December 2004 Archives

December 29, 2004

The best laid plans...

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It seems to me I said something about getting back to a regular blogging schedule this week, didn't I? It ain't gonna happen. Too much visiting, too much partying, too much eating of rich food and not enough sleep. And in an hour or so I'm off on an unscheduled road trip. It seems a computer has "melted down" and I wanna see this for myself.

I've managed to catch up on what some other people are writing and I can leave you with a little food for thought.

Writing at Daily Kos, Stirling Newberry works the numbers and explains why things look pretty grim for the American effort in Iraq.

Melanie at Bump continues her close coverage of the possibility of a new and deadly influenza pandemic. As far as I can tell, she's the only one who's consistently on top of this story.

And if you want something meatier than blog posts, Ian Welsh has been reading up a storm and provides some quick book reviews.

I should be back in time to wish everyone a happy new year.

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December 27, 2004

Tsunami Help Blog

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Via Jim Elve at the E-Group, The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami has a round up of news and aid efforts.

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December 24, 2004

So is she:
     Humbug! If I can't eat it, I ain't interested.

I hope y'all are feeling better about it than Ollie. (It's short for Olive, by the way.)

This will be it from me until Sunday at the earliest. Something resembling normal blogging should resume next week.

Have a safe and happy holiday season.

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December 21, 2004

Newsmaker of the year

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I don't think there's any subject that I've written about as often in the last year as the Maher Arar story. I've wondered at times if I was belabouring the point so I feel somewhat vindicated to find that Time Canada has named Arar as the Canadian Newsmaker of the Year.

... if Arar is a terrorist, he is unlike any other. In contrast to other suspects dispatched to harsh justice, Arar did not vanish into oblivion in his Middle East cell. Nor, after his release, did he recoil from public view. Instead, Arar, who has a modest home in Ottawa, has stepped into the spotlight as a vocal proponent of human rights in Canada, a symbol of how fear and injustice have permeated life in the West since 9/11. To this day, it has not been revealed why Arar was detained. And no one has pushed harder to shed light on his case than Arar. ?I have nothing to hide,? he said in late 2003. ?I want a public inquiry.?

Arar got his wish. His perseverance?not to mention the absence of evidence against him?helped prod Public Safety Minister Anne McLellan in January 2004 to create a commission to investigate the matter. There is more at stake than just learning the truth. The commission may come up with a new plan for overseeing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, which is accused of botching its end of the case. Arar has launched two gutsy lawsuits in 2004 targeting some of the most powerful people on the continent, including U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chr?tien and R.C.M.P. Commissioner Giuliano Zaccardelli.

Whatever the outcome, Arar has forced Canada to rethink how it balances human rights and security concerns.

While I join Time Canada in applauding Arar's drive to have the truth revealed, I'm not sure that last sentence is exactly correct. While many Canadians may be rethinking the subject, I'm not sure the government is on the same page. Justice Dennis O'Connor, who's presiding over the inquiry, has prepared for release to the public a summary of the in camera testimony that has occupied much of the inquiry since it convened. It was turned over to the government for review according to procedure. When the government hadn't responded at the end of the 10 day comment period Justice O'Connor had to petition for permission to release the information. Only then did the government express its concern with making much of the summary's contents public and announce that it was seeking a second opinion from a Federal judge.
Even though the government does not accept Judge O'Connor's opinion, Mr. Martin said, "There is no doubt we have complete confidence in Justice O'Connor."

Right. The inquiry commission isn't impressed.
The lead lawyer for the public inquiry examining the deportation of Maher Arar suggested Monday that the government is using national security as an excuse to stop the release of embarrassing information.

The government delayed then censored a summary of in-camera testimony before the inquiry. Paul Cavalluzzo, counsel for the commission, said that the decision to hold back part of the summary will be fought in court.

?We are very surprised and disappointed in the government's position on what the public is entitled to know,? he told a press conference in Ottawa.

Mr. Cavalluzzo said that the government had a chance to oppose the release of some parts of the summary and had not done so. It was only when the inquiry made clear its intention to release the information that the government raised its national-security objections.
He noted that the information related to the ?crucial time? between Mr. Arar's detention and deportation had been almost entirely censored at the government's insistence. He showed reporters a few pages of documents with nearly every word blacked out.

If you follow the second to last link, you'll find that PM the PM thinks this is all ?normal.?
Mr. Martin said yesterday that his government's legal dispute with Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor "is a normal part of the give and take in terms of what kind of documentation should be kept in confidence."

I'm not sure that anything about this whole case is normal. It's true that in our legal system a trial is normally an adversarial process. But this isn't a trial, it's a public inquiry called specifically to shed light on the details surrounding Arar's imprisonment and to bring more transparency and accountability into the way our intelligence agencies, in particular the RCMP, operate. Remember transparency and accountability? They're supposed to be two of our Prime Minister's favorite words. But the government and its agencies have dug their heels in and stonewalled the inquiry every step of the way. Now the commission is being forced to fight a court battle for the right to do its job: make the information coming out of a public inquiry available to the public.

If the small amount of information that was actually released is any indication it may explain what's going on and support Mr. Cavalluzzo's contention that the government is trying to avoid embarrassment.

A heavily censored summary of in camera testimony was released Monday, with one of the readable parts showing that CSIS concern about Mr. Arar was pragmatic rather than humanitarian.

The spy agency insisted that it co-operates only cautiously with countries that have poor human-rights records and that, amid fears of a long prison term or death sentence for Mr. Arar, it supported a Canadian government push to have him released.

?CSIS was concerned that, if Mr. Arar was tortured or mistreated in Syria, this would make it difficult to deport other individuals to Syria,? the summary reads.

Never mind Arar's welfare, if anything happens to him while this story is getting media attention it may, um, limit our options. One of the concerns Arar has had all along is that Canadian authorities were contracting out the questioning of suspects to jurisdictions where methods would be used that were unacceptable here at home. In my mind at least, that suspicion just became more serious. Previously I'd given CSIS a bit more credit than the RCMP but it seems that was a mistake.

While we await a court battle to see what we're allowed to know about what's gone on behind closed doors for much of the last five months, the inquiry resumes in January and again it will be in camera. So perhaps we can look forward to a second fight in court over how much of that testimony will be released.

The Time Canada piece summarizes the whole story and provides some personal background on Arar. It also summarizes the revelations from the inquiry to date including the fact that Arar was only a ?peripheral figure? in an investigation to begin with, and that the RCMP actually tried to dissuade the government from pressuring Syria for his release. There's a suggestion of much more to come.

One of Arar?s lawyers, Lorne Waldman, says these revelations are just the tip of a bomb that will explode after more extensive disclosures are made. ?It?s quite a story, and the final chapter hasn?t yet been written,? he says.

And I thought the things we'd already learned were pretty scandalous.

But we're also left to wonder if we'll ever to get to read that final chapter.

But the outcome is far from certain. To avoid embarrassment and perhaps to avoid jeopardizing ongoing cases, powerful forces on both sides of the border will fight hard to keep secret much of the information that could explain why Arar ended up in a Syrian jail. If they succeed, we may never know much more about Maher Arar.

But Arar will have achieved one important goal. He will have given the country reason to care about the outcome ? and perhaps even the desire to ensure that what happened to him can never happen to anyone else.

All the public sympathy for Arar in the world may not accomplish much if the full story never sees the light of day. It's hard to avoid the feeling that problems we don't get to hear about will never be addressed. So alongside Arar, full marks to the commission for taking the fight to the government for the release of that information. I guess we'll see what the new year brings. The wheel grinds slowly, when it grinds at all.

If it can happen to Maher Arar, it can happen to any of us. Certainly his religion and ethnic background made him a more likely target, but if the treatment he received remains even remotely acceptable, if it's seen as even remotely ?normal?, it increases the odds that it can happen to me. Or you. That's why this story is so important.

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December 19, 2004

C'mon in. Set a spell.

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If you've arrived here by clicking the link in Antonia Zerbisias' column in the Toronto Star, welcome. (And even if you arrived by some other route.) It's always nice to have new visitors. One thing Antonia neglected to mention in her piece is that we'll do almost anything for traffic.

If I'd known you were coming I'd have baked a cake tried to have a post ready for you filled with dazzling and incisive commentary on the state of the world today. Truth is, aside from Christmas shopping I've been having a lazy weekend. But if you scroll down a bit there's a picture of cute kittens. I hope that'll do for now.

When I checked the story at the Star a few minutes ago I noticed that the only working link provided seemed to be the one that brought you here. So here are the rest of the blogs mentioned in the article, ready for mousing:

The Shotgun
The Meatriarchy
Let It Bleed
Brock: On the Attack

My Blahg
Stageleft: Life on the Left Side

Just for Fun:
Better Living Centre
secret storm's secret site

If this is your first tour through the Canadian blogosphere I hope you enjoy it. And if you don't find what you're looking for, there's a lot more where these came from. If you look to your right and down a bit, you'll see a whole list of blogs you can visit (though not all of those are Canadian). Most of us have blogrolls like that so click away on anything that looks interesting. You won't break anything. You might eat up a lot of time, though. This blogging stuff is addictive.

And thanks, Antonia.

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December 17, 2004

Cat blogging by proxy

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It's by proxy because they're not my cats. I am but a humble blogger who's being shamelessly exploited by nefarious felines with an overpowering hunger for the spotlight.


Never mind that "Who, us?" expression. They'll stop at nothing in their ruthless drive for celebrity. They know I'm helpless in the face of their terminal cuteness. They know a sucker when they see one.

That's Minnie, short for Minerva, on the left. And Tildie, short for Mathilde, on the right. And I'm told they have friends.

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December 16, 2004

Score one for the rule of law

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Great Britain fell into the trap that Canada did in the overheated atmosphere following 9/11: legislation designed to help in the fight against terrorism was pushed through without serious concern for its implications and consequences. One provision of the British Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 allowed the government to detain foreigners suspected of terrorism indefinitely without charge or trial and without revealing the evidence against them. It sounds a lot like Canada's Security Certificates, doesn't it?

And Britain's law lords are having none of it.

Law lords back terror detainees

Detaining foreigners without trial under emergency anti-terror powers breaks European human rights legislation, law lords ruled today.

A specially-convened committee of nine law lords upheld an appeal by nine foreigners who have been detained without charge or trial, most of them in Belmarsh prison, south-east London, for around three years.

The decision by the law lords, Britain's highest court, throws the government's security policies into chaos and was a blow for Charles Clarke on his first day as home secretary following the resignation of David Blunkett last night.
The law lords, making the ruling in the chamber of the House of Lords, described the legislation as "draconian" and "anathema" to the rule of law. One of the law lords, Lord Hoffmann of Chedworth suggested that the act itself was a bigger threat to the nation than terrorism.
Today the law lords ruled eight-to-one in favour of the detainees after hearing arguments that detaining people indefinitely on suspicion alone contravened democratic rights and international obligations.

Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the senior lord of appeal and former lord chief justice, said that the powers under which the men were held were incompatible with European human rights laws because they "discriminate on the ground of nationality or immigration status".

Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead ruled that: "Indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is anathema in any country which observes the rule of law. It deprives the detained person of the protection a criminal trial is intended to afford."

The detainees remain in prison while the British government decides how to respond but this ruling will certainly make it difficult to continue holding them without trial. My favorite part is the suggestion that the act itself is "a bigger threat to the nation than terrorism."

The law lords got this one right. Contrast that with the Canadian ruling last week in favour of the government's right to hold people on Security Certificates and it makes our own judges look like they've been studying at the John Ashcroft School of Jurisprudence.

(Yes, I realize Security Certificates predate 9/11. I'm thinking of Bill C36. And what happened to that legislative review of C36 that was to happen this fall? Did anyone notice?)

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December 15, 2004

How much sillier can it get?

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Mahigan at True North makes a great catch here. It seems a professor at MIT is accusing his own school of being complicit with the Pentagon in purposely misrepresenting the test results of components in the Ballistic Missile Defence system. The phrase the good professor uses is "scientific fraud." Go read.

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More like this, please

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I believe this is the first time I've seen the Liberal government acknowledge so openly that there are serious operational problems with the proposed Ballistic Missile Defence system.

Missile defence won't work

Prime Minister Paul Martin said yesterday he does not believe the U.S. ballistic missile shield will succeed in shooting down incoming rockets, as he threw up new roadblocks to counter President George W. Bush's strong appeal for Canada to join his continental defence plan.

Canada will not put any money into building the missile shield and it will not allow Washington to station rockets on Canadian soil as the price of participation in the multibillion-dollar program, Mr. Martin told Global National in a year-end interview.

Since PM the PM is now admitting that the thing doesn't work, one is left wonder why he's still even contemplating a role in it. But given the condition he's putting on it, it sounds like a non-starter anyway.
Mr. Martin was emphatic Canada's participation in the missile defence program would depend on a key decision-making role in the U.S. command and control structure that operates the shield.

"The decision as to whether or not we participate in the ballistic missile defence system is going to depend on whether, in fact, Canada can have a voice in the structure," Mr. Martin said in the interview, to be broadcast Christmas Day.

"I'm not going to put money into it. I'm going to put money into our priorities ... Having missiles on our territory is not one of those priorities."

The conditions laid out by Mr. Martin are the clearest indication to date the Liberal government is increasingly disinterested in the missile defence program despite Mr. Bush's public appeal during his visit to Canada earlier this month.

I don't believe the U.S. would grant Canada "a key decision-making role" and I certainly don't see that kind of concession coming from the Bush White House now that Martin is acknowledging the elephant in the room: the silly thing doesn't work.

I'm pleasantly surprised. I didn't think he had it in him.

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Wednesday blogger blogging

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Robert McClelland at My Blahg has started a new weekly feature. Cavalcade of Canucks provides a link-rich snapshot of the Canadian blogosphere and what we're thinking and writing about. Think of it as Wednesday blogger blogging without the photos.

Of course the fact that today's installment, the second edition, links to two of my posts has absolutely nothing to do with my posting this. By the way, have I mentioned that I have some swamp land prime real estate for sale?

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December 14, 2004

A slippery slope that isn't

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If we were to pass a law stating that anyone with blue eyes is forbidden to marry his or her sibling, but everyone else can, we'd have a minority rights issue on our hands. We'd be discriminating against a particular group based on a physical characteristic.

But if we pass a law stating that no one can marry his or her sibling, whatever else it might be it's not discrimination because the law applies equally to everyone.

Preventing gays from marrying discriminates against a group because of sexual orientation. It's a minority rights issue. But the argument that allowing gays to marry is some kind of slippery slope that leads to polygamous marriages, incestuous marriages and the possibility that the weird guy on the next block will claim the right to marry his pet parrot Polly is bogus. It's not the same thing.

So just cut it out.

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December 13, 2004


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I've been following the media stories concerning the UN Oil-for-Food scandal though I haven't posted much on it recently. But I can't resist this. Some members of the GOP have been insisting loudly of late that Kofi Annan should resign over this even though it was actually the Security Council that ran the program. It'll be interesting to see how those same Republicans react to this.

Billionaire Marc Rich has emerged as a central figure in the U.N. oil-for-food scandal and is under investigation for brokering deals in which scores of international politicians and businessmen cashed in on sweetheart oil deals with Saddam Hussein, The Post has learned.

Rich, the fugitive Swiss-based commodities trader who received a controversial pardon from President Bill Clinton in January 2001, is a primary target of criminal probes under way in the U.S. attorney's office in New York and by Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, sources said.

"We think he was a major player in this ? a central figure," a senior law-enforcement official told The Post.

Investigators are looking into a series of deals that took place in the months after his pardon from Clinton. If criminal wrongdoing is established in these deals, he could be subject to prosecution.

Investigators say they have received information that Rich and Ben Pollner, a New York-based oil trader who heads Taurus Oil, set up a series of companies in Liechtenstein and other countries that they used to put together deals between Saddam and his international supporters in the controversial oil-voucher scheme ? which the dictator designed to win international support against U.S. sanctions at the United Nations.

There's more at the link which is courtesy of Laura Rozen at War and Piece who also passes on the best part:
And for seventeen years, who served as Mr. Rich's attorney? Dick Cheney's chief advisor, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

By all means, let's have a thorough investigation and hold people accountable.

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December 12, 2004

Sliding down the slippery slope

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While Canadian courts got one right on Thursday with a ruling that effectively paved the way for federal legislation that will confirm the right of same sex couples to marry, I think the courts got one wrong the next day.

Security certificates warranted, judges say

Controversial security certificates used to imprison suspected terrorists without charges on secret evidence are constitutional, a federal court ruled yesterday.

Human rights activists have denounced the certificates, which currently have six men in jail, as Canada's "dirty little secret."

But the Federal Court of Appeal yesterday endorsed the process that has kept accused Al Qaeda operative Adil Charkaoui behind bars for 19 months without charges.

"The detention of a permanent resident pursuant to a security certificate is not an unjustified and unconstitutional measure when the evidence discloses that he might be a danger to national security," the ruling said.

"The appellant has been unable to demonstrate that the procedure for reviewing the reasonableness of the security certificate issued against him ... do not meet the requirements of the Charter," it said.

Security certificates are a provision of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act that grant the federal government the power to deport non-Canadian citizens if they pose a risk to the country's safety.

The three-judge panel noted that Charkaoui's right to release is under "constant supervision and judicial protection, to ensure that it is not unlawfully or unjustly breached."

And the secret hearings that go hand-in-hand with security certificates are warranted to safeguard Canadians, the judges said in an 89-page ruling.

"We are satisfied that this necessity to protect national security can justify derogations from the system or process that usually prevails," they wrote.

I'm often sceptical of slippery slope arguments but I make an exception when it involves the government's right to act in secret. Democracy dies behind closed doors.

What this ruling does is uphold the government's right to deny an individual the presumption of innocence and the right to face his accuser by invoking "national security." If the government and the courts can justify this kind of treatment of a non-citizen, how far away are we from extending this kind of treatment to citizens?

And how far away are we from something like this:

Mystery Cloaks Couple's Firing as Risks to U.S.

May 5, the day that changed Aliakbar and Shahla Afshari's lives, began like most others. They shared coffee, dropped their 12-year-old son off at Cheat Lake Middle School here, then drove to their laboratories at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a federal agency that studies workplace hazards.

But that afternoon, their managers pulled the Afsharis aside and delivered a stunning message: they had failed secret background checks and were being fired. No explanations were offered and no appeals allowed. They were escorted to the door and told not to return.

Mrs. Afshari, a woman not prone to emotional flourishes, says she stood in the parking lot and wept. "I just wanted to know why," she said.

Seven months later, the Afsharis, Shiite Muslims who came from Iran 18 years ago to study, then stayed to build careers and raise three children, still have no answers.

They have been told they were fired for national security reasons that remain secret. When their lawyer requested the documents used to justify the action, he was told none existed. When he asked for copies of the agency's policies relating to the background checks, he received a generic personnel handbook.

The only explanation the Afsharis can come up with is their association with a man who, in turn, has been investigated for his association with an organization that hasn't been outlawed but has drawn some attention from the FBI. In other words, it sounds like a case of guilt by association. It sounds an awful lot like the Maher Arar case.

This isn't as severe an action as imprisoning someone for nineteen months and then deporting him. But then, for all we know, the threat to national security represented by the Afsharis isn't as great and the standard of evidence may be lower. And there's the problem with secret evidence. We don't know what the standards are.

In the first case, the Canadian example, you can argue that the judges who review the evidence and decide that the Security Certificate is legitimate serve as the safety valve. But since when do we count on judges to determine what constitutes a legitimate threat to national security? Do they teach that in law schools these days?

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December 9, 2004

The ball's in your court, Paul

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Paul Martin's government will now have to move on the issue of same sex marriage. Back when Chrétien was still in charge, the whole issue was referred to the Supreme Court of Canada for review and now the the Supremes have ruled.

The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled the federal government can redefine the definition of marriage, giving gays and lesbians the legal right to marry.

In a non-binding decision released Thursday morning, the court also said religious groups opposed to same-sex marriages do not have to perform them.

It also stopped short of ruling same-sex marriage was required by the constitution.

"I feel it is a clear green light in favour of equal marriage," said Martha McCarthy, a lawyer for same-sex couples.

Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said Monday he would take the bill to Parliament as early as this month.

Prime Minister Paul Martin has asked MPs to support the bill, but has also told them it will be a free vote.

The Liberals hold a thin minority government, with 134 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, but should have the support of most or all of the 19 New Democrat MPs and 54 Bloc Qu?b?cois MPs.

NDP Leader Jack Layton has said his caucus will vote in favour of the bill, while Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, whose party is split on the issue, says it will be a free vote.

If Martin allows Liberal MPs to vote their conscience, things are still up in the air. This Toronto Star story, written before the Court's decision was announced, suggests there's pretty serious division in the Liberal caucus on the issue.
One Liberal MP called on Prime Minister Paul Martin to use a controversial override clause to bypass any court finding that gays and lesbians should be granted access to civil marriage.

"I think the court would be wrong to find it's a matter of human rights," said Pat O'Brien (London-Fanshawe). "That's the side of the argument that millions of Canadians side with."

O'Brien said he believes "a third to a half of the Liberal caucus members" oppose same-sex marriage, and the government should not accede to a judicial endorsement of gay marriage.

"Invoke the `notwithstanding' clause. Set aside the court ruling. There will be negative fallout whichever way this goes. The country is badly split on it. That's patently clear to anybody who takes a look at it."

The notwithstanding clause is the nuclear option here. And when I say that I find myself in agreement with, of all people, Reg Alcock.
"I think it would be a terrible abuse of the Charter, frankly," said Treasury Board President Reg Alcock. "I don't think it rises to the test that it would have to in order to start to use the notwithstanding clause. It's a very slippery slope.

"The purpose of the Charter is to protect minorities against the abuse of the majority," said Alcock, saying although the override clause is there, governments ought not to use it "except in extreme instances and I don't think this situation rises to that."

Predictably the Conservative caucus is split as well. We could still see a lot of fur fly on this before it's finally resolved.

But for all that, I think the outcome is inevitable. All that remains is to see how that outcome is finally acknowledged. If the government goes down to defeat on this, then the issue will bounce right back into the courts since several provincial supreme courts have already ruled in favour of same sex marriage and same sex couples in those provinces are already married. If it comes down to trying to take away that right from people who already have it, I really don't think it'll happen.

So it's just a matter of how long people flog this dead horse before we can drag the corpse away and give it a decent burial.

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December 8, 2004

This isn't helping, either

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Since I seem to have returned to the subject of health care, at least briefly, let me throw this one up too. If we need to find a way to keep ourselves healthy without spending endless amounts of money doing it, how about we stop spewing quite so much poison into the air and water so we don't make ourselves quite so sick in the first place?

Toxic emissions have gone up in Canada: report

The amount of toxic chemicals being released into Canada's air, land and water has gone up by half in the last 10 years, says a new environmental report.

The study by two environmental groups, called Shattering the Myth of Pollution Progress in Canada, compares chemicals between 1995 and 2002, based on data from the federal government's National Pollutant Release Inventory.

The survey says emissions were up nationwide by 49 per cent between 1995 and 2002 -- the latest year for which figures are available. Toxic chemicals released into the air increased 21 per cent. While toxic chemicals released into the water had increased by 137 per cent.
The report was prepared by the Environmental Defence and the Canadian Environmental Law Association. The groups say the increases came despite 1999 federal legislation that commits the government to preventing pollution.

"It is clear that, despite years of government and industry rhetoric, the goal of pollution prevention has yet to be realized in Canada," the report says.
The report released Wednesday is available at the website It is based on data from the federal government's National Pollutant Release Inventory (July 2004 version).

Aren't we supposed to be getting better at this by now instead of worse?

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December 6, 2004

This isn't helping

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A while back Andrew of Bound by Gravity and I wrote a series of posts in which we debated a number of issues involving Canada's health care system. We didn't really come to any consensus. In fact we didn't really finish the debate -- I think we both just took a break for a while to blog about other issues. But I think I've found a point we can agree on. This won't do.

Provincial health reports not very illuminating

New provincial reports meant to shed light on how well the health-care system is working are sure to leave Canadians in the dark.

The reports, required under the five-year, $35-billion health-care accord of 2003, have just been handed in. But each report is presented in a different format, making provincial comparisons difficult or impossible.

Nor do the reports provide any information on how federal money provided under the accord has been used.
In each of the major health deals of recent years ? those of 2000, 2003 and 2004 ? accountability has been a major point of discussion, and premiers have promised full accounting to their own citizens, though not to Ottawa.

The first reports on the 2003 accord were due Nov. 30, and all provinces except Alberta filed on time. A spokesman for Alberta Health and Wellness said its report was delayed by the provincial election.

The reports are not posted on a common website, as had been promised, but can be found separately on the site of each provincial or territorial health department.

The reports look a lot like political brochures. Information is generally presented in a way that puts the best light on each province's performance. There are many photos of smiling faces and chapter titles such as "Healthy People."

There are no estimates on spending, even though this was clearly required by the accord.

How do we make any kind of informed decisions about health care if the provinces who deliver it won't provide the information on which to base those decisions? How do we measure progress? If we're going to experiment with different models for delivering these services, how will we gain any knowledge from the results without proper reporting?

The provincial premiers get to wear this. If they want the money and the authority then they need to get off their collective butt and meet their responsibilities under the health care accords so we know how our money is being spent. We have to know where we are before we can figure out how to get where we want to be.

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Please try this at home, Wolf

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The National Post has a summary report up on Wolf Blitzer's interview with PM the PM for CNN's Late Edition last night. I thought the following section on the possibility of Canadian troops being sent to Iraq was interesting.

Troops are out, the Prime Minister told Mr. Blitzer, host of CNN's Late Edition.

"Our commitments are such that it would be very hard for us to commit troops to Iraq," Mr. Martin said, pointing to Canada's significant involvement in Afghanistan's reconstruction.

Mr. Blitzer pressed on. "The Canadian Armed Forces must have a thousand troops that could be freed up to go and help the allies and the Iraqis," he said. "Is it a matter of a shortage of troops in your armed forces, or is there a political desire not to get involved militarily?"

"No," Mr. Martin said. "Our troops are stretched very, very thin."

Mr. Martin said his government is committed to substantially increasing the level of its regular troops and its reserves. "But right now we just do not have the troops," he said.

Asked by Mr. Blitzer whether he was suggesting that "down the road, once you've bulked up your military, you are not ruling the possibility of deploying troops in Iraq," Mr. Martin ducked.

"Well, I think an awful lot, that's going to depend on where we're asked to go," he said, pointing to developing needs in such hot spots as Sudan and Haiti.

When the Post's Norma Greenaway writes that "Martin ducked", she's exactly right. It might well be political suicide for Martin to commit Canadian troops to Iraq at this point but being Paul Martin, he's going to resist giving a straight answer just as hard as he can.

But did you notice the way Blitzer followed up? Twice, at least, if this report is any guide. Why he sounds every bit the tenacious reporter trying to make a disingenuous politician squirm. It's a pity he and his compatriots won't try that with George Bush.

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December 5, 2004

Who elected these people?

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The following story ran in the Toronto Star a few days ago. I bookmarked it so I could come back to it when I had time to do it justice.

Big business pushing security agenda

Behind the scenes in Ottawa, Canada's big business leaders have been quietly mapping out a blueprint for a new deal with the United States.

Fifteen years after bringing us the Free Trade Agreement, Bay Street is quietly lobbying for a new form of economic union and trade deal with America. The C.D. Howe Institute calls it the "Big Idea" and others the "Grand Bargain." Meanwhile, the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), representing the country's largest 150 corporations, calls its plan the "North American Security and Prosperity Initiative"

In April, 2003, CCCE head Tom D'Aquino led a delegation of 100 Canadian business leaders to Washington for meetings with their counterpart, the U.S. Business Round Table. To prepare their "new deal" plans, briefings were scheduled with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and Richard Perle, former chair of the White House defence policy board and architect of the Bush doctrine on security.

This is a subject on which I'm likely to make myself a candidate for the Coalition of the Shrill. I think the biggest threat to our democracy is this kind of corporate influence on public policy. What we have here is a small group of wealthy, powerful people who are arrogant enough to assume that they get to speak for the rest of us, that the future of this country should be shaped according to their narrowly defined interests. While it's possible that some of them may have actually convinced themselves that they know what's best, that doesn't make it any less arrogant.

I had wanted to highlight the disconnect between what these captains of industry want and the way many Canadians are feeling these days. As it turns out, mahigan at True North has posted a piece that does a great job of providing that perspective: Canada's Democracy is in a Crisis. Go read.

Then consider a point raised by another blogger, Declan at Crawl Across the Ocean. He discusses the argument made by many that Canada should be shaping some policies for the sake of our relationship with our biggest trading partner. We should go along to get along rather than risk being punished.

... the part that really puzzles me, is that a number of commentators don't seem to really mind this state of affairs where Canadians are forced into policies we don't like (appeasement on trade issues, unnecessarily tough stance on pot use, etc.) because of our fear of retribution from the U.S. In fact you never hear them say something like, "Well, we have to go along in this case, but we need to take steps so that we can do what we want without fear of retribution in the future" or even less likely, "we may be punished for doing this, but it's worth paying the price in order for us to maintain our indpendence and do what we think is right."

Emphasis added. Good point. Where do we draw the line? At what point do we finally say that we need to risk the punishment and make whatever adjustment we need to make to ensure that we can pursue the policies that make sense for us, rather than allowing the threat of retaliation to determine our course of action?

I've seen a number of people, ranging from bloggers to our Minister of Defence, suggest that we should opt in to Bush's Ballistic Missile Defence program even if we don't really believe in it. But I don't recall hearing many of them provide the kind of followup that Declan suggests. It seems to me that the biggest threat to our sovereignty is our willingness to cave in to the threat of economic retaliation by the U.S. if we don't do things a certain way. And it seems to me that it's people like Tom D'Aquino who are most likely to wield that threat as a way to get what they want.

Given the current precarious state of the American economy, it's not at all clear to me that deeper integration with it is really in the long term best interests of Canadians, though it's more likely in the short term to prop up the value of Tom D'Aquino and company's stock portfolios. I suspect we're in for some economic pain no matter which way we go, but why aren't looking at our own best interests both economically and in terms of being free to let Canada evolve as Canadians want it to? Instead we have this small group of highly influential individuals trying to rush us into a relationship which will surely limit our ability to take a different course in the future.

So I have a couple of questions for these CEOs:

1) Who elected you to speak on my behalf?

2) Why are you in such a hurry to see Canadians give up our right to set our own course? Or to put the question more succinctly: why do you hate Canada?

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December 1, 2004

Be good

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I'm off on one of my little road trips shortly. Behave yourselves and I'll see you in a day or so.

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About what I expected

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Missile pitch stuns Martin

George W. Bush has further fuelled a Canadian controversy with an aggressive pitch for Ottawa's participation in a continental ballistic missile defence program, something Prime Minister Paul Martin had sought to avoid during the U.S. president's first visit to the nation's capital.

It was a harshly discordant note in a day when the two leaders, showing genuine comfort with each other, spoke often about what Martin called the "unshakeable friendship between our two countries."

And for those of you who were optimistically expecting progress on trade issues:
There were no breakthroughs on two high-profile trade issues ? softwood lumber and opening the American border to Canadian beef. However, officials on both sides said the foundation for a healthier relationship had been laid.

Martin apparently indicated to Bush that missile defence was to be the subject of a debate here in Canada before any decision would be taken. That would be a refreshing change since all we've had so far is the government pretending that they're just window shopping and not buying.

Martin attempted to put the best face possible on things, saying:

"... we have common shared values, shared ambitions, and we share optimism also.

"I think that is what is fundamental."

No, that's spin. What's fundamental is that the trade disputes won't be settled because of "shared values." I doubt they'll be settled at all unless we grow a spine and fight back.

As for missile defence, Bush wants what he wants. And he'll expect to get it without giving anything in return. After all, he has a mandate, eh?

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