be seen and it certainly, in my mind, does not excuse Stephen Harper's part in this affair.

Update: Ross's part in this story was noticed by CTV's Politics blog as well. Good work, Ross!

Update: Red Tory has a full summary of the events surrounding all of this on his blog.

How much lower will Harper go?

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Yes, it IS all about Iraq's oil

Alas, there you have it. The Guardian reports that the Iraqi government is under pressure from the US and UK to hand over oil contracts to multinational companies.

It's no longer just a rumour or conspiracy theory: the invasion of Iraq was all about the oil.

Iraqi trades unions have called for the country's oil reserves - the second-largest in the world - to be kept in public hands. But a leaked draft of the oil law, seen by The Observer, would see the government sign away the right to exploit its untapped fields in so-called exploration contracts, which could then be extended for more than 30 years.
Foreign Office minister Kim Howells has admitted that the government has discussed the wording of the Iraqi law with Britain's oil giants.

In a written answer to a parliamentary question, from Labour's Alan Simpson, Howells said: 'These exchanges have included discussion of Iraq's evolving hydrocarbons legislation where British international oil companies have valuable perspectives to offer based on their experience in other countries.' The talks had covered 'the range of contract types which Iraq is considering'.

It's colonialization and exploitation all over again.

The law, which is being discussed by the Iraqi cabinet before being put to the parliament, says the untapped oil would remain state-owned but that contracts would be drawn up giving private sector firms the exclusive right to extract it.

'There is this fine line, that the wording is seeking to draw, that allows companies to claim that the oil is still Iraqi oil, whereas the extraction rights belong to the oil companies,' says Kamil Mahdi, an Iraqi economist at Exeter University. He criticised the US and Britain, saying: 'The whole idea of the law is due to external pressure. The law is no protection against corruption, or against weakness of government. It's not a recipe for stability.'

And neither was the war to begin with.

This oil grab has been planned for a very long time.

...the need to dominate oil from Iraq is also deeply intertwined with the defense of the dollar. Its current strength is supported by OPEC's requirement (secured by a secret agreement between the US and Saudi Arabia) that all OPEC oil sales be denominated in dollars. This requirement is currently threatened by the desire of some OPEC countries to allow OPEC oil sales to be paid in euros.

The Internally Stated US Goal of Securing the Flow of Oil from the Middle East

As early as April 1997, a report from the James A. Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University addressed the problem of "energy security" for the United States, and noted that the US was increasingly threatened by oil shortages in the face of the inability of oil supplies to keep up with world demand. In particular the report addressed "The Threat of Iraq and Iran" to the free flow of oil out of the Middle East. It concluded that Saddam Hussein was still a threat to Middle Eastern security and still had the military capability to exercise force beyond Iraq's borders.

The Bush Administration returned to this theme as soon as it took office in 2001, by following the lead of a second report from the same Institute. <2> This Task Force Report was co-sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, another group historically concerned about US access to overseas oil resources. The Report represented a consensus of thinking among energy experts of both political parties, and was signed by Democrats as well as Republicans. <3>

The report, Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century, [.pdf file] concluded: "The United States remains a prisoner of its energy dilemma. Iraq remains a de-stabilizing influence to ... the flow of oil to international markets from the Middle East. Saddam Hussein has also demonstrated a willingness to threaten to use the oil weapon and to use his own export program to manipulate oil markets. Therefore the US should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq including military, energy, economic and political/ diplomatic assessments."

Yes, that's the same James Baker (R) of the Iraq Study Group, the recommendations of which were largely rejected by the Bush administration and which some viewed as simply providing damage control for Bush's disastrous policies - an offer he seems to have refused as he sticks with the more familiar course of militarism and threats.

War is good for business, especially those connected to Bush's inner circle. The longer the war rages on, the more money contractors like Halliburton soak up. However, there is also a need to provide increased security to Iraq's oil fields so the multinational oil companies can swoop in and grab their slice of the pie as well. Who is Bush's so-called surge supposed to benefit then? The Iraqi people or the energy companies?

When Cheney held his secretive energy task force meeting in early 2001, he had good reason to refuse to disclose the participants as it was later revealed in 2005 that Cheney was courting big oil. The wheels had been set in motion years before that to take control of the Middle East oil reserves. They already had the Saudis on side. Iraq and Iran were proving to be non-compliant and 9/11 gave the administration the excuse it needed to pump up the war sentiments towards Iraq.

The neocons and those who wanted this war may be disillusioned that it's taken this long to finally see their oil dreams come true but all they have to do now is to convince al-Maliki that it's in his government's best interests to play ball. He can easily be replaced if he doesn't cooperate and the Bush administration has a vested interest in making this deal happen before al-Maliki cozies up even more with Iran's government to form a Shi'ite bloc in the Middle East - which would defy more US intervention. The stakes are very high.

So here we are, five years later. Hundreds of thousands dead. A raging civil war. Two million displaced people. A humanitarian crisis. And for what? Just as many of us have said all along, "It's the oil, stupid".

On Iran: Mind Your Sources Pt 3

The conservative British newspaper The Daily Telegraph is running a story about the Israeli government supposedly negotiating with the US military for permission to use Iraqi air space in an eventual attack against Iran, according to anonymous sources. The Israeli government was quick to issue a denial.

Asked if Israel had turned to the U.S. to use Iraqi airspace in any possible attack, Ephraim Sneh [Israel's deputy defense minister] told Israel Radio: "No such approach has been made -- that is clear."

"Those who do not want to take political, diplomatic, economic steps against
Iran are diverting attention to the mission we are supposedly said to be conducting," Sneh said.

"(They) are anxious to spread the idea that we are planning to attack Iran in order to absolve themselves of the need to do the things that have been requested of them," he added.

As I've written before in Mind Your Sources (April 2006) and Mind Your Sources Pt 2 (January 2007), this public saber-rattling against Iran through the use of anonymous sources is nothing new. (Remember the recently bizarre Baghdad briefing that the Bush administration had to back off from?). Neither is the "publicize, deny" method of taunting ones enemies.

There is no doubt that the US and Israel have drawn up war plans against Iran. They've both said that all options are on the table. Cheney reiterated that position on Saturday in Australia.

This was the Iranian government's response:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran said Saturday the United States was not in a position to take military action against it and urged Washington and its allies to engage in dialogue.

"We do not see America in a position to impose another crisis on its tax payers inside America by starting another war in the region," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran has prepared itself for any possibility, but insists on constructive cooperation, Mottaki said.
Mottaki said negotiations, not threats, were the only way left to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear activities and urged the U.S. and its allies to return to dialogue when they are scheduled to meet in London next week.

"The only way to reach a solution for disputes is negotiations and talks. Therefore, we want the London meeting to make a brave decision and resume talks with Iran," Mottaki told reporters during a press conference with Bahrain's visiting foreign minister.

There is an obvious push/pull relationship between the US and Israel that is often played out in the media - just as it has been between the US and the UK. It doesn't take much to plant a story in a newspaper, forcing your ally to respond, all the while working in tandem to apply pressure to a third country like Iran. And while the Bush administration will call for tougher sanctions against Iran this week, it will have an uphill battle convincing other countries that do business with the regime to endorse such measures.

As for military attacks, the US and Israeli governments know that they don't have much to stand on in the international community. The wars with Afghanistan and Iraq have already drained allies' resources and the idea that so-called surgical strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities would be a quick and easy fix unmet by Iranian retaliation is a fool's dream. Militarism has not worked in Afghanistan or Iraq. Both situations require political remedies - a fact sorely missing from the neocons' empire-building playbook.

So, whether or not the government of Israel is seeking US cooperation for Iraq overflights is beside the point. There is war planning going on. Everybody knows that. What's important to focus on when unsourced stories like these come up is the propaganda value behind them and there certainly has been no shortage of coordinated efforts on that front pertaining to the situation with Iran. That's one of the few things the neocons actually do well: spreading the message of fear and intimidation. What they don't seem to realize, however, is that very few people are actually buying what they're trying to sell anymore. Bush would do well to set aside My Pet Goat to start reading The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

Related: 26.02.07 New Evidence of Iranian Weapons in Iraq? Not Exactly.

Friday, February 23, 2007

US to Israel: Don't Even Think About Talking to Syria

Who runs Israel's foreign policy? The Bush administration.

U.S. hardens line on talks between Jerusalem, Damascus
By Ze'ev Schiff, Amos Harel and Yoav Stern, Haaretz Correspondents

The United States demanded that Israel desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria, of the sort that would test whether Damascus is serious in its declared intentions to hold peace talks with Israel.

In meetings with Israeli officials recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forceful in expressing Washington's view on the matter.

The American argument is that even "exploratory talks" would be considered a prize in Damascus, whose policy and actions continue to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and the functioning of its government, while it also continues to stir unrest in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. presence there.
When Israeli officials asked Secretary Rice about the possibility of exploring the seriousness of Syria in its calls for peace talks, her response was unequivocal: Don't even think about it.

And Olmert, of course, is quite willing to act as Bush's sockpuppet on the matter.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has so far adopted the strict American position not to respond to the Syrian feelers.

On the other hand, at the Foreign Ministry and within the defense establishment, there is a greater degree of openness to the offers, and the overall view is that the door should not be closed entirely to the Syrians. Similarly, many believe that the Syrian offers should be tested for their sincerity.

Among the leading individuals supporting this view is Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Nonetheless, there is strict adherence to the principle of not acting against the views of the prime minister and of coordinating all matters with him.

Peretz should be pushing for talks. He's the one who was in charge of the war with Lebanon - another failure of military might supposedly making things right.

So, the US not only refuses to negotiate with the remaining so-called 'axis of evil' countries, Iran and Syria. It is now demanding that the Israelis back away from that thing called 'diplomacy' as well. And exactly what good can come of that besides a guarantee of even more foreign aid from the US to Israel? That's exactly how this administration conducts its foreign policy: threats and bribes. It seems to me that if the people of Israel truly want to live in peace, they'll turf Olmert as soon as possible and choose a leader who actually has their best interests in mind and has the guts to stand up to American political influence and interference.

The Bains/Air India Story : Liberals Call for a Leak Investigation

As I noted in this post, some of us have been wondering who might have given reporter Kim Bolan the tip that Navdeep Bains' father-in-law was a potential witness in the Air India inquiry. Bolan, alledgedly posting over at The Gazetteer's blog, said she had received the information from members of the Sikh community. (Please note that we have yet to verify if Bolan actually did write that comment.)

The Liberals raised the potential leak during question period on Friday and have now called for an investigation:

OTTAWA (CP) - The Liberals demand an investigation to determine whether a government official leaked the identity of a potential witness in the Air India bombing case to a Vancouver newspaper.

They said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office should check to see if anyone in government or law enforcement provided that confidential "security information" to the Vancouver Sun. The prime minister himself referred to the article in the House of Commons this week.
The Liberals said it was obvious that some public official - either in government or law enforcement - leaked Darshan Singh Saini's name because only they would be aware that the RCMP might want to question him.

"The newspaper story used by the prime minister this week in a disgusting drive-by smear against a member of Parliament contained assertions about alleged police proceedings of a highly secret nature," Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale said.

"They are secret to ensure the integrity of those proceedings, but yet the information, true or not, was made public.

"Why did the government deem it appropriate to publish secret security information and does that disclosure not in itself constitute breaking the law?"

Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan denied any government involvement and said the Liberals could complain to the Vancouver Sun if they have a problem with the story.

"The government did no such thing," Van Loan said.

"(Goodale) knows well that this government does not control the media in this country - anything but."

Goodale said that even if no one in government gave the Sun Saini's name and drew attention to his links with a Liberal MP, the RCMP answers to the government.

He pointed an accusatory finger at Harper's office. He noted that Harper's senior staff mass e-mailed the Sun article to journalists on Parliament Hill just after the prime minister made the comments.

"The despicable events of last Wednesday were no accident," Goodale said.

"From beginning to end this was contrived, premeditated slander. So let us go right to the source, who in the government disclosed secret security information? Was it or was it not the Prime Minister's Office?"

It's time for Bolan to speak up publicly about this, especially if she did write that comment on The Gazetteers blog and did get this information from members of the Sikh community.

h/t Dan McKenzie of The Dan Report

Update: Kim Bolan has responded to an e-mail from Ross at The Gazetteer:

In a nutshell, she said it was she who initiated the proceedings by asking an Ontario contact about the whereabouts of Mr. Saini as she does this to keep track of folks that have been involved in the Air India case, and the closely related cases of the shootings of a local newspaper publisher...
In her Email reply to me, Ms. Bolan then want on to state that it was only after she had made her initial enquiry that the source then mentioned that Mr. Saini was the father-in-law of Mr. Bains, which she didn't already know at the time and which she found interesting (and, as she stated in the original comment, 'relevant', especially after Mr. Bains confirmed it).

Now, you may want to question the motives of the 'source' in divulging that information but, now matter how you slice it, I believe that Ms. Bolan has provided us with a reasonable explanation regarding the Fifth 'W'.

I disagree and I still wonder 1) who that "Ontario source" was and 2) why she thought it was "relevant" to divulge this information which, as has been pointed out, was not supposed to be made public.

Montana Votes to Abolish the Death Penalty

It was a very close vote with what looks like quite an interesting debate:

After a lengthy debate in which lawmakers quoted Jesus, Thomas Jefferson and Ted Bundy, the Senate voted 27-22 to approve the measure.

Yet, the Democratic-controlled senate decided to go against public opinion that favoured the death penalty by moving to abolish it.

Onward, Montana!

(I think the fact that Montana borders Canada has something to do with it. Next thing you know, they'll turn into a haven of that dreaded "socialism" we have here too. This isn't your daddy's wild, wild west anymore.)

h/t JJB

Why is a 9 year old Canadian Citizen Being Detained in Texas?

Democracy Now! has the story of a Canadian boy being held in a detention center in Texas who is a victim of unanticipated circumstances. Amy Goodman interviewed his father (who is using a pseudonym).

AMY GOODMAN: I’m going to break in for one minute, because we have just gotten a call from the Hutto detention facility. We're joined on the phone by an Iranian immigrant named Majid, from inside the Hutto Detention Center in Taylor, Texas. He, his wife, his nine-year-old son Kevin have been held at the center for the past nineteen days. Majid, your story is quite a remarkable one. Can you tell us how you ended up at this Texas jail?

MAJID: Hello. Thanks for taking my call. I was on my way to go to Toronto, Canada, and my plane was -- after three hours in the flight, somebody died on the plane and had an emergency landing to Costa Rica. After that, they said everybody should come out. After that, we went out. Immigration, they said you need to have American visa. We had no American visa. And they hold us over there --

AMY GOODMAN: Now, just to be clear, you were never planning to end up in the United States, is that right? You were flying to Canada, but another passenger on the plane had a heart attack, and so you guys had a forced landing in Puerto Rico, and when you had to come out of the plane, while he was taken off the plane, that's when they took you?

MAJID: Yes. This happened, yes -- was a Canadian Zoom Airline, and our ticket was direct from Guyana to Toronto. And this happened. They hold us -- my son is Canadian -- hold child is nine-and-a-half years old, and they put us in detention in Puerto Rico. And from Monday to Friday, I was in the jail in Puerto Rico between criminal people, and my wife and son was other place. We had no news from each other from Monday morning until Friday at noon, until we see each other in a Puerto Rico airport. After that, they brought us here to Hutto Detention Center, and here we are in same part, but different room. My wife and my son is room, but it’s totally inside the room, uncovered toilet. My son has asthma, and he’s very bad and still comes here. It’s very horrible here. And we are in very bad situation. We need help. We need the people help me --

JUAN GONZALEZ: Majid, in other words, basically, what reason did they give you for holding you if you never intended to enter the United States at all? What reason did they give for locking you up?

MAJID: Because they said, “You have an American visa?” That's why you have to stay here. Just plane was waiting one hour for us, but they didn't let us pass. A few officers came. They said Immigration officers -- six, seven -- they said, “We’re going to send you, but let us make decision.” After that, they called the police chief. He came there. He said, “Let me think five minutes.” After five minutes, he came, he said, “I’m going to send you to Canada, but I’m afraid to lose my job. But usually we have to send with your plane, but we keep you here. America is much better than Canada. Here you have safer place. We send you to hotel, and after a few days, you're going to be free.” But they broke their promise. That's why they keep us here, and we have very bad situation here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Do you know whether any other passengers on your plane were also detained in the same way, or was your family the only one, as far as you can tell?

MAJID: Only my family. No other passenger.

"Majid" was deported from Canada to Iran in December where he now claims he was imprisoned and tortured. The family was interviewed by someone from the Canadian consulate who reportedly told them they'll just have to let their lawyer handle their case. Goodman also interviewed the son, "Kevin", and a lawyer familiar with these types of cases and detention facilities.

AMY GOODMAN: Joshua Bardavid is an attorney that we are sitting with in the New York studio. When you listen to this story, what are your thoughts?

JOSHUA BARDAVID: Unfortunately, this is -- what he is experiencing is a very common experience. It is the reflexive use of detention for asylum seekers. The Majid family, they’re survivors -- from what he’s describing, he’s a survivor of torture. He was detained in Iran. He is seeking freedom, in this case, in Canada, arrives in the United States and is placed back in detention. The re-traumatizing effects of being placed back in detention cannot be underestimated. You have a child who is sleeping in what was a jail cell for a maximum-security prison that has been converted, but they still leave the exposed toilet, you know, sitting in the middle of their room. There's no privacy. With other children, he's in a room separate from his parents. Now, but the door may be not locked at night, but that door is certainly shut, and it’s a steel heavy door. They are placed in a prison. There's no doubt that this is a prison. And what is particularly troubling about this is that this was designed for the purpose of holding families, yet they made a conscious decision to maintain the facility as a prison, to leave the barbed wire, to leave the doors, to leave the environment as a prison.

It seems to me the Canadian government should be launching a protest with the US government about these horrible conditions and the fact that a 9 year old Canadian boy is being held indefinitely with his family in a process that could take months or even years to clear up.

We do have a foreign affairs minister who's busy hobnobbing with Condi today. Please contact him to request that he takes an active interest in this case.

Update on the Vancouver Sun/Bains Story

Ross over at The Gazetteer has been as curious as I've been about the circumstances surrounding Kim Bolan's Vancouver Sun story about Navdeep Bain's father-in-law in relation to the Air India bombing case. Specifically: how did she know who was on a potential witness list and who leaked that information to her?

Apparently (and this is not confirmed, as Ross points out), Bolan has responded to those questions in this comment:

I wrote the story and there was no leak. It was very apparent from sitting through 19 months of the Air India trial who would be the obvious choices for investigative hearings - all the names came out during the evidence at the trial. After the trial, I wrote my book on Air India, called "Loss of Faith: How the Air India Bombers Got Away With Murder" and reviewed documents related to the one Supreme Court challenge of the investigative hearing provision, launched and lost by Satnam Reyat - the wife of the only man convicted.

I have covered this story since 1985 so there are few mysteries or secrets. I first interviewed Darshan SINgh [sic] Saini back in 1988. I have a copy of parts of his police statement that came out during the Air India trial. The reason I wrote the story this week is because I just learned (through Sikh community contacts, not POLICE) that Saini was the father-in-law of Bains. I did not know that until very recently. I called up Saini and Bains and they confirmed it. I thought it was relevant.

So don't always look for a political conspiracy. In this case, there isn't one.
Kim Bolan | 02.23.07 - 2:17 am | #

She "thought it was relevant" to what, exactly? The Liberal party's decision to sunset the 2 anti-terrorism clauses they oppose.

Ross seems quick to forgive her, but I'm not. Her story appeared at the same time as this one declaring that Paul Martin sought help from a listed terrorist group in 1990.

These things don't happen in a vacuum. There's a concerted Conservative effort to smear the Liberals as being "soft on terror" so the tories can try to demonize them.

Bolan clearly showed her bias in her article when she tried to make this connection:

The Vancouver Sun has learned that Bains's father-in-law, Darshan Singh Saini, is on the RCMP's potential list of witnesses at investigative hearings designed to advance the Air India criminal probe.

But the ability to hold those hearings will be lost March 1 if parts of the Anti-Terrorism Act expire as expected, after the Liberals recently withdrew support for extending the provision being used to hold them.

This isn't about a "conspiracy", Bolan. It's about how and why you chose to write what you did. Further, if she did write the above comment why did she refer to Bains' father-in-law like this? "I first interviewed Darshan SINgh Saini back in 1988." "SINgh"? SIN? What's that about? Why would a journalist make such an obvious mistake?

No. Something about this just doesn't smell right, although it certainly does smell right-wingish.

Update: Apparently, some members of the Sikh community have been following Bolan's reporting for years and they're not exactly pleased with what they've seen.

Update: The Liberals have called for a leak investigation.

Security Certificates Struck Down by Supreme Court

This decision is certainly long overdue. The supreme court has unanimously ruled that security certificates are unconstitutional because suspects and their lawyers were unable to access classified information used against them that would force their deportation. The court also said that indefinite detention violates charter rights and has called for parliament to rewrite the rules, suspending the judgment for one year in which to do so.

You can read the supreme court's decision here and a fact sheet about security certificates can be found here.

The Liberals and Bloc Québécois said they would wait to see what the government introduces, but in theory support a new security certificate system. However, the NDP says it believes the court didn’t go far enough, and that people suspected of terrorist ties should be charged under criminal law, not detained without charge under immigration law.

I agree with the NDP's position on this one. If there is evidence to support detaining suspects, that ought to be enough to charge them criminally. It doesn't make sense to deport someone simply based on suspicions of their possible involvement in criminal activities.

Amnesty International supports the court's decision and highlights this:

The decision affirms that counter terrorism measures can never be used to undermine human rights. The court made clear that the security certificate process and detention regime are unacceptably flawed and thus violate the Charter of Rights, violations that cannot in any way be excused or justified. In the words of Chief Justice McLachlin, “security concerns cannot be used to excuse procedures that do not conform to fundamental justice”.

The court acknowledged the serious impact of ongoing detention without charge, and its potential to result in cruel and unusual treatment. “[I]ndefinite detention in circumstances where the detainee has no hope of release or recourse to a legal process to procure his or her release may cause psychological stress and therefore constitute cruel and unusual treatment.”


Update: There are criticisms of the court's decision by those who oppose security certificates ie. the refusal of a right to appeal, the deportation of detainees to countries that use torture, the issue of discrimination (racial profiling) and the use of "reasonableness" as a standard of the burden of proof required for issuing a security certificate. There is also opposition to the court deciding to give the government one year to address this issue citing the "draconian" conditions set for those who are not only detained, but have been released under house arrest.

Those concerns were raised during a press conference today by a member of Coalition for Justice for Adil Charkaoui. Mr Charkaoui also spoke and praised the decision against "Guantanamo North". He said he fears that the Conservative government will not respect this decision because they don't support the independence of the judiciary. Warren Allmand of the "International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group expressed the same concerns and referred to the "hateful" notwithstanding clause which could be used by the government to override the charter although he could not see that happening with a minority government situation.

It's as simple as this, as Mr Charkaoui said when responding to questions at the press conference: "If you have anything against me, charge me."

More as it comes in...

Update: Canadian Cynic has a roundup of (predictable) right-wing reactions to this news.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Kool-aid Overdose in Australia

This was the scene in Australia on Friday after a few people were seen bathing in and drinking Republican-made kool-aid at a hotel swimming pool close to a meeting where Cheney was meeting with Australian government officials. Anonymous sources said the small troupe then quickly threw their clothes on and whipped up a huge banner to praise the American vice-president. They then all collapsed and were taken to a local hospital where they were treated for hallucinations and paranoid delusions.

Photo credit: AP

Spinning the IAEA's Report on Iran

On this side of the pond, the New York Times and the Washington Post focused their reporting about the release of the IAEA's inspection report of Iran's nuclear facilities (.pdf file) on the fact that Iran continues to enrich uranium in defiance of the latest UN security resolution against it which is supposed to strengthen the US administration's calls for a second, more heavy-handed resolution.

The Guardian, however, offers a different persepctive:

US Iran intelligence 'is incorrect'

Much of the intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities provided to UN inspectors by US spy agencies has turned out to be unfounded, diplomatic sources in Vienna said today.

The claims, reminiscent of the intelligence fiasco surrounding the Iraq war, coincided with a sharp increase in international tension as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran was defying a UN security council ultimatum to freeze its nuclear programme.
At the heart of the debate are accusations - spearheaded by the US - that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

However, most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors, according to informed sources in Vienna.

"Most of it has turned out to be incorrect," a diplomat at the IAEA with detailed knowledge of the agency's investigations said.

"They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities.

One particularly contentious issue was records of plans to build a nuclear warhead, which the CIA said it found on a stolen laptop computer supplied by an informant inside Iran.

In July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.

Tehran rejected the material as forged, and there are still reservations within the IAEA about its authenticity, according to officials with knowledge of the internal debate in the agency.

"First of all, if you have a clandestine programme, you don't put it on laptops which can walk away," one official said. "The data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you'd have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer."

So, once again, there appears to be an intelligence failure on the part of the US agencies. That ought to set off warning bells especially since, despite repeated assurances from the Bush administration that it is not planning attacks on Iran, shades of pre-war Iraq are so obviously similar.

As reported again today, this time the Bush administration will not only face opposition from countries like China and Russia which are not supportive of further sanctions, it will face its track record on the abuse of intelligence in the run up to the Iraq war. That skepticism will now increase as a result of this latest round of intelligence blunders.

Harper Refuses to Retract His Statement

Stephen Harper walked into question period on Thursday flanked by family members of those who died in the Air India bombing, a move that CBC's commentators noticed was quite unusual since it's rare for a prime minister to enter the house with non-political guests.

Question period then began with a request from Liberal MP Navdeep Bains for Harper to retract his remarks which Bains characterized as an attack on his integrity and that of his family. Harper refused, of course, and his response was quite telling:

Harper: Mr Speaker, I have to say first of all that I met earlier today with representatives of the families of the 300 Canadians who were killed on the Air India flight. As we all know, this is an important matter. 300 Canadians tragically lost their lives. Look, Mr Speaker, while I don't accept the premise of the honourable member's question I will say this, that I would take and I think this government will undertake any action necessary to ensure that we put in place the measures to allow the police to do their investigation and to ensure that these things never occur again.

When Bains asked Harper to retract his remarks once again, this was Harper's response:

Harper: Once again, Mr Speaker, I'm not sure precisely what remarks he's referring to. If the honourable member denies any particluar element in that Vancouver Sun story, I'd be more than happy to accept his word on the matter. At the same time though, Mr Speaker, I can't say how important it is that we proceed with the police investigation on the Air India inquiry. The Liberal party knows this is important. They put these measures in place. Bob Rae told them that they're necessary and I would hope the Liberal party would reverse their position for the benefit of the Air India families and for all Canadians and do the right thing.

So, let's recap.

Harper claimed to be reading from the Vancouver Sun article on Wednesday when he said this in the house:

Harper: Mr Speaker, obviously the Liberal party opposes the change we've made which is to give the police a voice in this process. I'm not surprised, Mr Speaker, given what I'm reading in the Vancouver Sun today when I read this is how the Liberal party makes decisions.

"The Vancouver Sun has learned that the father-in-law of the member of parliament for Mississauga-Brampton..."

The article actually reads this way:

The Vancouver Sun has learned that Bains's father-in-law, Darshan Singh Saini, is on the RCMP's potential list of witnesses at investigative hearings designed to advance the Air India criminal probe.

So, Harper reframed the wording to begin his attack against Bains and the Liberal party, at which point he was shouted down.

Today, he admits he and his government will use "any action necessary" to get what they want in this matter. As we now see, that includes smearing a Liberal MP.

Further, he then tries to deny that he even knows what Bains was referring to but then goes on to make it clear that he actually does know that it was, in fact, those comments about the Vancouver Sun article. (What else could it be?) To then add insult to injury, Harper invites Bains to challenge the assertions in that article - moving the goal posts once again - all the while posturing himself as the saviour for the Air India families whom he had brought into parliament with him.

His motives just don't get any more tranparent than that and his words speak loudly and clearly. He will stop at nothing to get what he wants and he doesn't care who he steamrolls over in the process.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Random News & Views Roundup

- Yo mamma wears army boots!..Ya? Well yo mamma had to tie a pork chop around your neck so the dogs would play with you! November '08 can't come soon enough.

- I'm glad I'm not the only one who noticed this. I had just followed a link from memeorandum to the NYT's piece headlined "Militants Using Chemical Bombs in Iraq" when I noticed they had changed their headline to "Iraqi Militants Use Chlorine in 3 Bombings". AP didn't fare much better with the headline "Iraqi insurgents use 2nd 'dirty' bomb". Those are obviously very loaded phrases and the MSM ought to be careful with their choice of words. It's horrendous enough that trucks containing chlorine are being blown up. That should just stand on its own.

- Cheney's still being his arrogant, assholish, fearmongering self:

WASHINGTON - Vice President Dick Cheney on Wednesday harshly criticized Democrats' attempts to thwart President Bush's troop buildup in Iraq, saying their approach would "validate the al-Qaida strategy." House Speaker Nancy Pelosi fired back that Cheney was questioning critics' patriotism.

Pelosi also took a swipe at the WH spin about how loverly it is that the Brits have been able to withdraw from Iraq now:

As for Cheney's assertion that the partial British pullout is a sign that things are going well in Iraq, Pelosi said: "If it's going so well, we'd like to withdraw our troops as well."

Eaxctly. Touche. Now use your congressional power to actually do something about that, Nancy.

- Patrick Cockburn bolsters that assertion:

It is an admission of defeat. Iraq is turning into one of the world's bloodiest battlefields in which nobody is safe. Blind to this reality, Tony Blair said yesterday that Britain could safely cut its forces in Iraq because the apparatus of the Iraqi government is growing stronger.

In fact the civil war is getting worse by the day. Food is short in parts of the country. A quarter of the population would starve without government rations. Many Iraqis are ill because their only drinking water comes from the highly polluted Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

Nowhere in Mr Blair's statement was any admission of regret for reducing Iraq to a wasteland from which 2 million people have fled and 1.5 million are displaced internally.

- Juan Cole has more. "This is a rout, there should be no mistake."

- Robert Fisk explains how Lebanon will be first victim of Iran crisis.

- Al Gore's in Canada and he's a hot ticket.

- The US military has announced that it will conduct its own investigation into rape allegations made by an Iraqi woman against members of Iraq's security force after a pompous al-Maliki declared the case was closed and said the woman was lying. That's "justice", al-Maliki style.

- Seven Saudis have been released from Gitmo. We have one Canadian there. Why can't we get him out?

Harper Gets Shouted Down in Parliament

During question period today in response to Stephane Dion's question about the practice of loading the judicial advisory councils with tory partisans, Stephen Harper apparently decided that that was the perfect opportunity to bring up this Vancouver Sun article about a Liberal MP's father-in-law whose name was found to be on a list of people questioned by the RCMP in relation to the Air India bombing case.

Harper: Mr Speaker, obviously the Liberal party opposes the change we've made which is to give the police a voice in this process. I'm not surprised, Mr Speaker, given what I'm reading in the Vancouver Sun today when I read this is how the Liberal party makes decisions.

"The Vancouver Sun has learned that the father-in-law of the member of parliament for Mississauga-Brampton..."

At that point, an uproar ensued in the house after which the speaker moved on to a question by a BQ member.

That was low-down dirty guilt-by-association smear politics at its worst.

When Dion asked Harper to apologize later during question period, Harper refused and said the Liberals should apologize instead for not supporting the anti-terror measures that are coming up for review. And when he was asked yet again by another member, he said he didn't need to apologize because he didn't say anything (since he'd been shouted down first). Typically arrogant tap-dancing by a prime minister with no scruples whatsoever.

Do you want to let our so-called prime minister know how you feel about this kind of behaviour? Contact him here:

You can send your comments by e-mail to or write or fax the Prime Minister’s office at:

Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
K1A 0A2

Fax: 613-941-6900

Note: When Harper began to supposedly read what the Vancouver Sun article said, as he stated in the house, it seems he changed the wording:

The Vancouver Sun has learned that Bains's father-in-law, Darshan Singh Saini, is on the RCMP's potential list of witnesses at investigative hearings designed to advance the Air India criminal probe.

Update: CTV has the story and the video.

Angry Ralph:

You can read the Liberals' press release here.