Thursday, June 30, 2011

Sun News Network – Full of Sound And Fury, Signifying Nothing

When Sun News Network was fast approaching its debut, I had this fantasy whereby I would watch it diligently so that I could make regular complaints to the CRTC for every infraction of broadcast regulations it made. However, after watching about 10 minutes of its programming and realizing that it was aimed at a very dim audience devoid of even the most rudimentary skills in critical thinking, I knew that I lacked the constitution to fulfil that fantasy, and that my remaining time on earth could be better spent in more worthwhile pursuits.

I am therefore very happy to learn that others have taken up my aborted mission. According to a story in The Globe and Mail, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has been overwhelmed by a deluge of complaints following an interview by host Krista Erickson with dancer Margie Gillis broadcast June 1. The CSBC, which normally receives about 2000 complaints per year, has so far fielded 4300 on this interview alone, so many that it has requested on its website that viewers stop sending in any more objections to that sad episode.

Boorishly and pugnaciously aggressive, Erickson launches into an attack that can only be described as contrived and transparent, almost a caricature of what one might find on the Fox network. To her great credit, Gillis handles the attack with grace and calm, but seems a bit perplexed by the interview, clearly never having experienced such a sad attempt by a host to pander to what I hope is a diminishing audience.

If you have the stomach for it, here is the first part of that interview:

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Judge Excoriates Cops As Thugs, Expresses Contempt For Superiors Who Conceal

Yesterday I posted some of the comments made by Justice Allen upon sentencing two Toronto police officers to a year of house arrest for beating a Cabbagetown man in 2009. Today there are further comments in The Star by the Superior Court Judge, including the following:

Police turned a blind eye to thuggish behaviour by officers that’s worthy of a criminal gang. He said, “This attitude is inconsistent with effective policing. It is inconsistent with the rule of law” describing it as "...behaviour we expect from gang members on the street, not the police.”

Allen was sharply critical of superior officers at 51 Division who didn’t report the attack to the civilian Special Investigations Unit, which probes incidents where police cause serious injuries.

“Any officer who is prepared to turn a blind eye to the use of excessive force has to take some responsibility when their colleagues are facing the loss of their career and their liberty.”

Justice Allen's most damning comments came when he spoke of what motivated the police attack:

“This crime was committed because Mr. Moore spoke disrespectfully to the officers, calling them the rich man’s army and suggesting they go arrest some gangster,” Allen said. “The officers decided to put him in a cell overnight and then beat him severely when he did not cooperate in his arrest.”

Clearly, despite the myriad examples of police brutality and abuse of authority being made public, the Toronto Police force and, I suspect, the forces in many other jurisdictions, are still out of control, aided and abetted by superiors ignoring the brutality either because they are part of the 'blue wall of silence' or crave career advancement.

More on Asbestos

The other day I wrote a piece lamenting the ongoing immoral Canadian export of asbestos and the fact that Canada was the sole country that recently prevented it from being listed as a toxic substance under the Rotterdam Convention. I also suggested that the government has made all Canadians who say or do nothing about this indefensible export complicit in it.

The Star's Tim Harper has a good column about the issue, and the fact that efforts are being made to keep this issue in the public arena. Kathleen Ruff, a senior human rights adviser to the Rideau Institute, is one such person unwilling to shrug her shoulders and lament her lack of power, reminding us that the export of this deadly substance is a question of democracy, saying, "If Harper cannot be budged from his position ... Canadians are nothing but serfs in a dysfunctional democracy.

We need to all get involved. Write to your Member of Parliament, and even if you get, as I did, the official party line about how chrysotile is safe if handled properly, your opposition is on record. To do anything less is to give permission to this Government to continue a practice that, according to The World health Organization, kills as many as 107,000 people annually.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

the Real News Asks Some Important Questions About The G20 Secret Law

Although hardly the best interview I have seen, the following is worth viewing inasmuch it raises real questions about credibility regarding who the driving force was behind requesting the Public Works Protection Act invoked during the G20 Summit. Was Bill Blair acting on his own initiative, or was it at the behest of the RCMP? Just one of the many questions that only a public inquiry can answer, an inquiry that both Dalton McGuinty and Stephen Harper are steadfast in their refusal to call.

Judge: Police Have A Culture That Rejects Accountability

Those were the words of Justice Elliot Allen as he sentenced two Toronto police officers to one year of house arrest for beating a Cabbagetown man in 2009. As is the usual practice when one of their own is under judicial scrutiny, the courthouse was packed with brothers and sisters in blue. Whether this had the effect of intimidating Justice Allen is unclear; he cited understaffing and overcrowding as reasons he didn't sentence them to a penitentiary term, saying their security couldn't be guaranteed. One wonders why protective custody wouldn't have provided that guarantee, since they would then have been segregated from the general prison population and permitted one hour of carefully monitored exercise per day.

Even though the sentence includes a prohibition on firearms' possession for 10 years, one wonders if the lack of a jail sentence means they get to keep their jobs.

Why Civilian Oversight of the Police is Crucial

Rex Meade of Dundas has a very interesting letter on police heavy-handedness and how to deal with it in today's Star. If you get a chance, take a look at it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

G20 Summit Police Tactics Continue to Outrage Canadians

There is a series of letters in today's Star that articulate the ongoing sentiments of ordinary Canadians a year after people had their Charter Rights ripped away by an out-of-control police force during the G20 Summit in Toronto.

There is also one by Bruce Cox, the Executive Director of Greenpeace, about the not-so-subtle lesson that 'kettling' imparts.

All of the letters speak for themselves, and need no further comment from me.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Asbestos - Canada's Shame Continues

I recently wrote about the opportunity that Canada had to end its pariah-like status by no longer opposing the listing of asbestos as a toxic product in the Rotterdam Convention. Because the Convention requires consensus, Canada, of all the member nations, was the only country to oppose that listing once again, scuttling any attempt to rein in its use in developing countries.

Bearing in mind that Canada's agreement would not have actually impeded its indefensible export of death, but only add a warning as to its danger, our country insisted upon being the lone holdout, continuing to adhere to the fiction that asbestos is safe when handled properly.

This is, of course, the Conservative Party line, one that was parroted by my Member of Parliament when I wrote to him about the issue. Now Geoffrey Simpson has written an article excoriating Canada for its position; it is a timely reminder of how, thanks to the neo-con agenda that has been so vigorously promoted these past several years, Canada has not only lost its former exemplary international reputation, but also made all of its citizens who say and do nothing about this abominable behaviour complicit in it.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Chief Bill Blair: No Apology, No Resignation

Having released a self-serving 70 page report reviewing the G20 Summit debacle, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair has concluded he has nothing to apologize for and will not consider resigning. As reported in today's Star, despite a public opinion poll showing a dramatic drop in public support for police actions at the Summit, (2010- 72%) (2011 - 41%), the Chief seems content to talk about things that went right, such as protecting the perimeter fence, while ignoring the widespread violations of Charter Rights in the arrests of over 1100 protesters, promising only that kettling will not be used in the future.

Also absent from the report is any explanation for the obstructionist tactics employed by the police this past year in identifying offending officers, despite the plethora of video evidence submitted by citizens. The fact that only two officers have thus far been charged says a great deal to me about the Chief's 'commitment' to uncovering the identity of these renegades.

Despite the erosion of public trust in the police and despite the ongoing trauma of people who directly experienced last June's police-state actions, something positive emerged for Bill Blair - the opportunity to hone his political skills to the point where his public utterances match the platitudinous quality of the most seasoned of Queens Park or Parliament Hill veterans.

Clearly, should his police career suffer an unlikely reversal, a new one serving the people awaits him.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Canada's Quasi-Police state

While the Premier of Ontario continues to blithely and glibly disavow any responsibility for the horrendous abuses of Charter Rights that took place during last June's G20 Summit, admitting only that he "could have done a better job of communicating," evidence continues to mount that we are living in a quasi-police state.

Thanks to the Toronto Star's superb ongoing coverage, the issues arising from the illegal actions police took during the Summit continue to raise profoundly disturbing questions about the erosion of our freedoms and the almost complete impunity enjoyed by the police responsible for that erosion. The latest revelation, found in today's Star, has the headline, Police sued over hellish 11-hour G20 arrest ordeal. The story reveals how Sean Salvati claims he was arrested, strip-searched, beaten, denied access to a lawyer and left naked in a cell for nearly an hour.

What was Mr. Salvati's 'crime'? Speaking to two female RCMP officers who did not care to be spoken to on the eve of the Summit. Although the term is perhaps used too much, 'Kafkaesque' is the only one that seems appropriate for what followed. Please read the entire article to see what you think.

Tangentially, I guess there is one thing that people do like about Premier McGuinty. He recently promised to make the (GO) trains run on time. And for some, I guess that's all that matters.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Some Penetrating Truths

While I always attempt to write as carefully as I can, conciseness and clarity sometimes elude me. Because of these lapses, I take the liberty of reproducing a letter that appeared in today's print edition of the Toronto Star by Enrico Carlson that offers some timely and, I think, some very important observations, given the power the moneyed class has to heavily influence both the media we consume and the political agenda of our elected representatives:

How right hoodwinks the poor

Re Good jobs aren’t in the plan, June 18

I expect the rich and powerful to look after their own interests, but as always it’s the growing number of poor that remain a dilemma. Why do they support conservative policies designed to undermine their interests? Among the many reasons are five that stand out:

(1) the ability of the right to define the parameters of reality (what is “doable,” “affordable,” “realistic”) and the willingness of the majority to buy into those parameters;

(2) the right’s penchant for simplistic explanations easily digestable to a pseudo-citizenry wanting easy answers (“law and order,” “the economy” vs “labour disruption”);

(3) the ever diminishing possibilities of finding long-term, decent paying jobs, which leads to a spiraling down of expectations and a misguided suspicion of unions;

(4) the mass diversions in gadgets and “reality TV” that take away from really paying attention to political and economic realities; and,

(5) easy scapegoating (when things go wrong, point fingers).

To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson: vigilance is the lifeblood of democracy; no vigilance, no democracy.

Enrico Carlson-

The Moral Fiber of Dalton McGuinty - Being Smug Means Never having To Say You're Sorry

I have written so much about last June's G20 Summit and the widespread violation of Charter Rights presided over by Police Chief Bill Blair and Premier Dalton McGuinty that my postings almost border on obsession. However, the absence of any redress for what happened continues to trouble me deeply.

Despite the gravity of the police abuses, the ever-smug Premier continues to 'hang tough', insisting there is no need to call an inquiry, and that the only thing he has to apologize for is not communicating as effectively as he should have. Such a caviler attitude toward violations of rights that essentially define us as members of a democracy is the main reason I will not be voting Liberal in the fall election.

However, Mr. McGuinty should be aware that the aftermath of this sad episode is not just a threat to his political hide. Many people, including me, are now deeply suspicious of the police and their attitudes, and that suspicion, without the catharsis that would be afforded by an inquiry, will only continue to fester and sicken the citizenry in any number of ways.

Today, the failure of the police to acknowledge any wrongdoing or regrets, even as they vow not to use the tactic of kettling again, as reported in the Star, is yet another bad decision that will do nothing to begin the healing process or abate the widespread disillusionment being experienced by the good people of this province.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

With Powers Beyond Those of Mortal Men (And Women)

Loathsome worm that I am, I have spent the past year regularly criticizing the police for their mass suspension of our Charter rights during last June's G20 Summit in Toronto. I saw them as a force gone wild, intoxicated by their own power, emboldened by a police chief (Bill Blair) who withheld from the public that the 5-meter fence rule was a fiction, and abetted by a Premier (Dalton McGuinty), who waited until the Summit had left town to tell the public the truth about the non-existent law.

How wrong I was. In a story carried in the Toronto Star, which has done a consistently fine job in tracking the entire debacle, the real truth has been revealed. The mass arrests were not only defensible, but necessary:

Toronto police maintain, however, they are justified, to preserve the peace, in temporarily holding people they believe are about to engage in criminal activity.

So there you have. In addition to possessing legendary crime-fighting prowess, their secret weapon has been revealed: a highly attuned psychic ability enabling them to see beyond any semblance of innocence into the true hearts of darkness lurking in the over 1000 protesters arrested.

But then again, we do have that rather pesky fact that almost all of the charges were subsequently dropped.

Perhaps a bit more practice is called for, boys and girls in blue?

Monday, June 20, 2011

Corporate Ethics - A Contemporary Oxymoron

To those trusting souls willing to leave their and their country's fate to the market forces of unfettered capitalism, please take a few minutes to read the situation of black South African gold miners who toiled under apartheid with no protection from the environmental hazards of their job.

It seems that Anglo American, the company responsible for the deaths and ill-health of the workers highlighted in the article, feels no obligation to pay compensation to the miners or their survivors, as evidenced by the following excerpt:

Anglo American says it is not responsible for the compensation claims because it owned only a minority share in the South African mines where the plaintiffs were working. It says it is “sympathetic” to the plight of the former workers and is working to find a “sustainable solution” so that they can obtain medical treatment and compensation benefits.

I interpret the second sentence to be only the meaningless political bafflegag everyone seems so fond of practicing these days.

You can read the complete story here.

Asbestos - An Opportunity to End Canada's Shame

While I have written previously on Canada's ongoing indefensible practice of exporting chrysotile (asbestos) to developing nations despite its well-known lethal health effects, this country does get the chance to begin to rectify things today as it meets in Geneva with 142 other countries that have ratified the Rotterdam Convention, which concerns pesticides and industrial chemicals that have been banned or severely restricted for health or environmental reasons.

Canada has previously opposed the listing of asbestos; judging by the response I got from my M.P., I am not hopeful that it will relent this time, despite international and domestic pressure to do so.

The full article about Canada's past obstructionism and present opportunity can be read here.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Does This Peel Police Action Help You To Sleep Better at Night?

I stand to be corrected, but I was under the impression that in Canada, we are, at least in theory, protected from arbitrary police intrusion and arrest. Apparently the Peel Police are not aware of this legal 'quibble'.

Some Food for Thought

Perhaps it is because I am currently reading The Trouble With Billionaires, by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks, but I have become especially sensitive to the increasingly shrill anti-union rhetoric by CEO's and some allegedly 'ordinary' members of the public. Were we to accept the word of lavishly-paid corporate leaders and their minions, Air Canada and Canadian postal workers are living in the past in their fights to prevent the introduction of two-tier wages and benefits (including pensions0 for new hires.

It is therefore refreshing to see the other side of the question being represented in newspapers such as The Toronto Star, which thus far has resisted the trend to simply becoming organs for the business agenda.

I am providing links here to an article and two letters found in today's paper that help to provide non-business perspectives on these issues.

Good jobs not in the plan, is written by John Cartwright, president of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.

This is followed by two letters that question the motives of the Conservative government and Canada Post respectively.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Another Sad Story of Police Misconduct

The headline in yesterday's Globe (on-line edition) really says it all: Peel police officers fabricated evidence in prostitution case: judge

The story tells of how the two offending Peel officers claimed that a fake i.d. allowing a 17-year-old to work in Brampton sex clubs was found in her pimp's wallet. The truth is the i.d. had been turned over to the police by the girl herself. Because of this malfeasance, some very serious charges against Courtney Salmon, including human trafficking, had to be thrown out of court.

While Superior Court Judge Douglas Gray severely rebuked the officers, saying that he had to throw out the case to protect the integrity of the justice system, his words and action will be have been for naught if the offending officers are not charged and, if convicted, dismissed from the force. The erosion of public trust in the police continues unabated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Ugly Truth About Shark Fin Soup

I was pleased to read in today's Star that two Toronto city councillors, Glenn De Baeremaeker and Kristyn Wong-Tam, are making a motion this week to ban the sale and consumption of shark fin soup, long regarded by the Chinese community as a status symbol. Perhaps not everyone knows the barbaric cruelty involved in bringing such a dish to the table, but essentially it involves cutting off the fins of living sharks and then dumping them back into the ocean to either drown or bleed to death. Amazing how indifferent we can be to the earth's other creatures, isn't it?

An excellent documentary on the industry, especially strong in Costa Rica despite its illegality, is Sharkwater, which is availble for viewing on You Tube. To watch the first part, click on the image below and also learn the vital role sharks play in ocean ecology, upon which we are dependent for our survival:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Syria's Torture and Murder of Its Children

Despite this being an age of almost instant communication and information, it has become very easy for us to isolate ourselves from the larger world, ensconced as we are in our protective shell of flat-screen televisions, blu-ray players, and myriad other technological wonders. Once in a while, however, the reality of that larger world breaks through that shell and throttles us.

One of those moments occurred last night while I was watching Anderson Cooper 360 as he presented graphic video depicting the kind of brutality we may have become inured to in movies but not in real life. I should warn you that this video, showing beatings and shootings of unarmed Syrian citizens, is difficult to watch; even more horrifying is the segment that deals with the torture, mutilation and murder of Syrian children, their only 'crime' being their participation in peaceful protests.

As well, if you really want to think about it, the Syrians' thirst for democracy and freedom and what they are willing to risk for it puts our own cavalier attitude toward democracy, as evidenced in the recent federal election, to shame.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Finally, a G20 Police Arrest

There is little doubt in my mind that the relentless efforts of the Toronto Star played a major role in the arrest of Toronto police officer Glen Weddell in the G20 beating of Dorian Barton, the Toronto baker whose only crime was to take some pictures of police horses at Queens Park during the G20 Summit in Toronto last June. That it took almost a year for this to happen is a sad commentary on the leadership of Police Chief Bill Blair and the officers on the force who obviously willfully concealed the accused officer's identity.

Whether justice will actually be served remains to be seen, given the double-standard of justice the courts often apply to the 'brotherhood of the blue."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Linda McQuaig on Canda's Role in Africa

Although Canadians have traditionally regarded themselves as champions of the underclass, that image is challenged in yesterday's Toronto Star column by Linda McQuaig as she examines how the Candian Government's support of multi-national corporations is contributing to the fact that resource-laden countries such as Tanzania are getting a mere pittance for the gold extraction operations of Barrick gold.

As well, she talks about how a private member's bill that would have made Canadian companies more accountable for their actions (think of last month's killings of several Tanzanians at Barrick's gold mine) in the countries of their operations was defeated.

As is often the case, the image of Canada's benign influence on the world is at steep odds with the truth.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Cost-Saving Innovations in Policing

Dismayed as I may be over the sometimes heavy-handed actions of police, I would never suggest that the necessary role they play in society is exaggerated. Nonetheless, there appear to be ways of providing service that help to reduce overall costs without sacrificing effectiveness.

A story in yesterday's Star, called The thinning blue line discusses how American forces are coping with declining budgets by using civilian investigators to do the paperwork for non-violent crimes such as burglaries, as well as adopting new technologies that replace the human factor. It is an article well-worth reading.