Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Canadian parliament finally passes motion against Islamophobia

There was no coverage of passage of a motion against Islamophobia approved on October 26, by the CBC, Globe and Mail, or other prominent Canadian media. In contrast, there was plenty of coverage of the defeat of a similar motion on October 6.

 1 of 3 
At least, that is the claim of an article in the Huffington Post. The article notes that without any public awareness of the motion condemning Islamophobia, it is unlikely to have much effect. Much of the value of such motions it claims is in the publicity that is generated in opposition to Islamophobia.
The October 6 resolution was presented by New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair. Mulcair needed unanimous consent for his bill to go forward since his party is part of the opposition rather than the Liberal government that is in power. He had talked with all parties in parliament almost a week before he presented the motion. The NDP motion was based on a parliamentary e-petition that had 70,000 signatures and was sponsored by Liberal MP Frank Baylis. The motion was a symbolic gesture meant to disavow hate and reassure Muslims in Canada that parliamentarians care about them However when the motion came to a vote a number of Conservative MPs shouted NAY preventing the necessary unanimous vote. There was no role call so those yelling NAY were not identified.
Mulcair said at the time: "I can't see how anybody can speak out against a motion that seeks to condemn a form of hatred." Liberal MP Omar Alghabra also expressed his incredulity describing the motion as a non-partisan, good, positive motion. He said he thought it would be treated as an "apple pie and motherhood type of statement". Defeating the motion could be described as an act of Islamophobiaitself.
Samer Majzoub, President of the Canadian Muslim Forum, got the parliamentary petition started which ultimately inspired the October 26 resolution. After the motion finally received unanimous consent, Majzoub expressed his thanks to all Canadian federal parties and attributed the success of the motion to "true Canadian values". In an interview, he said the motion would open doors and lead to discussion of concrete policies around the issue. He warned that forms of discrimination like Islamophobia can change and appear in new ways in Canadian society. The article in Huffington Post concludes with the hope that next time such events happen in parliament the media should be concerned enough to cover them.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Wildlife spooked by mysterious noise in area in northern Canada

Hunters in a remote community in Nunavut, in northern Canada are concerned about a mysterious sound apparently coming from the sea floor. The sound described sometimes as a "pinging", a hum, or even a beep has been heard throughout the summer.

Fury and Hecla Strait, the area where the sounds are heard is about is about 120 kilometers northwest of the village of Iglooik. The area is north of the Arctic Circle. Paul Quassa a member of the Nunavut legislative assembly said that the noise is scaring animals away: "That's one of the major hunting areas in the summer and winter because it's a polynya." A polyna is an area of open water surrounded by ice usually containing many sea mammals. However, this summer that were very few. Qassa told members of the legislature that the noise was emanating from the sea floor.
Quassa says that Baffinland, owner of a mine at Mary River has been doing sonar surveys but the company says it has no equipment in the water. Another member of the legislature George Qulat also visited the sites but as he is nearly deaf he did not hear any sounds. However, he noticed the absence of wild life and said: "That passage is a migratory route for bowhead whales, and also bearded seals and ringed seals. There would be so many in that particular area. This summer there was none."
Others have heard the sound, including those aboard a private yacht that passed through the area. They described the mysterious sound during a community radio show after they arrived in Igloolik. Other people called in to claim they heard the sound.
While some suggest that the sound is created by Baffinland Iron Mines Corp. the company claims it is not conducting sonar surveys in that area and has no equipment in the water. Qassa points out that no permits have been issued for any work in the area that could explain the noise. Another theory blames Greenpeace environmentalists who it is claimed are attempting to scare wildlife away from the rich hunting grounds. The local Inuit have had conflict with Greenpeace before over the issue of seal hunting. Qassa said: "We've heard in the past of groups like Greenpeace putting in some kinds of sonars in the seabed to get the sea mammals out of the way so Inuit won't be able to hunt them. Nobody has ever seen any type of ship or anything going through that area and putting something down." Farah Khan , a spokesperson for Greenpeace said that not only would they do nothing to harm marine life, they respected the right of the Inuit to hunt. Even the Russian news source Sputnik covers the story.
The reports are regarded as significant enough for further investigation by the Canadian military. The noise could be produced by submarines but were not considered a likely cause. A spokesperson for the military wrote in a statement: "The Department of National Defence has been informed of the strange noises emanating in the Fury and Hecla Strait area, and the Canadian Armed Forces are taking the appropriate steps to actively investigate the situation." Igloolik is about 70 kilometers north of Hall Beach a military site that is still active though it was part of the now closed DEW early warning line of radar stations active during the cold war. Qassa said that inhabitants of the area really had not a single clue as to what was causing the sound.
The military sent a CP-140 Aurora patrol aircraft to investigate last Tuesday. It was sent under the mandate of Operation Limpid, a domestic surveillance program meant to "detect, deter, prevent, pre-empts and defeat threats aimed at Canada or Canadian interests." Ashley Lemire, a spokesperson for the Canadian Department of National Defence said: “The Canadian armed forces are aware of allegations of unusual sounds emanating from the seabed in the Fury and Hecla Strait in Nunavut. The air crew performed various multi-sensor searches in the area, including an acoustic search for 1.5 hours, without detecting any acoustic anomalies. The crew did not detect any surface or subsurface contacts." She said the crew did observe two pods of whales and six walruses in the area. She said that at the present the Department of National Defence did not intend to do any further investigation.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Liberals hire pro-privatizing bank to advise them on privatization

For some time now the Liberals have been flirting with the idea of privatizing airports. The move would garner much needed funds for the government, turn the airports into profit making ventures, and generate more corporate donations for the Liberals.

A Digital Journal article covered the issue back in July. As a Metro News article said at the time:
The federal government is looking at whether Canada’s major airports should be sold off to private investors as a way to raise tens of billions of dollars in new cash to fund other infrastructure projects. Transport Canada bureaucrats are reviewing the ownership structure of Canadian airports, now operated by not-for-profit airport authorities, to assess the possibilities of transferring them to for-profit enterprises — and collect a windfall in the process.
Now an article in the Toronto Star by Linda McQuaig shows the Liberal government is continuing with its plan. The Liberal government has hired the giant investment bank Credit Suisse to offer it advice on the privatization issue. Yet Credit Suisse is itself heavily involved in the privatization process:Certainly, Zurich-based Credit Suisse has for the past decade been a major global player in the lucrative business of privatizing government infrastructure, including airports. Indeed, in 2009, Credit Suisse bought Gatwick Airport in the U.K., through a joint venture with General Electric. Credit Suisse also recently indicated an interest in advising the Russian government on its plans to privatize some major Russian state-owned enterprises.
The hiring of Credit Suisse is a sure sign that the Liberals are already moving ahead with plans to privatize the airports even though the Liberals deny that any decision has been made yet. But many moves have already been made to advance the privatization agenda. Business has been pushing for privatization through former cabinet minister David Emerson. Emerson headed a government transportation review. Emerson was formerly a Liberal but crossed over to the Conservatives. Although the review was started under Stephen Harper it was completed under the Trudeau Liberal administration. Emerson relied on corporate and investment advisers in producing his two-volume report last winter. The report supports the idea of privatizing airports.
The Liberals produced their own report which follows the same process as the one begun under Harper. Finance Minister Bill Morneau set up a 14-person economic council that supported the sell off. As McQuaig puts it: "Like the Emerson review team, Morneau’s advisory council reads like a who’s who of the business world, and contains no labour representatives or anyone who could be expected to represent the broader public interest." With advice coming only from sources that favor privatization and who stand to benefit from the process the Liberals can claim that expert opinion is all in favor of the process. However, the experts were chosen so as to ensure they would support the privatization policy.
There has been no consultation with those who use the airports, or with the workers at the airports, or even with the boards that now run the airports. Mark Laroche, CEO of the Ottawa International Airport Authority and Craig Richmond, CEO of the Vancouver Airport authority offer some criticism of the Liberal plan. In a joint article, they point out that passengers could expect higher parking costs, airport improvement fees, cuts in cleaning staff, and removal of free services such as Wi-Fi in order to increase profits when airports were privatized. The governance of the airports would be by corporate board members concerned mainly with profit rather than the present boards which often have community representatives concerned with more than just profits.
The present system returns about $1 billion a year to the government in fees. While the Liberals need funds to pay for new infrastructure investment surely selling off existing infrastructure paid for by the public for the benefit of private corporations is not the way to raise those funds. Unless that is, the Liberals want to do exactly the same sorts of things the Harper government would do.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Canada has been unable to obtain release of Saudi blogger

Canada's Foreign Minister Stephane Dion had requested Saudi Arabia to release blogger Raif Badawi so he could join his family in Canada. However, Saudi ambassador Naif Bin Bandir AlSudairy, said the request was refused.

AlSudairy said that the case had nothing to do with relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia. Badawi is a Saudi citizen not a Canadian. However, his wife, Ensaf Haider, sought asylum in Canada with their three children after she received death threats in Saudi Arabia. Canada granted them asylum.
Badawi was arrested back in 2012 on charges of insulting Islam through his blog. He was found guilty given a hefty fine a 10-year prison sentence and 1,000 lashes. The first 50 lashes were administered in January of 2015 resulting in considerable outrage in some western countries. The Saudis were dismayed and in a statement rejected the criticism: "The statement said Saudi courts were independent and that the kingdom's constitution ensured the protection of human rights because it was based on Islamic Sharia law." The legal system is not government run it is true. It is in the hands of religious authorities who enforce laws that are draconian and violate human rights:In a new law last year it included atheism as a terrorist offence. It uses the death penalty for offences including blasphemy, apostasy and witchcraft. The kingdom has beheaded 40 people so far in 2015, rights watchdog Amnesty International said this week, based on local media reports.
A brief description of the Saudi legal system can be found on Wikipedia. While most courts are based on Sharia law, there is also a Specialized Criminal Court that deals with terrorists as well as human rights activists. It is this court that dealt with Badawi.
The second set of floggings have already been postponed 12 times. Previous delays have resulted from the fact that Badawi is in poor health. He is known to have hypertension and his health worsened after the first floggings. His wife claims that he will not be able to survive further floggings. Dion told reporters that it would be unacceptable for Badawi to be flogged again, after recent reports that Badawi was about to be flogged. Dion insisted that the Saudi government show clemency and release Badawi to join his family in Canada. Dion noted that since Badawi was not a Canadian citizen Badawi's case was treated as a humanitarian concern. The Saudi ambassador said he had no information as to whether Badawi was to be soon the subject of more flogging and maintained: “Mr. Badawi is a Saudi citizen, [and] has nothing to do with the relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia.”
The Canadian government has already faced criticism for selling armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. Critics claim the vehicles could be used against citizens or in the war in neighboring Yemen. The Conservative foreign affairs critic Peter Kent agreed with Dion's position but noted that Canada's relations with Saudi Arabia were "complicated". He said the Saudis were allies in the fight against the Islamic State and also an important trading partner. Kent suggested that Dion use an upcoming vote in the UN on Saudi Arabia's membership in the UN Human Rights Council as leverage to encourage Badawi's release. A recent tweet says: Trudeau says he's met Raif Badawi's wife, and has "engaged w/" Min Stephane Dion to ensure he's doing all he can to obtain Badawi's release.