Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Avaaz Petition

The following is a petition from to try to reduce the usurious fees Western Union charges for money transfers to some of the world's poorest nations:

This holiday season, Josh, a Kenyan student in the Netherlands, scraped together a year's worth of savings and sent it home to support 10 struggling family members. Shockingly, the giant money transfer company Western Union skimmed off 20% of the cash meant for Josh's family in fees.

Josh’s story is painfully retold every day, the world over, on a staggering scale -- an estimated $44.3 billion worldwide was lost in transfer fees last year! The World Bank recommends that transaction costs not exceed 5% of the total, but Western Union has never faced serious pressure to lower its crippling charges. If we unite in a global outcry now, we can expose its predatory practices when its carefully crafted, family-friendly image is most vulnerable: the giving season.

Josh's generosity -- and that of millions of workers around the world -- shouldn't go to waste! Let's call on Western Union to lower its fees to 5% for the poorest countries, and when the petition reaches 250,000 we’ll deliver it to the company’s image-sensitive board of directors. Sign now and then forward this petition to family and friends.

A Slightly Less Rosy View

“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” So said Doctor Pangloss in what is probably Voltaire's best-known satirical work, Candide. And perhaps it is understandable that I briefly thought that The Hamilton Spectator had decided to devote part of its op-ed page to French literature upon seeing the title, 'All in all, things are getting a whole lot better' (Dec.30).

Written by David Seymour, described as a senior analyst for the Frontier Centre, a conservative/libertarian organization whose website boasts the article's original title, 'Cheer Up- The World Is A Wonderful Place,' the article extols the tremendous advances the world has made in a number of fields, including economic growth (hasn't Ebay enriched all of our lives immeasurably?) sanitation and longevity. At the same time Seymour hints at something deeply pathological about those who do not see the glass as half-full, dismissing them as 'the glum,' 'the moaners, and 'merchants of doom.'

To the reader with critical-thinking skills, perhaps most risible is Seymour's assertions “that everyone is getting wealthier and the environment is generally improving ...” and that “ freer and wealthier countries are better environmental custodians. “

Hmm... In his worldview, the writer has conveniently omitted that pesky problem of climate change which almost all balanced studies suggest will ultimately engulf low-lying lands in catastrophic flooding, make many parts of the world much more vulnerable to drought and consequent starvation, and cost world economies many many billions of dollars. Indeed, although no single year's volatile weather can be attributed to climate change, one cannot help but begin to see a pattern emerging in hotter summers worldwide, record snowfalls and freezes in Europe, and massive disruptions in travel throughout the world.

Indeed, I suspect that few would argue that it is the industrialized, free and wealthy countries who are responsible for the massive buildup of greenhouse gases at the root of these changes, the same nations that are proving quite intractable in their refusal to lower their emission rates in order to slow down the rate of earth's degradation.

And yet, according to Mr. Seymour, things just keep getting better for our species.

Would I prefer to live in an earlier time, before the advances of which the writer speaks? Of course not. But let's not kid ourselves that a world offering us greater longevity, sanitation, opportunity and technological marvels is one separate from the world of poverty, child labour, human exploitation, starvation, disease and early death that are constant realities for a significant percentage of our fellow human beings.

But let's face it. There is something beguilingly attractive about Seymour's premise that we can enjoy and exploit the world, guilt-free, because after all, things are so much better now than they were in ages past. Indeed, that nettlesome small warning voice in our heads can finally be put to rest – as long as we are also willing to cast out any sense of morality and concern for those less fortunate who have to pay a very heavy price for our indulgences.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ottawa Police Parody

The following video is making the news spoofing, as it does, the timid reaction and political pandering of management in light of the Tracy Bonds strip search. Reminds me of the sorts of stunts we would pull on management when the need arose!

Palestinian Doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish

I was listening to CBC's The Current this morning. Interviewed by guest host David Michael Lamb, Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish acquitted himself with great dignity on the subject of justice and reconciliation. Two years ago, the doctor lost three of his daughters when Israel conducted a military operation against the Palestinian enclave in Gaza. All Abuelaish has ever asked for is an apology from the Government of Israel, something they claim they cannot make because the innocent civilians were killed during a military operation.

Once more we are confronted with the situation of an intractable government claiming to be working in the best interests of the people when, in reality, it is obstructing the noble efforts of a man who, despite his grievous losses, has resolved to embrace love and forgiveness over revenge as he attempts to bridge the chasm that exists between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

You can hear the entire interview here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Pitch for

Because I believe in the good work that they do, I am reproducing below an email I received from, a world-wide organization that marshals wide-ranging support for numerous causes and issues that, if properly addressed, can make our world a better place. If you like what you see, you might want to consider making a donation to help them continue their good work.

Wow - we've almost reached our fundraising goal of 10,000 sustainers! We have 5 days left until the New Year - if we can find 150 more donors from Canada, we'll hit our goal and massively empower Avaaz in 2011! Here's the email -- 

Dear fellow Avaazers, 

I've had moments in my life when I doubted the strength of goodness and compassion in the world, and myself. 

But being part of Avaaz has been profoundly thrilling. Every day I read the most incredible messages from you (if you write 'dear ricken' at the top it comes through to my personal email) -- messages of hope, courage, and wisdom. I lived and worked in war zones before starting Avaaz. From Sierra Leone to Afghanistan, I saw some of the best and worst in humanity. But at Avaaz I have seen a humanity I didn't know existed. There are millions of us, we all just want to do the right thing, and we're willing to work for it. 

Week after week, we come together for a purpose. At the beginning it was often just to speak out. But as we've grown and our voice has grown, we've begun to create real magic. Time and again, we're winning - actually stopping those things that break your heart when you read about them in the paper. Actually building the world we all dream of. 

If you feel at all like I feel, consider becoming an Avaaz sustainer. It sounds incredible, but all the work of our 6.5 million strong network is made possible by just 4967 "sustainers" who donate a few dollars/euros/etc a week -- the price of a cup of coffee -- to sustain our core operating costs. As the holidays approach, we're looking to double that number, and with it our capacity to serve this incredible community. Click here to double the hope, change, and everything that we can do together.

Making a small but steady weekly contribution enables Avaaz to plan responsibly around long term costs like our tiny but awesome staff team, our website and technology, and the security of our systems (this can get pricy when our campaigns are taking on shady characters!). It also means we have the ability to respond immediately to crises as they occur and jump on opportunities for action without delay.

A very small donation of $3 or $5 per week from 10,000 Avaazers would enable our community to expand all our work next year, helping to save lives in humanitarian emergencies, protect the environment and wildlife, fight political corruption and organized crime, push for peace and reduce poverty.

Donating to Avaaz has a double-impact – because our donations not only make change now by empowering particular campaigns, every contribution builds our community that will be making change for decades to come. It’s an investment with both immediate and long term results for our children’s and our planet’s future. Click here to contribute. 

Fundraising is often a problem for social change organizations. Government or corporate funding would profoundly threaten our mission. Funding from large donors also often comes with strings attached. And high-pressure tactics like telemarketing, postal mail, or direct on-the-street programmes often cost nearly as much as they raise! That's why the Avaaz model - online, people-powered donations - is the best way in the world to power an engine of social change, and a huge part of our community's promise. 

If we can multiply the number of sustainers we have, it will take our community, and our impact, to a whole new level. I can't wait. 

I know that donating is an act of hope, and of trust. I feel a huge and serious sense of responsibility to be a steward of that hope, and my team and I are deeply committed to respecting the trust you place in us with your hope, time, and resources. It's a special thing we're building here, and if we can keep believing in each other, anything is possible. 

With hope and gratitude for this amazing community, 

Ricken Patel
Co-Founder and Executive Director

PS - In case you're mulling it over, here's 11 more reasons to donate to Avaaz :) :

Reason 1 – What we do Works

With 6.5 million members in every nation of the world, able to mobilize at a moment's notice to pressing needs and opportunities, Avaaz works –- together we've saved lives in Haiti and Burma, reversed government policies from Brazil to Japan, and won victories on international treaties from banning cluster bombs to preserving oceans. UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown says of Avaaz "You have driven forward the idealism of the world... do not underestimate your impact on leaders" while the Economist says Avaaz is "poised to deliver a deafening wake up call to world leaders" and Al Gore says "Avaaz is inspiring, and has already made a difference". We're only 3 years old and growing fast, and the more our members get involved and donate, the more impact we have.

Make a donation here.

Reason 2 – An Avaaz donation is an investment with permanent social change returns

With Avaaz, our donations fund high impact campaigns that also recruit more people. More people means more donations, and more impact. So you're not only achieving a particular change with your donation, you're helping grow a community with new members that will multiply your donation many times over, and be a permanent and ever-increasing source of change. It's a tremendous philanthropic value to have this kind of double and permanent impact.

Reason 3 – We have no bureaucracy

Avaaz is a massive network of citizens, but our organization is absolutely tiny – just 15 full time campaigners with operational and technology support. Most large global NGOs have hundreds or even thousands of staff. Our small size means we have no time for red tape, layers of management, or being focused on anything but getting results.

Reason 4 – We're regularly audited, and fiscally responsible

There's a lot of fear out there about misuse of donated money. Most of the fear is misplaced – most organizations are filled with good people trying to do good things. With Avaaz you can be sure – partly because we're required by law to be audited every 12 months. This audit thoroughly checks every aspect of our books and financial practices. We've been audited 3 times since we launched and every time been given a squeaky clean bill of health (for details, click here).

Reason 5 – We have a world-class team that does outstanding work

Campaigning, advocacy and social change are a serious and demanding business – the more competent the team, the more impact our donations have. Avaaz attracts some of the best campaigners and advocates in the world. Many of our campaign directors joined us after being CEOs of successful multi-million dollar advocacy organizations, and most have degrees from the top universities in the world.

Donate now: 

Reason 6 – We're 100% Independent

Avaaz takes absolutely no money from governments or corporations. This is hugely important to ensuring that our voice is exclusively determined by the values of our members, and not by any large funder or agenda. While we received initial seed grants from partner organizations and charitable organizations, almost 90% of the Avaaz budget now comes small online donations. This means that the only agenda we have to follow is the people's agenda.

Reason 7 – We pass the money on when it makes sense, and give to the best efforts

Avaaz has donated almost $4 million to other organizations, because we saw them as better placed than us to have impact on a particular issue. For example, we've granted $1.6 million to Burmese monks and aid groups, and $1.3 million to Haitian aid organizations – see this video from the groups that received our donations. The way we support organizations is important too. Most foundations have endless process and constraints that make them slow, bureaucratic and risk averse in supporting advocacy. Avaaz finds the best people and organizations and doesn't micromanage them – we just empower them to do what they know best.

Reason 8 – We're political (this really matters)

Most charities offer tax deductibility for donations. But this means that they are, in a way, partially tax-payer funded, and governments use that to place a very thick set of rules on what they can and can't do. Chief among them is restricting what they can say to criticize, support, or oppose a politician. Avaaz is very rare in that our donations are not tax deductible, leaving us 100% free to say and do whatever we need to to get leaders to listen to people. Since so many important issues are won and lost in the political realm, this makes us much more effective than advocacy groups that shy away from speaking out politically.

Reason 9 – We go where the greatest needs and opportunities are

Most organizations focus on a single issue over a long period of time. This is very important to do, but that can mean that when desperate needs or amazing opportunities for social change arise, they get ignored because everyone is working on their own issue. Avaaz campaigns target the most urgent needs and opportunities, showing up just when a powerful burst of citizens' attention is needed most. We work continuously with top quality partners in the areas we campaign on, and all describe Avaaz as an amazing added value to their work.

Click to donate:

Reason 10 – Democratic accountability is hard-wired into our model

The Avaaz model of campaigning is people-powered. Our priorities are set at annual and weekly levels by polls of our membership and every campaign we run is first polled with members. Click here for results from our 2010 annual poll. No matter how much work we put into developing a campaign, if it fails to get the greenlight from members, we don't run it. So on a day to day basis, how we spend the donations we receive is determined directly by members.

Reason 11 – There's no other organization like us

Avaaz is the world's first and only massive, high-tech, people-powered, multi-issue, genuinely global advocacy organization. In a world where the problems we face are consistently global, and the solutions to them increasingly require global democratic action, Avaaz is uniquely placed to effect change. No other organization can rapidly mobilize large-scale, coordinated democratic pressure in over 150 countries within 24 hours. A new model of internet-based, people-powered politics has changed politics in several countries, and Avaaz is taking that proven model global. The result is already the largest global online movement in history, and we're just getting started.

Make a secure donation to Avaaz here

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Another Catherine Porter Article on Haiti

This morning I read another article by the Star's Catherine Porter on Haiti, one that reminds us once again of the power we all have to make this world a slightly better place. It is a story both about a little girl in Haiti named Lovely Avelus and the effect she has had on the lives of others as they responded to that country's earthquake. It is a story that also reminds us of the truly valuable in this season of conspicuous consumption.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Reminder of the World Outside Our Cocoon

There is a beautiful piece in today's Star by Catherine Porter, who has spent a great deal of time in Haiti since the earthquake. It is a reminder both of how fortunate we are, and also of our obligations to the larger world.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

How The G20 Radicalized Me

Just a short thought for today. Although I am now at the stage of life where I have more years behind me than I have ahead, and have been an inveterate cynic for many years, I am now starting to wonder if there is just a glimmer of hope for the possibility of real change. Ironically enough, my smattering of optimism arises from the violation of our Charter Rights by the police during the G20 last summer in Toronto.

Much has already been written about that infamous weekend, and I'm sure much more will be, but what I find so heartening, much to the dismay, I'm sure, of politicians and police chiefs, is the fact that the public will not let the issue die. People are refusing to be placated by the usual platitudes such as 'mistakes were made,' and 'the police did their best under very trying circumstances.' While such bromides might have been effective in the past, judging by the wide array of societal engagement on this, they have clearly lost their currency. The fact that a rally at Queens Park is planned for January 8th to demand a full inquiry is yet another indication of public passion and engagement.

I read an article in the December issue of The Walrus, a reflection by Pasha Malla on the G20. In the essay, she interviews activist Jaggi Singh, who says:

 “In Toronto, with over 1,000 arrests, mostly arbitrary, many idealists were swept up in the police repression, or observed it close at hand. This was meant to scare those idealists into pulling away from radical politics. Some folks are definitely traumatized and scared. But many, definitely, have become radicalized, too.”

It is his observation about radicalization that struck a responsive chord for me. While watching the G20 events unfold, I was disgusted by the property destruction wrought by a small group, but I was appalled by the police repression and physical violence they perpetrated against the peaceful protestors. So I guess, to use Singh's language, I became radicalized, affecting, as it has, my decision not to vote for the McGuinty Government again, and reflected in the fact that I can't stop thinking, writing, and talking about how precarious our Charter Rights really are.

And I doubt that I am alone in reacting thus. I think the same has happened to traditional police media supporters such as Rosie Di Manno and Peter Worthington. The Globe's implacable Christie Blatchjford, of course, continues to downplay the gravity of what went on, but I find her musings less and less relevant today, one of the reasons I cancelled my longtime subscription to the Globe and Mail.

But I digress. The thought occurs to me that if people are being reminded of the power they potentially have through the ongoing outrage over the police in Toronto, might we not reach a point where we can apply that power to other pressing issues, such as climate change, sacrificing young people in a futile war, etc. etc. ?

Perhaps all we need are a few more epiphanous moments.

Just a few thoughts from a cynic whose hardened heart has started its journey back into the light.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rosi DiManno on the Arrest of A G20 Police Officer

Rosie DiManno has a good column in today's Star on the public's role in bringing about the charge of assault with a weapon against Babak Andalib-Goortani, one of at least eight officers depicted beating Adam Nobody for no apparent reason during the G20 Summit.

While DiManno cites the sad fact that none of the other officers in the video were able to identify either themselves or the others assaulting Mr. Nobody, I couldn't help but wonder what has become of Chief Bill Blair's much-vaunted facial recognition software he was touting earlier this year as a good means of identifying those engaged in violence during the demonstrations. Or perhaps that software only works on civilians?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Too Much Evidence to Ignore

Thanks largely to the diligence of the Star, the SIU, confronted with high profile evidence that it could no longer ignore, has finally charged one officer with the assault of Adam Nobody. Even though the video appears to show at least eight officers tackling and pummeling Mr. Nobody, I guess we should be thankful that at least one person (perhaps a sacrificial lamb?) will face some consequences. Perhaps that will help to keep the spotlight on the G20 abuses, and more charges will eventually be brought.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Suggestions For Poverty Reduction

The Recession Relief Coalition has released a 10-point plan to combat rising poverty in Canada. While some will likely dismiss these suggestions as 'pie-in-the-sky', the question remains; Given the huge costs to our economy of poverty, can we continue with the half-measures currently employed?

A Graphic Depiction of the Dangers of Drinking and Driving

A very powerful video from Australia on the consequences of drinking and driving. Perhaps we in Canada need this kind of 'shock therapy' to be aired on our networks.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And Now A Word from Our Sponsors

Like me, I suspect many in the blogosphere are deeply cynical about governments both domestic and foreign. We tend, for example, to despair of governments' capacity to bring about meaningful change when it receives or gives foreign aid. The recent imbroglio over the termination of CIDA support for KAIROS is but one example of many that come to mind. The slow nature of the reconstruction efforts in Haiti is another.

In this season of giving, many turn their thoughts to philanthropy that benefits people in other parts of the world. For those seeking such an opportunity, I would like to suggest an entity that has a tremendous track record and one which I volunteer with. That entity is Kiva.

A fine example of an NGO doing tremendous work in the developing world, Kiva uses a particular model of microfinance that will appeal to many. For as little as $25, a person can lend to an entrepreneur from an extensive list of people seeking to better their lives and the lives of their families through a slow and gradual development and expansion of their businesses.

One of the exciting aspects of Kiva is that all of the money lent goes to the recipient through a finance organization in the target country. Each financial entity, before becoming a partner with Kiva, is carefully vetted, with Kiva performing all of the due diligence to determine its viability and adherence to philanthropic lending policy. Once the loan is repaid, the lender has the option of either receiving back the money or re-lending. (I should warn you that the lending can become addictive!)

Kiva receives nothing from the loan, depending extensively on both donations and a large network of volunteers to do most its work, including the translation and editing of loan descriptions.

So if you a seeking a worthy cause that requires only a small commitment of funds, I heartily recommend and endorse Kiva.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More About the KAIROS Defunding

I wrote a post the other day about the decision, mired in controversy and obfuscation, by CIDA Minister Bev Oda to cut off the funding to KAIROS, a church-based coalition that promotes social justice issues. Despite the fact that CIDA staff had recommended a continuation of funding, Oda overruled them for reasons that have been speculated upon, including the allegation by Immigration Minister Jason Kenney of anti-semitism which, in the Harper Government, seems to include any criticism of Israel or its policies.

In a story from The Embassy, the tale gets even murkier, reflected in the report of Ms. Oda's testimony before the Common's Foreign policy committee:

After soliciting feedback from CIDA sections and embassies in the relevant countries, a number of memos and background documents were prepared for Ms. Oda in advance of approving the $7.1-million KAIROS proposal.

However, while the entire memo recommends the project, a hand-written notation has added "NOT" into the final sentence, which as a result reads: "RECOMMENDATION — That you sign below to indicate you NOT approve the contribution of $7,098,758."

"You were the one who wrote the 'not,'" Liberal committee member John McKay said at one point.
"I did not say I was the one who wrote the 'not,'" Ms. Oda replied.
"Who did then?" Mr. McKay asked.
"I do not know," Ms. Oda replied.
That evoked a stunned silence in the West Block committee room before Mr. McKay said: "That's a remarkable statement."

Near the end of the hearing, Liberal Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae asked Ms. Oda whether the "NOT" was on the document when she signed it.

"I did not put the 'not' in," the minister said, before adding: "I did not sign the document."

Confused, Mr. Rae noted that Ms. Oda's signature was on the memo, to which the minister said it may have been signed by a machine known as an automatic pen.

"I, personally, did not sign that document," she said. "It's my signature, which is either a pen-signed or a personal-signed. I do not sign, as any minister does not sign, every document required to be signed."

"I would say that CIDA staff in the department certainly did its job," Ms. Oda said. However, "the ultimate decision is made by the minister, and the minister does have that responsibility, not only just to endorse recommendations coming out of any department, but also has to use their own judgment in every case."

When asked what was wrong with the KAIROS proposal, however, Ms. Oda would only say that "it's not the minister's responsibility necessarily to find what's wrong, it's to find the best projects for the utilization of the public funds."

I could make predictable observations about government incompetence here, but to me the more disturbing aspect of Oda's testimony is that she, and by extension, her government, care not a whit what anyone else may think of the high-handed manner with which KAIROS was treated.

Yet one more reason one can only hope that the Harperites never get that majority they so deeply crave.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Guess Rules Really Weren't Made to Be Broken

In a decision that one might think came from some kind of bizarro parallel world, the Ontario Minor League Hockey Association has extended to a full season the suspension of coach Greg Walsh as a consequence for pulling his team from a game in November after an opposing team member hurled a racial epithet at one of his players. While the offending boy's coach benched him for the second period, Walsh became outraged when he rejoined play in the third period without so much as offering an apology.

Owing to a Hockey Canada rule on 'refusing to start play,' Walsh had been immediately suspended after the forfeiture, but the new ruling, doubtlessly intended to emphasize the sanctity and supremacy of hockey rules over integrity and human decency, means that Walsh is out for the season as a coach.

Tell me again how playing sports helps build young people's characters?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Truth About KAIROS Defunding?

NGO KAIROS, a social justice church-based coalition, finally has learned part of the truth about its loss of CIDA funding about a year ago. At the time, CIDA Minister Bev Oda said the organization was cut as an aid partner because its project proposal did not meet the government's new aid priorities.

That decision was met by much suspicion at the time, with KAIROS insiders believing that "its involvement in corporate social responsibility work related to mining in developing countries and oil sands awareness in Canada was a factor. In addition, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney linked the decision with KAIROS's supposed role in leading a boycott, divestment and sanction campaign against Israel in December."

According to a story in today's Toronto Star, CIDA in fact had recommended the continuation of funding, but was overruled by Bev Oda, who now admits "it was her decision alone to discontinue funding arrangements with KAIROS, in spite of the advice she was given."

In the old days, such blatant lying by a cabinet minister would have created a real furor. Today, I suspect, such a revelation will create nary a ripple.

The Unfair Practices of Visa and Mastercard

According to a story in today's Toronto Star, The Federal Competition Bureau is asking the Competition Tribunal to strike down the rules that allow both Visa and Mastercard to impose restrictions on merchants that ultimately lead to higher costs that are passed on to the consumer.

Apparently the current agreements, in addition to the fairly high fees charged to merchants when the cards are used, prevent vendors from offering discounts for cash payments or suggesting to the purchasers less costly means of buying, such as the use of bank cards or cash.

Given the huge profits that banks already enjoy, one hopes that the Tribunal will make a quick decision on this matter.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Young British Student Speaks

I love this young man's passion. It seems to me that his words, based on police reaction to the student demonstrations in Britain, are equally applicable to what many experienced during the G20 police repression of protesters.


Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Vatican – Just Another Corrupt Political Entity?

I have reached the point in my life when I regard (and indeed hold) spiritual beliefs as completely distinct from any religious organizations that purport to convey the word of God. Nonetheless, I continue to be filled with revulsion over new revelations that demonstrate the craven political nature of the Vatican and the clerical elites that do its bidding. It has long been obvious to me and many others that the Church, one of the largest and wealthiest of the world's organizations, has been acting in a typically craven organizational manner in its dogged refusal to accept any real responsibility for the decades-old coverups of its priests' paedophilia. To my knowledge, the closest it has come is to apologize for clerical abuse, totally avoiding the central role it played, and continues to play, in the whole sad, sordid, and sinful imbroglio.

The latest proof comes from a WikiLeaks' document regarding Ireland's probe into the abuse:

According to the deputy to the Irish ambassador to the Holy See, the Irish government gave in to Vatican pressure and allowed ... church officials to avoid answering questions from the inquiry panel, according to one of the cables from a U.S. diplomat.

So much for wanting to ferret out corruption. What would Jesus say, indeed?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Dalton McGuinty and The Smoking Gun

I have written extensively about my long-standing suspicions of Premier McGuinty's weak explanations for his failure to reveal the truth about the 'secret law' (the regulatory change under the Public Works Protection Act) which permitted police to violate the Charter Rights of thousands of peaceful protesters during the G20 Summit in Toronto. Today, the Toronto Star reports that the Marin Investigation uncovered emails revealing a concious decision not to inform the public that the '5-meter rule' did not, in fact, exist:

On June 25 — the day before the weekend summit of world leaders at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre — the Starreported ministers had quietly designated areas within the G20 security zone a “public work.”

Blair led people to believe that his officers had been granted the authority to arrest anyone who failed to provide identification or agree to be searched within five metres of the secure conference site.

Later on June 25, Bartolucci’s ministry drafted a press release outlining the changes under the Public Works Protection Act that specifically said “it does not authorize police officers to require individuals to submit to searches on roads and sidewalks outside the zone.”

But the news release was never distributed because, according to Marin, “by the end of the day, the ministry had decided to scrap the idea of going public altogether” since there was only one media call on the five-metre rule.

Now more than ever, it is imperative that a full and independent inquiry into the entire sad episode be held. For the government to do anything less is to demonstrate complete disdain for the sanctity of our Charter Rights as Canadians.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

McGuinty's Weak Apologies and Bill Blair's Misdirection

Having to watch two politicians, Premier Dalton McGuinty and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, working hard at damage control today over Andre Marin's excoriating report and calls for their respective resignations, was not pleasant. Listening to their efforts to obscure their culpability in lying to the public regarding the so-called 'five-meter' law was even harder. Fortunately, our digital world allows us an electronic record that is indelible. Therefore, I am reproducing a blog post I wrote on June 29th that reflects the duplicitous nature of both the aforementioned gentlemen.

If you have the patience to read the entire post, please pay particular attention to Blair's explanation as to why he didn't reveal to the public the fact that there was no law that allowed his forces to arrest people coming within five meters of the perimeter fence. As well, note Premier McGuinty's comments that summit weekend about the necessity of having extreme measures in place, surely an allusion to the non-existent law, a fact he only revealed after the summit had left town.

Police Chiefs and Premiers

I have to confess that my nose is presently feeling quite abraded and raw, not surprising given its strenuous workout in today’s smell tests, beginning with the spectacle of Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair displaying a cache of ‘weapons’ seized from protesters that turned out to be less than claimed. First, an astute CBC reporter asked about the cross bow that was given prominence. Hadn’t that, in fact, been seized from a car before the summit began and determined to have nothing to do with the G20? Well yes, the good chief sheepishly admitted that it shouldn’t have been there, as reported in The Globe and Mail:

A car search last Friday netted a cross bow and chain saw but they were not determined to be G20 related, and no charges were laid. When this was pointed out, Chief Blair acknowledged the items should not have been displayed but said “everything else” was seized from summit protesters.

However, police also included objects taken from a Whitby, Ont., man who was heading to a role playing fantasy game in Centennial Park Saturday morning. As was reported by the Globe on Saturday, Brian Barrett, 25, was stopped at Union Station for wearing chain mail and carrying a bag with an archery bow, shield and graphite swords. His jousting gear was seized by police, but was on display Tuesday, even though he was not charged and police told a Globe reporter it was a case of bad timing.

The critical thinker, of course, would have even more reason after this display to question the veracity of what he or she was being told. But then things got worse. Blair announced that there was no five-metre rule in place allowing police to search bags and demand identification from interlopers who had violated the police’s ‘comfort zone.’ His justification for this alleged lie: “I was trying to keep the criminals out.”

I say alleged lie, because this came only after an announcement from the Ministry of Community Safety made an announcement that “all the cabinet did was update the law that governs entry to such things as court houses to include specific areas inside the G20 fences — not outside.

A ministry spokeswoman says the change was about property, not police powers, and did not include any mention of a zone five metres outside the G20 security perimeter. “

However — and my nose was really starting to hurt by this point — we remember Dalton McGuinty’s statement of support for the police on Friday after word got out about the secret order-in-council suspending some of our Charter Rights:

Premier Dalton McGuinty denies it was an abuse of power for his government to secretly approve sweeping new powers for police.

“I just think it’s in keeping with the values and standards of Ontarians,” McGuinty told the Toronto Star on Friday amid a battery of complaints from opposition parties, city councillors, civil libertarians and regular Torontonians that the new rules were kept secret and, some say, may go too far.

The rules allow police to arrest and potentially jail anyone refusing to produce identification or be searched within 5 metres of the G20 security zone.

“Most Ontarians understand that there’s something extraordinary happening inside our province,” the Premier said. “We’ve tried to limit the intrusiveness to a specific secure zone as much as we can by working together with our police.”

Despite the fact that it was front page news on several of Ontario’s dailies, Premier McGuinty did nothing to disabuse the public about this seemingly inaccurate information, which leads me to conclude a number of limited possibilities:

He is so inept a Premier that, despite the alleged regulation having been passed secretly by his Cabinet, he knew none of the details;

Chief Blair was lying about these special powers, promulgated throughout the media and eliciting mass confusion and outrage. Were this so, wouldn’t it be incumbent upon McGuinty to immediately terminate the Chief, having gone far beyond anything General Stanley McCrystal did to warrant firing?

He was colluding with the police to continue to perpetrate this ‘falsehood,’ a possibility that would justify our asking how committed the Premier is to Charter Rights and basic democracy;

The regulation was as everyone understood it, but because of the widespread revulsion it inspired, the Liberal Government, realizing the potential political consequences to be so very costly, disavowed any relationship to the odious regulation, therefore requiring Bill Blair to ‘fall on his sword’ over this issue.

The fact that the position of Chief of Police is, de facto, a political one, would likely have convinced Blair that his future would be far better served by obeying his political masters than hewing to the path of integrity.

Further evidence of government and police lying to the public emerges as the McGuinty Government is now stating that no one was arrested under any extended laws, but only regular criminal laws. The critical thinking public will, of course, want to know why 31-year-old Dave Vasey was arrested when he ventured within the allegedly non-existent boundary, refusing to either show his i.d. or allow his bag to be searched, believing he was only enjoying his basic rights of citizenship. Told he would then have to leave, he refused, after which he was arrested under this ‘non-existent’ rule. What then, was the offense for which he was arrested?

These and other questions must be forcefully asked and re-asked in the days to come. To do anything less would be criminal.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Ombudsman's Report on the G20

I just read the newspaper account of Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin's report on the 'secret security law' that was passed by the McGuinty Liberals before the G20 Summit in Toronto, a report that calls the law illegal and likely unconstitutional, and "almost certainly beyond the authority of the government to enact.”

While his report is described as scorching, condemning the law's lack of transparency and its anti-democratic nature, one glaring omission seems to be any criticism of the fact that both Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and Premier McGuinty lied to the public. Neither did anything to correct the erroneous assertion both had made about the extent of the law, waiting until after the G20 was over before revealing that the law allowing authorities to search, question, and even arrest those who came within five metres of the perimeter fence did not, in fact, exist.

It is wholly inadequate for the provincial government to simply admit that it could have done a better job in communicating the truth. Such a stance reveals a deep contempt, not only for the citizens of Ontario, but also for their Charter Rights.

Nothing short of a full and complete inquiry into the provincially-sanctioned totalitarian tactics of the police is acceptable.

An Internet Scam Warning

I imagine that all Internet users at one time or another have experienced a browser popup claiming that they have won one of the many technological baubles that seem to dominate our culture, be it an IPad, Ipod, or whatever. Recently I decided to click on a claim that I had won an Ipad, just to see where it would take me. My advice is simple: resist the urge.

It initially seemed innocent enough, a rather challenging IQ test (the kind of test I generally resist taking, lest they confirm my worst cognitive fears). After taking it, I had to enter my cellphone number to receive the results. What followed were two more questions, on the cellphone, to which I did not respond.

We then went away for a week to Cuba, having left the cellphone behind since it doesn't work there. Upon my return, I was appalled to find that I had insufficient balance left on the prepaid to make a call. Upon investigating the balance online, I saw that I had received several more messages from the Internet company that had provided the IQ test, each with a charge of $2.

I called my cellphone provider to ask it to block the messages and to restore the funds to my account. While they did the latter with alacrity, they said that I was listed as subscribing to a service from, and provided me with a number to call to halt the emails. The number is 1-866-257-4586.

All is now restored and the messages have stopped, but what I most object to is the fact that there was nothing obvious that I saw on the site stating that by providing my cellphone number, I was in fact entering into a contract with

Personally, I would like to see some kind of CRTC regulation governing such misleading and unethical practices.

Just a word to the wise from someone who should have known better.