Saturday, June 28, 2008

Day of Action: July 2

The majority of Canadians support the Iraq war resisters' bid to stay in Canada. The majority in parliament voted to allow them to stay. Yet Stephen Harper has not moved to implement the motion. Doesn't he believe in democracy?

It was our actions - phone calls to Stephane Dion and Liberal MPs - which finally got the Liberals onside in this fight, which led to the victory in the House of Commons. Now, we need to do the same with Harper and the Conservatives. And the clock is ticking: Corey Glass is scheduled to be deported on July 10th, unless we can move the Conservatives to act.

I made my first phone call to Stephane Dion during the earlier campaign, and was surprised at how easy it was. Someone took my comments and said they would be passed on. They didn't ask me for any personal information. The call was over in about a minute.

On July 2, please call! It can make all the difference. Tell them to:
• stop deportation proceedings against Corey Glass and all US Iraq war resisters, and
• implement the motion adopted by Parliament to allow US Iraq war resisters to apply for permanent resident status.

Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Diane Finley:
• Ottawa office 613.996.4974
• constituency office 519.426.3400

(Thanks to Laura at wmtc for the information.)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Introducing John McCain

For those of you like me - for whom any tv appearance by American Republican politicians necessitates changing of the channel to anything else (even desert-island reality tv) - you may not have listened closely to John McCain. One thing is certain: if McCain gets into the white house, depite the damage he'll do, he will provide us with four more years of Bush-style amusement. Take a look here (it's just over 3 minutes), and in particular, note his comments about the economy in the second half.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Happy Pride!

As Pride Week begins in Toronto, I have to comment on a recent incident in the music world. Last week, at a concert in Norway, a spectator threw a shoe at Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme (is that really his name?). He responded by calling the spectator a "chicken shit fucking faggot". After news media labelled him "homophobic", he released a statement which the media referred to as an "apology", but which in reality is anything but. In his words:

"My gay family & friends, as well as myself, KNOW I am not a homophobe. For years now I've known gay is not a choice; one's skin color doesn't determine one's intelligence level; & red hair doesn't mean you're someone's stepchild. You see, it's not the words, it's their intent. I never said, nor suggested, that being gay is wrong, but apparently, based on your outrage to my flu-infused rant, you do!"

Blaming illness, he launched this rambling rant (the above is just a short sample) against the critics who called him "homophobic". He also plays the "I have gay friends" card, and attributes the criticisms to being PC, implying that on this basis, the entire issue can and should be dismissed.

The thing is, the key to the problem is right in his statement: "it's not the words, it's their intent". Homme intended to insult and degrade the spectator, and he used the word "faggot" to do so. When you use a derogatory term like "faggot", you derogate the people it refers to, and for no reason other than that they are gay. The implications of the word do not vanish simply because you say you mean well, or because you have friends who are gay.

Homme says all the right things - that being gay is not a choice, that being gay is not wrong, and that it is genetic (something we are all increasingly aware of - see the latest news about the study of brain symmetry in gay men and straight women). And I do accept that he is not to be lumped into the category of men who physically attack gays. But his words indicate a disconnect - one that his gay friends would do well to note.

The gay community long ago took ownership of the word "faggot", in retaliation for its use as a slur. Gays can use the term without negative connotation, and sometimes with affection. Straights with close ties to the gay community can sometimes use the word in the same sense, but its use in this sense can be easily misunderstood and should be done with extreme caution.

The sad thing here is that Homme is concerned only with attacking his critics, instead of dealing with the people who have been offended - some of whom are undoubtedly his fans. Would it have killed the guy to have simply acknowledged that he had hurt some people, and to have said he was sorry?

And for those who are still unsure: if he had used the word "nigger", we wouldn't even be bothering to have this debate.

Have a good Pride Week.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Creating Terrorism

Canada's current, sensational "Paintball 18" case of alleged terrorism continues to look more and more like the Project Thread fiasco (outlined in my previous post). It looks less like a (gasp) sleeper cell every day, and more like an excuse to create headlines.

Police mole paints altered picture at terror trial
Crown will have a tough time arguing campers were serious threat

June 17, 2008
Thomas Walkom
Toronto Star

Alter the perspective and everything changes. In the first full-fledged trial coming out of the case of the Toronto 18, the Crown is arguing that a youth (who cannot be named) participated in a "shocking and sensational" terrorist plot "to cause harm and death by attacking innocent lives."

But in a Brampton courtroom yesterday, RCMP informer Mubin Shaikh – the government's star witness – acknowledged that while this particular youth may have been an unsuccessful shoplifter (he was caught – twice), he knew nothing about alleged schemes to blow up buildings or behead politicians.

Rather, Shaikh said, he knew the young man as a quiet, shy, considerate teenager – a recent convert to Islam – who wanted to please the alleged ringleaders of the alleged plot but who, in the main, was just trying to fit in.

And he described the antics of those attending a Washago training camp as a comedy of errors, where the alleged jihadis melted holes in the soles of their running shoes, locked one vehicle's keys in the car, almost set a sleeping bag on fire and – instead of keeping a low profile – did doughnuts in a Canadian Tire parking lot.

This is the same Mubin Shaikh who said last week that this alleged training camp was actually quite serious and not just an exercise in "picking daisies."

But that was when he was being questioned by Crown prosecutor John Neander.

Yesterday, under questioning from defence lawyer Mitchell Chernovsky, Shaikh agreed that, really, nothing much happened during the December 2005 camping trip.

He said a recorded lecture on jihad played to the group of teens and young men was so boring that some dozed off.

He said the so-called military training consisted of getting the campers to march up and down a road to keep warm.

He said that when an illegal handgun was used for target practice, the youthful campers were "freaked out" by the noise.

He agreed that the campers wore camouflage outfits mainly to protect their clothes during paintball games.

Last week, Shaikh testified that one of the alleged ringleaders gave a long allegorical speech in which he spoke of the need for Muslims to bring down "Rome" – which the RCMP informer said was a reference to the U.S.

Yesterday, Shaikh acknowledged that many of those present – including the person now on trial – wouldn't have a had a clue what the speech meant.

And he summed up the Washago adventure with these words: "Nobody knew what they were doing ... Idiocy seemed to be a constant theme."

For the man on trial, now 20, this may be crucial evidence.

The Crown argues that his actions, including shoplifting, were part of a conscious effort to support terrorism.

But Shaikh described the youth as someone who was never told anything about anything and who was valued by the so-called ringleaders mainly because he worked hard.

By way of contrast, Shaikh has maintained that the ringleaders themselves were trying, in their own inept way, to concoct a dangerous plot.

That theory will be tested when the remaining 10 adults who still face charges come to trial – probably some time next year.

But when that does happen the Crown may find it difficult to argue that an enterprise described in part by their own star witness yesterday as "idiocy" represented a serious terrorist threat.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Terrorism in Canada: A Primer (Part 1)

In August 2003, 24 Muslim men in Toronto were arrested by Canadian law enforcement in a joint RCMP/CIC operation dubbed "Project Thread". The police alleged that the men, all students of the Ottawa Business School (actually in Scarborough, a Toronto suburb), were linked by a common "thread", hence the not-so-clever name (not so clever, as the "thread" would quickly unravel).

News media in Canada and around the world quickly trumpeted the story. Terrorism in Canada! The police had a "van load" of evidence, confiscated from the accused men's premises. The men would surely be found guilty. The evidence was solid, we were told.

I was dismayed. Was this really happening in my beloved country? Apparently so, as much as I wanted to deny it. So I reluctantly resigned myself to the fact that we appeared to be entering a scary new era.

But unlike some of my friends, coworkers, and acquaintances, I was not ready to simply condemn the accused. My parents were victimized during WWII, when rampant, government- and media-sanctioned wartime racism led to the unjust imprisonment of the entire Japanese-Canadian community. The one thing my parents have taught me is not to discriminate on the basis of race, or appearance. So - guilty these men might be, but first I wanted to see the irrefutable evidence.

And irrefutable the evidence appeared to be - especially post 9-11:
1) The accused had "airplane schematics".
2) Some had photos of "strategic landmarks".
3) One had a photo of himself at an "Al-Qaeda training camp".
4) One was taking flying lessons, and had filed flight plans taking his plane over the Pickering Nuclear facility just outside Toronto.
5) One man was spotted "scouting out" a nuclear facility.
Put this all together, and it sounds frightening indeed. It certainly seems undeniable. On this basis, many Canadians likely formed opinions about the men's guilt.

Less than a week later, the above evidence and the accompanying "van load" had fallen apart:
1) The "airplane schematics" were actually promotional posters of airplanes. A father of one of the accused worked for Lufthansa, and gave his son the posters for his walls. Most of the men - students, remember - did not have much money, and certainly not for luxuries such as artwork for their apartment walls.
2) The photos of "strategic landmarks" were souvenir posters of the CN Tower.
3) The photo of one man at an "Al-Qaeda training camp" was actually a vacation photo of the man on a hunting trip.
4) One man had come to Canada to fulfill his dream of becoming a pilot. Student pilots are only allowed to fly single-engine aircraft, and single-engine aircraft are not allowed to fly over water. Thus, flight plans for student pilots routinely follow the shoreline. Guess what? If you follow the shoreline of Lake Ontario from Toronto, it takes you over the Pickering Nuclear plant. This is a common flight plan for students and the information is not a secret.
5) The man who was supposedly spotted "scouting out" a nuclear facility was later determined to be in Pakistan at the time he was allegedy spotted.

A week after the arrests, a spokesperson for the RCMP admitted that there was no reason to suspect that any of the accused was in any way involved in terrorism. A happy ending?

Not at all, unfortunately. Despite evidence and conclusions by the police that there was no case here, the men continued to be held in prison for weeks or months. They were terrified, and were mistreated by guards and other prisoners. These men were imprisoned indefinitely, without charges (an exact parallel with the Japanese-Canadians during WWII). And Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) sought to deport all of them, as a result of their enrollment in the Ottawa Business School.

What was the crime here? The men were seeking to improve their education and better their chances at employment. One already had an MBA, but was taking a computer course because he had been advised that the IT field was burgeoning and would help his job search. But after they had enrolled, the Ottawa Business College stopped holding classes. It was taking tuition money and handing out diplomas. It was engaged in fraud. For this reason, CIC set out to deport the men. That's right: these men were victims of fraud, and they were being deported specifically because of it.

Evidence of discrimination? Leading up to the arrests, the police had obtained the Ottawa Business School's records. Of 400 people enrolled in the school, the only students investigated were Muslims with the name "Mohamed". No other students were investigated, nor was the owner of the business school, despite orchestrating the fraud. During the initial arrests, as the men were pushed to the floor and had guns held to their heads, they were asked, "Are you Pakistani? Are you Muslim?"

The police and the media had both played into post 9-11 Islamophobia, and for the most part, the public bought it. The terrorism accusations were front-page news. Yet a week later when the accusations were abandoned and the terrorism cases became simple immigration cases, there was little discussion in the media. The damage had been done, and little attempt was made to undo it.

What happened in the Project Threadbare case is despicable, and casts doubt on the reputation Canada has for welcoming immigrants and being a place of multi-culturalism. It should make us all question how committed we are to diversity and tolerance. And given the blatant violations of human rights, it should be clear that we need to take action to prevent this from happening again. Unfortunately, it has already happened again, and there is no sign it is about to stop. (More coming in Part 2.)

For more information on Project Thread, and the campaign which sought justice for its victims, Project Threadbare, don't miss this film, coming up this week:

Thursday, June 19th, 2008
7:00 - 9:00 PM
Mississauga Library, Noel Ryan auditorium
(Mississauga City Centre)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"Police cleared in 2 shooting deaths"

The headline above is from today's Toronto Star. It seems every month or so, a headline like this comes up again. These days, I don't even bother looking into the story. Why? Because the story never changes. Police officer kills civilian with gun. SIU (Special Investigations Unit) investigates. SIU finds officer innocent of any wrongdoing. The SIU has never found a police officer guilty of wrongdoing in any shooting in Toronto. Isn't that wonderful?

A couple of years ago, I supported the Justice for Jeffrey Campaign, asking for justice in the case of high school student Jeffrey Reodica, who was shot to death by a plainclothes police officer. The facts in that case were disturbing. Just a few:
- witnesses stated the plainclothes officers never identified themselves as police
- the police claimed Jeffrey had a knife, which is why he was shot
- Jeffrey was shot in the back at close range, when he could have been shot in the legs
- the officer who shot him claimed that he thought he had been stabbed by Jeffrey, but the officer had no wounds
- Jeffrey's friends and family assert he had never had a knife
- a knife was found at the scene; it would have required two hands to open it
- the knife had no fingerprints on it

Despite these troubling facts, and more, in this race-related case, the SIU chose to believe the testimony of a minority of witnesses who supported the dubious police claims.

Aside from the tragedy of Jeffrey Reodica's case, there is a larger issue here: that of trust in our police, and especially in the SIU. When a lawyer, teacher, or doctor is accused of wrongdoing, the law, teaching, and medical communities, respectively, make a quick and intensive investigation of the allegations, and may distance themselves from the accused. But the police always rally around their accused, and refuse to accept even the possibility of guilt. And despite the SIU being decribed as a "civilian" group, its behaviour is suspect; the Reodica case is only one example.

When a shooting occurs in a non-white community and witnesses refuse to come forward, there is often a plea from the chief of police. But how can people be expected to have trust in the police when we see case after case in which police behaviour is suspicious, and the SIU never has so much as a criticism? One of the shootings which the title of this post refers to was that of a man who was shot dead for stealing some lemons from a variety store. Why didn't the officers shoot the man in the legs? The report which cleared the officers said it was icy and the officers were afraid of slipping.

Our police may continue to kill under suspicious circumstances. And the SIU will no doubt clear the officers involved. Just don't expect race-relations between non-white communities and the police to improve, and don't ask us to trust the police until there is real change.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

"For Reasons of National Security"

In Canada, every time a Muslim is accused of terrorism (and let's face it: these days, no one else gets accused of terrorism), his human rights are violated, his legal rights are denied, and he is imprisoned - usually indefinitely and without charges. Of course, the rest of Canada is assured that this is all being done for the good of the country and our personal safety. Our authorities are working hard to keep us safe. And when asked for evidence, they will always say that the evidence is classified "for reasons of National Security".

It's never been explained to me what that means, or how National Security (NS) could be endangered by releasing evidence that could convict an accused terrorist. After all, if someone really is a terrorist, wouldn't a swift and solid conviction be best for all? And if our authorities are arresting someone on a terrorism accusation, shouldn't they have solid proof of that person's guilt? A conviction would also go a long way in reassuring the public that a terrorism accusation is justified.

In the case of Mohamed Harkat, who was imprisoned on terrorism allegations under a security certificate, filmmaker Anice Wong produced a documentary which addressed this issue. In the film, using documents from Harkat's lawyer, we get a rare glimpse into how the authorities suppress information:

(Screenshot taken from Anice Wong's documentary, "Whose Rights Anyway? Justice for Mohamed")

Don't you feel better now? The whole country could be in jeopardy if other terrorists find out whether Moe Harkat can speak French.

If that gives you doubts about the competence of CSIS, stay tuned. I have lots more to share.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Comment (and troll) policy

Wow. That was fast. I've already had to delete a couple of comments. Next thing you know - I'll be switching to comment moderation...

The purpose of this blog is to keep a record of events, and hopefully to be able to educate some Canadians as to the real facts behind some of our most important issues today. The purpose of this blog is not to provide a place to get into arguments with people who just want to argue. I don't have time for that.

Someone just posted comments stating that he thought the war resisters should not be allowed to remain in Canada. The thing is, his arguments were refuted in my earlier post as well as on wmtc, which I know the person in question reads (in fact, he found my blog though the wmtc link).

If you're not going to bother reading my posts, you certainly are not going to be given free reign to post opposing viewpoints. Go post on your own blog.

What does it take to get people to act?

I sometimes think it's a shame that most Canadians didn't experience a world war. Not that I want one now - it's just that most of us don't know real hardship. We have never had to ration goods, see a spouse or family member off at the airport with the likelihood that they may return in a coffin, or consider the loss of our freedom. Every single one of us is aware of political problems, social problems, and catastrophes which involve other parts of the world, and some which directly affect us. What do we do about problems? We talk about them. Sometimes we donate money. But for most of us, it ends there. Is that enough?

Tom grew up in New Jersey; his partner, Emilio, left Venezuela to escape discrimination and persecution. In Canada, Tom would have been able to sponsor Emilio, so that immigration would not have been an issue. But because same-sex partnerships are not federally recognized in the US, Emilio was instead under threat of deportation. They took part in a documentary to raise awareness of the plight of bi-national same-sex couples in the US.

Tom recently recounted to me his frustration with people's reactions to the film. Viewers were, of course, sympathetic, and many wanted to offer money. But of course, this particular issue is not a financial one; the problem lies with the ultra-conservative atmosphere which envelopes the US at the moment (the Bush administration, right-wing religious fundamentalism, anti-immigration and anti-gay bigotry). Tom and Emilio don't need anyone's money, nor do they need anyone's pity; what they need is for people to do something about repressive and discriminatory laws, for instance - by calling their elected politicians and pushing them to push for change.

But this is the reality of the society we live in; it is much easier to give money and be done with it. Most people are scared to phone politicians, regardless of how important the reason might be. And we are able to be complacent and apathetic, because this is the only world most of us know: a world of Ipods, high-def television, computers and internet access, and Hollywood blockbuster summer movie releases. For most of us, the biggest crisis is dealing with a broken air-conditioning system, unexpected car repairs, or noisy neighbours.

When I look at campaigns of activism, such as the Campaign to Stop Secret Trials in Canada, the Presumption of Innocence Project, and the War Resisters, to name a few, the majority of the people who start, join, and support these campaigns are those who are directly affected, such as relatives of those who have been victimized. Some of the organizers and key members of these campaigns are outsiders - people from the "mainstream", if you will - who dedicate much of their free time to activism. But these people represent a very small minority of the population. Where are the rest of us?

In the last few weeks, the War Resisters Support Campaign asked people to call Stephane Dion to support the call to allow resisters to stay in Canada. Enough people called that the Liberals were convinced to add their support to the Bloc and NDP, so that the Conservatives were defeated in a vote on the motion. People actually took action, and the result was that they made a real difference. But the campaign was long and hard, and the number of people who actually took part was a miniscule part of the majority of the Canadian population which believes in this cause.

In other countries, hundreds of thousands of people turn out for demonstrations. In Canada, it seems that we'd need a miracle (or some kind of disaster) to generate that kind of reaction.

There is still nowhere else in the world I would rather live. But it is precisely because of that that I want this country to clean up its act in terms of the discrimination and human rights violations - which most Canadians are unaware of. I hope this blog can help educate some people to understand what is wrong. But from that point on, it is up to ordinary Canadians to act.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Parliament says: "Let the War Resisters Stay"!

Today is a happy day - the happiest in a long time.

For the first time in my life, I rushed home from work, to turn on... CPAC. Promptly at 3:00 PM, the House of Commons voted on the motion to allow American war resisters to stay in Canada. Although we knew going in that we had majority support for the motion, it ain't over 'til it's over. We simply needed more votes than the bad guys, and the NDP and Bloc were onside, and so were the Liberals (albeit late to the party). But in these votes, what it can come down to is how many MPs actually show up. Because this can be crucial, I'm sure both sides had instructions to show up at all costs. So it was a nail-biter all the way through. The result:

Yea: 137
Nay: 110

It was thrilling, and I wish I'd been able to go to Ottawa with my friends to be able to celebrate. Ten of the war resisters were present, and if it was emotional for me watching on tv, I can imagine the scene in the gallery.

What does this mean? It's now up to Harper to acknowledge the will of the majority, and implement the motion. I don't know enough about the workings of our government and its systems to be able to analyze the situation. Historically, there have been cases in which the Prime Minister has ignored a motion. But from what I hear, it would be foolish for him to do so. Besides the majority vote in the motion, this has majority support among the Canadian population. And Harper has had a lot of bad publicity of late, and he has a minority government. I wonder if ignoring or defying the motion would be the beginning of the end for him.

I do wonder if he can drag his feet on the implementation; time is crucial as Corey Glass was scheduled to be deported in another week or so. I don't know if that can happen now; it would certainly be a travesty of justice. Given today's events, it would also be incredibly petty of the government to allow it, but then that is the type of man Harper is.

Many Canadians are unaware that the Canadian government was not in favour of allowing Vietnam resisters to stay in Canada. It was not until one of them was threatened with deportation that outraged Canadians rallied and forced the government to change its tune. Today, history is repeating itself in a very positive way.

Thanks to everyone who made phone calls and wrote email to Stephane Dion to get the Liberals onside, and to Harper and Diane Finley (immigration). As with voting in elections, every single person can make a difference.

Thanks to all of those involved in the War Resisters Support Campaign. These people are amazing, and I am honoured to call a lot of them my friends.

Thanks most of all to the courageous Americans who have sacrificed and risked much to come to Canada, and especially those who are speaking out and putting a public face on the issue. I feel fortunate to have met many of them in person, and hope that today's events mean their worries are over, and that they can get on with their lives.

It's so ironic that our immigration system requires people to have money, education, and perhaps business or entrepreneurial skills so that they will hopefully add something (perhaps new jobs) to this country. Yet the Conservative government has tried to prevent war resisters from staying. The resisters are people who have the intelligence and the integrity to protest what they have seen and felt to be morally wrong; they have already proven that they belong, by not only showing commitment to Canada's traditional role as peacekeeper, but by forcing our government to renew that role. They are forcing us to redefine Canada as a better place. We owe them a debt of gratitude.