Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bob Rae hints at Liberal-NDP accord.

I doubt that Ignatieff is anxious to join an accord with the NDP. In any event the way the polls are drifting up for the Conservatives I doubt Ignatieff would be at all inclined to join with other opposition parties to defeat the government in the first place. Rae is just living in the past because the future does not look that great for the Liberals. I wonder what Ignatieff thinks of all this musing by Rae! Perhaps the NDP could form a coalition with the Conservatives after the next election if the Conservatives do not get a majority. This would be like the Liberal Democrat Conservative Coalition in the UK. This is from the GlobeandMail.

Bob Rae hints at Liberal-NDP accord
Bill Curry

Bob Rae says there’s no rule preventing the Liberals and the NDP from ganging up and toppling a newly elected Tory government: He’s done it before and now he’s hinting it may happen again.
In a brief memoir posted this week on his website, the former Ontario NDP leader and premier delivers a shot across the bow as he looks back 25 years to an agreement he negotiated with the Liberals at Queen’s Park.
“This week marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Liberal-NDP Accord in Ontario. The election in early May of 1985 had elected a minority Parliament, with the Conservatives at 50 [seats], the Liberals at 45 and the NDP at 25. The vote split was roughly 37/37/25 [per cent],” the Liberal MP writes.
“On the night of the election the commentators (and the Conservatives under Frank Miller) went to bed thinking it was a Conservative minority. That was the way it had been in 1975 and 1977 when Bill Davis had used the rivalry between the NDP and the Liberals to stay in power.
“My own thoughts were different. I went to bed disappointed that the provincial NDP (of which I was then the leader) had not gained more seats, but convinced that politics could not just go on as before.”
Mr. Rae’s musings about Liberals and New Democrats working together come as polling numbers show the federal Conservatives remain comfortably in first place but that the combined support for the Liberals and the NDP is greater than the support for the Tories.
Coalition talk is also in the air after Canadians watched the British Conservatives form a coalition government with the third-place Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats had also negotiated with the second-place Labour Party, which led critics to attack the failed proposal as a “coalition of losers.”
Conservatives here are already warning that there are signs the Liberals are making nice again with the NDP.
In his web post, Mr. Rae describes how he and then-Ontario Liberal leader David Peterson consulted their caucus members and constitutional experts to craft an accord between the two parties that allowed the Liberals to govern without fear of “Russian roulette” threats of snap confidence votes. In exchange, they adopted some NDP policies in what Mr. Rae describes as a “working partnership,” rather than a formal coalition.
The arrangement in 1985 has been raised often in recent years in light of the pressure on the Governor-General to sort out minority-Parliament issues in Ottawa. Constitutional experts point out that the 1985 example showed the Lieutenant-Governor in that case did choose to allow another party to form a government, rather that require another election, after the governing party faced defeat on a confidence vote.
In the final sentence, Mr. Rae delivers a thinly-veiled hint that his web post is more than a simple stroll down memory lane.
“In a Parliamentary system elections produce a Parliament, and Parliament makes a government. That was the lesson learned in 1985. Prattle about ‘winning a mandate’ with less than a majority in Parliament is just that – partisan spin, all sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is a lesson worth remembering.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Top Harper Aide refuses to testify before parliamentary committee.

Surely the public will wake up one day and realize that this government has absolutely no respect for the parliament and will do everything it can to frustrate its activity when it fears that some political harm might come of it. However one might think that the public would not be all that pleased with attempts to avoid accountability. Even with a weak opposition leader such as Ignatieff eventually people may come around to the view that this government just has to go if we are ever to have accountability and not constant attempts to dodge it. This is from ctv.

Top Harper aide refuses to testify before committee

Canada AM: Robert Fife in Ottawa
The Tories are launching another showdown with the opposition over the powers of parliament, saying only cabinet ministers and not their political staff can appear as witnesses before committees.

Date: Tue. May. 25 2010 11:21 AM ET
One of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's top aides is refusing to appear before a Commons committee for a scheduled appearance today.

Harper's director of communications, Dimitri Soudas, has been called to appear before an all-party committee as they investigate allegations of political interference in the release of documents under the Access to Information Act.

But speaking to CTV's Question Period Sunday, Soudas said cabinet ministers, not staffers, will only go before committees, announcing a new "government-wide" policy.

"Ministers are the ones who are accountable and answer to Parliament," Soudas said.

Government House Leader Jay Hill told the House of Commons that the committee system doesn't play fair when questioning staffers.

A number of other government staffers are now not expected to testify later this week.

The matter is expected to set off a row with the opposition, who just won a hard fought victory over the release of documents relating to the Afghan detainee issue.

"The Harper government doesn't hesitate to blame political staff when they're caught carrying out the Conservative culture of deceit," Liberal House Leader Ralph Goodale said in a statement Tuesday. "Now that Parliament wants to hear from those staffers, they're trying to cover it up. Does the Prime Minster need to be reminded again that it is Parliament, not him, who decides the rules?"

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe has called the government's move "just unacceptable."

Tuesday's committee has been looking into whether Sebastien Togneri, as an aide to then-Public Works Minister Christian Paradis, pushed bureaucrats to "unrelease" a 137-page report on the government's real estate portfolio that had been approved for release to The Canadian Press.

The document was later released with 107 pages blacked out.

Togneri has appeared before the committee twice, including with his lawyer at his side.

Last Thursday, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley surprised committee members Thursday when she appeared instead of her communications director, Ryan Sparrow. Sparrow was to address a report that he had blocked an information request by the Globe and Mail.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Privatization in City of Winnipeg

It seems that more and more long term contracts for water, sewage, etc. are being contracted out supposedly to save money but often at the expense of quality and service. These public private partnerships (PP3s) are increasingly popular and often increasingly under scrutiny for their shortcomings. This article illustrates some of the problems with the Winnipeg city plans. This is from the CCPA Manitoba office.

Fast Facts: Contract with Veolia for waste-water treatment does not pass the smell test
by Lynne Fernandez
Manitoba Office |
On May 12 EPC unanimously voted to accept a report prepared by Winnipeg Public Services. The Report recommends that the City award a contract to Veolia for the design, construction and, it appears, the shared operation of the South and North End sewage treatment plants. The Report assures readers that this is a good deal for Winnipeg. But those of us who have been following the process are not convinced.

Winnipeggers will be forgiven for not fully understanding what is at stake, or for not being able to follow the complicated, increasingly arcane recommendations and business plans leading to this week’s report. The CCPA and citizens’ groups raised enough concerns about the initial Plan A — first presented in November, 2008 — that the City came up with a Plan B. Plan B was passed by council last July, in spite of the many concerns voiced by citizens’ groups.

Plan B did not allay CCPA’s concerns around the plan to create a Municipal Corporate Utility (MCU) to provide water and potentially other services for the City of Winnipeg, and to enter into a public-private partnership (P3) for the upgrades to and operation of the North and South End Sewage Treatment plants. The MCU is on hold pending amendment of the Winnipeg Charter by the Province.

The mayor and his supporters responded to these concerns by removing the terms “P3” “corporatization” and “strategic partner” from their vocabulary. This isn’t the first time bureaucrats and the Mayor have tried to control the message by changing language. Neither P3 nor strategic partner are to be found in this latest report (Plan C). The first question that arises, then, is whether or not the contract with Veolia is a P3 and if so, what kind of P3.

Some P3 models protect public interest more than others. The City, well aware of these differences, modified the wording in the Report so that “the Public Service has pursued an innovated model of collaboration with world-class sewage treatment service providers where City utility staff will continue to operate and maintain the sewage system”. So the word operate has been taken out of the mix, making the arrangement a design/ build model of a P3, preferable to a design/build/ operate model.

But the plot thickens. The recommendations on page 1 of the Report tell us that the CAO will be granted authority to “enter into a multi-year contract with Veolia that conforms to the terms set out in this Report”. The terms are summarized in the vaguest of terms, but we learn on page 4 that “multi-year” means 30 years. We know that the upgrades have to be completed by 2014, so what will Veolia be doing for the remaining 26 years? Operating the waste-water treatment plants, of course.

The report assures us that City management and Veolia experts will work together in the spirit of partnership to provide service excellence and best possible cost of service for citizens” and that City staff will continue working under the supervision of City managers.

Where does all this leave us? We appear to have a design-build-operate P3 with a multi-national corporation infamous for its predatory business practices in developing countries, and with a less-than-stellar reputation in the developed world – in spite of what the report claims. We will never know the details as Veolia will claim that it has the right to safeguard its business transactions. For example, the City will be able to terminate the contract “if ever required”, but we are not told at what cost.

Supposedly this arrangement will save Winnipeggers between 10 and 20 percent over the 30 years. Details as to how they arrive at this estimate are sketchy. Why, for example, did they use a discount rate of 6% to calculate net present value? These small details can make a big difference to the bottom line.

They claim that taxpayers will be protected throughout the 30 year “program” because if service standards are not met, or if capital cost targets are missed, Veolia will forfeit margins to “share these costs with the City”. Will the City have to share such costs under all circumstances? What if Veolia is solely responsible for such shortfalls? Supposedly the City is willing to share the risk because it “will continue to control operating and maintenance parameters by which the sewage system shall operate”. This may sound reassuring, but a cautionary tale is in order at this point.

Consider a report by about the Indianapolis Department of Waterworks and its P3 partner, Veolia. The report found that “the city too often relied on the Department of Waterworks’ board, on consultants and on the private operator, Veolia Water, rather than on the department’s own staff ‘to ensure safe and efficient operation, maintenance and management’ of Indianapolis Water”.

Veolia is the private partner in a 20-year, $1B P3 contract to run Indianapolis Water. The author — who ironically works for CH2M Hill, one of Veolia’s competitors — is critical of Indianapolis’ water department and “its ability to ‘stand up’ on behalf of taxpayers”.

One must be careful when relying on a report by Veolia’s competitor, but this account is more a defence of public oversight of a P3 than it is a criticism of Veolia. The tone of the report is that we expect private companies to behave badly, so we need strong public oversight of these partnerships.

This brings us full circle to the most glaring omission in Winnipeg’s Plan C: the role of the MCU in the contract between the City and Veolia. Will the Province ensure that Winnipeg’s proposed MCU provides sufficient oversight? The fact that the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission — the equivalent to our Public Utility Board — is not standing up to Veolia is cause for concern. Not until we know how the Province is going to amend the Winnipeg Charter and how the MCU will accommodate the contract between the City and Veolia will we have a sense of what this deal means for Winnipeggers.

More than $2 billion and the future governance of our public utilities will be at stake on May 19 when council votes on this issue. We hope Winnipeggers will be there to register their concerns.

Lynne Fernandez is a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Manitoba.

New Vehicle Sales down in Canada

Household debt is at record levels in Canada so it is not too surprising that big ticket items such as new cars should be recording a dip. What is more surprising is that they have been increasing over the last few months. This is from the VancouverSun.

New vehicle sales down in Canada: StatsCan


OTTAWA — The number of new vehicles sold in Canada dropped in March by 4.2 per cent, with a sharper decline in truck sales a major factor, Statistics Canada reported Friday.

The decrease to 132,867 vehicles sold sliced gains made in February — when an increase of 8.1 per cent was reported — by nearly half, with all but one province posting a drop in new vehicle sales.

The federal agency said new truck sales — which also factor SUVs, minivans, vans and buses — fell 5.7 per cent to 67,960 in March, but continued its "upward trend" that started in early 2009.

Passenger car sales fell 2.5 per cent to 64,907, with a sharp decline of 5.7 per cent in North American-built vehicles negating a 1.5 per cent increase in sales of foreign vehicles, which registered its third straight monthly gain in sales.

Saskatchewan felt the largest swing in new vehicle activity, recording a 14.1 per cent decrease in sales after three consecutive months of reported gains.

Ontario, with a drop in sales of 4.2 per cent, was largely responsible for the national decline. In March, 48,881 new vehicles were sold in Ontario, down from just over 51,000 in February.

Nova Scotia and Manitoba also experience double-digit percentage declines, with decreases of 13 per cent and 11.7 per cent, respectively.

British Columbia, which also encompasses the territories, declined 0.9 per cent, marking the fifth consecutive month that region has experienced a drop in new vehicle sales.

Prince Edward Island — which reported an increase of 7.6 per cent — was the only province to register gains in March. It was the first increase in sales since December 2009 for Canada's smallest province.

© Copyright (c) Canwest News Service

Friday, May 14, 2010

Agreement reached on release of detainee documents.

I am surprised that all the parties were able to work this out. However no doubt none wanted to provoke a constitutional crisis or even an election so it should not be too surprising. The Conservatives were holding out for veto power but did not get that. However, they must be satisfied with the checks that are provided against release of sensitive documents. This is from the CBC.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he's satisfied with the agreement on the release of Afghan detainee documents.

In St-Félicien, Que., for a funding announcement, Harper called the deal "reasonable.

"I believe it meets both our objectives: obviously to abide by the Speaker's ruling but also — and this is extremely important — for the government to protect our legal obligation to keep confidential certain documents," he said.

"I do hope that it will work and that everyone will be satisfied with the arrangement."

The Conservative government and the opposition parties reached a compromise earlier Friday. A committee of MPs, who would be required to take an oath of confidentiality, will be able to review uncensored documents to determine their relevance.

Documents deemed relevant would then be passed on to a panel of experts who would determine how to release the information to all MPs and the public "without compromising national security."

The documents are at the centre of accusations that prisoners were tortured by Afghan authorities after being handed over by Canadian troops. The government maintained that releasing the documents posed a threat to national security and the security of Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announces the agreement on Afghan detaineee documents in the House of Commons on Friday.Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announces the agreement on Afghan detaineee documents in the House of Commons on Friday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson tabled the deal in the Commons on Friday afternoon.

"In your ruling on April 27, you were confident that members of Parliament of all parties could come to an agreement," Nicholson told Speaker Peter Milliken. "I just want you to know that confidence was not misplaced.

"It's an agreement that complies with Canadian laws, it does not compromise national security and it does not jeopardize the lives of Canadian men and women who serve in uniform."

Liberal House leader Ralph Goodale told the Commons that "the participants in the talks over the last 2½ weeks have all tried, I believe, to get it right."

The agreement came hours before the extended deadline agreed to by the Speaker. He had ruled that MPs had the right to see the documents, and he gave all parties two weeks to reach a compromise that would protect national security.

The all-party committee asked for an extension until Friday at 1:30 p.m. ET.

Had an agreement not been reached, the government could have faced a contempt of Parliament motion, which could have triggered an election.

Read more:

Final day for agreement on Afghan detainee document disclosure

I expect that the Conservative government knows full well that the Liberals in particular will not risk an election at this time. The Conservatives will continue to insist on having a veto over what is released in order that nothing damaging to their credibility should emerge. One would think that Conservative credibility is already damaged but nevertheless the polls show no dip in support. Ignatieff's leadership would no doubt account for this! This is from The Star.

Speaker Peter Milliken extends deadline for Afghan document disclosur

Richard J. Brennan

OTTAWA – House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken has agreed to extend until Friday the deadline for the Conservative government to hand over uncensored Afghan detainee documents to Parliament, or at least arrive at an all-party agreement on how to do it.

The sticking point on the release of controversial Afghan documents is the fact the Conservative government still wants to have the final say over what is made public, opposition MPs said Tuesday.

“The key issue is what happens in the events the government doesn’t agree with information that should be disclosed or how it should be handled,” NDP house leader MP Libby Davies told reporters.

Fellow New Democrat MP Jack Harris suggested more bluntly the government still wants a type of veto over what should be released to Parliament and what should be kept secret for national security reasons, despite the speaker’s ruling to the contrary.
“The real issue here is who makes the ultimate decision and our point of view is that it has to be Parliamentarians who make that ultimate decision … that’s the process we proposed. No veto,” Harris s
aid, referring to the MPs who will make up the review committee.

In his ruling, Milliken made it clear he wants Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government to hand over uncensoredd documents. Otherwise, the government risks being found in contempt of Parliament, which could precipitate an election.

NDP MP Joe Comartin suggested if a deal is not reached by Friday, then one might not be reached at all. “Our sense is we’ve had enough time, exchanged enough concepts and ideas and proposals and that it’s decision-making time,” he told the Toronto Star.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Afghan mission has become incoherent.

The U.S. is now trying to make things appear more coherent by covering up all the cracks and disagreements in Obama's meeting with Karzai. The Marjah offensive has left US marines in control because there are not enough Afghans willing or able to take over. They probably realize that trying to rule the area will make them targets for assassination. Let the NATO troops die not them.
Even the Kandahar offensive seems in doubt and it is not clear exactly how it is supposed to take place. If there is house to house fighting that would be a disaster. The locals have made it clear they do not want an offensive. These are the locals that NATO is there to protect. It is all an expensive farce paid for by US and allies taxpayer dollars and lives. Even Harper seems to have changed his tune and no longer wants further commitment at least to a military role. This is from the Toronto Star.

Siddiqui: Afghan mission has become incoherent

By Haroon Siddiqui
Editorial Page
You may disagree with Stephen Harper’s warfare with Parliament to keep Afghan detainee documents secret. But there’s some logic to it.

The papers may implicate our army, diplomats and/or allies. Or blow holes in the Conservative defence that it did not preside over any actions in violation of the Geneva Conventions, which make it a war crime to knowingly hand detainees over for torture.

You may also disagree with Harper’s refusal to hold a parliamentary debate on what Canada should do in Afghanistan after our July 2011 deadline for military withdrawal. But there’s logic to that as well.

Harper does not want MPs reminding Canadians that he has changed his Afghan policy. After famously posing for the cameras in a military vest in 2006 and pledging that Canada would never cut and run, that’s precisely what he plans to do next year. He wants Canada to undertake only civilian and humanitarian duties. He won’t countenance any role for the military except training Afghan troops and police, even though said training cannot be done without leading the trainees into combat. He just does not want to go into an election this year or next with Afghanistan as a campaign issue, especially with his own caucus divided on it.

That makes perfect sense from his partisan perspective.

However, there’s little logic left in Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan. That’s because the NATO mission itself has become incoherent.

Initially it went awry under George W. Bush. But Barack Obama was not going to become the first president to admit defeat in war, so he opted for the contradictory goals of a military surge and a military withdrawal.

“We must win in Afghanistan.” Yet “America has no interest in fighting an endless war.” But how do you win by telling the enemy to just wait you out?

You settle for a limited goal: “We must deny Al Qaeda safe haven. We must reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the government in Kabul.”

Your aim is not to win but rather not to lose.

Even that becomes problematic when your declared goal is to prevent the collapse of a government you are publicly quarrelling with because it is corrupt, inefficient and in cahoots with military and drug warlords. Hamid Karzai is also disliked by a majority of Afghans for those very reasons.

Left with no credible partner in Kabul, you court others at the provincial and local levels. You go native, hold mini-loya jirgas and throw cash around. You look foolish.

Meanwhile, despite pledges to avoid civilian deaths, the carnage continues, and also the lying that often accompanies such incidents:

U.S. military admits role in killings of women (an April 5 headline). Two men and three women, two of them pregnant, are killed in night raids. It is said the women were already dead when the soldiers arrived, “tied up, gagged and killed” by relatives. The Times of London says the soldiers had dug bullets out of the bodies and washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to superiors. NATO recants.

Civilians killed as U.S. troops hit Afghan bus (April 13). Five are killed and 18 wounded.

NATO apologizes for killing unarmed Afghans in car (April 22). Four are shot dead, including a boy. It is said that two were “known insurgents.” NATO later recants.

Afghan death sparks protests (April 30). A prominent civilian is killed in a night raid in which troops blindfold 15 people, including women and children, and send in sniffer dogs. Outraged residents say: “They disgraced our pride and our religion by letting their dogs sniff the holy Quran, our food and the kitchen.” Hundreds protest, chanting, “Death to America,” “Long live Islam.” (A perfect example of how people get “radicalized” and “Islamized.”)

We are in Afghanistan to save Afghans from the Taliban but the Afghans are now as afraid or more afraid of NATO bombs and convoys and checkpoints as they are of Taliban attacks.

That’s why an overwhelming majority want an end to the war through negotiations with the insurgents. Hence Karzai’s $160 million package to buy the “good Taliban.” Hence, in theory, the American onslaught on Kandahar, not so much to vanquish them but to force them to the negotiating table. But Obama and Karzai come across as playing on different teams.

Meanwhile, the Taliban are going from strength to strength, even according to a Pentagon report. They are assassinating officials who cooperate with NATO, which is not able to protect them or international civilian workers. The United Nations announces a pullout of its 200 staff.

As for NATO members, they all vouch for the American mission but refuse to supply any more troops. Even Canada, which has done more than its share of the fighting, lets it be known on the eve of the Kandahar offensive that it will “strive to avoid large-scale fighting with the Taliban this summer,” according to a Canadian Press report.

This is a mission operating on a wing and a prayer.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Obama administration demands Amnesia from Reporters.

Of course the judge did not want Interrogator # 1 associated with Joshua Claus because of Claus' spotty record. The judge demanded that the reporters play by the rules of keeping such unpleasant information hidden from the public. There was no security issue here so applying the rule was not to protect security. Applying the rule was to avoid damaging information from getting out to the public. Hence the reporters had to disciplined. This is from the huffington post.

Dan Froomkin

Obama Administration Demands Amnesia From Reporters Covering Gitmo

Jack Newfield, the legendary investigative reporter, once wrote that if government officials had their way, journalists would be "stenographers with amnesia."

The "amnesia" part, at least, was generally considered a bit of an exaggeration.

But now, the Pentagon has banned four reporters from covering the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because they refused to forget something that had already been reported to the world.

The four reporters were covering military commission hearings at which defense attorneys for Canadian detainee Omar Khadr argued that confessions he made as a gravely wounded 15-year-old shouldn't be admissible in his upcoming trial because they were made under duress.

And indeed, witnesses earlier this week described how Khadr's interrogation began when he was still sedated and lying wounded on a stretcher. A medic testified that he once found Khadr chained by his arms to the door of his cage-like cell, hooded and in tears

But the defense's star witness, on Thursday, was the first U.S. Army interrogator to question Khadr. The interrogator admitted that in an attempt to get Khadr to talk, he told the boy a "fictitious" tale of an Afghan youth who was gang-raped in an American prison and died.

And it wasn't just what he said that was significant, it was also who he was. The interrogator was Army Sgt. Joshua Claus, who pleaded guilty in September 2005 to mistreatment and assault of detainees at the Bagram prison in Afghanistan.

Claus was a central figures in the interrogation of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar whose death in U.S. custody in 2002 was ruled a homicide by military investigators and was the subject of a New York Times investigation and the Oscar-winning documentary, "Taxi to the Dark Side".

The military judge presiding over the hearing insisted that Claus's name was protected information, and that he should only be referred to as Interrogator # 1.

But since it was already public record that Claus was Khadr's first interrogator -- and he'd even given an interview last year about his desire to testify -- the four reporters used his name in their Wednesday reports, previewing his testimony.

That was enough to get them thrown off the island.

"That reporters are being punished for disclosing information that has been publicly available for years is nothing short of absurd," Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement. "Any gag order that covers this kind of information is not just overbroad but nonsensical. Plainly, no legitimate government interest is served by suppressing information that is already well known. "

The decision was announced by Col. Dave Lapan, the Pentagon's director of press operations. He emailed the four news organizations that they could send other reporters to cover military commissions in the future, but that another violation would get their organizations banned entirely.

The decision Is being appealed.

"The company lawyers are looking at the ground rules, the timing of this, and Carol's reporting, in preparation for appealing this decision," said John Walcott, Washington bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. Carol Rosenberg, one of the four banned reporters, works for McClatchy's Miami Herald.

The other three reporters are Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star, Paul Koring of Toronto's Globe and Mail and Steven Edwards of CanWest Newspapers.

"I'm not sure I understand the logic of trying to redact a name that has been in public for some time, of a man who has granted at least one major interview, and been convicted and sentenced," Walcott told HuffPost.

"I hope that this decision is about what the Pentagon said it's about, and that is an attempt to protect a witness -- and not about some of the embarrassing testimony that emerged in the tribunal this week.

"I also hope it is not intended to have a chilling effect of tribunals going forward," he said. "It won't on us... In fact, it may have the opposite effect."

John Stackhouse, editor in chief of the Globe and Mail, was also skeptical. "Banning the information now -- when it is already known around the world -- serves no apparent purpose other than to raise more questions about the credibility of the Guantanamo courts," he said in a statement.

Khadr was shot twice in the back during a Special Forces raid on a suspected al Qaida compound in Afghanistan. He confessed under interrogation to having thrown a hand grenade that killed U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer, 28, and has been charged with murder as a war crime and conspiring with al Qaida. Khadr is now 23.

Claus gave an interview to Michelle Shepard of the Toronto Star (one of the four banished reporters) in March 2008. Shepard wrote:

A former U.S. soldier who spent weeks interrogating Omar Khadr says he wants to testify before a Guantanamo Bay court and rejects any accusations that he harshly treated the Canadian detainee.

In the first interview he has given since leaving the army, Joshua Claus told the Toronto Star that he feels he has been unfairly portrayed concerning his work as an interrogator at the U.S. base in Bagram, Afghanistan.

"They're trying to imply I'm beating or torturing everybody I ever talked to," Claus said by telephone yesterday. "I really don't care what people think of me. I know what I did and I know what I didn't do."
Shepard also reported in that story:

Khadr's lawyers fought to get access to Claus at a Guantanamo hearing earlier this month after the prosecution had dropped him from a previous witness list.

Navy Lt.-Cmdr. Bill Kuebler accused the prosecution of trying to hide Claus' identity because he had been involved in the interrogation of an Afghan detainee who died in U.S. custody.

Nancy A. Youssef reported Thurdsay for McClatchy Newspapers:

On Wednesday, the judge in the case, Col. Patrick Parrish, reminded reporters that even though Claus' name was public, a protective order intended to keep him anonymous applied to journalists as well.

Rosenberg's report that day included the following sentences: "Canadian reports have identified that interrogator as Army Sgt. Joshua Claus, who pleaded guilty in September 2005 to mistreatment and assault of detainees at Bagram. He was sentenced to five months in jail."

Rosenberg said her story was filed before the judge's warning. She said Claus' name had already been revealed.

"All I did was report what was in the public domain," Rosenberg said....

Pentagon officials said it didn't matter that Claus' name was already widely known.
"If his name was out there, it was not related to this hearing. Identifying him with Interrogator No. 1 was the problem," Lapan said.

"The judge shouldn't have had to remind them. The stories that appeared before violated the rules."

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press on Friday announced it is seeking a meeting with Department of Defense officials to discuss the banishment. The committee also notes that the president judge had previously insisted that a video of an interrogation of Khadr be played in a closed session with no spectators, despite the video's availability to the public on YouTube.

President Obama severely criticized the Bush administration's military commissions during his presidential campaign, and immediately suspended them upon taking office. But five months later, he reopened the door to their use, and now they're up and running again.

The White House is widely expected to overrule Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to try the highest-profile terror suspects, including alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, in federal court, and send them to military commissions instead. Holder, for his part, is gamely trying to defend military commissions to skeptics.

But nothing says "kangaroo court" quite like banning the free press.

Dan Froomkin is senior Washington correspondent for the Huffington Post. You can send him an e-mail, bookmark his page; subscribe to RSS feed, follow him on Twitter, friend him on Facebook, and/or become a fan and get e-mail alerts when he writes.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Premier Stelmach in Washington Selling the Oil Sands

The oil drilling rig disaster has given Stelmach an opening to sell Washington on the virtues of tar sands oil. It may be dirty but it will not pollute U.S. coast fisheries and beaches! It will be interesting to see if Obama changes his mind about not importing dirty oil. Actually, I do not see why Stelmach is so concerned about marketing Tar Sands oil. If the U.S. will not use the oil certainly China and no doubt many other countries will buy it and probably at better prices into the bargain. This is from the Edmonton Sun.

Premier Stelmach in Washington

Premier Ed Stelmach has made a trip to Washington D.C. to convince American legislators they need Alberta oil.

The Premier met with U.S. senators in an effort to try and improve the image of Alberta's oil sands. He talked about how greener policies by the Obama government that could distance the U.S. from Alberta oil could be damaging for both sides.

"We have to ensure that U.S. legislators are aware of the impact their decisions have on Alberta and Canadian energy suppliers and the impact it might have on American workers," he said. "We must ensure that all interests in this legislation understand the risks to their economies."

Stelmach said the trip was positive and senators were aware of how important the Canadian oil supply is.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Board: Afghan authorities beat citizens on whim.

Although turning over detainees in these circumstances is probably a war crime I expect nothing will be done. Eventually the opposition will get tired of attacking the government or realize that probably the vast majority of Canadians could care less or may even think that the detainees are getting what they deserve. Thinking otherwise would be to be soft on terrorists. I expect that soon the whole issue will disappear. However perhaps no agreement on the issue of release of documents will be reached and then there could still be a few fireworks.

Afghan authorities beat citizens on 'whim': board
By CBC News
CBC News

Canadian soldiers saw and talked about Afghan authorities beating citizens in the street "on an apparent whim" around the time a suspected Taliban fighter turned over to Afghan police was assaulted in June 2006, a military board of inquiry has found.

The board revealed the suspected insurgent who was assaulted by Afghan police in front of Canadian soldiers wasn't considered a detainee because of the soldiers' confusion over the policy in place.

But the inquiry also admitted it could not locate a number of documents and records related to the incident, including war diaries, radio chat logs, as well as daily, weekly and individual patrol reports.

Field report transcript

20:00 14 Jun 06 [location redacted]

Stopped along Rte [redacted] and held up a vehicle that was proceeding south down the route. Stopped and searched the three individuals in the white van and got a very weird feel from one of them.

Had the terp [interpreter] come and he [unclear] that the individual was in all probability enemy (Taliban) due to his accent and his false story of being from Kandahar city. So I had him lie down on his stomach, then conducted a detailed search. (I had him empty his pockets prior to this) catalogued all his items and then took down his particulars (name [redacted] from Uruzgan).

We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over, to ensure that if the ANP did assault him, as has happened in the past, we would have a visual record of his condition.

The ANP Section Comd, [redacted] then arrived, asked the suspect a couple of questions and concurred with our assessment that the individual was enemy.

We in good faith handed the PUC [person under control] over to them so that he could be transported to the Zhari District Centre [Forward Operating Base Wilson] where [watchdog] (a radio call-sign for military police) could get him. That was the last I saw him. [redacted] is one of [redacted] men.

(View the report [] )

The incident, first disclosed last December by Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's top military commander, immediately prompted opposition parties to accuse Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government of misleading Canadians over its claims that there was no evidence that detainees transferred by Canadian troops into Afghan custody before 2007 were abused.

During a routine mounted patrol, the soldiers pulled over a vehicle and singled out an individual for searching due to "suspicious activity." The soldiers handed over the man to a passing Afghan National Police truck to be taken to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) in Zhari district, and then noticed the police assaulting him when the truck pulled away.

When they caught up with the man, they determined he had a bloody nose and some contusions from the police hitting him with their shoes. They gave him medical treatment, food and water, Maddison said.

The incident wasn't reported to superiors because the soldiers mistakenly "did not believe there was a requirement to report such events," Maddison told reporters on Friday.

"In the minds of soldiers who are trusted on the field to make the right decision and save lives, in their mind, this was not a detainee event that required reporting.

"In their minds, this was a person under their control and that they were facilitating the transfer to the ANSF. So there was a discrepancy that emerged on the battlefield between the intent in the policy and how it was being operationalized in the field."

As for the missing documents, Maddison said the board was "absolutely confident" it had what was required to make its findings. The board is investigating why some diaries "were not in place," but the fact that some daily briefings and situation reports could not be located "didn't come as a significant surprise," he said.

"There is a certain amount of what we call the fog of war."

Natynczyk, chief of the defence staff, was forced to correct himself in December when he first learned of the case, a day after telling a parliamentary committee the individual was captured by Afghan forces, not Canadian soldiers. He then ordered an inquiry into how the incident failed to climb up the military chain of command to him or his predecessor, Rick Hillier.

The board made no recommendations on improving detainee transfer reporting because it found the military now has a "unambiguous" management system of documenting and reporting detainees in place.

The detainee issue came to the forefront last November following allegations by Richard Colvin, a former senior diplomat with Canada's mission in Afghanistan. Colvin, now based in Washington, told a parliamentary committee that prisoners were turned over to Afghan prison officials by the Canadian military in 2006-07, despite his warnings to the Canadian government that they would be tortured.

Government and military officials - past and present - have vehemently denied his allegations.

Opposition MPs have called for a public inquiry into the Afghan detainee affair and demanded to see uncensored documents pertaining to the issue. The government has refused, citing national security.

Last week, House of Commons Speaker Peter Milliken ruled the government was wrong to deny MPs access to the documents and called on all parties to find a solution that would balance national security concerns with Parliament's right to examine the material.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Harper axes funding for 11 women's groups.

It seems that the Conservatives are protesting a bit much when they accuse the Liberals of bringing up the abortion issue. After all the issue was brought up by the Conservatives in their refusal to fund programs that involve abortion rights and now it seems they are attacking liberal women's groups who might campaign for those rights as well. This will keep some in the Conservative base happy anyway. The piper will not pay you unless you pipe the piper's tune. This is from CTV.

Harper government axes funding for 11 women's groups News Staff

A women's rights group is charging that the Harper government has cut funding for 11 women's groups in the last two weeks, just prior to June's G8 summit at which maternal health to a key part of the agenda.

Kim Bulger, executive director of Match International, said her group was one of the groups to lose funding.

International Co-operation Minister Bev Oda said the group's funding was cut due to performance issues.

The funding cuts were revealed a day after Conservative Sen. Nancy Ruth advised a gathering of women's groups that they risk a backlash from the government unless they "shut the f--k up" on the abortion issue. She said she fears there will be more of an anti-abortion response from her party if women's groups continue to speak out.

"If you push it, there will be more backlash," Ruth said. "This is now a political football. This is not about women's health in this country."

Bulger blamed the funding cuts on the "ideologically driven" Conservative agenda against feminist groups who support funding abortion as part of maternal health initiatives in developing countries.

The government announced last week that it will only fund family planning, but not abortion, in its new policy.

During question period Tuesday, Liberal MP Bob Rae said Ruth's comments are part of the "culture of intimidation and bullying" used by the Tory government to quiet their critics.

"If you have a disagreement with the government, just shut the F up," is how Rae characterized his political opponents' style.

Transport Minister John Baird said the government disapproved of Ruth's comments.

"The language is unacceptable and in no way, shape or form represents the views of the government," he said

But Baird replied that the Liberals were trying to start a "culture war" by opening the divisive abortion issue.

"Canadians don't want to drag the abortion debate in the maternal health discussion," he said. "This government is focused on how to make a positive difference in the lives of mothers and newborn children in the developing world."

Monday, May 3, 2010

Ignatieff wants Harper to extend Michaelle Jean's term as Governor General

I have mixed feelings about Michaelle Jean. Some of her work has been exemplary but in other respects it has not. She gave in to Harper and prorogued parliament but she also proudly presented a medal to General Natynczyk for service in Iraq an operation that Canada was not even supposed to be involved in. From wikipedia.

Natynczyk attended the U.S. Army War College, and was subsequently appointed Deputy Commanding General, III Corps andFort Hood. In January 2004, he deployed with III Corps to Baghdad, Iraq, serving first as the Deputy Director of Strategy, Policy and Plans, and subsequently as the Deputy Commanding General of the Multi-National Corps (Iraq) during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Natynczyk led the Corps' 35,000 soldiers, consisting of 10 separate brigades, stationed throughout the Iraq Theatre of Operations.[2][4] He was later awarded the Meritorious Service Cross specifically for his combat efforts in Operation Iraqi FreedomJanuary 2004 to January 2005.[5]

Perhaps as a great admirer of the US and former supporter of the Iraq war Ignatieff admired this action of Michaelle Jean.
As the article points out it is unusual for politicians to plump for a particular person for this post but then Ignatieff probably knows little about Canadian tradition in any event. One tradition he will probably learn about soon and that is that unsuccessful leaders get unceremoniously dumped by their parties.

'Bravo, Michaelle Jean': Ignatieff's GG endorsement raises eyebrows
By: Stephen Thorne, THE CANADIAN PRESS

OTTAWA - Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff is urging the prime minister to extend Michaelle Jean's term as Governor General when her five-year appointment expires in September.
In an unusual break with the non-partisan tradition of all things GG, Igantieff issued a news release Sunday saying the Queen's Canadian secretary consulted him on a successor at Stephen Harper's request.
Jean has served her country with "distinction and honour" and deserves Canada's thanks, Ignatieff said.
"We just think somebody ought to get up and say: 'Bravo, Michaelle Jean; you've done a great job for Canada and in our view it would be great if you continue,"' Ignatieff told reporters after a Sunday speech.
Within hours on Sunday, the topic of Ignatieff's comments was becoming political fodder - just the sort of thing critics of his public declaration warned would happen.
The Prime Minister's Office issued an official statement saying Jean has done "an exceptional job representing Canada" and that she and Harper "have an excellent working relationship."
The governor general is the Queen's representative in Canada, effectively - albeit largely ceremonially - the head of state.
Appointed by the prime minister - formally by the Queen - her roles include the power to name a new government, a particularly sensitive issue in the current minority Parliament.
"One of the governor general's most important responsibilities is to ensure that Canada always has a prime minister and a government in place that has the confidence of Parliament," says the GG's website.
"In addition, the governor general holds certain reserve powers, which are exercised at his or her own discretion."
Her powers were put to the test in December 2008 when she tossed Harper a lifeline and granted his request to prorogue Parliament while his Conservative minority was about to be toppled by an opposition coalition.
"The governor general is non-partisan and non-political," says the website.
Robert Finch, dominion chair of the Monarchist League of Canada, said Ignatieff's "peculiar" public endorsement risks politicizing the appointment process and compromising the GG's independence.
"I'm a little bit blown away," Finch said in an interview. "It's certainly unusual for a leader of an Opposition - or anybody, actually - to go public with their suggestions as to who should be governor general.
"It kind of opens the realm to politics and you don't want politics entering into the nomination process of the governor general."
Finch suggested such a move can start a slippery slope, whereby political parties ultimately line up behind one candidate or another.
Jean was appointed by former Liberal prime minister Paul Martin in 2005. The subject of her replacement has been widely discussed since Harper recently confirmed her term would not be extended.
Several names have been floated as potential successors, including disabled-rights campaigner Rick Hansen; former defence chief John de Chastelain; Inuit leader Mary Simon and Reform party founder Preston Manning.
A Facebook page has even sprung up where tens of thousands are advocating Montreal-born actor William Shatner - Star Trek's Captain Kirk - for the job.
"It's time for Canada to boldly go where no country has gone before," it says.
The traditional five-year terms of Canadian governors general have been extended on several occasions - by as much as two years. Among those who've been kept on were Roland Michener, Jeanne Sauve and Jean's predecessor, Adrienne Clarkson.
Said Ignatieff's release: "Ms. Jean has done a superb job. I am calling on Stephen Harper to reconsider his decision to replace her."
He said Canadians were "deeply moved by her strong and passionate performance" after the devastating earthquake in her Haitian homeland, which reportedly killed more than 200,000 people.
Her role in bringing attention to Haiti and its people's plight has been "significant, profound and needs to be sustained," Ignatieff said.
Jean has also been a powerful advocate for aboriginal and Arctic peoples, and a proud commander-in-chief who has stood alongside Canadian troops in Afghanistan, he added.
"As a francophone woman who overcame great obstacles to get where she is today, and as the first black Canadian appointed as governor general, I can't imagine a better role model for young Canadians, particularly young girls," said Ignatieff.
Finch said he can't imagine what Ignatieff's thinking.
"It risks (undermining) the whole non-partisan nature of the Crown," he said.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cracks in Opposition approach to Afghan detainee issue.

The difference hinges on whether Frank Iacobucci should be used to help resolve the problem. Iacobucci has already been hired by the Conservatives to advise them on what could be released uncensored. Why Ignatieff would also accept him is a bit hard to comprehend since Iacobucci in accepting the Conservative job which in effect implies that his vetting the documents is appropriate compared to MP's doing so. Neither the NDP nor the Bloc Quebecois go along with relying on Iacobucci. Perhaps next week the parties will come to a resolution. It is quite doubtful that Ignatieff would ever contemplate anything that could result in an election!

Cracks appear in opposition's approach to Afghan detainee issue
By Steven Chase
Globe and Mail
Parties divided on whether they should call on retired judge to resolve the problem of accessing uncensored documents

As the search continues for a parliamentary compromise on Afghan detainee records, the real question appears to be whether opposition parties can remain united.

There were glimmers of progress Thursday in high-stakes negotiations between the Harper government and the opposition majority over how to grant MPs access to uncensored versions of detainee documents without breaching national security.

Liberals, Conservatives and New Democrats emerged lauding what they called a willingness to work on a solution after this week's historic ruling by Speaker Peter Milliken reaffirmed Parliament as the supreme authority in the land with a virtually unfettered right to demand documents. Talks continue next week.

But opposition parties are divided on whether they should call on retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to resolve the problem. He's already been hired to advise the Conservative government privately on whether any of the information blacked out by censors can be made public.

A big problem, should MPs tackle the documents directly, is how all four parties bridge inevitable disagreements about whether particular portions of redacted records can be released.

Legal scholars say it would help legitimize the process if an independent party with no political stake in the outcome was brought in to help scrutinize records.

Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff said this week he would consider relying on Mr. Iacobucci if the former judge's mandate could be changed to make him report to Parliament instead of the Tories. Some Liberals are leery of committing senior MPs to reading mountains of documents - a process that because of the need to swear an oath of secrecy would neuter their ability to speak publicly on the treatment of detainees after Canadian soldiers hand them over to Afghan officials.

Thursday, however, the NDP and Bloc Québécois flatly dismissed the notion of turning to Mr. Iacobucci.

Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe said the former justice is effectively tainted because he consented to being part of a process the Harper government previously argued was superior to letting MPs scrutinize uncensored documents.

"He accepted to be hired by the government knowing perfectly that was a question here in the House saying that the members have the right to know," Mr. Duceppe said.

NDP defence critic Jack Harris said his party wants MPs to serve as the filter for what should be released or withheld.

"We want Parliamentary oversight, not a proxy."

Opposition parties, who comprise a majority in the Commons, passed a rare "order-to-produce" motion in Parliament for the documents last December, but the minority Conservatives responded by releasing heavily censored versions of records.

The Liberals, NDP and Bloc Québécois pressed the matter because they want more details on detainee handovers in the face of allegations that prisoners captured by Canadian soldiers were transferred to torture at Afghan hands - and because they want to ensure censors are not hiding records of misdeeds.

In a widely accepted verdict, Speaker Milliken ruled this week that the government does not have a unilateral right to censor documents and gave the Commons two weeks to work out a compromise that would allow MPs to see unredacted copies.

If a solution cannot be found, the government could be voted in contempt by the opposition majority - a situation that would be all but certain to trigger a snap election and undermine the reputation of Canada's Parliamentary system.

The NDP appears to favour a two-stage process where a select group of Parliamentarians screen the tens of thousands of pages of documents, deciding what censored passages can be released. Under this scenario any new freshly released information would be funneled to the Special Commons committee on Afghanistan.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

U.S. border agents inspecting more at British Columbia crossing

Even though the Olympics are offer customs staff remain at high levels. While states and cities and towns reduce services of all kinds even police anything that has to do with security it seems is sacrosanct. This also may help to reduce tourism just what the US needs when the economy is struggling to recover.

U.S. border agents inspecting more travelers heading into Canada

Thanks to the increase in border staffing meant to handle the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C., U.S. Customs and Border Protection is conducting more inspections of northbound travelers as they leave the country.
CBP spokesman Tom Schreiber said the outbound inspections have intercepted big drug shipments and fugitives in the past, and making those inspections more frequent should pay off.
"These operations have high-value results," Schreiber said.

For an outbound inspection, a group of uniformed CBP officers use traffic cones to funnel northbound vehicles into a single lane for visual checks and possible questioning and search.
Some see such inspections as one more hassle that discourages cross-border trade and tourism.
"This is part of the ongoing militarization of the northern border," said Bellingham immigration attorney Greg Boos, who crosses the border almost every day. "I think it points out that perhaps CBP has too much staff at the border."
Once a rarity, outbound inspections have become commonplace, Boos said.
"They used to only do this on nights when there was a good rock concert in Vancouver," Boos said. "Now I may be seeing this one out of four times, one out of three times I cross."
Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he also noticed a significant increase in the frequency of outbound inspections in the weeks just before the Olympics.
"It's certainly an inconvenience," Oplinger said. "It does tie up traffic, for NEXUS users especially. It sends an absolutely horrible message."
Schreiber said U.S. agencies have conducted outbound inspections from time to time for decades, even before the 2001 terror attacks that put increased emphasis on border security. But in the past, those agencies concentrated their limited staff on incoming traffic, and outbound inspections were rare. In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, that changed, and the permanent increase in staffing levels is enabling CBP to do more outbound inspections while still covering the inbound travelers.
"It's something we do when resources permit," Schreiber said. "We have the staffing now. It's fair to say that we've been doing more."
CBP does not release specific numbers on its staffing levels.
The inspections of departing traffic are being increased because they have been effective in the past, Schreiber said. In July 2009, a Calgary man was caught at the Peace Arch with 183 pounds of cocaine and 55 pounds of heroin.
In October, another Canadian was caught with 192 pounds of cocaine. And in September, a California man suspected of killing his wife was nabbed in the same way.
As Schreiber sees it, there should be some unpredictability to border law enforcement.
"Being unpredictable is one of the factors we try to layer into our operations," Schreiber said.
On April 20, unpredictability went too far, Boos said. On that day at the Peace Arch, outbound inspections were conducted by shotgun-toting officers.
Duncan Millar, another immigration attorney, said he saw a similar display of shotguns the same evening at the Pacific Highway crossing.
"They were holding these things at the ready," Millar said. "It was very alarming."
The CBP's Schreiber described a shotgun as "a tool that is common in law enforcement," but he said the April 20 show of force was not routine.
On that night, Schreiber said, CBP received reports that the suspect in the shooting deaths of four people in a North Hollywood, Calif., restaurant might be headed north.
"If you see (shotguns) out of the ready rack, there is probably something going on," Schreiber said.
The shooting suspect was later arrested in the Seattle area.
But the added outbound security may have some indirect economic costs if it further discourages cross-border trade and tourism, long a mainstay of Whatcom County's economy. Millar said many of his Canadian clients are now crossing the border as little as possible.
"I've had some of them say, 'Forget it. I don't want to deal with it,'" Millar said.
Reach JOHN STARK at or call 715-2274.

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