Category Archives: National Security Sunday

Trudeau, Harper, Saudi Arabia, and Real Change™

Image: A big-ass tank with like eight wheels and two armed soldiers sticking out the top in a sandy-looking locale. (Image credit: General Dynamics Land Systems Canada) NOTE: this may not be the actual model of Light Artillery Vehicle GDLS is selling to Saudi Arabia with Canadian governmental mediation and approval; details are sketchy, but the Globe and Mail reports that whatever they look like, they’re gonna be deadly.

 This one is from the prosaically named Department of Plus ça change, plus c’est le meme chose. Continue Reading

Looking on the bright side – Liberals move to abolish two-tier citizenship

It pains me to admit this, but today I was pleased with Justin Trudeau.

Regular readers of The Alfalfafield will know that I’m not a big fan of our Boy Wonder Prime Minister, with his signature Sunny Ways™ “change of tone” and his short-on-specifics promises of Real Change™.

I’ve castigated this new government over its lukewarm attitude towards privacy rights in its efforts to “fix” Bill C-51, the Prime Minister’s incoherent and misguided approach to the fight with ISIS, the Liberal Party’s wishy-washy, unexplained, and unjustified support for the corporate-sellout sovereignty-killing TPP, the half-assed reforms of the National Energy Board which leave major Indigenous concerns unaddressed and make the approval of environmentally destructive pipelines extremely likely, and Trudeau’s unwillingness to back down from a major arms deal with Saudi Arabia despite overwhelming concerns about the human rights implications of helping to arm such a notoriously repressive regime, among other issues.

A few days following his election, I said that “in most ways that matter, Prime Minister Trudeau will be no better than Harper”, and much to my disappointment, I haven’t really changed my opinion on that score. Though their motivations and their personalities are worlds apart, the two Prime Ministers are ideologically united on far more important issues than most people realize

But it’s tough being all gloomy and doomy all the time. It’s nice to look on the bright side every now and then. And every once in a while, Trudeau gives me a reason to smile.

Now, usually it’s just a matter of him not being as big of a raging flaming asshole as Stephen Harper was, and so really he’s only looking good by comparison. But after a long decade under that terrifying psychopath, it’s actually pretty satisfying when the government doesn’t take the path of maximum assholery.

Cause for celebration? No, not really. But I’m doing my best to look on the bright side today, so bear with me. Continue Reading

Remember #StopC51? Anybody?

Image: a protester holds a sign with a thumbs-down symbol over the words C-51 at a large rally. (Image credit: openmedia.org)

It was the major rallying cry of activist groups across Canada this spring. Tens of thousands took to the streets in big cities and small towns in opposition to its passage. Editorial boards slammed its heavy-handed creeping totalitarianism, even at more conservative publications like the Globe and Mail:

On close inspection, Bill C-51 is not an anti-terrorism bill. Fighting terrorism is its pretext; its language reveals a broader goal of allowing government departments, as well as CSIS, to act whenever they believe limply defined security threats “may” – not “will” – occur.

It became one of the most fiercely debated and protested government bills in recent years, and its passage was fought tooth and nail.

It’s easy to forget now, but when C-51 was first proposed, it was wildly popular. Something like 80% of Canadians were in favour of its passage, with many saying that the bill didn’t go far enough in tackling terrorism.

It was only after a fantastically organized grassroots campaign of public education against the bill and high-profile criticisms of its contents, including condemnations from the Canadian Bar Association and four former Prime Ministers, that public opinion started to turn around. And, it’s worth noting, it was only when a majority of Canadians opposed the bill that Leader of the Opposition Thomas Mulcair finally clarified that he favoured its repeal. As late as mid-May, the NDP’s opposition mainly focussed on the lack of Parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies, and while Mulcair had indicated he would vote against the bill, some comments he had made on the issue seemed to imply that he favoured reforming it if his party won the election in October.

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s inherently mockable wishy-washy position, that he was against portions of the bill but would be voting for it nonetheless, seemed to fail to capture the urgency of the issue. For many, it was nuance for the sake of nuance, when what was called for was a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the dangers of the law. Andrew Mitrovica at iPolitics was unreserving in his scorn: Continue Reading

Canada’s stance on the Islamic State literally doesn’t make any sense

When he announced his intention to follow through on his campaign pledge and withdraw Canada’s combat planes from the bombing mission in Iraq and Syria, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was determined to make clear that the Canadian government was still very serious about the fight against ISIS.

Trudeau pledged that Canada would do “more than its part”, that it would continue to have a “meaningful” role in the mission, and that the number of Canadian military trainers working with the peshmerga in Iraq would be substantially increased. The drawdown of Canada’s CF-18s wasn’t a marker of Canada’s disenchantment with the mission, Trudeau insisted; on the contrary, it would allow us to be more effective partners in the coalition fighting the Islamic State.

The Canadian government’s position on ISIS, then, remains essentially the same as it was under former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Harper pledged to use the Canadian Forces to “degrade the capabilities of ISIL, that is, to degrade its ability to engage in military movements of scale, to operate bases in the open, to expand its presence in the region, and to propagate attacks outside the region.” His use the word “degrade” was no doubt a deliberate echo of Barack Obama’s pledge to “degrade and destroy” ISIS.

Trudeau doesn’t use such blunt and violent language, to be sure, but his firm commitment to continue the mission Harper embarked upon as effectively as he thinks is possible speaks volumes; he thinks this is a fight worth fighting, and if we take him at his word, he only differs with Harper and the Conservatives on how best to go about conducting that fight. And on that topic a feverish debate is raging, with some, including retired general Rick Hillier, wanting to see Canada to much more to combat ISIS, including sending Special Forces troops into Iraq and Syria.

This debate makes mountains out of minor differences. The continued presence of Canadian fighter jets – which participated in a mere 3% of the coalition’s strikes against ISIS – wouldn’t amount to much one way or the other, notwithstanding the Conservative Party’s feverish objections. The simple truth is that Canada has been and will remain a bit player in this coalition, and any adjustment of our approach will have a negligible impact on the ground.

And yet this petty dispute dominates the political conversation about Canada’s mission in Iraq and Syria, entirely drowning out more fundamental absurdities with our government’s position. Continue Reading

Nuttall and Korody trial: the case for an entrapment finding keeps getting stronger

Image description: courtroom illustration of John Nuttall, wearing a suit jacket and dress shirt, and Amanda Korody, wearing a green headscarf and robe, with a court security guard standing between them.

Convicted terrorists John Nuttall and Amanda Korody are one step closer to freedom today – and if you ask me, that’s a good thing.

Nuttall and Korody, you may recall, were found guilty in June of terrorist offences for their plot to plant explosive pressure cookers at the B.C. Legislative Building on July 1, 2013. The trial is ongoing, however, with the defence arguing that the pair were entrapped by the RCMP, which conducted an undercover sting operation involving 240 officers that guided Nuttall and Korody through the entire planning process.

If the B.C. Supreme Court Justice, Catherine Bruce, finds that the pair were entrapped, their conviction will be overturned.

For some people, the very fact that this is possible is sickening. For instance, Ed Bird of Victoria says in a letter to the Times-Colonist: Continue Reading

Militarism and the Paris attacks – why more war isn’t the answer

“An act of war”, thundered French President Francois Hollande. The nation would respond “ruthlessly” towards the “barbarians” who planned this “cowardly” attack.

These words have power.

The past few days I feel like I’ve been living in a strange time warp. All the worst aspects of the reaction to 9/11 are playing out again – the flag-waving hyperpatriotism, the muscular aggressive posturing, the xenophobic threats, the total erasure of historical causes, the incessant vapid useless questioning of “why to they hate us?” – only this time, we’ve got Facebook and Twitter to amplify the loudest and stupidest voices.

And, to be fair, to act as a corrective.

After the recent carnage in France, my social media feeds have been filled mostly with the exact kind of critically-minded anti-racist don’t-forget-about-all-the-Muslim-victims-of-Western-state-terrorism thoughts and feelings that I’ve had myself – so much so that the odd anti-refugee post that strays into the mix is immediately drowned out.

Honest to God, I live in a little progressive/radical bubble.

It’s a pretty comfortable bubble, but it’s insulating, and when it comes right down to it, I haven’t got much of a clue what’s going on outside of it.

And so it came as a big surprise to me when I found out earlier today that the only mosque in my hometown of Peterborough, Ontario was set on fire last night. The mosque is not five minutes away from where my parents live. Nobody was inside at the time, thank goodness, but just half an hour before the fire was started, around seventy people were apparently there celebrating the birth of a baby.

It shouldn’t have surprised me, really. Peterborough, lovely and progressive as it can seem, has a deep undercurrent of ugly racism running right through it – and in that sense, it’s a lot like most every Canadian city or town I’ve ever been in.

And really, when even people like the supposedly “socialist” Hollande deploy hateful vicious rhetoric, it shouldn’t be shocking that some fragile white folks feel incited to take some kind of grossly misled “revenge” against people who had literally nothing to do with what happened in Paris.

“Barbarians”, “cowards”, “we will be merciless”.

These words have power. Continue Reading

Top secret war: What’s going on with Canada’s military misadventure in Iraq and Syria?

Flying Canadian death machines over Iraq (Image credit: Canadian Forces Combat Camera/DND)

Since last October, Canada’s air force has been involved in a coalition of Western and Gulf Arab nations bombing Islamic State positions in Iraq and, later, in Syria. In addition, Canadian Special Forces have been deployed to Iraqi Kurdistan to train the Kurdish peshmerga, who are fighting IS on the ground.

Throughout the past year, media coverage of the conflict has been extremely sporadic and patchy. This is largely by necessity; the military has not exactly prioritized keeping the public informed, especially when it comes to scandalous and controversial events, like the lone Canadian death in the conflict, that of Andrew Dorion, who was killed in what has been described as a “friendly fire incident” this past March. Details of Dorion’s death have remained pretty fuzzy, and the Department of National Defence has so far refused to release a thorough report investigating the incident.

Similarly, DND has remained tight-lipped about ongoing rumours and reports of civilian casualties as a result of Canadian airstrikes. This past week, an investigation by CBC’s the fifth estate revealed that Canada and its coalition partners have been implicated in the deaths of up to six hundred civilians, including at least two airstrikes in which Canadian bombers were specifically involved.

The military brass had little to say on the incident, except that the mission’s commander was not even aware of an internal Pentagon investigation into one of the incidents. Canada continues to insist that our bombers have killed absolutely no civilians with the nearly five hundred bombs they’ve dropped on Syria and Iraq to date.

Given the military’s intransigence and the horrific on-the-ground conditions, it’s difficult for the press to dig much deeper into these allegations, or indeed to report concretely on the state of the conflict.

Of course, we know broadly speaking that Islamic State is still right where it was a year ago, and that airstrikes seem to have been largely ineffective. There’s been some speculation that the coalition of bombing nations isn’t actually all that enthusiastic about defeating IS, and is not bombing them as often or as vigorously as it would be if it were serious about this. (I looked at one specific example of that in my article “The ISIS racket“.) Continue Reading

C-51 keeps getting worse the more we learn about it

This is the inaugural post in a new series: National Security Sundays. Each week, I’ll be doing a deep dive into issues related to Canada’s surveillance agencies, law enforcement, or armed forces. Today, we’re taking a look at a story that what hot this spring but which hasn’t gotten as much attention as it deserves lately, the 1984-esque surveillance law C-51.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think I’ve managed to pinpoint the lowest level to which the Conservative Party stooped in the recent election campaign in their desperate attempts to drum up enough fear and terror and anti-Muslim hatred to squeak back into office.

There were, I’ll concede, a lot of candidates for the Lowest Low, from their anti-niqab hysteria to their “barbaric practices hotline” to their cold bureaucratic indifference to the plight of refugees. But, for me at least, the Conservatives hit rock bottom on September 24, when they announced that they were laying charges under the recently-passed C-51 against a Canadian man, Farah Mohamed Shirdon, who left Canada in early 2014 to fight for the Islamic State.

Shirdon, charged in absentia, couldn’t have been prosecuted without the vital provisions of the government’s glorious Combating Terrorism Act, crowed a boastful Jason Kenney in a press release so self-congratulatory and hubristic it has to be read to be believed. One key quote:

The video of this individual burning and shooting his Canadian passport to express his violent hatred for Canada shocked many Canadians – and demonstrates how those who engage in terrorism betray the bond of loyalty and allegiance with Canada.

This one sentence has the whole Conservative Party reelection strategy, encapsulated perfectly. It uses loaded buzzwords designed to create indignation, fear, and hatred, says “Canada” and “Canadians” far too many times, conflates symbolic gestures with meaningful action, and baldly asserts the widespread prevalence of opinions which are in actuality much more marginal. It sets up a glowing ideal of Canadian patriotism and then demonizes and Others anybody who fails to live up to it, attempting to create a sense of solidarity among all “decent” folks. It’s truly a disgusting masterwork of divisive rhetoric.

But that’s not what’s most egregious about the charges laid against Shirdon. The truly outrageous aspect of all this is that Shirdon was almost certainly dead when the RCMP announced the charges. Continue Reading

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