By Shanda Deziel - Friday, February 12, 2010 - 15 Comments
Georgia team wears black armbands in athletes parade
The opening ceremonies started with a snowboard jump and a welcome from Canada’s First Nations. But the most moving moment so far was the arrival of the Georgia team, wearing black armbands. They walked through stadium but then left the building, choosing not to celebrate. Organizers say the ceremonies are dedicated to 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in a luge accident early Friday morning.
By Shanda Deziel - Thursday, January 21, 2010 at 1:55 PM - 5 Comments
Dairy farmer allowed to distribute unpasteurized milk, court rules
After a dramatic legal and food ethics battle, dairy farm Michael Schmidt triumphed today when a Newmarket, Ont., judge ruled that he can continue distributing raw milk through his cow-share program, which does not break the law against selling unpasteurized milk. Schmidt, of Durham, Ont., runs a cow-share program that is exempted from the province’s health protection and promotion act and the milk act. People pay a portion to cover the cost of cow, which provides the farmer with a loophole to offer the owners milk without having to sell it to them. Schmidt, who was found not guilty of 19 charges, celebrated his victory with a cold glass of raw milk outside the courthouse.
By Shanda Deziel - Friday, January 8, 2010 at 1:23 PM - 11 Comments
Poll finds travellers would take the scanner over a pat-down
The choice leaves those concerned with privacy on the horns of a dilemma but, given the option, more Canadians would opt for a full-body scan over a pat-down when boarding a plane. According to a newly released Angus Reid poll, 67 per cent of Canadians would take the scan, compared to just 18 per cent who would prefer a pat-down. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of Canadians support the use of the scanners, which produces a three-dimensional image of the contours of a person’s body: 44 per cent of respondents strongly support their implementation at Canadian airports, while an additional 30 per cent of respondents moderately support relying on them. The scanners are due to appear at major airports in the coming weeks and will, at least at first, target only travellers bound for the U.S.
By Shanda Deziel - Tuesday, December 29, 2009 at 11:13 AM - 0 Comments
Son of Montreal mafia kingpin gunned down, most of the rest of the members are behind bars
Nick Rizzuto, son of Montreal’s alleged (and currently incarcerated) mafia kingpin Vito Rizzuto, was shot to death in Montreal on Monday. Rizzuto, known for his ties in the city’s construction industry, was reportedly en route to his girlfriend’s house in the middle of the day when a suspect shot him between four and six times before fleeing. The shooting has further weakened the Rizutto clan’s alleged grip on the city; the majority of its key members are behind bars or, in the case of Nick’s grandfather Nicolo, subject to probation conditions that effectively amount to house arrest. “The poor guy. He tries to do something in his life and, because of his family’s past history, every time he turns around he gets hit with something,” Antonio Magi, Rizzuto’s business partner, told the Montreal Gazette earlier this month.
By Shanda Deziel - Friday, December 18, 2009 at 1:12 PM - 3 Comments
Mainstream fashion challenges the criminal class
Since tattoos have become so mainstream, criminals are finding it harder to signal their criminality with body ink. These days, even art on your neck, collarbone, and wrists isn’t really enough. Facial tatoos remain a pretty hard-core gesture, particularly on the eyelids. Also, according to this article, “the homespun variety created with a shard of a ballpoint pen during long hours behind bars” retains some menace. But if mere skin art doesn’t do the trick, there’s always the Japanese gangster gesture—amputate all or part of a pinky finger. Up to 70 percent of the so-called yakuza have sacrificed a digit.
By Shanda Deziel - Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 2:32 PM - 6 Comments
Speculation turns to who disseminated the Climategate emails
The so-called “Climategate” emails somehow liberated from the digital vaults of the University of East Anglia not long ago have predictably—by design, you say?—turned ideological football, one that threatens to to hinder international climate change talks now going on in Copenhagen. We know all that. What we don’t know is who unleashed the emails in the first place—and how. “Speculation over just how the 3,500-odd documents came to be publicly released is growing anew,” writes Keith Johnson on the Wall Street Journal’s Environmental Capital blog. “A top IPCC official recently blamed ‘malicious hackers’ and pointed toward Russia. The idea of Russian ‘hackers for hire’ is gaining traction in some parts of the British press.” But Johnson goes on to note that, while the documents were placed on a Russian server sometime mid last month, they also appeared on a Turkish server. Nobody’s business but the Turks, maybe, but no smoking gun there. Or anywhere. In fact, the simplest explanation, Johnson suggests, quoting the blogger Watts Up With That, is a leak from inside the university—”not because of some hacker but because of a leak from UEA by a person with scruples.”
By Shanda Deziel - Tuesday, December 8, 2009 at 10:51 AM - 2 Comments
Car bombs coordinated in attack against government buildings
Three explosions were detonated next to government buildings in a coordinated attack on central Baghdad today. At least 118 people were killed with another 261 wounded, and a smaller, possibly accidental blast near a school has killed seven children. The attacks, which targeted a courthouse and the labour and finance ministry buildings, are the worst since bombs killed at least 155 people on October 25, and come as the Iraqi government is poised to announce the date for next year’s parliamentary elections. Officials say the blasts are meant to discredit Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which the insurgency considers to be too pro-West.
By Shanda Deziel - Sunday, December 6, 2009 at 1:08 PM - 24 Comments
Anger over the long gun registry is felt at ceremonies marking the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre
Private and public ceremonies were held in Montreal and Toronto Sunday to mark the 20th anniversary of the École Polytechnique shootings. On Dec. 6, 1989, Marc Lepine opened fire on the female members of an engineering class, in a self-proclaimed attack against feminists, taking the lives of 14 women and himself. For Family members and survivors, who after the Montreal Massacre pushed for tougher gun laws, this anniversary comes with more frustration and sadness as last month the government voted to scrap the long-gun registry. Also, marking the anniversary is an article in the Ottawa Citizen, in which engineering professor Monique Frize talks about the shadow the shooting has cast on her field, where female enrollment continues to dwindle.
By Michael Byers - Friday, November 20, 2009 at 1:41 PM - 12 Comments
According to UBC’s laws of war expert, Canadian officials may be in breach of the Geneva Convention
Canadians should hang their heads in shame. Richard Colvin’s testimony about torture in Afghanistan is a searing indictment of government officials who either knew—or should have known—that Canada was transferring detainees to torture.
Between 2006 and 2007, Colvin, the second-highest-ranking Canadian diplomat in Kabul, sent 17 reports about torture to Ottawa. The reports, which were circulated widely within the departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defence, confirmed public warnings from international officials and journalists.
In March 2006, Louise Arbour, the then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reported that complaints of torture at the hands of Afghan officials were “common.”
In June 2006, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission estimated that “about one in three prisoners handed over by Canadians are beaten or even tortured in local jails.”
In March 2007, the U.S. State Department reported that unconfirmed reports of torture were “numerous” in Afghanistan.
In April 2007, the Globe and Mail reported on “a litany of gruesome stories and a clear pattern of abuse by the Afghan authorities who work closely with Canadian troops.”
Yet the Canadian Government did next to nothing. In April 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said that “Canadian military officials don’t send individuals off to be tortured.”
Colvin’s testimony directly contradicts the Prime Minister’s statement. He reports that all the transferred detainees were tortured and that this was widely know in Kandahar, including among Canadian soldiers and diplomats.
Also in April 2007, then Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor told the House of Commons that the Red Cross would inform the Canadian government if it had any concern about the treatment of detainees. O’Connor later apologized, admitting the ICRC had always maintained its policy of reporting only to the Afghanistan government.
Colvin reports that the Red Cross tried unsuccessfully for three months to convey its concerns to the Canadian military about problems in the way Canada was reporting to the Red Cross when it transferred detainees to the Afghan authorities.
Colvin’s allegations have emerged because he was called to testify before the Military Police Complaints Commission, a body—established after the Somalia Inquiry—which has been investigating detainee transfers at the request of Amnesty International and the BC Civil Liberties Association. The government sought to block Colvin’s testimony before the MPCC, citing national security. The obstruction prompted the three opposition parties to call Colvin to testify before a Parliamentary committee, where his voice could finally be heard. Now, the Canadian Government is seeking to shoot the messenger by publicly besmirching one of Canada’s finest diplomats.
Colvin currently serves as an intelligence officer at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., a post reserved for the very best in the foreign service. And he’s been put in an unenviable position, his career and reputation on the line, and has chosen to tell the truth rather than fall in contempt of Parliament. In addition to slurring Colvin, the Canadian Government is seeking to obfuscate the facts by claiming that it acted decisively to improve the detainee transfer arrangement put in place by the previous, Liberal government. Nothing could be farther from the truth: it took more than a year of complaints, news reports, litigation and political pressure before a new transfer arrangement was finally adopted in May 2007.
The actual facts are still emerging, but all the elements of a war crime seem to be present. The prohibition of torture ranks with the prohibitions of genocide and slavery as one of the most fundamental rules of international law. Torture—and complicity in torture—is a “grave breach” of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. If Canadian officials allowed detainees to be transferred to Afghan custody despite an apparent risk of torture, and chose not to take reasonable steps to protect them, they are as guilty of a war crime as the torturers themselves. They could be prosecuted in Canada under the Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act. Or they could be hauled before the International Criminal Court. Canada has ratified the ICC’s statute, giving it jurisdiction over Canadians who commit war crimes anywhere. However, the International Criminal Court will not intervene if Canadian officials are willing and able to investigate and prosecute. We must hope that the will to investigate and prosecute is present. For imagine the damage to Canada’s reputation and influence if a general, ambassador or cabinet minister was prosecuted for war crimes in The Hague.
As Colvin himself explained: “If we disregard our core principles and values, we also lose our moral authority abroad. If we are complicit in the torture of Afghans in Kandahar, how can we credibly promote human rights in Tehran or Beijing?”
Even more seriously, the government’s indifference to torture may have created greater risks for Canadian soldiers. Insurgents who believe they will be tortured will fight to the death rather than surrender, placing Canadian soldiers at increased danger of harm. As a result, it is possible that one or more soldiers might have been killed as a result of the Canadian Government’s actions. Again, as Colvin cogently explained: “In my judgment, some of our actions in Kandahar, including complicity in torture, turned local people against us. Instead of winning hearts and minds, we caused Kandaharis to fear the foreigners. Canada’s detainee practices alienated us from the population and strengthened the insurgency.”
It’s time for Canadians to rally behind this brave and principled diplomat. It’s time to insist that any war criminals be investigated and prosecuted, regardless of who they are.
Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia. He has taught the laws of war at UBC, Duke University, Oxford University, the University of Cape Town and the University of Tel Aviv. Byers ran as an NDP candidate in the last federal election.
By Shanda Deziel - Sunday, October 18, 2009 at 12:30 PM - 37 Comments
The new leader of the Wildrose Alliance has a warning for Ed Stelmach
The Wildrose Alliance of Alberta picked a leader this weekend. Three out of every four votes went to Danielle Smith over her opponent, Mark Dyrholm. In a profile earlier this year, she was described in Maclean’s as “a Calgary school board trustee, a national Global TV political commentator and host, a columnist and editorial board member at the Calgary Herald, and, until recently, the provincial director of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. A long-time Tory, she is a fiscal conservative but a moderate on social policy. Articulate, not unattractive, and personable, Smith seems well-equipped to transform what’s been a ragtag party living at the margins into a credible alternative to the governing Tories.” Her first order of business is to build the party, start holding rountables on policy and setting up candidates. And to put some fear into premier Ed Stelmach. To him she announced: “you haven’t begun to imagine what’s about to hit you!”
By Shanda Deziel - Monday, June 22, 2009 at 2:24 PM - 891 Comments
The former ‘Degrassi’ actor is being hailed as the next hip-hop superstar. Is he also Rihanna’s new man?
Drake may be the first rapper to talk about how his mom disapproves of his car. The former Degrassi: The Next Generation star used his acting money to lease a Rolls-Royce Phantom in order to fit into the world of hip hop—and he’s not too proud to admit, in his song Say Whats Real, that that kind of thing doesn’t go over well at home. “And my mother embarrassed to put my Phantom out / So I park about five houses down / She said I shouldn’t have until I have the crown / But I don’t wanna feel the need to wear disguises around / So she wonder where my mind is / Accounts in the minus / But yet I’m rolling round the f–kin’ city like your highness.”
For Drake, who is being hailed as the next hip-hop superstar, it must be difficult to reconcile a blinged-out lifestyle with home—which is Forest Hill, a tony, predominantly Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto. Born Aubrey Drake Graham (he goes by Aubrey Graham when acting, and Drake when singing), his parents split when he was young. His father is an African-American musician who lives in Memphis, and his mom, who is white, raised him in Toronto, where he was bar mitzvahed. “I didn’t go to Hebrew school though,” he told Peter Rosenberg, a popular Jewish hip-hop talk show host. “I cheated. I collected the money.”