Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Extreme Right Continues Its Jack Layton Barrage Of Abuse

Given the recent spate of classless comments about Jack Layton by people like Christie Blatchford, Jonathan Kay and Barbara Kay, I have come to the conclusion that there is something deeply threatening to the far right in the life and death of Jack Layton.

For much too long, the extremists of the right have been busy convincing us that the only worthwhile nightly news is how the stock indices fared and what the future holds for interest and mortgage rates, with tales of human achievement and suffering a distant second in both import and impact.

So successful have they been, we are frequently left with only cynicism and despair over the prospect of change, leading us to express ridicule and suspicion of those working in public service who proclaim their desire to advance the common good and not simply their own careers.

Jack Layton was a constant challenge to that bleak worldview. Affable and approachable, he was a leader with a strong set of social values who was also a realist. Rather than rely on the reflexive impulse to vilify his political opponents, he sought compromise and co-operation. His influence on the Paul Martin budget of 2005 to halt corporate tax cuts and increase social spending is ample testament to that.

By refusing to stereotype those who opposed him, he humanized the opposition, standing in sharp relief to a minority government with a leader happy to call him 'Taliban Jack' when he stood firmly against the abuse of Afghan prisoners of war captured by Canadian troops.

Indeed, the civility he attempted to bring to the House of Commons was without question a reflection of his deep humanity. To be able to look beyond labels and party affiliations, to be able to recognize the humanity in the men and women opposing his agenda in Parliament, showed all of us how there is a better way, a way based on shared humanity and shared needs and goals, with concern for the collective outweighing the thrall of selfish pursuit.

This is the true legacy of Jack Layton. If, like him, we can see that we share a common bond and a common fate, then we can, as he says in the final paragraph of his final letter, “be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.”

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

These Pictures Tell A Real Story

Taken at Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto, these photos depict many of the tributes that have been written in chalk honouring the memory of Jack Layton.

‘Contempt of cop’ no crime

So read the headline in today's Hamilton Spectator in a story by Ken Peters.

In yet another blow to the patina of respect that used to envelop the police,

Ontario Court Justice Lesley Baldwin offered a scathing rebuke of Burlington OPP Constable Ryan Cox and Halton Regional Police Officer Erich Paroshy in connection with a June 20, 2009, arrest that left Burlington resident Kyle Davidson with a fractured left arm.

Apparently the young Mr. Davidson, who mouthed an obscenity when asked to approach the officers in question, was arrested on suspicion of drunkenness and resisting arrest (the latter, I suppose, a natural reaction when one feels he/she is being arrested for no cause). Unfortunately, during the arrest, in addition to the fractured arm, Davidson sustained injuries to his face and nose which he claims were the result of the officers grabbing his head and smashing it into a curb. The arresting officers claim that he 'slipped off the curb' (is this police code for brutality?) when they attempted to arrest him.

As usual, the SIU investigated and found no basis for further action. Thankfully, Justice Baldwin was not so timid, finding, “It is not an offence to be rude to an officer” and concluding that "the police conduct in this case was harsh and callous.” She also recommended "at a minimum, that both officers be retrained in the appropriate use of police force”.

Given the ever increasing incidence of police misconduct and abuse of authority, many would suggest that much harsher measures are called for.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Christie - blah blah blah - Blatchford

I read Chrisie Blatchford's reprehensible column yesterday on Jack Layton, and since the comment boards are ablaze with outrage over her remarks, allow me to briefly add my own thoughts about people of her ilk:

I have come to the conclusion that the right is unable to recognize the genuine grief over Jack Layton's passing because it challenges too sharply its notion that the only things of value are bottom lines, profitability, and the unalloyed 'joys' of unfettered capitalism and materialism.

To be shown that human beings are more than simply economic entities is just too much for the conservative mind.

Graeme MacKay Remembers Jack Layton

Editorial cartoonist Graeme MacKay has a poignant cartoon in today's Hamilton Spectator, which I am taking the liberty of reproducing below:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton's Final Words To All Of Us

Despite the fact that we are still reeling from the news of Jack's sudden passing, he left something for all of us to cherish and to remember him by. Even as he realized his time here was coming to an end, he had the grace and generosity of spirit to leave a letter addressed to all Canadians that so perfectly reflects both the man and his beliefs. It is something we can take some comfort in during the times ahead that will undoubtedly be made more difficult by the loss of his prescient guidance.

A Ban on Shark Fin Soup

I have written previously about shark finning, the barbaric practice of cutting off the fins of sharks while abandoning the rest of the creature in the ocean to either drown or bleed to death. Despite the fact that sharks are vital to the ocean ecosystem and therefore to us, this illegal practice continues virtually unabated thanks largely to the apparently insatiable appetite of the Oriental communities throughout the world who regard shark fin soup as both a delicacy and a status-enhancing repast.

Two communities in Ontario, Brantford and Oakville, have already banned the sale of this soup, and now Toronto is considering prohibiting its sale. Unfortunately, as reported in The Toronto Star, restaurant owners in the area are claiming such a ban would be unfair, as it would drive those seeking the experience to neighbouring communities.

There are many issues over which we have little influence or control. This is not one of them. Refusing to succumb to one's thirst for status, refusing to aid and abet illegal and barbaric practices, should be, as they say, a 'no-brainer.'

People in communities across the country need to insist that their municipal representatives outlaw the sale of this soup.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Few, We Happy Few, We Band Of Brothers

Sometimes, when I despair of anything positive happening in the world despite the efforts of some very good people, and despite the fact that the media overwhelmingly champions those with all the power, I think of this famous speech from Shakespeare's Henry V.

As they are about to go into battle against the French, and facing overwhelming odds against victory owing to discouragement within the ranks and the much greater power of the enemy, Henry gives the famous St. Crispin Day speech.

Although his words are used to bolster the spirits and resolve of his men in a war situation, the speech seem especially appropriate for any kind of battle where people face tremendous odds against success. Enjoy.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Star Readers Respond To Tony Warr

I recently wrote a post detailing the cavalier attitude of retiring Deputy Police Chief Tony Warr towards the police brutality unleashed on his city during last year's G20 Summit. Frequently a source of inspiration, readers weigh in with their own assessments of Warr's perspective in today's issue of The Toronto Star,

Well-worth the read!

More Police Misconduct - So What Else Is New?

In what is getting to be a far too routine occurrence, more police misconduct has come to light, this time in the Niagara region. A story in The Hamilton Spectator entitled Judge blasts Niagara police officers, chief of police details how Ontario Supreme Court Justice Peter Hambly dismissed all charges in a $16 million pot grow-op bust due to dishonesty on the part of the arresting officers:

Hambly said officers, Detective Sergeant James Leigh, who was in charge of the morality unit, Detective James Malloy and Detective Chris Lemaich knowingly hid identification of the source of information leading to the location of the grow-op.

The source, a Hamilton police officer with relatives living in the general area of the bust, did not stipulate anonymity, but the arresting officers claimed they had received an anonymous tip, going so far as to falsify notes and repeatedly swear false affidavits to obtain a search warrant.

Because the officers had acted without integrity and would have continued to perjure themselves at trial, the judge dismissed all charges. He also had harsh words for Niagara's Police Chief, Wendy Southall, saying that she knows what has taken place and has taken no action. In other words, she seems to be encouraging a culture of corrupt policing.

Probably the most damning assessment of the entire sad episode comes from Benjamin Berger, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School who addressed its wider ramifications:

“There have been a number of inquiries into police conduct in Canada. When these add up and develop, when you get these messages sent, the great concern is you have a public that is losing confidence, or may lose confidence in the institution’s government,” said Berger.

He said law enforcement is representing some of the basic principals of our democracy; the legitimacy of force, transparency in government and these are all crucial to people’s sense of the rule of law.

“Police are really important. They are given enormous powers by society with a sense of trust that those powers will be exercised in accordance with the rule of law,” said Berger. “Where there is a loss of that confidence, it shakes the system.”

Indeed. it seems that with each passing week, our guardians of public security have more and more to answer for.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Asbestos and Politics - The Plight Of Dr. Kellie Leitch

The other day I posted my response to my M.P. on the Canadian export of asbestos, questioning how a man such as he, committed to Christian principles, can really consider himself doing God's work by condemning to suffering and death those working unsafely with our export in developing countries.

As reported in The Toronto Star, a similar moral conflict has been exposed in an open letter signed by 250 doctors and public health professionals to Dr. Kellie Leitch, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon elected last spring as a Conservative Member of Parliament.

As reported in the article,

The letter writers say Leitch has a duty to influence her Conservative colleagues to pull the plug on a sector they say will spread deadly disease in poorer countries.

“We understand that doing the right thing may run counter to your political interests,” reads the letter from Canadian and international signatories as well as more than 20 organizations.

Reminding Dr. Leitch that she has a moral and professional obligation to live by the tenets of the Hippocratic oath, the letter continues,

“However, your ethical code of conduct as a medical doctor requires that you put the protection of health ahead of personal advantage, no matter what the circumstance.”

The Tories have long maintained that Canada’s chrysotile asbestos is safe when handled properly.

But the letter’s signatories, including physicians from prestigious universities such as Harvard and Columbia, argue there are no regulations in poorer countries to protect people from the harmful effects of the hazardous substance.

Perhaps an indication of whether politics will prevail over morality is suggested by the fact that Dr. Leitch was unavailable for comment, her office referring all questions on the matter to The Minister of Natural Resources.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Can You Help Me With My Complaint Against Sun News Network and Michael Coren?

I am reproducing the correspondence I just received from the CRTC regarding my complaint against Sun Tv regarding Michael Coren's recent racist comments. As you will see from the note, for the complaint to proceed, I need the specific details about the program in question, i.e., the time and date of the offending broadcast. Thanks for any assistance you can provide me with.

This is in response to your correspondence of August 13, 2011 regarding Sun TV.

We do appreciate what you are telling us; however, as noted in our attached fact sheet on the complaints process , the Commission does not conduct general programming reviews. In order to investigate complaints, we require the identification of a broadcaster and particular broadcasts, i.e. time and date. We also ask that complaints reach us within four weeks of the date of broadcast because licensees are required by regulation to keep tapes of the material they air for that time.

Should you wish to write back with details of broadcasts that typify your concern, we will be pleased to follow up on your behalf. In the meantime, I hope this is helpful.

However, having said this, I have taken the liberty of forwarding your correspondence to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) which administers codes of industry standards and mediates complaints from the public involving their member stations. Should you wish to contact the CBSC directly, you may do so by writing to P.O. Box 3265, Station D, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 6H8, or at You can also reach them at 613-233-4607 or toll free at 1-866-696-4718.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Another Ardent Free Enterpriser Seeks A 'Left-Wing' Solution

In what can be seen as either an act of hubris (Do as I say or I will unleash Ford Nation during the fall election) or an act of desperation (Oops, why did the private sector fail me?), Mayor Rob Ford made a visit to Dalton McGuinty yesterday, seeking a bailout of $650 million to pursue his dream of the contentious Sheppard subway extension.

Playing a game of semantics, Ford insists he isn't asking for any new money, conveniently forgetting that the previously promised funding was for the Transit City light-rail plan, something that Mr. Ford scrapped shortly after taking office.

It has been said that politics makes strange bedfellows. It is to be hoped that, vis a vis Rob Ford, Dalton McGuinty's imagination recoils at the recumbent imagery such an alliance would suggest.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Is This a 'Goodbye Charlie Brown' Moment?

Those with long enough memories will recall a famous confrontation that took place in 1986 between Brian Mulroney, then just nine months into his mandate, and Solange Denis, a senior citizen defiant in her resolve to hold the Prime Minister to account.

At the time,

Mulroney [made] a controversial decision to partly de-index pensions. At a protest in Ottawa, an angry woman named Solange Denis [stared] down Mulroney and said: “You lied to us.... You made us vote for you and then goodbye Charlie Brown.”

Response: Mulroney [said] “I’m listening to you, Madame.” Indeed he was. Barely a week later, Mulroney’s government backed down on the plan to de-index pensions.

I'm wondering if we are not reaching another 'Charlie Brown' moment in the case of Michaela Keyserlingk who, as has been widely reported, is being told by The Conservative Party of Canada to stop using its logo in an advertising banner calling on Mr. Harper and his government to stop the deadly export of asbestos.

Like Solange Denis, Ms Keyserlingk is defiant as she confronts power, refusing to stop using the logo even though she admits she is doing so illegally. I suspect a moral victory is in the offing, and a column by Tim Harper in today's Star implies a costly price will be paid by the Conservatives if they seek legal remedy against this still-grieving widow. I hope you will get a chance to check out Harper's column.

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Warren Buffet Speaks Out For Higher Taxation of the Mega-Wealthy

For all who adhere to the mindless mantra that tax increases are job-killers, I highly recommend a New York Times essay penned by Warren Buffet, one of the world's richest men, in which he advocates tax increases for the mega-wealthy. As the old saying goes, only Nixon could visit Red China, so let's hope Buffet's "Wall-Street cred" invites some serious consideration rather than the usual rabid denunciations of anyone else suggesting such a thing.

It goes without saying that what he advocates is equally applicable to Canada's richest citizens.

More Police Brutality

For anyone concerned about police brutality and abuse of power, I urge you to check out the latest posting on Dawg's Blog, which details how Ottawa police beat a sleeping homeless person.

As well, a video in which the witness describes the event is available here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Asbestos Wars – My Response To The Position Of My Conservative MP

Given Canada's unconscionable ongoing export of death (i.e., asbestos) and given that it is back in the media spotlight thanks to the brave efforts of Michaela Keyserlingk, about whom I wrote a brief posting yesterday, now seems a propitious moment to post the response I wrote to my Member of Parliament, David Sweet, on June 20th of this year, after he responded to my expression of concern calling for the termination of this deadly practice.

While I never publish emails that I have received, as I feel they are private communication between me and the other party, I don't see anything improper about posting my response to such communication.

Here it is:

Dear Mr. Sweet,

Thank you for your reply to the concerns I expressed regarding the ongoing export of chrysotile and the request that Canada join the United Nation in banning its production and export. While I appreciate that over the years you have always made an effort to respond to matters I have written to you about, I find that I must take issue about your and your Government's cavalier attitude toward asbestos.

In you response, you cite that the well-documented lethal impact of asbestos use is the result of past mishandling, and that Canada promotes the safe handling and use of this deadly product. Putting aside the fact that asbestos has been removed from Canadian buildings since its deadly nature was understood, I have to wonder whether you and your Government are indulging in either a form of sophistry or self-delusion when you imply that countries such as India, which regularly use this product, are going to handle it in a manner that will ensure the safety of its workers.

Despite the fact that India is an emerging economic powerhouse, it still is, even by the most generous of criteria, a developing country that is well-known for its willingness to exploit the labour of men, women, and children in the most dangerous of situations, not unlike the practices
cultivated in the West as the Industrial Revolution took hold. So by instructing upon the safe use of asbestos, you may have discharged your legal obligation, but not your moral one.

By all accounts you are a good person, one who embraces the tenets of Christianity. I urge you to consider the central message of that religion, as espoused by Christ: to love and honour God through caring for our fellow human beings, a commission that is often so very hard to adhere to, even in the best of times.

I realize that once a decision is made, the caucus must speak with one voice. I guess the question that I leave you to consider is this: have you, both in your capacity as the people's representative and as the chair of the Commons Industry, Science and Technology Committee, done everything possible to follow what your heart tells you is the right thing to do on this issue?

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Asbestos - Part 2

I suspect you have to be of a certain age to appreciate the allusive wit of Graeme McKay's editorial cartoon in today's Spectator. Enjoy!

Please sign this petition urging Prime Minister Harper to stop threatening Michaela Keyserlingk and to stop exporting asbestos.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Curse of Canada's Asbestos Exports

While I have written previously about Canada's ongoing indefensible export of death, also known as asbestos, a story in today's Star puts this abominable practice back into the public consciousness.

Entitled Tories tussle with asbestos widow over use of party logo in ad campaign, the piece details how Michaela Keyserlingk, whose husband Robert died in 2009 of mesothelioma, (a cancer caused almost exclusively by exposure to asbestos) has been running an online banner since the spring that reads, “Canada is the only western country that still exports deadly asbestos!” It is a campaign that has the Conservative Party of Canada upset and threatening legal action.

Her crime? The unauthorized use of the Tory trademark, which is used as part of her banner admonition, Danger – Canada is the only western country that still exports deadly asbestos!

Is her appropriation of the CPC logo trademark infringement? Of course. But the more important question? Is Mrs. Keyserlingk morally justified in its use? Same answer!

Should you like to show support for this brave Canadian, please consider visiting her website.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Michael Coren Violates CRTC Rules On Sun TV With Racist Remark

I was just reading a comment on Dr. Dawg's Blog that makes reference to a recent appearance by Michael Coren on Brian Lilley's show, Byline. In an interview about the London riots, Coren makes a racist comment that violates both Canadian Broadcast Standards and CRTC regulations when he says the riots are "not about Blackberries but about black thugs."

He then goes on to crow that he can say this on Sun TV when others are too frightened to speak.

I just emailed a complaint to the CRTC about this, and from past experience I know they are bound by law to investigate. I hope many others will also lodge a complaint.

Here is the video, and the offending remark comes at about the 3:20 minute mark:

Toronto Police: True Blue To The End

Anyone who might be concerned that recent events have put a strain on police solidarity can rest easy.

In an article in The Star entitled Retiring deputy chief calls G20 reaction overblown, Tony Warr, who is set to retire at month's end, has nothing but praise for the actions of police at last summer's G20 fiasco in Toronto.

A few quotations from the piece, which I am reproducing below, help to amply demonstrate not only police intransigence and misplaced loyalties, but also why the scars of that infamous weekend will likely never heal:

The public and media overreacted to events during the G20 summit, and police should hold their heads high. 

“There was a lot of good work done.”

“I defy anybody to have an event like that in their city and not have that kind of problem. Ours was a pretty minor one compared to what’s gone on in other cities.”

[T]here “seems to be a campaign by the media to keep this alive.”

Warr said he doesn’t want to second-guess officers for rounding up 1,100 people in the biggest mass arrest in Canadian history.

“Some of the media reaction was just disgusting,” 

Warr also made no apologies for the horrid conditions at the temporary detention centre on Eastern Ave., which was criticized for being overcrowded and having limited toilet facilities:

“People complained about the conditions there, but what did they expect when they get arrested? They’re not going to be taken to the Hilton. Jail is not a nice place,”

When such a shocking lack of empathy, understanding and insight into the seriousness of what transpired last year comes from a Deputy Police Chief, and our political 'leaders', both provincial and federal, display a similar nonchalance about egregious police wrongdoing, is it any wonder that the antipathy and suspicion of Canadians towards the police continues to fester and grow?

Hamilton Libraries: Something To Answer For

The other day I wrote a post called Hamilton's Vindication, with a link to a story detailing Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina's invitation to author Margaret Atwood to tour the Central Library facilities. I suggested that Hamilton was enjoying a burgeoning reputation as a magnet for the arts, and that Toronto, its traditional rival down the road, was suffering a real loss of cachet thanks to the depredations being contemplated by the philistines at their City Hall (aka the Ford brothers and their wrecking crew). There was, in all honesty, an element of gloating to my post.

To be fair, Hamilton's hands are not entirely clean when it comes to its libraries. Yesterday, Spec civic affairs columnist Andrew Dreschel wrote a piece entitled Let’s make sure Atwood hears the full story, reminding people of the fact that the Picton branch, located in a poor area of Hamilton, was closed in 2009 to free up $140,000. To put the proposed Toronto closures into perspective, the article suggests the closing was justified, and did little harm to those affected.

In today's Spectator, there is an excellent rebuttal to that assertion by Hamilton reader Kathleen Moore. While I am providing a link to that rebuttal, due to the often ephemeral nature of online letters to the editor, I am also taking the liberty of reproducing her thoughtful response below:

Picton closure hurt a community

Re: Atwood should hear the Picton story (Column, Aug. 12)

I was a volunteer at the Picton Library branch and three generations of my immediate family frequented that branch. I’m sure you’re familiar with the phrase “If you build it, they will come.” The opposite is true as well, “if you unbuild it, they will stop coming.”

I watched as the branch brought in fewer and fewer books, cut programs and then drastically cut hours of operation. Of course, visitors and borrowing rates fell. The library board had engineered its own excuse to close the branch.

This all occurred before the excellent exposure given by The Hamilton Spectator Code Red series.

It is difficult to believe that in this day and age there are people who are unaware that illiteracy leads to poverty, which then leads to ill health and early decline. All of these things take a great toll on our society as a whole.

One of the largest housing projects in the city is at Strachan and James Street North. It is full of single-parent families and immigrants. Many of them don’t speak English or speak it as a second language. These are the people who can least afford to access an alternative to a public library. These are the people who are already battling a system that seems determined to keep them down. These are the people who were most comfortable in the atmosphere of a neighbourhood branch library.

To close a library branch in an area of the city where it can do the most good is counterproductive, and in the long run costs all of us far more than keeping that one little branch open and offering literacy skills to those who need them the most.

I can’t help but feel this great sacrifice was made so funds could be used for the bright and shiny new branches that have been built in the “burbs.” Pretty is as pretty does, and yes, I’d love to sit and chat with Margaret Atwood about the real cost associated with our library system, and I would tell her that when the focus of “long-term strategic thinking” is the bottom line, and we look at our library system as a separate entity and independent business instead of as a basic societal necessity, we all pay a much greater price in the long run.

I was opposed, and am still opposed, to the closing of Picton Library Branch.

Kathleen Moore, Hamilton

Friday, August 12, 2011

Vindication For Those Abused By G20 Police Forces

The vast majority of the 1100 people abused, assaulted and arrested as a result of the thuggish actions of the G20 police forces, apparently intent on suppressing Canadians' Charter Rights last June in Toronto, must be feeling a deep measure of vindication today, this despite the fact that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair have never acknowledged that anything wrong transpired and, of course, have blocked any attempts to hold an inquiry to begin to heal the damage done to our democratic traditions and our trust in the police.

The Toronto Star headline, Aggression during G20 rally ‘perpetrated by police,’ judge rules speaks a truth long evident to those who were either present at the demonstrations or saw a wealth of video evidence depicting an out-of control constabulary wilfully suppressing our democratic right to protest last year in Ontario's capital.

Justice Melvyn Green made his comments after dismissing the charges against a 32-year-old bricklayer from London, Ontario, Michael Puddy, whose only 'crime' seems to have been wearing a T-shirt that offended police sensibilities, leading to his being arrested and charged with obstructing police, concealing a weapon and possession of a prohibited weapon, a pocket knife that he uses in his trade.

As reported in the Star,

The London, Ont. bricklayer was on his way to a concert downtown when he joined the front line of the late-night Saturday rally. Puddy was wearing a “Police Bastard” T-shirt named after a punk band, when he was pushed to the ground and cuffed.

Puddy was shuffled from officer to officer and eventually transported to the temporary Prisoner Processing Unit on Eastern Ave. He spent two days behind bars and was forced to sleep on a concrete floor and use a toilet without a door before he was released on $25,000 bail.

Justice Green made the following comment which, to me, reflects the most serious implications of the unwarranted police actions:

“The zealous exercise of police arrest powers in the context of political demonstrations risks distorting the necessary if delicate balance between law enforcement concerns for public safety and order, on the one hand, and individual rights and freedoms, on the other.”

How do we calculate the true cost of police actions that one normally associates with non-democratic states? How many people, for example, will choose to never (again) take part in a public demonstration or otherwise stand up for their beliefs because of what happened in Toronto?

Even if it is only one person, the cost of the G20 will still have been too high.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Ongoing Devolution of Toronto

Perhaps it stems from a sense of inadequacy, a measure of paranoia, or a recognition that when all is said or done, they are just not up to the job, but when those of the far right-wing take power, we are frequently witness to a type of unbridled glee that manifests itself in parades of intolerance, hyperbolic rhetoric, and vindictive behaviour.

That certainly appears to be what is happening in Toronto where Mayor Ford and his minions are having a field day in exacting revenge against those who ignored, scorned or rebuffed their agenda before the electorate believed their false campaign promises (no cuts, lower taxes, ending the gravy train) and put them in office.

There are people like Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, for example, who seems immune to the realization that each of his public utterances and actions invites ridicule from thinking people. There was, of course, his use of his video camera during the Dyke March to ensure no political messages were being conveyed. His discovery of an Israeli Apartheid placard emboldened him in his quest to defund Pride Toronto, totally ignoring what a financial boost the Toronto receives from their panoply of activities.

Recently, the good Councillor started a Facebook Page for his supporters, vowing to vet the site so that it is not infiltrated by “communists and layabouts.” A pity Joseph McCarthy has been gone these many years.

As well, he has a 'new plan' to rid Toronto of panhandlers, apparently through the elimination of all shelters, accompanied by either incarceration or hospitalization.

The latest insult to the thinking person is the fact that, under the direction of Mayor Ford, “the civic appointments committee is sweeping clean some boards, including the one overseeing libraries, with all members denied a chance at reappointment.”

To replace those individuals on these formerly arms-length boards, “Mayor Rob Ford’s office has taken an unprecedented interest in the process, even — according to witnesses — handing council allies a list of the citizen applicants, marked up with notes, during the short-listing.”

The other source of candidates for appointments? The Toronto Sun, that bastion of informed and balanced opinion whose readers are equally thoughtful. As reported in The Star,

City staff compiled and classified applications made in response to ads placed by the city in the Toronto Sun. The committee, dominated by Ford loyalists including Nunziata, the mayor’s councillor brother Doug and Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti, winnowed the names to a short list last month.

A shame, isn't it, how political ambition and personal agendas are so often pursued at the expense of the greater good.

Hamilton's Vindication?

While long regarded as something of a provincial backwater vis-a-vis its 'world-class' cousin 70 kilometres down the highway, the City of Hamilton is surely feeling a measure of cultural vindication now that the barbarians have breached the gates of Toronto.

As reported in the Toronto Star, world-renowned Margaret Atwood (despite her apparent obscurity to the Ford clan), has received and accepted an invitation from Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina to visit and tour Hamilton's central library, an institution that recently underwent a multi-million dollar publically-funded renovation to better serve the people.

Responding to the insult hurled at her by Doug Ford, the Toronto mayor's brother (who said that if Atwood walked by, “I wouldn’t have a clue who she is” ) Mayor Bratina had this to say:

“We’re very proud of our Canadian cultural icons and regret that there was any question that Margaret Atwood’s stature might be dismissed in any way,” he said. “There’s a regrettable backwoods feeling to all this and it’s not right, it’s not true.”

Hamilton, which is quickly building a solid reputation for welcoming and supporting the arts as an important economic driver, is attracting a substantial number of artists from the Toronto area, both on the basis of cheap rents and land prices and an increasingly cosmopolitan attitude that only cities such as Toronto used to be able to lay claim to.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Christopher Hume's Modest Proposal To The Ford Brothers

Although my right-wing friends seem to have neither an understanding nor an appreciation of irony (I'm lying - I don't have any right-wing friends), more centered people will enjoy The Star's Christopher Hume who, in today's paper, has a modest proposal for Toronto's mayor and his brother to raise revenue for the allegedly cash-starved world-class city.


Elizabeth May's Current Projects

Although I detect a subtext of sarcasm running through the article, Jane Taber's recent piece on Elizabeth May is well-worth a read, as it illustrates a woman involved in a worthwhile battle to encourage political engagement on the part of young people. As well, her concerns about the electromagnetic radiation from cellphones, which some have used to try to suggest a certain wackiness, is well-founded, if recent research is any indicator.

It is good to see an MP who can think independently and critically, an increasingly rare occurrence in our presently poisoned political landscape.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Shaking Up The Complacent

If anything will defeat us as a progressive nation, it is the complacency and defeatism of the electorate. Feeling powerless, something I am convinced the extreme right wants us to feel, contributes to low civic and political engagement and, of course, low turnout at elections, again keys to victory by the right.

Although the following video is American, I find the issues it addresses and the potential resilience of the people it suggests to be heartening. There is absolutely no reason a similar movement could not exist in Canada:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

More Nonsense Out Of Toronto Thanks To Ford And His Minions

The lack of critical thinking skills in the public arena is a painful thing to watch. In a story from yesterday's Toronto Star entitled Despite warning, fire chief refuses to suggest cuts, the Toronto fire chief, Bill Stewart, opposes any cuts to his fire-fighting complement, warning that public safety would be jeopardized. The same kind of warning has been issued by Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair in his efforts to protect his force.

I suspect Mayor Ford and his acolytes are delighted at these warnings which will enable them, if the public refuses to think critically, to make the kinds of cuts to programs that the Ford Brothers feel fall outside the mandate of city services, such as libraries, long-term-care homes, cultural grants, etc.

Said Ford's former chief of staff, Nick Kouvalis:

Torontonians face tough choices and they have to decide if it’s worth closing “a few” libraries to keep police and fire response times low, which in turn keeps down insurance premiums for businesses and homes.

“Do people want police and fire at standard or do they want (author) Margaret Atwood at their fingertips 24 hours a day,” said Kouvalis, a principal at Campaign Research who talks regularly with Ford.

“If they want Margaret Atwood they can order from or take a subway to the library. It’s about tough choices and there’s no way the mayor is going to let insurance rates go up to save a few libraries or a few parks.”

By presenting the choices in these stark absolutist terms, Ford and his team are framing the debate in an artificial and high circumscribed way that ignores a range of other possibilities and conveniently overlooks the fact that he was elected mayor on a platform promising no service cuts, lower taxes, and the elimination of the 'gravy train'. In other words, he has no mandate for decimating services.

Until the people start exercising some critical thinking and demand accountability from lying and deceptive politicians, expect the abuses of democracy to continue.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Injury, Death, and Concealment: A Tale of Two Police Forces

I have written previously about the botched drug raid by the Hamilton Police resulting in serious injury to Burmese immigrant Po La Hay, who suffered facial lacerations, three broken ribs and a fractured vertebra at the hands of police.  While the court yesterday dismissed the case against the officer in question, Ryan Tocher, citing insufficient evidence of the use of excessive force, the presiding judge, Justice Paul Currie , had excoriating words for Tocher's fellow officers, none of whom could put a face to the leg and foot stomping /kicking Mr. Hay:

Currie suggested the conduct of four police witnesses in the case “raises the spectre of a coverup.”

Currie was particularly concerned that neither Sergeant Paul Henderson, the raid supervisor, nor Detective Constables Chris Camalleri, Christopher Button or Angela Weston — all of whom where in the kitchen with Hay and the accused — could positively identify Tocher as the officer who stomped Hay. 

“I find the collective evidence of the witness officers to be troubling. Their inconsistencies in their version of the evidence and their apparent inability or unwillingness to identify the person attached to the leg, as most were easily serving in close proximity to the person who was attached to it, strains credulity and raises the spectre of a coverup,” Currie said in his ruling.

Indeed the judge hinted that the conduct of the witness officers could form the basis of a civil award where the burden of proof is not as high as in a criminal proceeding.

This troubling trend toward concealment, it seems to me, had its birth during last year's massive violation of Charter Rights during the G20, when police regularly and quite arbitrarily abused, assaulted, and arrested over 11000 people. Despite investigations, the force, due to a strange collective memory loss, was unable to identify the perpetrators of these abuses, with the exception of one officer.

And that penchant for secrecy and concealment continues to this day. For example, after the recent Caribbean Carnival Parade shooting, it took three days for the SIU to release the name of a man who was shot and killed, initially stating that

officers had “discharged their weapons’’ in the incident, with spokesman Frank Phillips later adding in an interview that cops had “interacted’’ with three men prior to the fatal shooting.

The use of euphemisms is never an encouraging sign, given that they are more often than not used to conceal some unpleasant truths; in this case, “discharged their weapons” and 'interacted' were apparently deemed good substitutes for the less palatable, but more accurate fact that the deceased was shot and killed by the police.

The latest instance of police action resulting in death came yesterday, when a handicapped 46-year-old man, Charles McGillivary, out for a walk with his mother, was tackled by police, went into cardiac arrest, and died. As reported in today's Toronto Star, the SIU says that  
police officers were conducting an investigation in the neighbourhood before McGillivary’s arrest.

The release said McGillivary collapsed after a “physical interaction” during the arrest. The SIU did not respond to a request for an interview.

The need for careful inquiry into each instance of possible police wrongdoing is paramount, yet you will notice that not one word as to the nature of this investigation, nor why a handicapped man was targeted, is offered here.

My question, however, is a simple one: Why is the public's right to know exactly how our police forces are conducting themselves being thwarted, it seems, every step of the way by an increasingly secretive, uncooperative and truculent constabulary?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Michael Moore and Dead Peasant Insurance

Long overdue, I finally got around to watching Michael Moore's latest documentary Capitalism: A Love Story last evening, having borrowed the disc from my local library. (Happily, not being a resident of Toronto, I don't at present have to worry about my branch closing.) While Moore is often criticized for the built-in biases of his films, his works, I think, are analogous to the pamphleteers of old, advocating for a particular goal or point of view. From the right-wing, such efforts are frequently viewed as subversive, while their constant propagandizing, of course, is different, mere earnest efforts to convey “THE TRUTH” (unregulated free markets good – regulation bad). But I digress.

While much of what the film covers wasn't new to me, as always, Moore puts a human face to the economic catastrophe that rocked the world in 2008, and helps us to connect emotionally to the personal tragedies that were the direct result of unregulated and unchecked greed. What was new to me, however, was the term 'dead peasant insurance', the ghoulish corporate practice of insuring the lives of employees, not for their families' benefit should they die, but to enhance corporate profits.

One example drawn from the film details how a 26-year-old young mother, employed by Walmart, died of an asthma attack, her demise yielding almost $90,000 to America's favorite superstore, while the widowed husband and father of their three young children struggled paying medical and funeral bills of over $100,000 for her unsuccessful treatment. No price rollback for him, unfortunately.

Another instance was of a bank benefitting to the tune of $1.5 million when one of its employees died, the widow, of course, having no knowledge of it and, of course, no offers of financial assistance from her late husband's employer.

I could go on with more of the grisly details of corporate greed and depredation the film covers, but I'll stop here and urge everyone to take a look at the film which is also available free online.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

G20 Police Abuse Reaches The Stage

Like so many other innocent people who fell victim to the madness that engulfed the police during last year's G20 Summit in Toronto, Tommy Taylor experienced an unwarranted arrest and almost 24 hours of incarceration. His crime? Exercising his Charter Right to move about freely, something the authorities at the time deemed threatening to the security of who-knows-what.

Taylor, unlike many others who were simply traumatized by the thuggish actions of the police, wrote an 1100 word synopsis of his experience and posted it on Facebook; ultimately that posting evolved into a play entitled You Should Have Stayed Home, which will be staged from Aug.4 to 14 at the Theatre Centre, on Queen Street West, as part of the SummerWorks Theatre Festival.

More information about his experience can be found on

An Incisive Analysis Of Broken U.S. Tax Policy

Although readily dismissed as a socialist by the right-wing, Linda McQuiag offers a fine analysis of the failings of U.S. tax policy in an article entitled Tycoons Laughing All the Way to the Bank. In it, she gives the example of hedge fund managers, the top 25 of whom earn an average of almost $900 million per annum, having to pay a mere 15% tax rate on their income. Others earn much more: David Tepper of Appaloosa Management made $4 billion in 2010, on top of the $4 billion he made in 2009, and he'll make about the same this year as well; George Soros made $3.3 billion last year.

Yet even that obvious insult to the working and middle classes is considered sacrosanct by the Tea Party true believers. Yet another instance of failed political leadership.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Failure of Political Leadership - Part 2

The other day I wrote a brief post called The Failure of Political Leadership, inspired by what is quickly becoming a national embarrassment for the City of Toronto in its choice of Rob Ford as mayor. Now quite openly betraying his promise not to gut services but only eliminate 'the gravy', he and his acolytes are considering all manner of service reductions which could affect, amongst others, library branches and hours, police services and transportation routes. That got me thinking about the current calibre of the people we elect, and without question, many of them are patently unfit to hold public office.

In theory, the people we elect are entrusted with representing our interests. Far too often, and I suppose I state the obvious here, they are instead pursuing their own lust for power and their own ideological agendas. Take, for example, those who are described as Ford allies on Toronto City Council. That they are allies of the mayor suggest that they support and take direction from him, either because they are ideologically aligned with his values or they enjoy or seek to enjoy the power conferred upon members of his executive committee, once more suggesting that the needs and interests of their constituents are, at best, a peripheral consideration.

And of course we see the same failure of politics playing out in the United States, where the ideological divide between the Republicans and the Democrats, and an extraordinarily partisan lust for power has brought that country to the brink of economic collapse, as epitomized in the current imbroglio over raising the debt ceiling. So ideologically opposed are the Republicans to even very modestly increasing taxes on the ultra wealthy that they are willing to sacrifice the struggling working and middle class, many of whom voted for them.

Is there a solution to this deficit of democracy afflicting the West? I don't know. But without question, some reforms are necessary before people completely lose faith and see democracy as simply a convenient label barely concealing some egregiously inconvenient truths.