Category Archives: Fallacy Friday

The missing context in Energy East debate: the climate can’t afford more tar sands extraction

Image description: An extremely unflattering photo of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, his face distorted in an expression of disgust. The National Post chose this photo to illustrate its story on Coderre's opposition to Energy East, just one of many petty attacks on the mayor.

Image description: An extremely unflattering photo of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre, his face distorted in an expression of disgust. The National Post chose this photo to illustrate its story on Coderre’s opposition to Energy East, just one of many petty attacks on the mayor. [Image credit: Postmedia]

A furious feud has exploded between Montreal mayor Denis Coderre and a group of prominent Western politicians. There have been personal insults, below-the-belt jabs, aspersions cast on prominent politicians’ integrity and intelligence, and a whole lot of aggravation. What’s missing from all this argument, though, is some much-needed context.

The whole flap blew up pretty quickly yesterday, after Coderre, in his capacity as president of the Montreal Metropolitan Committee (MMC), a regional grouping of 82 municipalities, announced the group’s formal opposition to TransCanada’s proposed Energy East pipeline.

The MMC consulted the public extensively on the issue over the past year, and Coderre cited widespread concerns about the environmental impact of a potential spill in explaining the committee’s position. Additionally, Coderre and other Montreal-area mayors felt that the cities were not being adequately compensated for assuming the risks attendant with having the pipeline run through their cities.

It didn’t take long for folks out west to get outraged over Coderre’s announcement. Continue Reading

What was CSIS’s role in radicalizing two B.C. bombers? We’ll soon find out

Image: an undated low-resolution surveillance photo of John Nuttall in the passenger seat of a car, with his common-law wife Amanda Korody in the back seat behind him. (Image credit: RCMP)

B.C. Superior Court Justice Catherine Bruce’s release of a heavily redacted transcript of last week’s secret in camera session in the ongoing trial of convicted terrorists John Nuttall and Amanda Korody didn’t shed a lot of light on what went on behind those closed doors. But it did clarify a few points which have up until now been obscure.

And with Bruce’s subsequent decision that CSIS be compelled to turn over any records they have relating to an alleged source of theirs means that we may soon know quite a bit more.

The transcript’s release came after a legal challenge was mounted by a coalition of media organizations, which I wrote about last week. (You can view the transcript online; here is the opening portion of the hearing, and here is the (much lengthier and much more heavily redacted) in-camera portion.)

We now know that the extraordinary in camera hearing, extremely unusual in the Canadian judicial system, focussed on requests from the defence for the disclosure of any records CSIS may have related to a certain [Redacted] X. Continue Reading

CSIS’s desperate plea for secrecy in B.C. terror case reveals more than it conceals

Image description: a courtroom sketch of Amanda Korody wearing a green shawl and a short-haired and clean-shaven John Nuttall wearing a blue suit, sitting in what appears to be a bulletproof-glass enclosure in a vaguely rendered courtroom.

The months-long mainstream media silence on the ongoing trial of John Nuttall and Amanda Korody ended explosively yesterday with revelations of a secret CSIS-requested closed-door in camera hearing this past Monday.

As a team of media organizations fights in court for the release of a transcript from the hearing, questions are being raised yet again about just what exactly CSIS’s involvement in this convoluted plot was, and about what the surveillance agency wants to conceal from the public. Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Acknowledging police racism endangers cops, says RCMP officers’ association

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was criticized for acknowledging that there are racists officers in his police force. (Image credit: RCMP)

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson was criticized for acknowledging that there are racists officers in his police force. (Image credit: RCMP)

CONTENT WARNING: This article contains graphic descriptions of police brutality, violence (including sexual violence), and institutional racism.

Early last month, RCMP Commission Bob Paulson (no, not that Robert Paulson!), speaking to a gathering of First Nations chiefs, made a somewhat surprising admission. Continue Reading

Prime Minister Trudeau’s absolutely incoherent statement on Canada’s fight with ISIS

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a town-hall-style interview organized by Maclean’s Magazine. It was the first extensive, wide-ranging interview Trudeau has given since the election campaign ended, and as such was an opportunity for the media and the public to press him on the specifics of his government’s many ongoing projects and proposals.

Details haven’t been Trudeau’s strong suit, either on the campaign trail or since he took power. This is obviously more true of some subjects than others, but on a wide range of issues, from the “fixing” of C-51 to the timing and specifics of marijuana legalization to the government’s thoughts on and plans for electoral reform, what the public has been told so far essentially adds up to “Just wait and see”.

And on no topic has this vagueness been more pervasive than the issue of Canada’s fight with ISIS.

Trudeau and his Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephane Dion, insist that the Liberals’ campaign promise to withdraw Canada’s fighter jets from the conflict still stands, but two months after election day, those same fighter jets are still dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria, and no date has been provided for their mission’s conclusion. Meanwhile, aside from vague statements from the Prime Minister that Canada would bolster its contingent of military trainers, we haven’t heard any concrete details about what the shape of Canada’s military mission will be, what its objective are, how long it will last, where it will operate, or how it hopes to accomplish its goals.

Nor have we heard from Trudeau, during the election or afterwards, a coherent statement as to why he feels that Canada ought to end its bombing mission while strengthening its training mission. No doubt there is a case to be made for this particular course of action, but it’s not a case that Justin Trudeau or his ministers have ever made publicly.

So it was only a matter of time before the subject came up during Trudeau’s town hall. Up to that point, I thought that Trudeau had done a fine job of answering questions in detail – which isn’t to say that I agreed with his positions, merely that he was getting into the nitty-gritty of policy in a way I hadn’t seen him do during the campaign or since he took power. But as soon as the subject pivoted away from domestic policy into foreign affairs, he suddenly seemed like a first-year poli-sci student who skipped the readings and is trying to bullshit his way through a question from the prof that he doesn’t have a damn clue how to answer properly.

I’ve quoted the entire exchange in full here, although Maclean’s edited the plethora of “uh”s and “um”s out of Trudeau’s statements; if you’d like to watch the exchange, it begins at roughly 19:00 here. Continue Reading

Don’t act so smug about Trump, Canada – Islamophobia is a serious problem here too

Image: Zunera Ishaq wearing a colorful patterned niqab. Ishaq’s battle to wear her niqab while she took her oath of citizenship became a central focus in the recent election, just one example of widespread anti-Muslim racism in Canadian politics. (Image credit: CP/Patrick Doyle)

Yesterday, as the first few hundred Syrian refugees since the election began to arrive in Canada, the Toronto Star printed a front-page editorial saying, in English and Arabic, “Welcome to Canada,” telling refugees that they’re “with family now.”

The short piece, which leaned heavily on well-worn and outdated Canadian stereotypes (and a totally gratuitous plug for Tim Hortons), played up the notion that Canadians are, as a group, a welcoming and tolerant people.

There was an almost self-congratulatory tone to the whole thing – an entirely implicit one, of course. But in a week which featured a call from a leading candidate for the American presidency to ban all Muslims from entry into the “land of the free”, the very act of publicly welcoming Syrian refugees takes on a secondary dimension of subtly proclaiming that we are a much more open and accepting nation.

As for Trump himself, his anti-Muslim remarks this week set off a flurry of condemnation from Canadian politicians. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair called for banning Trump and others who “spout hatred” from entering Canada, and Toronto and Vancouver city councillors are working on proposals to remove Trump’s name from high-profile skyscrapers in the two cities. Toronto councillor Josh Matlow went so far as to call Trump a “fascist” on Twitter.

And for many, the contrast between Canada and the United States was crystal clear: Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Why did green groups endorse Alberta NDP’s plan to increase tar sands production and build pipelines?

When Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley announced her government’s plan to combat climate change late last month, it was widely perceived as bold and ambitious. Hailed by green organizations across Canada and embraced by many in the business community, the plan seemed to be a major breakthrough on the contentious issue of tar sands extraction.

But the unholy alliance of oil companies and environmental advocates should have been a clue that all was not as it seemed.

To be sure, there’s a lot to like about the NDP’s plan. The total phasing out of all coal-burning plants in the province over the next fifteen years is laudatory, as is the government’s commitment to dramatically increase sustainable energy generation in Alberta.

But Alberta doesn’t have a bad rap on climate issues because of its coal plants or dearth of windmills. By far the single greatest source of Alberta’s greenhouse gas emissions is the oil and gas industry, and for any Albertan climate plan to be effective, it would have to successfully tackle this well-financed behemoth. However, the initial hype surrounding the Premier’s announcement of a cap on tar sands extraction is looking increasingly misplaced under closer scrutiny.

The fact that a cap had been imposed at all was, the government and its boosters insisted, cause for celebration in and of itself – “one of the first times that an oil jurisdiction has placed a limit on growth,” gushed Greenpeace campaigner Mike Hudema. “The days of the infinite growth of the tar sands are over and investors should take note.”

Caveatting that the significance of the cap “cannot be overstated”, Hudema did also point out that, from a scientific point of view, the cap’s limits aren’t remotely sufficient. But the size of the cap was obscured in media coverage, partly by the unwieldily scale of the numbers involved. A 100-megaton annual limit was imposed on tar sands production in the province – and if you can calculate, off the top of your head, whether or not that allows for tar sands expansion, and if so, by how much, then you get a lollypop.

Thankfully for those of us who aren’t environmental scientists, the Edmonton Journal did the math – and it’s not exactly encouraging: Continue Reading

RCMP chief’s illogical, incoherent arguments for eroding online privacy printed unchallenged by Canadian Press

RCMP chief Bob Paulson wants your private information (Image credit: RCMP)

RCMP chief Bob Paulson wants your private information (Image credit: RCMP)

RCMP Chief Bob Paulson (no, not that Robert Paulson!), apparently unsatisfied with the massive increase in powers the Mounties received under C-51, spoke Wednesday on the force’s “need” to access people’s Internet subscriber information without a warrant, despite a recent Supreme Court ruling barring the police from doing exactly that.

I wrote in September about the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs’ identical demand, issued in conjunction with demands to allow them to search the mail and seize people’s phone numbers without warrants, part of a troubling trend among law enforcement agencies of ceaselessly asking for more and more powers.

Paulson, speaking before a panel at Securetech, a trade show put on by the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries, put on a master-class in fallacious argumentation, which the Canadian Press was only too happy to stenographically regurgitate into newspapers across the country.

I’d like to take a look at some of Paulson’s more preposterous points, starting with this little gem of a false analogy:

“I’m all for warrantless access to subscriber info,” Paulson told a security conference in Ottawa, comparing the process to his beat-cop days of entering licence-plate data into a computer and coming up with a vehicle owner’s name.

“If I had to get a judge on the phone every time I wanted to run a licence plate when I was doing my policing, there wouldn’t have been much policing getting done.”

The level of sheer stupidity which forms the foundation of this argument is unbelievable.  Continue Reading

Fact-free arguments: how the case against refugees reveals widespread implicit racism

At this point, it’s a well-established and impartial fact that the attacks on Paris were committed by Europeans, and that not one of the attackers was a refugee.

In fact, the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled to Europe (and the millions more in Turkey, Lebanon, and other Middle Eastern nations) left their homes largely because of type of indiscriminate and contemptible violence which was visited upon Parisians last Friday night had become intolerably (and dangerously) commonplace in their cities and towns [CW: graphic images].

These are plain and simple facts. And you won’t hear them referred to – or even acknowledged – by opponents of an increase in the number of refugees taken in by this country.

In fact, on the contrary, what you’ll hear is a lot of subtle (and some not-so-subtle) suggestions that the refugees and the terrorists are in some ways indistinguishable, and that to accept the former is to also accept the latter.

Some of this discussion is openly reprehensible. New Jersey Governor and struggling Presidential candidate Chris Christie’s desperate-for-a-headline statement that not even orphan refugees should be allowed into the United States is a stand-out of the genre, as is the increasingly-terrifying Donald Trump’s musing that Syrian refugees may be a terrorist Trojan horse, and that as President he would create a national database to register all American Muslims (a stand he has since backed away from).

Statements like these, and the hate-filled crimes that go along with them, are, as I said the other day, the easy shit to spot and condemn and call out.

But a lot of the time, the anti-refugee animus is a lot more subtle.

Consider, for instance, this lead paragraph in an Ottawa Citizen article from a few days back: Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Bombardier, bailouts, and the importance of honest language

A Bombardier CSeries plane takes off in a demonstration flight in Toronto - but is the program doomed to fail before it can get fully off the ground? (Image credit: Bombardier

A Bombardier CSeries plane takes off in a demonstration flight in Toronto – but is the program doomed to fail before it can get fully off the ground? (Image credit: Bombardier)

As you may have heard, the government of Quebec a few weeks back announced that they were going to “invest” $1.3 billion into struggling aerospace and transportation company Bombardier in an attempt to rescue the company’s drastically over-budget and behind-schedule next-gen CSeries airplane.

The announcement came in the aftermath of an “earnings” report which was even more devastating for Bombardier than pessimistic financial analysts had projected.

At the time, Quebec’s government publicly called on the federal government to match their “investment”, openly stating that the fate of the CSeries program is in doubt without a further infusion of cash.

From the outside, Bombardier looks like a company in freefall, missing deadlines and running over-budget on even routine projects like Toronto’s long-delayed streetcar series. The delays and technical issues have been so numerous that the TTC’s CEO Andy Byford is now publicly musing about suing the company and permanently barring it from winning any future TTC contracts. (73 streetcars were originally projected to be in use by the end of 2015; currently the TTC has a mere 10 on the streets.)

The CSeries program that the Quebec government is desperately trying to save is producing a plane which is years behind schedule, and the company has only received firm orders for 243 units. One potential customer, Porter Airlines, looks less likely than ever to be a buyer after last night’s announcement by Transportation Minister Marc Garneau that the new Liberal government will not be granting the airline permission to fly jet planes out of Toronto’s island-based Billy Bishop Airport (and major kudos to NoJetsTO for a well-organized and victorious campaign!); Porter had previously put in an order for a dozen of the CSeries planes conditional on their Billy Bishop proposal’s approval.

Bombardier also announced that it was entirely cancelling its Learjet 85 program, a decision which contributed heavily to $4.9 billion USD loss posted in their third-quarter “earnings” report. And the fact that Quebec’s infusion of cash only covers about half the shortfall the CSeries program is projected to incur, Scotiabank is now projecting that Bombardier will need to go back to the government for more money within the next eighteen months.

All of which makes the Quebec government’s choice of the word “investment” smell kinda fishy. Continue Reading

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