Sunday, January 31, 2016
For a fuller discussion of the above graphic, please click here for both text and links.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
Were I so inclined, I could probably devote this blog solely to police misconduct, so extensive does it seem. Perhaps it is due to the Forcillo conviction for the attempted murder of the late Sammy Yatim that we are more sensitive to the issue, but each day seems to bring new information about police behaving badly. A crisis of public confidence is not too strong a phrase to describe the public's growing distrust of those sworn to protect and serve.
And to make matters worse, as I observed in a post earlier this week, the police, or at least their unions, are reacting with outrage rather than humility at these charges and convictions, a fact that does not bode well for changing the culture and profile of our protectors.
In its letters section today, The Toronto Star features an entire page of public reactions to the Forcillo conviction. Each letter is worth reading, but I reproduce just a few below to offer you a sampling of sentiments:
.... Police spokespeople have publicly worried that the verdict will “send a chill through the force.” But if a chill is what it takes to soothe the itchy trigger fingers of cops like Forcillo, then it’s exactly what we need. These men and women are given public permission to patrol our streets armed with increasingly deadly force. It’s time they understood that public scrutiny is part of that privilege – scrutiny that will become a bit uncomfortable now and then. Or are we supposed to look the other way when a citizen is killed?
As your editorial notes, the verdict will be small comfort to the Yatim family, but at least it’s something. And the Star deserves credit for its excellent series on police abuse and accountability in the GTA, “Breaking badge.” I believe that it has helped to shift our outdated attitudes towards the police.
Andrew van Velzen, Toronto
The TPS police union boss, Mike McCormack said he is “disappointed with the guilty finding and it sends a chilling message to other cops.” I agree. Indeed, disappointing the original charge was reduced and chilling that the blue wall choose to close ranks to protect a criminal in their midst rather than “serve and protect” the public.
Time for handlers at the senior police levels and politicians to take note. No more impunity for bad cops who have previously executed the emotionally or mentally upset among us. Rather than deescalating the situation. A overdue message to any cop who may wish to play fast and loose with civilian lives. Now consequences attached.
This is the first time in Ontario history a out of line cop actually has been convicted. Now the question is, will his legal weasels continue to attempt to subvert justice by their gyrations allowing this soon to be ex-thug in blue to escape?
Paul Coulter, Kincardine
Forcillo’s lawyer spoke of “trial by YouTube.” How about “trial by seeing is believing” or “trial by a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Let’s be clear here; no video, no conviction. All on-site police testifying in court would have backed and supported their brother’s need to use the excessive force repeatedly delivered on a dead or dying individual.
Tim Strevett, Hamilton
As in countless other trials, no one has emerged a winner here. Both Forcillo and Yatim’s family have lost.
I have to wonder, however, at the defence decrying the video shot that night, and suggesting it precluded a fair trial. When the police install cameras in the city and seek greater powers to snoop, we are told, if you are not doing anything wrong, you should not fear this surveillance. It seems, in this unhappy case, the police have learned they, too, are being watched and recorded.
Video evidence is virtually unrefutable; that’s why law enforcement wants it. Now, however, it seems the shoe is on the other foot.
G.P. Wowchuk, Toronto
...what should be most disturbing to the public is Mike McCormack’s reaction that the verdict is sending a “chilling message” to the police. The police still don’t get it. This reaction is itself sending a cold blooded warning to the public.
Torontonians have reason to beware the police when their spokesperson insists on their right to remain above the law.
Tony D’Andrea, Toronto
Friday, January 29, 2016
"It Was Very Malicious Of Them To Leave This Town In The Shape It's In" - A Tale Of Walmart's Depredations
This sad scenario, being played out in 150 small U.S. towns, is a sobering reminder that all too often the term 'corporate responsibility' is but a cruel oxymoron:
Thursday, January 28, 2016
H/t Toronto Star
In response to yesterday's post, both the Salamander and the Mound of Sound offered some interesting commentary. The Salamander has experience in dealing with troubled and armed youth, as you will see, and The Mound has had careers both in journalism and the law. I am therefore reproducing their respective observations below:
.. the slow motion process of the Forcillo trial re the killing of Sammy Yatim has come to a temporary junction point. the toronto newstalk jocks can't get enough of expert opinion, so called public sentiment & various views from officialdom. In the past I described my own experiences, to the estimable Mound.. wherein I was called upon to deal with emotionally disturbed teens, drug addicted teens and triple maximum security juveniles.. I was never armed by the way.
Sammy Yatim was troubled, delusional & psychotic.. 1/2 of a collision looking for the other 1/2 .. that's very clear via video evidence, medical history & post mortem toxicology. He was 'out there' .. 'crispy' & as likely to try and swim to Rochester as he was to confront a dozen armed police.
But the killing is really about fearful Forcillo, a known hothead cop who'd pulled his gun a dozen times in 3 years. So lets keep the event very very concise, shall we? Most anyone has seen the various videos of Sammy Yatim's last moments & is aware of Forcillo's 'defense'.
Of course I'll paint it in a slightly different light.. as I've been there, done it, got the t-shirt.. dealing with delusional drug addled teens.. with a weapon.. and nobody died!
Forcillo and his female partner arrived on scene as a seemingly damn cool TTC driver gave up and left his streetcar. 'Taking charge' .. so to speak, Forcillo confronted the teen from a close but safe distance, shouting profanity laden 'orders' as his memory challenged partner holstered her weapon.
In the midst of numerous armed cops beside and around him, Forcillo feared for his life, such was the threat of knife wielding Sammy Yatim, up there inside a streetcar. Really now? Armed cops standing on either side of him, behind him, at the rear doors etc.. and Forcillo thought the teen could fly like a witch and get to him from the streetcar, without descending the steps & covering the 10 foot gap to that crowd of armed cops?
Forcillo exemplifies 'failure' .. the 'fearful' defense is so limp that its to laugh at.. but the Force must close ranks. In reality I suspect other cops curse Forcillo on a daily basis. The idea that his 'training' was to do what he did in approx 50 seconds of disastrous failure is to laugh at. Somewhere right near the bottom of the Toronto Police hires in the last 5 years is Forcillo.. a weak link deserving to drive a desk.. maybe in data entry or vehicle maintenance.. To let him deal with the public, much less ever own a gun again would be a travesty.. Amen, end of story.
I'm not satisfied the judge handled the case correctly either, Lorne. The judge issued revised instructions to the jury after they had deliberated that, to me, sounded bizarre.
The whole theory of whether this was one or two shooting events was confusing. The coroner testified about the nature of the wounds inflicted at the outset, when Yatim had been standing, contrasted with the subsequent wounds from bullets that struck a prone victim. Wound paths are readily traceable.
As I understand it the forensics suggested the initial three wounds were mortal. Yatim would have died without more. How then to treat the next five wounds? The Crown chose to treat that as attempted murder.
In firing squad executions is the coup de grace administered after the initial volley a separate event? I don't see it that way. It's collateral to the first shots.
I think an appellate court might order a retrial. I suspect that better Crown counsel might rethink the prosecution theory and look beyond the 5-second pause.
If, as the video suggests, Yatim collapsed with the first shot, were the second and third really justified? Was the first shot warranted unless Yatim made some clear move to exit the streetcar such as stepping into the stairwell? That, to me, was the obvious threshold to the "self defence" business.
I think the Crown may have muddied the waters and left the judge to deliver an incoherent, confusing charge to the jury. Were I sitting on the appeal I think I would set aside both verdicts and direct a new trial.
Wednesday, January 27, 2016
...because Forcillo “substantially followed his training,” which was provided by the state.Even more upsetting is the reaction of the police union, which you will see in a moment. But first, I'd like you to take a look at a clip about an execution perpetrated by the Cleveland police three years ago; especially offensive is the reaction of their union which, as you will see in the second clip, has some eerie echoes of Toronto police union head Mike McCormack's comments on Forcillo's conviction.
“The state,” he said, “should be disentitled to a conviction because they . . . provided the training to him.”
MsCormick laments that it sends a chilling message to front-line officers, as well it should. Unfortunately, the real message they will refuse to process is that when they violate their oath to serve and protect, they will be held accountable by the state, however imperfectly.
Humility, not police outrage, would be the proper reaction in both the Cleveland and Toronto cases.
Tuesday, January 26, 2016
There are days when it is difficult to see any long-term future for the human race. Stories abound of both our collective and individual acts of brutality that attest to the fact that purely animal urges prevail within us far too frequently. The scintilla of hope that something better is possible is offered, paradoxically, by collective and individual acts of kindness and compassion that also occur on a regular basis.
The problem, it seems to me, resides in our refusal to tame and regulate the bestial side of our nature, its most frequent expression being found in the behaviour of those who claim to represent us, our governments. Too many of us are content to simply throw up our hands and say these things are out of our control, and then go on to divert ourselves with the latest technological toy. Neil Postman wrote about such in Amusing Ourselves to Death.
I am, however, frequently buoyed by letters to the editor that amply demonstrate that there are those among us with insight, clarity and the capacity for analysis and are willing to challenge the insensate among us. Two such letters I reproduce below:
Husband of terror victim cut PM's call short, Jan. 22Both letters will, no doubt, provoke a flurry of outrage. The truth often hurts.
I sympathize with the families of people killed in the Burkina Faso terror attack but I can’t help wondering about suggestions that Canada should step up bombing in Syria in retaliation. The Canadians were killed in Burkina Faso. Would it not be more satisfying retribution to send our planes to bomb Burkina Faso?
But who do we blame for the attacks? If the killing of a few Canadians in Burkina Faso justifies bombing attacks in Syria, then surely the killing of Canadians in Burkina Faso was justified by the killing of Afghans in Afghanistan, Iraqis in Iraq and Syrians in Syria. Turnabout is fair play, they say, and at this stage we of the Western world are ahead by several hundred thousand killings. Let’s hope ISIS and other “terror” groups don’t try to even the score.
We could also note that bombing has never yet won a war. Hitler’s blitz did not knock England out of World War II and when economist J.K. Galbraith studied the effect of allied bombing on Germany, he found that German arms production had peaked in late 1944.
We had air superiority, but the Korean war was a draw. The Americans dropped more bombs in Vietnam than they had in World War II, but they lost the war. The bombing of Cambodia helped Pol Pot to take power there.
It’s lots of fun to bomb an “enemy” and it’s very profitable for the corporations that make the planes and the bombs, but the evidence suggests that bombing builds, rather than breaks, resistance.
Western governments have spent billions of dollars on the series of wars that George Bush Sr. began and Jr. continued, but we’re a long way from peace. Does anyone else notice that the flood of refugees coming to Europe from Libya, Iran, Afghanistan and Syria are coming from three countries that the U.S. “liberated” from governments that people did not see the need to flee, and one that was for years a client state that, in one case at least, tortured a Canadian on the orders of American “security” forces.
Maybe the best way to end terrorism would be to stop provoking it.
Andy Turnbull, Toronto
Respectfully, Westerners have no business in countries such as Burkina Faso, a state that is frequently rated among the worst countries in the world. Suggesting Prime Minister Trudeau is wrong to pull fighter jets in the fight against terrorism is unfair and just plain folly as incidents such as the recent deaths of six Quebec residents in the terrorist attack in Burkina Faso are literally a daily occurrence across the width and breadth of the African continent as well as many other territories in the world.
People who visit such countries in the name of faith-based altruism do so at their peril, and should not expect the governments of their home states to be held accountable for their misfortune. Tough, unsympathetic words? Perhaps, but that is the reality of the world we live in.
States such as Burkina Faso must forge their own destiny. Westerners who wish to help others in the name of faith would be better served if they looked in their own backyard first before disseminating their brand of religious altruism abroad.
Louis MacPherson, Bowmanville
Monday, January 25, 2016
The federal government has confirmed that it intends to sign the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal at a meeting next week in New Zealand.Methinks that with a Liberal majority, that ratification is a foregone conclusion.
But that doesn't mean the Liberal government will ultimately ratify the 12-country treaty, International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday.
"Just as it is too soon to endorse the TPP, it is also too soon to close the door," Freeland wrote in an open letter posted on her department's website.
"Signing does not equal ratifying.... Signing is simply a technical step in the process, allowing the TPP text to be tabled in Parliament for consideration and debate before any final decision is made."
'We're very much not there yet' on TPP, says trade minister
Only a majority vote in the House of Commons would ensure Canada's ratification of the deal, she added.
Sunday, January 24, 2016
Sarah Palin isn’t one of those people who needs help making a fool of herself. It seems as though every time she opens her mouth something incredibly stupid comes out.
Whether it be a re-written history of the American Revolution, a drunken rant guaranteed to earn her the disrespect she deserves or an incredibly ludicrous shaming of the president for raising her son wrong, Sarah Palin may just go down in history as the dumbest person ever to be given a voice in Republican politics.
In this short clip from Comedy Central’s @Midnight with Chris Hardwick, Palin’s latest Yukon Jack influenced rant at a Donald Trump rally is turned into something even more ridiculous than it already was. In just under two minutes, Hardwick pulls a lampoon comparing Palin to Yosemite Sam that will have you rolling on the floor laughing your @$$ off for sure.
Some will take false comfort in blaming this year's weather disasters on a strengthened El Nino, ignoring why it is so strong; others will insist that climate change mitigation will destroy the economy. Still others will wait for a technological deus ex machina to save us all.
Perhaps they all should look at the latest evidence that nature always has the final say, and that our piddling opinions, rationalizations and magical thinking account for absolutely nothing in the larger scheme of things:
Saturday, January 23, 2016
Friday, January 22, 2016
Depraved indifference does not seem to be too strong a phrase to use in describing officials' reactions to the problem.
A top aide to Michigan’s governor referred to people raising questions about the quality of Flint’s water as an “anti-everything group.” Other critics were accused of turning complaints about water into a “political football.” And worrisome findings about lead by a concerned pediatrician were dismissed as “data,” in quotes.Perhaps the final words on this disaster should be left with Flint's mayor:
It was not until late in 2015, after months of complaints, that state officials finally conceded what critics had been contending: that Flint was in the midst of a major public health emergency, as tap water pouring into families’ homes contained enough lead to show up in the blood of dozens of people in the city. Even small amounts of lead could cause lasting health and developmental problems in children.
Though Mr. Snyder issued the emails as part of an effort to reveal the administration’s transparency on the matter, the documents provide a glimpse of state leaders who were at times dismissive of the concerns of residents, seemed eager to place responsibility with local government and, even as the scientific testing was hinting at a larger problem, were reluctant to acknowledge it.
In Washington on Wednesday, Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, who was attending the Conference of Mayors, said such lead contamination would never have been permitted had Flint been a rich suburb.Thus have been laid bare Republican sensibilities and values.
Thursday, January 21, 2016
UPDATE: If the above does not sate your appetite for all things Palin, take a look at Vienay Menon"s Sarah Palin’s 8 rules of parentin’.
A bane of the neoliberal agenda but salvation to countless Canadians, the vision of a national pharmacare program has made a baby step toward realization.
The federal government has joined Canadian provinces and territories in a bulk-buying drug program that aims to lower the cost of prescription medications.While this development is most welcome news, (after all, the Alliance did save buyers $490 million last year) it can only be viewed as an interim measure on the seemingly endless journey toward a national drug plan that would save countless lives and billions of dollars currently being spent inefficiently by both government and private citizens; indeed, many of the latter can ill afford the costly prescriptions that could keep them out of hospital or worse.
Health Minister Jane Philpott says drug plans administered by the federal government will unite with the provincial and territorial pan-Canadian Pharmaceutical Alliance, which negotiates to lower prices on brand name and generic drugs.
Philpott says in a statement that combining the negotiating power of federal, provincial and territorial governments achieves greater savings for all publicly funded drug programs, increases access to drug-treatment options and improves consistency of pricing across Canada.
A recent column by The Star's Martin Regg Cohn casts the problem into sharp relief:
[I]f we had grappled with prescription drugs the way advanced West European countries have, we would be saving billions of dollars a year by now. Canada is second only to the U.S. in per capita spending on prescription drugs, well ahead of European countries.While we are rightfully proud of our healthcare system, one that stands in sharp contrast to that of the United States, we have tended to ignore the fact that ours is the only Western publicly-funded system that doesn't have a pharmacare component. This grave deficiency has even been acknowledged and deplored by the right-leaning C.D Howe Institute which, in a recent study, drew the following conclusion:
In fact, Canada keeps paying the price for a wasteful, inefficient, inequitable, fragmented system that leaves every patient to fend for himself or herself — unless he or she has a company drug benefit plan, gets welfare, or qualifies for seniors’ subsidies. If you’re working poor, or merely working precariously (as many young people are today, jumping from job to job or flitting from contract to contract, never qualifying for benefits coverage) ... tough luck.
It is clearly time to rethink pharmacare in Canada. Though the immediate effect of expanding public drug coverage would be an increase in government expenditures, this would likely be more than offset by savings to patients, employers, unions, and individuals who purchase stand-alone private drug coverage, producing a net cost reduction for Canada as a whole.As pointed out in a Star editorial, the burden of paying for prescription medicines can be very heavy for some individuals:
It’s estimated that one household in five spends $500 or more on prescription drugs each year, and 7 per cent pay more than $1,000 annually. Those unable to pay often go without medicine. And even people covered by workplace drug insurance plans are typically stuck with costly deductibles and co-payments.It is to be hoped that with the termination of the Harper regime, Canada has left behind its official contempt for evidence-based decision-making. Compelling research clearly tells us that the time is right for finally initiating pharmacare for all of us.
Wednesday, January 20, 2016
I am currently reading a book by Tim Weiner entitled, One Man Against The World: The Tragedy Of Richard Nixon, and although I lived through that time, I am rediscovering what a nasty and paranoid piece of work the disgraced former President of the United States was. But what struck me most relevantly was the fact that he and Stephen Harper had a lot in common, most notably a disdain, suspicion and contempt for those who questioned their agenda. It is enough to make me wonder whether Harper was a student of Nixon's dark stratagems.
Nixon, for example, was merciless in his many abuses of power while in office; one of the more egregious instances saw him directing Internal Revenue audits against what he termed leftists and liberals. A take-no-prisoners attitude toward his own citizens betrayed the animus and paranoia of his tortured psyche. And while I have no insight into Harper's mind, his own abuse of power through Canada Revenue Agency witch hunts/audits against charitable groups voicing even a scintilla of opposition to his disdain for the environment and his extolment of the tarsands is well-known.
Today, however, brings news that the Trudeau government is winding down these politically-motivated audits.
As recently as November, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered public mandate letters to his new cabinet, [Federal Revenue Minister Diane] Lebouthillier was asked to ensure that Canada’s registered charities are “free from political harassment, and modernize the rules governing the charitable and not-for-profit sectors.”Despite all the previous disclaimers that the CRA was taking no direction from government on the audits, the fact that the Federal Revenue Minister has made this announcement of termination belies that claim, of course.
“The results of the political activities audit program have shown that the charities audited have been substantially compliant with the rules regarding their involvement in political activities,” Lebouthillier said in the release.
“In light of these outcomes, the program will be concluded.”
Let us hope against hope that the era of dirty tricks in Canada is over.
The internet is pervasive in our daily lives, but equally pervasive is online censorship and surveillance. You've likely come head to head with this in the past. For example, have you ever tried to access a site and received an error message that had nothing to do with your internet connection? Or have you ever seen ads targeted toward you based on something you wrote to a friend in an email message? There's a lot of information about web surveillance and censorship laws and scandals in the news these days. Here are ten things you should know:
1. The government censors a lot of content.
From political messages to pornography, there's a lot of information that the government doesn't want you to have access too. There are different stages of censorship. Some content is taken down before it can spread; other content is hidden from view. Actually, you may not even realize everything that's being censored. Of course, we all know the big sites that are blocked; often sites that offer illegal downloads, mature content, social networking, etc. But there's a lot more to it than that.
2. They do this in a variety of ways.
In the past, you may have encountered a message saying that a specific site is being censored. But what you may not realize is that governments can also act in stealthier ways, asking search engines to remove sites from their search results or quietly taking down sites altogether so that you might not even realize those sites exist. During times of protest, governments might even black out the whole internet by disconnecting services.
3. This happens all over the world.
While we all like to think that our governments are wonderful and would never do anything like this to us, the truth is that web censorship happens all over the world. The US has been in the news frequently due to its heavy-handed internet monitoring, but other countries have also passed and implemented legislation that limits what you can do online. Australia, for example, has recently introduced laws to limit access to sites where copyright infringement is a known issue, which means most torrenting sites are blocked, even if you're looking to share or download legal content.
4. There's no set expiration date on the data collected about you.
Part of the problem with internet surveillance is that a lot of it is being done without warrants and without anyone really knowing just what is happening. The newness of this whole situation means that there are very few laws governing what the government can and can't do with your information, and that there's often no timeline for when they decide your browsing history is no longer important enough to hang on to.
5. It's meant to protect you…-ish.
A lot of government censorship is well-intentioned—things such as keeping kids from viewing inappropriate content or tracking suspected criminals. That said, there are a lot of nuances to what's done on the internet, and sweeping gestures such as the Australian government's desire to cut out all sites with any link to copyright infringement often do more to penalize the innocent than deter the guilty.
6. Not all censorship is done by the government.
If you've ever tried to access Netflix or Hulu from abroad or encountered a YouTube video that wasn't available in your region, you've seen the effect of geo-restricted sites, which check out your IP address and determine if content is allowed in your region—again, often because of potential copyright infringement. Targeted advertising is also often targeted because email companies survey your emails and look for keywords in your correspondence. And your internet service provider sees plenty of information about you too. Even if you trust the government to perform surveillance, the fact that a company is watching you as well can be a little unnerving.
7. The internet was intended to be free.
Of course, the government is there to protect people; that's a good thing. But why should a government in another country be able to tell you that you can't read a specific blogger's site? Or why should your own country be able to tell you that you can't access material that is freely available in another country? Doesn't that seem just a tad unfair?
8. Feeling uncomfortable about censorship does not make you the enemy.
There are lots of people who feel as if they're doing something unpatriotic if they feel uncomfortable about having the government snooping through their browser history. After all, if you're not up to anything illegal, you've got nothing to hide, right? But if you're doing not doing something illegal, why should you be under surveillance at all? Your government shouldn't automatically treat you as though you were guilty!
9. There are ways to bypass restrictions.
Fortunately, if you're trying to access blocked content, there is one tool you can use—a VPN. VPNs will hide your IP address, getting you around those pesky geo-restrictions, and limit what information is available to the government, your internet service provider, and the sites that you visit, meaning that overall you'll have a more secure browsing experience. They'll also help protect you against potential hackers.
10. Circumventing censorship measures is (not always) illegal.
Best of all, the use of a VPN is, in most cases, not illegal. You'll want to read up on local laws before installing one because there are some places (e.g. the UAE) where even the use of a VPN is illegal, but in Australia, the US, and many other places, there's nothing criminal about using a VPN.
There's plenty of more information about web censorship available, but that's most of the important information. If you're aware of the fact that surveillance and censorship goes on, you can take steps to make sure you can access the content that you need as well as start to minimize the risk that you might do something that leads to unpleasant consequences.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
Monday, January 18, 2016
And it would appear that Toronto Star readers have taken the full measure of Kevin O'Leary:
O'Leary mulls Tory leadership bid, Jan. 15
Our Donald Trump of the North. A hard-nosed, right-wing Conservative who loves his own voice and thoughts over everything else. Honestly, I don’t understand all the media coverage.
Kevin O’Leary is a mean-spirited, every man for himself, sell the farm to the highest bidder type of guy. Didn’t we just vote out the same type of guy?
Does Canada have to be subjected to the same buffoonery as the U.S.?
D’Arcy Rattray, Mill Bay, B.C.
It is sad to see Kevin O’Leary taking to Donald Trump trash talking for self-aggrandizement. Ridiculing Alberta Premier Rachel Notley who inherited a huge provincial debt and a tough Canadian economy is easy to do for anyone rude enough to do it.
O’Leary has adopted the Trump persona to show that arrogant people with big money feel it entitles them to also have a big mouth. I’m not a supporter of the NDP but I do dislike “bullies,” especially adult bullies who think money makes it all right to act that way. Shame on him.
Patrick Reid, Edmonton
O’Leary would pay $1M to get Notley out, Jan. 14
Kevin O’Leary makes a telling contribution to the issue of electoral reform: His vote plus $1 million trumps the votes of the 603,457 Albertans who cast ballots for the NDP in 2015.
Ab Dukacz, Mississauga
Kevin O’Leary, of CBC’s O’Leary Exchange infamy, is now offering a one million dollar donation to the oil industry if Rachel Notley resigns.
I have a better idea, I think we could convince one million Canadians to each donate $1, if only Mr. O’Leary will keep his mouth shut in public.
Kim Levis, Toronto
Sunday, January 17, 2016
It might be tempting to view the political success of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump as something uniquely American. But, argues Gary Younge, rightwing populism and scapegoating of society’s vulnerable is cropping up all across the west. This is what happens when big business has more power than governments
Friday, January 15, 2016
Thursday, January 14, 2016
While the 2010 Toronto G20 Summit is probably the worst example of unaccountability in recent memory, with the man the at the top, Bill Blair, accepting no responsibility for the terrible violations of citizen rights that took place, there is a plethora of other, less dramatic cases that seldom see the light of day. A recent Toronto Star investigation revealed some disturbing facts about widespread concealment of police misconduct:
A Durham cop was caught on video threatening to beat up a man and plant cocaine on him, behaviour that prompted a Superior Court judge to say the officer “committed several criminal offences in the course of his duties.”This bizarre culture of concealment means that for the most part, the offenders' names and actions are kept from the public, and after two years of good behaviour, the misconduct must be scrubbed from the offending officer’s employment record, according to the Police Services Act, which governs policing in Ontario.
A Toronto officer refused to help his partner arrest an off-duty cop for drinking and driving.
Seven Ontario Provincial Police constables made fake notebook entries claiming they were conducting a RIDE check to catch drunk drivers when they were really hanging out at Tim Hortons.
All of these officers were disciplined under a secretive informal process that is supposed to be used only for cases that are not of a serious nature, an ongoing Star investigation has found. Critics say this is serious misconduct that should have been aired in a public hearing.
Like the officials profiled in Part 1, the people at the top have much influence over what is concealed and downplayed, thereby distorting the public's perception of both the force and those at the top of that force:
Under Ontario’s Police Services Act, a chief can choose to handle a discipline matter through informal resolution if she is of the opinion the misconduct “was not of a serious nature.”Although these 'in-house' proceedings are meant to deal only with minor matters, the record reveals they are used to hide some pretty serious matters, with the Peel constabulary having a rather unenviable record:
In the last five years alone, 640 Peel officers — roughly 30 per cent of the force — have been sanctioned under the secretive system, some multiple times. The OPP, a force three times the size, informally disciplined almost the same number of officers over that time period.While the police insist on the efficacy of these tribunals, the glaring and uncomfortable fact is that names and offences are kept secret, thereby obviating the crucial component of public accountability.
The Star investigation lists numerous examples of misconduct dealt with secretly, but this video of Constable James Egdon is perhaps emblematic of how serious transgressions can be swept under the rug:
In a 2015 decision, a Superior Court judge ripped into Const. Ebdon’s conduct, calling it “reprehensible.”
“The evidence establishes that Constable Ebdon committed several criminal offences in the course of his duties,” Justice Laura Bird said in her decision.
“Const. Ebdon showed a staggering lack of appreciation for the seriousness of his conduct. Perhaps that is not surprising in light of the fact that the only penalty that was imposed on him by the Durham Regional Police Service was the loss of 24 hours pay.”
Because he was disciplined informally, Ebdon’s misconduct wasn’t required to be disclosed in a court case where he testified as an officer — a fact the judge called “concerning.” Durham police will not publicly discuss Ebdon’s case.
The final word goes to Alok Mukherjee, former chair of Toronto Police Services Board.
During Mukherjee’s tenure on the police board, which provides civilian oversight the Toronto force, he said groups of officers were informally disciplined for removing their name tags during the G20 and turning off their in-car cameras — what he calls serious offences that undermine police accountability and integrity.As I titled this post, those at the top just aren't doing their jobs.
“My fear is that an impression is created that the discipline is not serious,” he said. “The next person who does that (misconduct) will act knowing that his matter is not serious.”
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
The ruling ethos among some of the higher echelon today is that protecting one's rear flank and not rocking the boat or causing headaches for others is the mark of good leadership.
Having met enough of this ilk during my teaching career, I suppose I am rather sensitive to any action or inaction that bespeaks failures of personal integrity and courage, failures that ultimately compromise the mission of the institution or organization. No group is immune to what my friend Dom calls "the resume polishers."
That this kind of career self-preservation and advancement is alive and well is suggested, in my view, by two stories recently in the news. The first involves a fifth estate investigation into a series of sexual assaults that took place at the University of British Columbia. The identity of the perpetrator was brought to the attention of the school administration by a number of women, but absolutely nothing was done for a very long time:
It took the University of British Columbia more than a year and a half to act against a grad student, despite mounting complaints of harassment or sexual assault by at least six women on campus. The women say Dmitry Mordvinov, a 28-year old PHD student in the history department, committed a wide range of offensive acts against them from inappropriate touching to sexual assault. Mordvinov was quietly expelled and told the fifth estate he's appealing.
Should you get a chance to view the above story, you will learn that Mordvinov's expulsion came only after an unconscionably long period, since the school's administration dismissed the first complaint, telling the woman involved that since it happened off-campus, it was essentially not their concern. When the number of complainants grew to six, officials
urged mediation between the female students and their alleged attacker, which the women refused.It didn't end there:
"I don't want to sit in a room with this student," said Cunningham [one of the victims]. "And I don't think it's appropriate for assault, especially sexual assault, that you sit in a room … and have a mediation."
But Kaitlin Russell, a former executive in the history graduate students' association, said UBC is failing to protect women on campus.And the conspiracy to suppress the truth, seemingly endemic among UBC officials, continued:
She was one of the students who led a campaign calling for the department to protect the physical and psychological safety of students and take action against harassment — only to be rebuffed by administrators who said the "unsubstantiated allegations" would "sow fear and suspicion."
Glynnis Kirchmeier says that when she approached UBC's Equity Inclusion Office with concerns about Mordvinov, she was told in effect by conflict manager Monica Kay to keep quiet.But the women persisted:
"We can't have you guys tell anybody or talk about this or say that there's … a problem, because that's like if people know there are snakes in the grass but they can't see the snakes, they'll get really afraid," she says Kay told her.
Then in March 2015, when history students presented a petition for action to department head Tina Loo, she told them in an email that it was "potentially problematic legally because of the allegations of harassment it contained."The only person who seems to have behaved with any integrity in this sordid matter is veteran history professor Paul Krause, who wrote a blistering online article about the culture of concealment at the university, a culture that almost cost him his job about 20 years previously, as you will learn if you read his piece.
Russell, the former student executive, was shocked at what she says Loo later told them in an face-to-face encounter.
"She said that she could not allow us to present the statement" at a department meeting, Russell said, because the petition "was politically inflammatory and was endangering to the department."
Russell said, "She said that she would shut us down."
In a response to the fifth estate, Loo insisted "the suggestion that I tried to keep students from speaking publicly is wrong."
But she acknowledged she told the women "unsubstantiated third-party allegations … can sow fear and suspicion among students" and that the petition "could be viewed as defamatory."
About the frustrations that the six women faced in trying to have the grad student dealt with, Krause had this to say:
"The damage is that we send out a signal that we have abandoned them, that we don't care about them. And that the corporate brand of UBC and of the care that we give to it in the public arena is more important than signalling to our students, we care about you, we're going to make sure you have a safe place."That observation, it seems to me, comes closest to getting to the heart of the matter: brand protection, and by extension, career protection. He or she who handles situations quietly, with minimal fuss and publicity, is the one whose job is safe and whose career trajectory will continue unimpeded.
In Part 2, I will discuss another organization where handling things 'in-house' offers the same benefits and rewards.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
One of my favourite authors, James Lee Burke, often writes on themes of good and evil, with situations often pushing his protagonists into contemplating some kind of illegal or unethical response to the dark forces surrounding them. But, as in more than one of his novels, they are often cautioned not to give those dark forces power over them; in other words, to resist the response that evil often elicits - responses of despair, vengeance or other such behaviours. It is advice we should all take to heart.
The despicable, cowardly and evil act perpetrated the other night against Syrian refugees in Vancouver is one such event where we would all be wise to keep a balanced perspective:
Shortly after 10:30 p.m. PT Friday 100 people were gathered outside of the Muslim Association of Canada Centre, located at 2122 Kingsway Avenue, when an unknown man on a bicycle rode up and pepper sprayed a group of men, women and children, which included newly arrived refugees from Syria.
Paramedics and the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service treated 15 people for exposure to pepper spray.
The words of both the mayor of Vancouver, Gregor Robertson, and Prime Minister Trudeau, set this terrible incident in its proper context:
Last night’s pepper spray incident was a disgusting display of hate - and Vancouver won’t stand for it. #VanWelcomesRefugees and always will.
I condemn the attack on Syrian refugees in Vancouver. This isn't who we are - and doesn't reflect the warm welcome Canadians have offered.
So the best response, in my view, to this deranged act is not to obsess about it but to see it as a crime committed by an unbalanced and evil person. Nothing more. It is an act that has no chance of defining us or diminishing our efforts to bring some relief and comfort to a group of people that has known so much misery these past several years.
Saturday, January 9, 2016
While our new government would, I'm sure, dearly love to change the channel on the indefensible arms deal with Saudi Arabia that I have been recently writing about, it is clear that Canadians are not about to be easily diverted. A selection of letters from today's Star attests to that fact:
Would someone please explain why we are selling armoured cars to Saudi Arabia? Would we sell armoured cars to the Islamic State? Of course not. In that case, tell me the difference between those two entities.
Both ISIS and the House of Saud, in the name of their various twisted interpretations of Islam, turn their guns on innocent civilians and demonstrate a particular interest in decapitation. At least 4 of the 47 people beheaded by Saudi Arabia on Jan. 1 were guilty, it seems, of peacefully protesting against that country’s repressive regime. That’s all.
I therefore ask again, why are we sending war material to the likes of the Saudis? Ah, why am I so naive as to believe that money shouldn’t trump morality?
Richard Griffith, Ravenna
The minute I heard of the executions in Saudi Arabia I thought that the delivery of light armored vehicles to that country would be halted. I was shocked to hear that nothing was to be done. We have a moral obligation to prevent arms going to a country that will not hesitate to use them on its own people.
Even if contracts have been signed and money transacted, it does not mean that Canada must honour this agreement. If we have to compensate the company concerned, so be it. We are aiding, abetting and condoning the atrocious acts of last Saturday if we do not cancel this sale.
Carol Duffy, Richmond Hill
In its Jan. 6 editorial, the Star says that the sale of $15 billion worth of Canadian-made arms to Saudi Arabia “bears close watching.” What we will be watching is people being run down and otherwise scared into submission by ruthless Saudi rulers using our armoured vehicles.
This deal, begun under the abolished Harper regime, should be cancelled at once. Our new government’s talk about new ways should not be undermined by the same old greedy hypocrisy.
Jean Gower, Kingston
ISIS beheads people under their control who disagree with them. So do the Saudis. ISIS invades sovereign territories and kills civilians who dwell there. The Saudis do it by air in Yemen. ISIS practices an absolute dictatorship form of goverment. So do the Saudis.
Why is it that we vilify ISIS, but provide military hardware to the Saudis? Why are the Saudis our valiant allies in the soi-disant War on Terror?
Patrick McDonald, Toronto
Friday, January 8, 2016
Having lived for almost 10 years under a cone of silence and secrecy, Canadians can be forgiven for expecting more openness from the Trudeau government. That expectation appears to be a forlorn hope, at least if this is any indication:
The Liberal government is refusing to make public a recently completed assessment of the state of human rights in Saudi Arabia even as it endures criticism for proceeding with a $15-billion deal to ship weaponized armoured vehicles to the Mideast country.As pointed out yesterday, Canadians have every right to be wary of this deal, given that the armoured vehicles are destined for Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), charged with protecting the royal rulers against internal threats.
Saudi Arabia, notorious for its treatment of women, dissidents and offenders, became the focus of international condemnation this month over a mass execution of 47 people, including Shia Muslim cleric Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, an exceptionally vocal critic of the ruling Al Saud family.
A country’s human rights record is an important consideration in the arms export control process that determines whether Canadian-made weapons can be exported there. The Saudi deal was brokered by Ottawa, which also serves as the prime contractor in the transaction.
Hiding behind the usual bafflegab of government, Canadian officials had this to say about the how the deal meets the criterion that the vehicles not be used against the Saudi people:
“A report on Saudi Arabia has been prepared for 2015 as part of the department’s annual process of producing human rights reports on numerous countries. This document is intended for internal Government of Canada use only, and, as such, will not be made public,” said François Lasalle, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada.Perhaps another reason that the government has chosen opacity over transparency in this matter is the realization that they are fooling few Canadians here, the majority realizing this deal is one of economic and political expedience over principle and law.
The Liberal government is also refusing to release any information on how Ottawa will justify the export of armoured vehicles under Canada’s export control regime.
“For reasons of commercial confidentiality, Global Affairs Canada does not comment on specific export permit applications,” Mr. Lasalle said.
Not a good beginning for our 'new' government.
Thursday, January 7, 2016
Yesterday's post dealt with the egregious hypocrisy of Canada's condemnation of Saudi Arabia's recent spate of executions while at the same time refusing to revisit the $15 billion arms sale to the Middle East kingdom. A report in today's Globe and Mail suggests the situation is even more grim than previously thought.
Some of the armoured combat vehicles Canada is selling to Saudi Arabia in a controversial $15-billion arms deal will feature medium- or high-calibre weapons supplied by a European subcontractor – such as a powerful cannon designed to shoot anti-tank missiles.While the Trudeau government, adamant that the deal go through, is refusing to provide details of the agreement, certain details have leaked out. The two key players in the manufacture of these weaponized vehicles are General Dynamics Land Systems in Canada and its Belgian supplier, CMI Defence.
These details shine a light on how lethal a product the Saudi Arabian National Guard – a force that deals with internal threats in the Mideast country – will be getting from Canada.
CMI, which manufactures turrets and cannons, announced in 2014 that it had signed a large contract with a “Canadian vehicle manufacturer” to supply two gun systems, including a medium-calibre weapon and the Cockerill CT-CV 105HP, which it advertises as a “high-pressure gun with an advanced autoloader to deliver high lethality at very light weight,” one with the capacity to fire 105-mm shells and a heavy-armour-penetrating missile. CMI did not name the Canadian company.About a year ago, The Tyee had this to offer about the weaponry involved:
...various reports say the LAV III light armoured vehicles, made by General Dynamics Land Systems Canada in London, Ontario, are not for the Saudi Arabian Army.According to Ken Epps of Project Ploughshares, the deal is one that could prove very costly to Saudi Arabia's domestic dissenters:
According to reports in a variety of specialist military publications -- including Jane's, the UK-based group of defence industry publications -- the LAV IIIs are for the National Guard (SANG), a 100,000-strong force of Bedouin tribesmen and Wahhabi religious zealots whose prime task is to protect King Abdullah and the royal family from domestic opponents.
“Such vehicles, far from simple troop carriers, are capable of major destruction, and given the ongoing deplorable human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, there is great risk that they will be used against civilians opposed to the Saudi government. This is why the new Canadian government should be reconsidering the Saudi contract,” Mr. Epps said.Through its recent spate of executions, the Middle East kingdom has sent a powerful message that those who demonstrate against or oppose the royal family will pay a heavy price. Once this indefensible arms deal goes through, that price will clearly be even heavier.
UPDATE: Owen over at Northern Reflections has a very interesting post on Saudi Arabia's true nature.
Wednesday, January 6, 2016
Despite the widely-condemned mass executions recently perpetrated by Saudi Arabia, the Trudeau government is going ahead with its $15 billion arms sale with the Middle East kingdom.
Foreign Affairs Minster Stéphane Dion released a statement this week decrying the capital punishment meted out Jan. 2 and calling on the Saudis to respect peaceful dissent and respect human rights. Sheik Nimr al-Nimr, the Shia cleric, was executed along with 46 others convicted on terrorism charges.The hypocrisy of the government's position on the deal is not escaping notice. Said Cesar Jaramillo, executive director of Project Ploughshares, an anti-war group that tracks arms sales,
But the biggest Saudi mass execution in decades – delivered by beheading and in a few cases firing squad – is not moving Ottawa to reconsider a massive deal to supply the Mideast country with armoured fighting vehicles. The transaction will support about 3,000 jobs in Canada for 14 years.
“A private company is delivering the goods according to a signed contract with the government of Saudi Arabia. The government of Canada has no intention of cancelling that contract,” Adam Barratt, director of communications for Mr. Dion, said on Monday.
Mr. Dion’s criticism of the mass executions carried out by Riyadh sounds unconvincing given Ottawa’s unwillingness to cancel the arms sale.
Critics including Project Ploughshares and Amnesty International have cited Riyadh’s abysmal human-rights record and said this transaction would appear to violate Canada’s export-control regime.This will not be the first time that Canadian arms have been used to suppress human rights:
The Department of Foreign Affairs is required to screen requests to export military goods to countries “whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens.” Among other things, it must obtain assurances that “there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”
Activists allege Saudi Arabia sent Canadian-made fighting vehicles into Bahrain in 2011 to help quell a democratic uprising. The Canadian government does not deny this happened.Despite the fact that the lucrative deal will provide over 3000 jobs, is it expecting too much that the new government act with principle rather than expediency in this matter?
UPDATE: Alex Neve, Amnesty International’s secretary-general for Canada, is joining the chorus of criticism over this deal, saying
it is time Ottawa made public how it has determined that exporting $15-billion worth of armoured fighting vehicles to Saudi Arabia would not pose a risk to Saudi civilians.H/t trapdinawrpool
He said such transparency would be “very much in keeping” with the “new values and principles” the Liberals have said they intend to promote in Canadian foreign policy.
“We still have no confidence that there has been a thorough and meaningful human-rights assessment of this deal, and if there has been, it is time for the results of that assessment to be shared with Canadians,” Mr. Neve said.
Tuesday, January 5, 2016
* Readers of a certain vintage will recognize my indebtedness to Elmer Fudd for part of this post's title.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Sunday, January 3, 2016
"If I had done nothing, he would have stabbed me," Const. James Forcillo said at his trial, being held in front of a jury in Ontario Superior Court. "If I had waited for the Taser, he would have been off the streetcar. He forced my hand. He was the one who decided to come forward."If you have watched any of the video of that fateful night (available on this blog), you will likely find that a difficult defence to accept, especially given the distance that separated Yatim and Forcillo. Was there a better way to have handled the situation? A recent machete attack in Toronto that was stopped by two unarmed security guards suggests there was:
The security guards in the above say that they were just doing their job. It's a pity that the Toronto police seem to have an entirely different way of looking at their positions. It is a perspective that has raised the ire of some Toronto Star readers:
Re: Security guards were just doing their jobs, Dec. 26You can read the rest of the letter here.
Please help me to understand this situation. On Dec. 23, an unarmed security guard was willing and able to risk his life by tackling and disarming an apparently agitated, machete-wielding man who had already injured an apparently innocent passerby.
In contrast, early in the morning of July 27, 2013, one Toronto Police Service officer fired multiple rounds into a knife-wielding man who had harmed no one, and another TPS officer deployed a taser on the recumbent, mortally wounded man.
Three questions: First, why is the TPS failing to train its officers as well as the security company seems to have trained its guards?
Second, why is the TPS failing to recruit officers who are apparently as brave and resourceful as this security guard and his partner demonstrated themselves to be?
Third, if the TPS had attended at the incident on Dec. 23 would we now be facing another scenario in which an accused person never had the opportunity to stand trial for the charges against him?
Edward Bricknell, Toronto
There is an important lesson to be learned from the recent incident near the Eaton Centre, where a man wielding a machete and a hunting knife was successfully disarmed by two security guards.
It would have been easy for them just to call the police, but the situation required immediate action to avert any further danger to the public. The security guards followed their training and immediately resolved a volatile situation that could have resulted in many more casualties.
This should be a salutary reminder to law enforcement officers when dealing with armed assailants. The use of a lethal weapon to resolve such situations must remain an option, but only as a last resort, not a first response.
Keith Spicer, Oakville
The headline says it all about Nathaniel McNeil, the unarmed security guard who tackled a machete-wielding man near the Eaton Centre. How many times have the Toronto police encountered a knife-wielding person (often mentally ill) who ends up being shot and killed. Perhaps the Toronto police should follow the example and/or learn from these security guards.
J.G. Wong, Toronto
So a security guard is able, with his bare hands, to disarm a machete-wielding lunatic who had attacked an innocent bystander, yet Constable Forcillo, flanked by members of his force, felt it necessary to pump 8 bullets into Sammy Yatim despite the fact that no citizens were at risk.
What a coward.
Michelle McCarthy, Toronto