By The Canadian Press - Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 0 Comments
HALIFAX – Halifax’s fire chief issued an apology to black firefighters on Thursday as…
HALIFAX – Halifax’s fire chief issued an apology to black firefighters on Thursday as part of the department’s response to allegations of racism brought before the Nova Scotia’s Human Rights Commission.
Doug Trussler offered the apology as part of a resolution to what he described as “a disappointing and painful chapter” in the fire department’s history.
“On behalf of Halifax Regional Municipality and Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, I apologize to any black firefighters who experienced racism within the fire service,” Trussler said.
“As an employer, we should have done more to prepare the work environment to be inclusive and protect you as employees and as people. We also fell short in our duty to prepare the training environment for the inclusion and acceptance of a designated class of recruits. Continue…
By Steve Rennie, The Canadian Press - Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 5:07 PM - 0 Comments
OTTAWA – Members of First Nations communities brought a record number of complaints last…
OTTAWA – Members of First Nations communities brought a record number of complaints last year to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
The commission’s latest annual report attributes the surge to a 2008 law change that allowed First Nations members to file complaints about matters under the Indian Act, which had been shielded from human-rights scrutiny.
“This is an encouraging and important outcome,” David Langtry, the acting chief commissioner, said in a statement.
“The sheer volume of complaints tells us that aboriginal people are beginning to use the Canadian Human Rights Act to improve their lives by holding their own governments as well as the federal government accountable for human rights.”
The law change let aboriginal people file complaints against the federal government, which they had previously been unable to do, starting in June 2008.
Then in June 2011, aboriginal people were allowed to complain to the commission about their own First Nations governments.
Since then, the number of complaints has shot up.
Between 2008 and 2011, the commission received fewer than 50 complaints a year from First Nations groups against the federal government. But since 2011, First Nations groups have filed 390 complaints against their own governments and Ottawa.
Of those, 225 complaints were against First Nations governments, mostly over housing issues and eligibility to vote in band council elections. Another 165 complaints were filed against the federal government over funding for education, policing and child welfare.
The commission says a case currently before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal will be a “major test” of aboriginal people’s ability to use human-rights laws.
The case arises from a complaint against the federal government from First Nations child-rights advocates, who claim that Ottawa is short-changing native communities by under-funding child-welfare services.
The human-rights challenge launched by the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and the Assembly of First Nations dates back to 2007.
But Ottawa has argued that the case should not be heard at all because it’s not fair to compare federal programs with provincial programs.
Federal officials also say they have been putting more money into First Nations child welfare and reorienting their programs to focus on keeping families together.
After much wrangling and millions of dollars in legal fees, the Federal Court rejected the government’s arguments, ordering a full hearing at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
The government appealed the Federal Court’s decision. Earlier this month, the Federal Court of Appeal upheld the Federal Court’s decision.
Ottawa still has the option of asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear its appeal.
Meanwhile, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal began its hearings late last month.
Billions of dollars are at stake. If First Nations complainants win the case, Ottawa would likely be required to fund social services on reserves at the same level per capita as the provinces fund similar services off reserves.
By Charlie Gillis - Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 1:47 PM - 0 Comments
The much-anticipated Whatcott decision has landed, and to some surprise, the Supreme Court of Canada shied from the chance to get human rights commissions out of the business of judging speech.
You can read the decision in its entirety here. In a nutshell, the court struck down a phrase in Saskatchewan’s human rights code banning material that “ridicules, belittles or otherwise affronts the dignity of any person or class of persons,” while upholding the section of prohibiting material that exposes members of identifiable groups to hatred. Those offended can still seek remedy from the province’s human rights commission.
“The protection of vulnerable groups from the harmful effect emanating from hate speech is of such importance as to justify the minimal infringement of expression,” the judges said in their unanimous decision.
Maybe this compromise was inevitable. To get human rights bodies out of the business of supervising speech, the high court would have to overturn its 1990 Taylor decision, which validated the jurisdiction of human rights commissions over speech, and set down a legal test of what constitutes hatred. That’s a lot to ask of any court.
But civil libertarians had hoped the SCC would do just that. Back in ’90, the current Chief Justice, Beverly McLachlin, had written a dissent to Taylor voicing concern that the law could interfere with free expression. She asked pointed questions during the Whatcott hearing about the vagueness of Saskatchewan’s law. There was reason to think she and her bench-mates might make a move.
To me, their decision to stand-pat represents a missed opportunity to erect robust legal protections around a bedrock Canadian value. And yes, my employer has a stake in this. But if we learned anything from the Maclean’s-Ezra Levant human-rights fiascos, it’s that the rights process is too blunt, too one-sided an instrument to deal with such a sensitive issue as speech.
A couple of other thoughts: all eyes should now turn to the provinces that have anti-hate speech provisions in their human rights codes, some of whose leaders have echoed the above-stated qualms. They’ve been sitting on the sidelines to see whether Whatcott would give them the cover needed to do the right thing, and now the onus is on them.
Here’s what Alison Redford told the Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association about the relevant section of Alberta’s code when she was running for the provincial PC leadership:
“I want to amend and fine-tune the existing legislation, after consultations with stakeholders, to better define and protect free speech in light of challenges to the statute in recent years. Freedom of expression must be shielded, and Section 3 of the Alberta Human Rights Act should be repealed.”
Over to you, Premier. Need a roadmap?
The decision also reminds me of a conversation I had in the thick of the dispute between Maclean’s and Islamic groups that complained about the writings of Mark Steyn. I was talking to Wayne Sumner, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto who studies hate speech, and I had raised the operative question: in the Internet era, can we get rid of anti-hate speech provisions in human rights law without giving oxygen to the hard-core hate-mongers, who are undeniably among us?
Sumner was unequivocal:
“The kinds of groups who engage in this sort of nonsense in Canada are so marginal, and regarded as so ridiculous by most people, that it’s hard to see how they have any impact at all. Did the ridiculous things David Ahenakew said in public about Jews running the world actually encourage any acts of anti-Semitism in Canada? Or did we just all laugh at them? So I think there’s a problem with the underlying justification of the law.”
But wait. Isn’t world history replete with examples of hate speech fueling violence and discrimination? Weimar Germany? Rwanda?
The professor’s answer:
“It’s important that we’re speaking specifically about Canada. If I thought there was an enormous reservoir of prejudice bubbling beneath the surface, just waiting to be released, I would think differently. But I don’t think that’s where multicultural Canada is at. The references to history don’t tell us much about our own situation.”
In other words, Canadian tolerance can stand the stress-test. It’s a bedrock value that—freely expressed—offers a better antidote to hatred than any regulatory body staffed by appointees. Time for governments to give it a vote of confidence.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, November 5, 2012 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Regarding transsexuals (people who have had or are in the process of changing their gender), it is my understanding that such individuals already enjoy Human Rights protection because “sex” has always been a prohibited ground of discrimination. Certainly, at all times, regardless of the stage of completion of gender reassignment, a person has an identifiable gender. Moreover, although a person interested in changing genders presumably is struggling with gender identity, not all people with gender identity issues have any interest in changing gender. The terms are separate and distinct.
Now, cross-dressing may be an expression of gender identity or gender expression or may be unrelated to either. Nothing precludes a non-transgender person from occasionally dressing up in drag to attend a theme party or event. The terms are simply not interchangeable. Accordingly, the lack of definitions with respect to the terms creates a huge ambiguity as to who or what activities are to be protected and arguably is a fatal flaw.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, October 19, 2012 at 6:29 AM - 0 Comments
The Alberta Court of Appeal tumbled another grenade into the thicket of Alberta human-rights law Wednesday, delivering its two cents’ worth on the case of Stephen Boissoin [PDF]. Boissoin, you may recall, was a Red Deer preacher who made use of the letters column of the local Advocate back in 2002 to declare his opposition to the “homosexual machine that has been mercilessly gaining ground in our society since the 1960s”.
As a piece of comedy, Boissoin’s letter has held up surprisingly well, with its asides to “Mr. and Mrs. Heterosexual” and its defiant warning that your child may be “the next victim that tests homosexuality-positive”. The epistle takes a disconcertingly militant tone, but it is also careful not to show contempt for homosexuals as a class, directing its fire instead at pro-gay “educators” and “activists” who “spread their psychological disease into every area of our lives”. After a decade, it’s still not quite clear whether the disease in question is tolerance, or homosexuality itself, or even just a civilized indifference to the domestic arrangements of one’s neighbour.
Anyway, in 2007 the Alberta Human Rights Commission ordered Boissoin to “cease publishing disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals” and to pay $7,000 in damages and costs. In 2009 I wrote about a Queen’s Bench review of the finding that went about as badly for the Commission as can be imagined. Interestingly, the Court of Appeal has now reversed the reviewing judge, E.C. Wilson, on a few points.
By The Canadian Press - Friday, October 12, 2012 at 11:58 AM - 0 Comments
TORONTO – People who live as the opposite sex in Ontario can now change…
TORONTO – People who live as the opposite sex in Ontario can now change their gender on their birth certificates without first undergoing sex-change surgery.
New rules that have recently come into effect allow transgender people born in the province to apply to have the document amended by submitting a letter from a practising physician or a psychologist.
Ontario is the first province in Canada to scrap the requirement, a move that has been hailed as an important victory for the transgenders.
It stems from a ruling by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario this spring in the case of a born-male woman known as XY.
The tribunal found the legislation requiring proof of “transsexual surgery” to alter birth documents to be discriminatory.
In its ruling, the tribunal said the requirement added to the stigma felt by members of the transgender community and reinforced stereotypes surrounding how they experience gender.
By Julia Belluz - Monday, September 10, 2012 at 5:50 AM - 0 Comments
The nation mourns the death of a complicated, controversial—and beloved—leader
In Addis Ababa last week, it was impossible to miss Meles Zenawi’s grip on the popular imagination. On Aug. 20, the government announced that Ethiopia’s first and only prime minister had died in Brussels of an unknown illness, after 21 years in power—and weeks of speculation following his disappearance from public view. Zenawi’s image soon appeared in the signage over fruit markets and banks, on hats, in the windows of cars and buses, even in the playing cards children sell for change in the streets. One restaurant had an unusual memorial: Zenawi’s face painted in cocoa powder and butter on an Ethiopia-shaped pizza. At night, the city’s bars and clubs were silent, and no one danced because a state of national mourning had been declared. Instead, TVs broadcasted tributes to his excellency on loop, with news that the former deputy, Hailemariam Desalegn, would take power until elections in 2015.
“Addis is very sad right now,” a taxi driver says en route to the national palace, where the late PM lay in state in advance of Sunday’s funeral. Asked why people love Meles, as he is known, he gestured with his hands: “Jobs. He bring us work,” he said. Women like him too, he said; Meles advocated for equal rights. Others expressed their adoration: because he was brilliant and had a strong vision for the country; because he liberated them from a military dictatorship, brought back Ethiopian pride and increased investment in education and health care. (His health minister is lauded around the world for enacting progressive, evidence-based policies.) Zenawi was also a key mediator between Sudan and South Sudan, and an ally in the U.S.’s war on terrorism in the Horn of Africa.
But human-rights observers say the advancements came at a cost: jailed journalists, political prisoners, contested election results and a concentration of power that only expanded during his tenure. He was known to hold meetings without any aides present; his was the final word. Ethiopian journalists told me there’s little hope for a free press and for voicing dissenting opinions, so the people don’t have enough information to even begin to critique Zenawi’s administration.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, August 17, 2012 at 3:57 AM - 0 Comments
The verdict in Russia’s trial of feminist punk group Pussy Riot is expected this morning; it will probably have been announced by the time you read this. The group was arrested after staging a brief impromptu performance at the famous Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, rebuilt in 2000 after being demolished to make way for the never-built Palace of the Soviets in 1931. The performers have been formally charged with khuliganstvo (“hooliganism”), the old catchall term that meant in Soviet days, and means now, that one has done something not otherwise criminal of which the Organs do not approve.
The trial is rightly regarded as an outrage. There’s no indication or suggestion that Pussy Riot did any physical damage to the church; their appearance lasted mere seconds before they were escorted out. And Russian Orthodoxy’s grovelling support for Putinism has certainly made it a valid target of protest. Pussy Riot are nothing less than old-fashioned political prisoners, and they deserve the exterior moral support that Russian political prisoners have always received from Europe and the West—whether a Tsar, a Central Committee, or an outdoorsy populist President is running the show.
It has come to the attention of Canadians that Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova may be a permanent resident of Canada. Indeed, Lisa Kirbie, who seems to have been first in Canada to notice the possibility, is waxing wroth about being bigfooted on the story by the Toronto Star. (No, reporting the same facts as somebody else isn’t plagiarism, by any definition. But it’s certainly poor form.) “Is Nadezhda Tolokonnikova a Canadian?” Kirbie asks. “Why won’t the Harper government step up and help her?”
Lisa Kirbie can have the glory if she wants it, but I don’t know that I’d be so eager, under the same circumstances, to be seen as a catspaw of Putin’s government. Nadezhda T.’s alleged permanent-resident card was shown in this Russian state news broadcast. If you watch, you’ll see it’s a 60 Minutes-style “gotcha” story, clearly arranged with the help of the local prosecutor: Tolokonnikova tells the reporter specifically that she did not get a Canadian residency permit, and there’s a quick cut to the office of one of Putin’s heavies, who lets the camera linger lovingly over Tolokonnikova’s Canadian residency documents.
Now, if a Russian prosecutor from absolutely any era of history informed me that I have two testicles, I’d reach down and give them a real quick count. But Tolokonnikova’s husband has apparently confirmed that the docs are legit. It is still curious that it’s the friends of Pussy Riot who are hyping her status—in the name of trying to establish that Tolokonnikova might be a “Canadian”, even though it is precisely the point of “permanent resident” status that holders are not Canadian citizens and have no claim on Canadian consular assistance in their home countries. In exchange for that dubious benefit, they’ve helped Putin’s regime trap Tolokonnikova in a televised fib and made her look, to xenophobic Russians, like a troublemaking tourist who got in over her head. Heckuva job, guys!
The Canadian government should advocate for Tolokonnikova—and for the other members of her group, too: not because of some connection to Canada, but in the name of ushering thoughtcrime and classic authoritarianism off the stage of history. A rally for Pussy Riot is planned for Toronto and other world cities today. I trust none of the attendees will be Canadians who have availed themselves in the past of the cheap sensual delights of Cuba.
By Jesse Brown - Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 11:39 AM - 0 Comments
There are many reasons to be glad Section 13 of our Human Rights Act is all but dead. For one, we already have hate speech laws, if you’re into that sort of thing. Section 319 of The Criminal Code of Canada bans the “wilful promotion of hatred” toward “an identifiable group.” It’s weird to me that the promotion of an emotion is against the law, but I get what the law is going for, and at least it’s enforced like any other law—by the police, selectively. If the identifiable group you promote hatred toward is Nickelback, the cops will probably leave you alone.
Human Rights Code violations on the other hand are investigated by the Code’s own little bureaucracy, the Human Rights Commission, and offences are judged by their own kangaroo court, the Human Rights Tribunal. Cases arise whenever a citizen makes a claim. If you make a successful hate speech claim, you can be awarded money in fines collected from the guilty party, even if you weren’t the target of their hate speech. And there’s nothing to stop an employee of the Human Rights Commission itself, say a lawyer who knows exactly how the process works, from making a claim.
We know this because that’s what happened. A former employee of the commission launched the vast majority of Section 13 cases during the past 12 years, winning all but one of them and collecting thousands of dollars. His name is Richard Warman, and you might call Section 13 “Richard’s Law.”
As I said, there are lots of reasons to applaud the scrapping of this ridiculous bit of legislation. But there’s one reason in particular that has me celebrating its pending demise: Section 13 was an anti-Internet law. Seriously, either it had to go, or the Internet did.
Richard Warman’s final Section 13 complaint was against “white nationalist” Marc Lemire, who hosts the Freedom Site web forum, where fellow “white nationalists” hang out and discuss “white
supremacynationalism.” But it wasn’t Lemire’s speech that Warman found hateful. It was Craig Harrison, a contributor to Freedom Site, who allegedly violated our hate speech laws by allegedly subjecting a group to hate. But Lemire ran the site, so he was the one Warman targeted. And by the vague, anachronistic language of Section 13, he was the right target.
That’s why Section 13 hates the Internet: it makes no distinction between the publisher of a comment and the publisher of a website. If Section 13 were to remain a law, and one that’s actually enforced by Canadians other than Richard Warman, then you simply couldn’t host any kind of interactive website. Youtube would go, Wikipedia would go, Macleans.ca and every other site with a comment section would go. It gets sillier the more you think about it. Warman has admitted to posing as a white supremacist and joining Freedom Site to help his “investigations.” If Section 13 were to stand, and website publishers were held liable for what their users post, then someone could theoretically join a site, leave hateful messages, file a complaint against the site’s owner, and then collect a cash prize, profiting from their own hate speech.
The Human Rights Commission came to their senses in 2009 when Warman’s complaint against Lemire reached their tribunal. Rather than rule that Lemire violated Section 13, tribunal member Athanasios Hadjis ruled that Section 13 violated our Charter, setting into motion a process that led directly to last week’s private member’s bill repealing the law itself. It’ll be off the books in a year, and not a moment too soon.
By Martin Patriquin - Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 2:25 PM - 0 Comments
How a decent man subjected to vicious attacks can actually stand to work in parliament—and like John Baird to boot
It’s Tuesday afternoon, and Parliament is engaged in the daily schoolyard display known as question period. Everybody is shouting. Hyperbole and outrage rain down.
MP Irwin Cotler is seated in the midst of the Liberal caucus, his glasses perched atop a messy lick of hair, his head buried in his papers. When MP Wayne Easter noisily questions the Prime Minister’s commitment to democracy, his Liberal colleagues erupt in a bout of righteous applause. Not Cotler. Rather, the man who helped free the likes of Nelson Mandela, Russian dissident Natan Sharansky and Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil from various tyrannical regimes around the world puts on his glasses and looks around to see what all the fuss is about. Then he smiles and goes back to his notes.
It’s a classic Cotlerian moment: calm in the face of chaos, intellect amidst noise, utter obliviousness to the brutish partisanry of present-day Ottawa. It is the type of politics the 71-year-old MP, human rights advocate and former justice minister has practised since arriving in Ottawa in 1999—politics with a purpose, not a sideshow for the sake of re-election. Yet his constituents in the Montreal riding of Mont Royal keep sending him back, six times in 12 years, despite an aggressive Conservative campaign last year that left many of Cotler’s former supporters questioning his very Jewishness. Last December, Campaign Research, a market research firm linked to the Conservative Party of Canada, conducted a phone campaign in Cotler’s riding in which its staff suggested Cotler was about to retire—an incident that foreshadowed the recent so-called robocall scandal, in which voters in some ridings were misled as to where to vote. The Speaker of the House of Commons deemed the suggestive poll question about Cotler as “reprehensible.” It was certainly dirty, Cotler says, and there will be no more. “The position I’ve taken was that this would be my last election,” he tells Maclean’s at 10:30 at night, before delving into another three hours of work.
By Aaron Wherry - Monday, January 23, 2012 at 3:18 PM - 0 Comments
The prepared text of John Baird’s speech to an audience in London, England today.
Good evening, I am pleased to be with you tonight and it’s a real pleasure to be back in London – one of the world’s truly great cities and one of my personal favourites. I would like to begin by thanking Canada’s High Commissioner here in London – Gordon Campbell – and his team, for making this visit possible.
One of the reasons I – like so many Canadians who come here to vacation, study or work – so enjoy being here is because, in a very real sense, it feels like coming to a familiar and welcoming place. That sense of the familiar is all the more welcome, given that so much of the world is undergoing a fundamental transformation.
Power is rebalancing and, with it, opportunities are changing, for Canada and the United Kingdom, as well as for our allies and friends. This presents for Canada and Canadians both challenge and opportunity: to shape the relationships and institutions for a new century; to promote free societies and open markets; and to engage with new and sometimes, unfamiliar power brokers.
By Gustavo Vieira - Friday, January 13, 2012 at 7:35 AM - 0 Comments
Tehran takes aim at Canada’s treatment of its Aboriginals, in the wake of the Attawapiskat crisis
On Jan. 3, Iran summoned Canada’s envoy to Tehran to protest Canada’s “blatant violation of human rights.” Tehran took aim at Canada’s treatment of its Aboriginals, in the wake of the Attawapiskat crisis. Three days later, on an Alberta radio show, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Iran “the world’s most serious threat to international peace.” This less than amicable exchange captures the current state of affairs between Canada and Iran, badly strained since the death of the Iranian-Canadian journalist Zahra Kazemi in an Iranian prison in 2003.
“I couldn’t stop laughing,” says professor Saeed Rahnema, an Iran specialist at York University. “I mean, there are serious problems with Canada’s dealings with its indigenous peoples, but the Iranian regime is the very last government that could mention human rights. They couldn’t care less for human rights.”
Pointing fingers at Western countries to deﬂect pressure from abroad is common practice for Iranian diplomacy, and Canada, for years, has been at the forefront of the international push to improve Iran’s human rights record. The issue is at the top of a very short list of topics Ottawa will discuss with Tehran, which also includes Iran’s nuclear program and the episode resulting in Kazemi’s death. Canada-Iran relations have been severely limited for a long time, with Kazemi’s death sparking the downward spiral, says Reza Marashi, research director of the National Iranian American Council. But while Iran likes to amp up the rhetoric, it will also do what it can to avoid international isolation, says Marashi, including asking Canada to let it open consulates in cities like Vancouver. Ottawa has so far rejected the offer.
By Emma Teitel - Tuesday, November 8, 2011 at 8:40 AM - 6 Comments
The number of stars hurrying to perform for dictators has reached epic proportions
The announcement this month that Global Philanthropy Group, a celebrity-focused advisory firm, is teaming up with Human Rights Watch to help celebs choose which foreign heads of state they should do private shows for comes just in time. It seems that the number of apparently clueless headliners hurrying to perform for tyrants and dictators has reached epic proportions. Strangely, though, while three dictators have fallen since the Arab Spring began late last year, their favourite stars have not. Mariah Carey and Nelly Furtado are among those who have sung and danced for the devil (members of the Gadhafi family in this case) and suffered few social consequences. Beyoncé Knowles—another pop star on the dead dictator’s payroll—claims she had no idea that Moammar Gadhafi’s son Hannibal picked up the $2-million tab on her 2010 New Year’s Eve performance in St. Barts (you’d think if the name Gadhafi didn’t raise any red flags, the name Hannibal might), and both Carey and Furtado have apologized publicly for their performances, donating millions to charity in compensation for the hefty sums given to them by the Gadhafis.
But besides a slap on the wrist from entertainment blogs and human rights activists, these stars have gotten off largely scot-free. Our collective attitude toward them seems to be, “Who cares that Mariah Carey sang We Belong Together to a murderous dictator? She just had twins!” And who cares, likewise, if Hilary Swank took $1.5 million from Chechen President Ramzan A. Kadyrov to celebrate his 35th birthday party this month, during which she addressed a packed Grozny auditorium in a backless gown and gushed over Chechnya’s beautiful architecture (“I pay a lot of attention to details!”)? The gown and the architecture are clearly the important details—not that the president’s hobbies (besides presumably watching Boys Don’t Cry) included quashing political dissent via torture and assassination, and eradicating women’s rights.
By Aaron Wherry - Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 3:18 PM - 23 Comments
A statement from the Prime Minister on the liberation of Libya.
“Today, Canadians join with the Libyan people in celebrating the liberation of their country. The Libyan people have courageously risen up against decades of tyranny. Canada’s involvement, as sanctioned by the United Nations and led by NATO, has supported their aspirations for the future. We join Libyans in welcoming the post-Gaddafi era and the transition of the country to a democratic society – one that respects human rights and the rule of law.
“We again commend the work of members of the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Canadian Air Force and the leadership of Canadian Lt. Gen. Charles Bouchard. Their efforts have led to the success of NATO’s mission in Libya. NATO has taken a preliminary decision to conclude the mission at the end of October. Canada will continue to work with transitional leaders as the new Libya takes shape.”
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, October 13, 2011 at 12:32 PM - 38 Comments
A few weeks after NDP MP Don Davies suggested Dick Cheney should be barred from entering Canada, Amnesty International says Canadian authorities should arrest George W. Bush when he visits next week. It’s not clear that we have the power to do so. Jason Kenney is unimpressed.
“Amnesty International cherrypicks cases to publicize based on ideology. This kind of stunt helps explain why so many respected human rights advocates have abandoned Amnesty International,” Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said.
Kenney noted in an email that in the past, Amnesty had not asked for Canada to bar former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, even though the rights organization itself said he had presided over “arbitrary arrests, detention, and criminal prosecution.”
Castro’s last visit to Canada would seem to have been for Pierre Trudeau’s funeral in October 2000.
By Aaron Wherry - Saturday, September 24, 2011 at 12:09 AM - 39 Comments
NDP immigration critic Don Davies has written to Immigration Minister Jason Kenney asking that Mr. Kenney deny Mr. Cheney entry to the country (the former vice president is scheduled to visit Vancouver on Monday as part of his book tour).
Minister, may I remind you of your own government’s initiatives this summer in which you called on the public to assist your government in removing from Canada those individuals who had engaged in serious criminality, war crimes or crimes against humanity. May I also remind you of your own government’s actions in denying entry to British MP George Galloway. At that time you stated that: ”It’s not about words. It’s about deeds.”
… Minister, the essence of just application of the law is that it is applied evenly and consistently. I would therefore respectfully request that you deny entry to Mr. Cheney on grounds of inadmissibility under IRPA for having engaged in acts of torture. In the event that you do not do so, I would respectfully request that a report be prepared setting out the relevant facts, and that you refer same to the Immigration Division for an admissibility hearing with a view to issuing a removal order against Mr. Cheney, all pursuant to section 44 of IRPA.
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Thursday, September 8, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 8 Comments
Arar’s body has recovered, but the memories of his torture persist
It doesn’t take much to carry Maher Arar back to the place he least wants to be. The sight of a mustachioed policeman, any sort of filthy smell, or even the sound of a crying baby has the power to transport him to that tomb-like prison cell. Nine years on, his body has recovered from the beatings the Syrian Mukhabarat inflicted with their fists and thick strips of cable, but the psychological scars of his rendition, imprisonment and torture persist. It is worse when he travels. “When I take the plane, I’m always tense and nervous,” he says. “It just triggers a fear in me that I might be kidnapped again.”
Sept. 26, 2002, was the day U.S. authorities detained him at New York’s J.F.K. airport, as he was heading home to Ottawa from an extended family stay in Tunisia. Oct. 8 was the night he was hustled on to a CIA-leased private jet and flown to Jordan, then driven—shackled and blindfolded—to the border of his native Syria. It was early April 2003, when he next felt daylight, allowed to roam a prison courtyard for a few minutes. Freedom—and a flight back to Canada, his wife and two young children—finally came that Oct. 5.
There’s no doubt, however, of when everything really did change for the 41-year-old telecommunications engineer. On the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, Arar was in San Diego, Calif., on business for a Boston-based client. The sun wasn’t even up when the phone in his hotel room rang. It was his friend and colleague David Hilf telling him about terrorists hitting the World Trade Center. At first, Arar thought it was a prank—he and Hilf, who is Jewish, spent a lot of their time on the road joking about their odd-couple alliance. When he was finally convinced to turn on the TV, Arar was devastated by what he saw. One of his first thoughts was of the inevitable anti-Muslim backlash. He called his wife, Monia, then pregnant with their second child, in Ottawa and warned her not to leave the house. “She’s visible. She wears a head scarf,” he says. “There might have been some crazy people trying to get revenge.”
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, August 12, 2011 at 12:53 PM - 7 Comments
Steve Rennie looks at the circumstances surrounding the Prime Minister’s visit to Honduras, including mixed signals of a military exercise.
On Aug. 4, the National Congress of Honduras approved the entry of Canadian soldiers into the country to take part in a joint training exercise. The results of three votes on the matter were posted this past Monday on the National Congress’ website.
Canada’s Department of National Defence has not announced any training exercises in Honduras. The Prime Minister’s Office said it was unaware of any joint training exercise taking place.
By Aaron Wherry - Thursday, August 11, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 34 Comments
You begin by chastising Amnesty International for raising these concerns when we should instead be focusing on human rights concerns in countries like Iran and North Korea. Minister, we most certainly do. A casual review of our most recent reports, actions and news releases covers such countries as Iran, Syria, Bahrain, China, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, Georgia, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria. We do regularly point to areas where we believe Canada’s own human rights laws, policy and practice are in need of reform. Universal human rights principles apply as equally to Canada as they do to other countries. Furthermore, the stronger Canada’s domestic human rights record is; the greater our leadership on the world stage.
By Aaron Wherry - Friday, June 10, 2011 at 3:33 PM - 41 Comments
Speaking at this weekend’s Conservative convention, Jason Kenney explains the Conservative ethos.
“We don’t depend on the bloated bureaucracies of the nanny state; we thrive on our freedom and are upheld by the law,” he said. “We don’t assume that history began in the Summer of Love; we honour a tradition reaching back to the Magna Carta … Our adversaries were focused on the obsessions of the chattering classes – like Taliban prisoners – rather than the practical bread-and-butter concerns of hard-working families.”
Though neither are as old as the Magna Carta (established in 1215), both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted in 1948) and the Geneva Conventions (agreed to in 1949) predate the Summer of Love (1967).
Article 39 of the Magna Carta is translated as follows. Continue…
By Sally Armstrong - Monday, June 6, 2011 at 10:30 AM - 2 Comments
Activists say it’s Afghanistan’s women who can make a difference—and that Canada must still help
As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, and an increasingly skeptical international community looks to the future of Afghanistan with one eye on the exit, the women of this war-weary country have something to say to those who answered their clarion call for help a decade ago. They claim that finding the finish line requires a rebooting of the original plan that focuses on human rights and education. That plan requires security. The Afghan army and police force are not yet ready to provide it. And so, as far as the women are concerned, the coming adieu to Canada’s military, which will withdraw from its combat role in July, is bittersweet.
While news from Afghanistan has focused mostly on the insurgency taking place in the four southern provinces, the other 30 provinces are marginally better off. Much has changed. Almost three million girls are back in school, women are back at work, 40 per cent of the media are women and 25 per cent of regional councillors are female. What’s more, the fundamentalist mentality is changing. Only a few women in urban centres still wear a burka. Religious doctrines are slightly less oppressive. The constitution demands that 25 per cent of seats in the parliament are reserved for women. Says Shinkai Karokhail, 49, a long-time women’s activist and member of parliament for Kabul: “It’s the presence of countries like Canada that have made that happen. It has given me the right to speak out and to claim my space. The international community is like a thousand eyes on the government. Even the warlords are more gentle, knowing they’re being watched.”
Her concern, which is shared by most of the women in this country, is that if the international community pulls out, the gains women have made will be wrenched away. Karokhail’s colleague Fawzia Koofi, 35, a sassy, media-savvy MP from Badakhshan province who has ambitions to run in the next presidential election, puts it more bluntly. “You’re leaving before putting an end to the war,” she says. “We can’t function yet as a government. Do you think Afghanistan won’t change back after you leave? Terrorism doesn’t know borders. Your border could be next. You need to wait until we have an effective government and a qualified army and police force.”
By Andrew Potter - Tuesday, May 24, 2011 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
One of the most famous artists in China uses his status to engage in political activism
One of the defining characteristics of Western culture is our inability to be shocked by art. It has been almost 100 years since Marcel Duchamp submitted a stock urinal to an art exhibition as a work he called Fountain. Ever since, artists have struggled to replicate the effect it had of a grenade exploding in an innocent culture, but with little success. Sure, there are stray ripples of outrage, but whether it is the intimacy and sexuality of Tracey Emin’s My Bed or the theo-scatological juvenilia of Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ, the public generally just shrugs and goes about its business. As a result, we have become complacent about art, in particular about its capacity to challenge authority and upend the status quo. But for artists looking to transgress the boundaries, they might take a bit of inspiration, and a great deal of caution, from what is going on in China.
In early May, the Chinese performance artist Cheng Li was sentenced to a year of “labour through re-education” and sent to a prison camp for the crime of disturbing the public order. Cheng was arrested after he and a female partner had sex on a balcony in front of a crowd of patrons at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Beijing. Cheng billed the performance piece, entitled Art Whore, as an indictment of the “popular trend of commercializing art.”
In North America, public sex is about as banal as art gets. When a Northwestern University professor staged a live sex-toy demonstration for his human sexuality class last month, the school responded to calls for his dismissal by…cancelling the course next year. As for the idea of art commenting on its own commercialization, that’s one of the oldest (and most lucrative) tricks in the book. The prankumentary Exit Through the Gift Shop by the shadowy British street artist Banksy might have grossed only $5 million or so, but it served as a fantastic advertisement for Banksy’s own works, which sell at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
By Erica Alini - Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 1 Comment
According to the Pinochet regime, Chile’s socialist leader killed himself
Shortly after ordering his loyalists to give up arms and surrender to Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s troops in 1973, former Chilean president Salvador Allende walked alone into the Independence Salon of the La Moneda presidential palace, then under siege, and shot himself in the head with an AK-47 assault rifle gifted by Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. That, at least, is the story according to the Pinochet regime, which staged the coup against the democratically elected Allende, and ruled Chile until 1990. It’s a narrative many Chileans believe in, including Allende’s own personal physician, one of the last ones to see him alive.
But many other Chileans fervently believe in another finale: Allende was killed by soldiers’ gunshots as he fought back. Now the truth may finally be established. At the request of the former president’s family, a Chilean court investigating rights abuses during the Pinochet era has ordered Allende’s body exhumed and re-examined. It’s one more step toward writing a national history all can trust.
By Jen Cutts - Friday, April 8, 2011 at 3:10 PM - 0 Comments
China has detained its best-known artist, Ai Weiwei
China has detained its best-known artist, Ai Weiwei, the latest in a hardline crackdown on expression that human rights groups are warning is the most severe in more than a decade. Ai, an outspoken critic of the government, has not been heard from since Sunday, when he was seized at the Beijing airport. And last week, three pro-democracy activists were charged with “inciting subversion of state power,” according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)—which is punishable by life imprisonment. At least 23 other dissidents are being held, and another dozen are missing and at risk of harm, says CHRD.
The show of force, according to the Hong Kong-based group, is in response to online chatter that began in mid-February calling for weekly “Jasmine revolution”-style protests, inspired by the uprising in Tunisia. The initial posts appeared on a website run by exiled Chinese activists; they encouraged citizens to gather in public spaces like Wangfujing, one of Beijing’s busiest shopping streets, for “strolling” demonstrations. Unlike in Tunisia, however, there has been limited participation by the Chinese, though police have been on hand in great numbers, ready to quash any act of dissent—including that of one man who tried to leave a white jasmine flower outside a McDonald’s.
By Erica Alini - Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 2:20 PM - 2 Comments
How the 2022 World Cup might shame leaders of the oil-rich nation into improving working conditions
“Don’t kill us, we are at work,” say street signs urging drivers in the small but congested Arab emirate of Qatar not to vent their frustration on the immigrant labourers toiling away at various roadwork sites. After all, these destitute workers will likely be key players in delivering the 12 air-conditioned stadiums and extensive railway system Qatar has promised for the 2022 World Cup.
More than 70 per cent of Qatar’s population, estimated at one million, is made up of immigrants; the large majority are construction and domestic workers, mostly from South Asia, whose working conditions resemble “forced labour,” according to Samer Muscati, a researcher with Human Rights Watch. The migrants find themselves working 12-hour days for some $2,200 a year—up to 50 per cent less than what they were initially told. But burdened by loans to cover recruiters’ fees, they have little choice but to stay and work.
Activists hope the World Cup will bring international scrutiny on the issue, and Qatar is “very, very sensitive to foreign criticism,” especially from the West, said Matteo Legrenzi, professor of international affairs at the University of Ottawa. In fact, foreign pressure on labour practices are already working. Georgetown University, for example, which is based in Washington but runs a sister program in Doha, successfully lobbied for safety standards at the construction site of a new 400,000-sq.-foot facility for its Qatar campus. At Virginia Commonwealth University, also in Doha, faculty and students are designing houses for construction workers. And a new residential complex, Barwa City, is in the making, and projected to house 25,000 foreign workers.