No Scrutiny Please, They’re Saudi.

This op-ed appeared in The Ottawa Citizen on October 1, 2015. 

In 2014, on the shores of Lake Geneva and next to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a lavish ceremony was held to honour the recipient of the Moral Courage Award — an annual honour bestowed by UN Watch, a Geneva-based NGO dedicated to “(monitoring) the performance of the United Nations by the yardstick of its own Charter.“

Surrounded by Canadian diplomats and at least one fellow cabinet minister, Jason Kenney was feted “for demonstrating the courage to lead in upholding the founding principles of the United Nations, and defending the true principles of human rights.”

Lauding the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, UN Watch executive director Hillel Neuer declared: “When others have been silent while serial perpetrators of human rights abuses like Iran and Syria seek to hijack the UN’s human rights and anti-racism causes, Minister Kenney has been a clear and consistent voice for their millions of victims, opposing tyranny, hypocrisy and injustice.”

Accepting the award “on behalf of my colleagues and Prime Minister Stephen Harper,” Kenney sought to reiterate what he, his colleagues, and the prime minister have long portrayed as their unequivocal stance in defending the rights and dignities of those living under the world’s most oppressive regimes.

“Human rights are not subject to interpretation,” he said. “They exist by virtue of the dignity of the individual person. They cannot be written off simply because a handful of particularly brutal regimes have been given a veto powers in a bureaucratic body.”

You’d expect, then, after word leaked that Saudi Arabia, a leader in the abuse of human rights, restriction of religious freedom, and repression of women, was selected to head a panel of independent experts on the UN Human Rights Council, that both Kenney and Harper would be among the prominent human rights advocates – including UN Watch – leading the condemnation of the appointment.

One could argue the confluence of events coinciding with this incomprehensible decision — allegations of indiscriminate killing of civilians and ethic cleansing of Shiites in the Saudi-led aerial campaign against the Houthi rebels in Yemen; the imminent beading and crucifixion of Ali al-Nimr, nephew of a well-known Shia cleric and prominent critic of the Saud dynasty, arrested as a 17-year-old high school student for taking part in pro-democracy protests — made it incumbent upon Kenney and Harper, both of whom position themselves as global leaders in human rights advocacy, to front the charge in seeking to have the UNHRC appointment rescinded, to call for for an investigation into atrocities in Yemen, to demand clemency for a man condemned to death simply for seeking political reform.

Instead, they’ve offered absolute silence on each crucial matter detailed above. That’s not to say the government’s relationship with the Saudis has gone entirely unmentioned in recent days: When questioned about the ethics of his government’s secretive, multi-billion dollar arms deal with Riyadh — secured without the requisite human rights assessments or assurances such weaponry wouldn’t be used against the civilian population — Harper defended Saudi Arabia as a valued ally. He was concerned only, evidently, about possible job losses in Ontario should the deal be axed.

A key element of the Conservatives’ re-election bid has been to present themselves as warriors against fundamentalist ideologies and extremist entities. That they’ve deemed a woman who — entirely of her own accord — wears a niqab a greater threat than providing arms to a regime which adheres to and exports the actual medieval ideology which imposes draconian dress codes on women hints at the emptiness beneath the government’s veil of nationalistic rhetoric and international proclamations of moral authority.

Further reading:

Ten facts about Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia http://opencanada.org/features/ten-facts-about-canadas-arms-deal-with-saudi-arabia/

This thread of links.

Questions for the Minister: HERE and HERE 

Advertisements

A Landmark Decision, A Democratic Victory

In a historic decision regarding the battle for access to documents on Afghan detainees, Speaker of the House Peter Milliken ruled in favour of the opposition, reaffirming the notion that Parliament reigns supreme over the powers of Prime Minister and the Federal Government.

“Before us are issues that question the very foundations upon which our parliamentary system is built,” Milliken asserted. “In a system of responsible government, the fundamental right of the House of Commons to hold the government to account for its actions is an indisputable privilege and, in fact, obligation.”

This was precisely the argument opposition MPs had made in their attempts to obtain uncensored documents containing key information on the reported abuse and torture of Afghan detainees. In December 2009, the three opposition parties unanimously passed a Commons motion which demanded the Harper government provide them access to the confidential detainee files believed to reveal government knowledge of torture. After months of stonewalling by the Conservatives, as well as the Prime Minister’s adamant refusal to comply with the December motion, the opposition raised the question of privilege with the Speaker of the House, calling for the government to be held in contempt.

Milliken was tasked with wading through the debate, and in an unprecedented ruling, found the Harper government had violated parliamentary privilege and overstepped their powers in their handling of the request for unredacted documents.

“It is the view of the chair,” stated Milliken “that accepting an unconditional authority of the executive to censor the information provided to Parliament would in fact jeopardize the very separation of powers that is purported to lie at the heart of our parliamentary system and the independence of its constituent parts. Furthermore, it risks diminishing the inherent privileges of the House and its members, which have been earned and must be safeguarded. Therefore, the chair must conclude that it is perfectly within the existing privileges of the House to order production of the documents in question.”

On the decision by Harper to thwart the opposition’s motion by appointing former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci to independently review the documents, Milliken had this to say:

“The (Harper) government has argued that in mandating this review by Mr. Iacobucci, it was taking steps to comply with the Order consistent with its requirements to protect the security of Canada’s armed forces and Canada’s international obligations. However, several Members have pointed out that Mr. Iacobucci’s appointment establishes a separate, parallel process outside of parliamentary oversight, and without parliamentary involvement. Furthermore, and in my view perhaps most significantly, Mr. Iacobucci reports to the Minister of Justice; his client is the (Harper) government.”

In a telling observation, the Speaker addressed accusations coming from the Conservative caucus that granting opposition MPs access to confidential information somehow posed a threat to national security.

“There have been assertions,” noted Milliken “that colleagues in the House are not sufficiently trustworthy to be given confidential information, even with appropriate security safeguards in place. I find such comments troubling. The insinuation that Members of Parliament cannot be trusted with the very information that they may well require to act on behalf of Canadians runs contrary to the inherent trust that Canadians have placed in their elected officials and which Members require to act in their various parliamentary capacities … from the submissions I have heard, it is evident to the Chair that all Members take seriously the sensitive nature of these documents and the need to protect the confidential information they contain.”

Milliken called for co-operation from all parties involved, and though he acknowledged “finding common ground will be difficult,” he urged them to work together to find a solution to the ongoing stalemate.

“Now, it seems to me, that the issue before us is this: is it possible to put into place a mechanism by which these documents could be made available to the House without compromising the security and confidentiality of the information they contain? In other words, is it possible for the two sides, working together in the best interest of the Canadians they serve, to devise a means where both their concerns are met? Surely that is not too much to hope for.”

“But the fact remains that the House and the Government have, essentially, an unbroken record of some 140 years of collaboration and accommodation in cases of this kind. It seems to me that it would be a signal failure for us to see that record shattered in the Third Session of the Fortieth Parliament because we lacked the will or the wit to find a solution to this impasse.
The House has long understood the role of the Government as ‘defender of the realm’ and its heavy responsibilities in matters of security, national defence and international relations. Similarly, the Government understands the House’s undoubted role as the ‘grand inquest of the nation’ and its need for complete and accurate information in order to fulfill its duty of holding the Government to account.”

In granting the Government and the opposition fourteen days to break the current impasse, Milliken warned “if in two weeks’ time, the matter is still not resolved, the Chair will return to make a statement on the motion that will be allowed in the circumstances.”

Having provided a thorough analysis of the events which played out over the past year, explaining in depth the reasoning behind his decision, Milliken rendered his verdict on the conduct of the Prime Minister and the Conservative government.

“Accordingly,” ruled Milliken “on analyzing the evidence before it and the precedents, the chair cannot but conclude that the government’s failure to comply with the order of December 10, 2009 constitutes prima facie a question of privilege.”

Somewhere in the span of his 45 minute address, the Speaker of the House reignited the flame of democracy that Prime Minister Stephen Harper had all but extinguished. Members of the opposition applauded Milliken for his hard work and dedication concerning the matter, and political observers celebrated a rare victory for transparency and accountability in the ‘culture of deceit‘ that embodies the Harper government.

There is much work yet to be done, and it will take an honest effort from all parties involved to agree on a course of action from which to proceed. Nevertheless, with the balance of power between Members of Parliament and the Federal Government restored, Milliken’s decision was an unequivocal victory for democracy in Canada.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

These are some of the redacted documents which, until now, have been the only form of documents released to members of the opposition by the Harper government.

Denial And Deceit: The Harper Government And Torture In Afghanistan

Canada has long been known as a peacekeeping nation; lauded for our humanitarian missions and respected for our international contributions. The unassuming nature of Canadian soldiers garners an admiration few other militaries can boast; A history of moral and honourable service.

But for the mission in Afghanistan, the ethics and standards that once guided military decisions have been all but abandoned by the military brass. Under the Harper government, the rules governing the battlefield are ignored; the Geneva conventions are flouted and war crimes are committed.

The Prime Minister has long been aware of the repercussions his policy on detainees was having, and the implications on his government if the warnings were not heeded. But it wasn’t until a diplomat, who’d been muzzled by Harper, broke his silence that most Canadians became aware of the misconduct being perpetrated by our government in Afghanistan.

Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin began working for the Department of Foreign Affairs in Kandahar, shifting later to Kabul where he was the second in command at the Canadian Embassy. His 2006 arrival in Afghanistan came one month after the U.S. State department issued a report concerning the “continued and routine” torture and abuse of Afghan detainees by local authorities, including “pulling out fingernails and toenails, burning with hot oil, beatings, sexual humiliation, and sodomy.”

In November 2009 during his first appearance before the Afghan Committee in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Colvin described what he encountered upon visiting detainees transferred by Canadian forces to the Afghan intelligence service, or NDS.

“As I learned more about our detainee practices, I came to a conclusion they were contrary to Canada’s values, contrary to Canada’s interests, contrary to Canada’s official policies and also contrary to international law. That is, they were un-Canadian, counterproductive and probably illegal,” Colvin testified. He also claimed many detainees were not “high-value targets,” but “according to a very authoritative source, many of the Afghans we detained had no connection to insurgency whatsoever … many were just local people: farmers; truck drivers; tailors, peasants – random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time … From an intelligence point of view, they had little or no value.”

Colvin said he believed Canada’s “complicity in torture” undermined the efforts and goals of the strategy in Kandahar. “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.”

The Canadian diplomat began alerting Ottawa to the “serious, imminent and alarming” circumstances surrounding detainees in 2006; sending a series of memos to both the senior ranks of the military and Department of National Defence.

“At first, we were mostly ignored,” Colvin recalled. “However by April 2007 we were receiving written messages from the senior Canadian government co-ordinator for Afghanistan to the effect that I should be quiet and do what I was told, and also phone messages from a DFAIT assistant deputy minister suggesting that, in future, we should not put things on paper, but instead use the telephone … Immediately, thereafter, the paper trail on detainees was reduced; Reports on detainees began sometimes to be censored with crucial information removed.”

Following his testimony, the Conservative government set their sights on Colvin; Intent to undermine his credibility and reputation. The relentless smearing of the well respected diplomat prompted twenty-three former Canadian ambassadors (joined later by an additional twelve) to release a letter to the media condemning the behaviour of the Conservative government.
One of the letters signatories, former ambassador Paul Durand, singled out Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s particularly reprehensible attacks.
“He savaged him in public, and ridiculed him,” said Durand. “And that’s not the way to treat a guy who’s doing his job. He is not a whistleblower. He was hauled before a parliamentary committee and had to state the truth.”

Though the government and military brass vehemently deny allegations it was aware of what was happening to detainees, a series of information leaks to the media reveal a pattern of deceit and denial from the Harper government and military brass.

Details emerged that military allies had lodged complaints over Canadian’s “secretive manner with which it handled detainees … stonewalling on providing basic information on the Afghans it was capturing.” Reports from The Globe and Mail note that “Mr. Colvin wasn’t the only foreign service officer relaying criticisms about detainee transfers to Ottawa. A Sept. 11, 2006, memo from a Canadian NATO staffer alerted the government to the fact that the ICRC had singled out Canada’s practice of handing over prisoners to the Afghans on the battlefield, a practice it feared could result in human-rights monitors losing track of detainees.”

It was also revealed that in 2007, Canadian diplomats in Afghanistan were ordered omit information regarding the treatment of detainees in reports sent to Ottawa. Sources told The Globe that the order, “issued soon after allegations of torture by Afghan authorities began appearing in public, was aimed at defusing the explosive human-rights controversy … There was a fear that graphic reports, even in censored form, could be uncovered by opposition parties and the media through access-to-information laws, leading to revelations that would further erode already-tenuous public support. The controversy was seen as ‘detracting from the narrative’ the Harper government was trying to weave around the mission, said one official. ‘It was meant to put on happy face’.”

In direct contrast to MacKay’s assertion “not a single Taliban prisoner turned over by Canadian Forces can be proven to have been abused,” uncensored documents and sworn testimony by senior officers detail an instance in 2006 where an detainee transferred to Afghan police was so severely beaten, Canadian troops had to intervene and ultimately took the man back. The Globe notes “the Canadian soldier’s account, handwritten in a field notebook in the hours after the June 19, 2006 incident, is corroborated by a medic’s examination of the detainee’s injuries and photographs, which the (Harper) government refuses to release.”

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has done everything in his power to deny opposition MP’s access to key documents, allowing them access only to heavily redacted files ‘in the interest of national security.’ However, upon close examination it’s clear the redactions have less to do with national security, and everything to do with concealing the government’s knowledge of torture.

In a delay tactic veiled as co-operation, Harper called upon former supreme court justice Frank Iacobucci to review the unredacted documents. It’s unclear how may documents Iacobucci will review, which documents he’ll be provided, how long it will take, or if the government will even take into consideration recommendations made. Meanwhile, opposition parties issued motions in the House of Commons calling for a vote that would hold the government in contempt of parliament, a ruling that would force Harper to provide opposition MP’s with the unredacted files they’ve repeatedly requested. The decision currently rests with speaker of the house Peter Milliken, who is expected to issue his decision this week.

But the opposition parties are hardly alone in condemning the government’s lack of transparency surrounding the treatment of detainees. The Military Police Complaints Commission (MPCC) are now directly accusing Harper of withholding information pertinent to the inquiry, warning that “the (Harper) government’s refusal to release key letters written by Canadian Forces commanders raises troubling concerns about Ottawa’s approach to divulging information in this matter.”

Back in 2007, the MPCC, and then chairman Peter Tinsley, ordered public hearings on the issue of detainees “to ensure a full investigation of the grave allegations.” The Harper government initially agreed to fully co-operate with the MPCC, Defence Minster MacKay promising “(the MPCC) will get the co-operation with respect both to information disclosures and the funding necessary to have a full-blown hearing.”

A Globe report from November 2008 outlined that “more than 20 months after it first promised full co-operation, the Harper government has moved to block public hearings into whether it ordered Canadian soldiers to transfer prisoners to Afghan security forces knowing the detainees would likely be tortured … The government is seeking a Federal Court order that the MPCC can neither investigate nor hold hearings into allegations that transferred prisoners were tortured and that senior government officials and military officers knew it would happen. Government censors have blacked out key passages of secret documents that showed that ministers knew that torture was rife in Afghan prisons.”

In essence, the Harper government has been working to avoid accountability for three long years, and counting.

In December 2009, a year after effectively shutting down the MPCC’s attempt at a public inquiry, Harper refused to extend the contract of Tinsley and opted against appointing someone to replace the outgoing MPCC chairman. Tinsley warned of a ‘chilling effect’ by the Harper government in their ongoing efforts to dodge accountability regarding the treatment of Afghan detainees, and Harper likely believed he’d have no further ‘intrusions’ from the MPCC. So it came as a surprise when, in February 2010, former Windsor police chief Glenn Stannard announced he’d take over the acting duties of former chairman Tinsley since the government hadn’t ‘gotten around’ to filling the vacancy. In other words, the MPCC would resume hearings on the transfer and treatment of detainees, despite the government’s best efforts to block further inquiries on the matter.

No sooner had the MPCC reconvened for hearings, than a series of explosive allegations came to light.

Colvin’s much anticipated return to Ottawa provided further evidence that the government was not only aware of torture, but that it deliberately looked the other way. Colvin testified that his warnings of torture were credible and substantiated, but the government and the military didn’t want to deal with the ‘hot potato’ issue of detainee abuse. He recounted a 2007 meeting in Ottawa with upwards of fifteen government officials, where he urged them to stop transferring detainees to the NDS.

“You know the NDS tortures people. That’s what they do,” Colvin told the officials in attendance. “And if we don’t want our detainees tortured we shouldn’t give them to the NDS.” Colvin said that the government note-taker at the meeting put her pen down and immediately stopped recording.
He also alleged the government actively prevented detainee monitoring by the International Committee of the Red Cross. “In practice we were blocking them from doing that. They were losing many, if not most, or possibly all, of our detainees.”

The Red Cross had raised concerns over the government’s refusal to take its calls regarding detainees; Waiting weeks, or months, before it bothered to notify the Red Cross about detainees transferred to Afghan authorities. The information delay made it impossible for the Red Cross to effectively locate or follow up on detainees sent by Canadians to the notorious NDS.

The MPCC also heard testimony from Lt.-Col. Gilles Sansterre, commander of the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service. Sansterre addressed a 2007 incident where an Afghan’s claim of abuse after being transferred to the NDS by Canadian soldiers was ignored. After the man, who was covered in welts and bruises, showed officials a hidden stash of electrical cables and a rubber hose used to beat him, his accusations were taken seriously. Though military investigators deemed the allegations credible enough to temporarily halt all detainee transfers, they failed to further investigate the matter. Sansterre conceded that the failure to probe the claim of abuse violated the Geneva conventions and ‘raises the possibility’ that war crimes were committed.

Perhaps the most damning allegations emerged from an April 14 special Commons committee where Ahmadshah Malgarai, or ‘Pasha’ as he was known by his colleagues in the Canadian Forces, submitted stunning allegations about the treatment of detainees. Malgarai, a Canadian citizen born in Afghanistan, served as an interpreter and cultural adviser for Canada’s Joint Task Force Afghanistan unit. He is well respected among his peers and provided MP’s with letters of commendation he’d received from both the military and Afghan government, reaffirming his credibility. In a day of dramatic testimony, Malgarai called out the Conservative government for misleading the public, saying the Canadian military intentionally ‘subcontracted’ torture to Afghan security.

“Canada’s government says detainees have never been transferred to NDS if there is a risk of abuse; but this is a lie,” Malgarai told the hearing. “I saw Canada’s military intelligence sending detainees to NDS, when the detainees did not tell them what they expect to hear. If the interrogators thought a detainee was lying, the military sent him to NDS for more questions, ‘Afghan style.’ Translation: abuse and torture …. the military used the NDS as subcontractors for abuse and torture.”

Malgarai insisted the routine occurrence of torture was well known throughout the military ranks, and all the way up to the Department of Defence. “I cannot believe that Mr. Defence Minister Peter Mackay says that he doesn’t know,” the former translator stated. “I want him to sit across from me look me in the eyes and say he doesn’t know.”

Meanwhile, a secret memo obtained by the CBC effectively debunks Harper’s claim he fixed the flawed detainee transfer agreement in 2007, and backs up testimony that the government was aware that torture was, and still is, taking place. The memo, “circulated at the highest levels of government” in mid 2009, reveals that while the government was telling the pubic the detainee problem was fixed, it was quietly sounding the alarm bells. The confidential memo warns “the notoriously brutal Afghan security service, the NDS, did not change its ways after the new agreement and is still was ‘organized according to a Soviet-KGB model’ with ‘considerable scope for improper methods’ which ‘entails a degree of risk to Canadian interests.'”

The problem, notes the CBC, is that “the Geneva convention, and Canadian law, forbid handing prisoners over to a known risk of torture. But Canada still transfers prisoners to the NDS which is known to use torture routinely.” The memo even “names the head of the NDS … as a man who wants to inspire fear. (He) has openly stated that merely interviewing suspects is not enough to get information out of them.” It acknowledges Canada may be an accomplice in torture, and ‘runs the risk of appearing to condone human rights abuses and acts, which would be illegal under canadian law.’

The CBC report included testimony from a Canadian general who said the NDS “were a very valuable partner … we acted on the intelligence we received from the NDS.” In other words, Canada did use intelligence from the NDS; intelligence which was obtained through torture, which the government was fully aware, making them complicit in war crimes.

A report just released by the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) gives credence to Colvin’s 2009 testimony that Canadian forces were taking six times as many detainees as the British and 20 times as many as the Dutch. The statistics, compiled by the AIHRC, reveal of the 267 suspected insurgents transferred by NATO forces in the first 9 months of 2009, Canada nearly doubled it’s allies, transferring 163 prisoners to the NDS. By contrast, Britain’s transferred 93 detainees, while the Netherlands handed over 10, and Denmark just 1. This raises the possibility that the allegations Canadian forces captured mostly innocent people are accurate.

With evidence continuing to mount supporting the claim Afghans transferred by Canadian forces were being tortured by the NDS, the credibility of the Harper government continues to crumble under the weight of the lies it wrapped itself in. As they hide behind Canadian soldiers, accusing those searching for answers of not supporting the troops, the Conservatives demonstrate their cowardice by refusing to be accountable for their actions.

George Peterson, a veteran of the second world war, is also looking for answers. Once a soldier and a guard, he became prisoner number 38 and was systematically starved and abuse for nearly 4 years. He’s not naive to the realities of war, yet knows the importance of the Geneva conventions. Peterson is particularly bothered by the denials from the Canadian government. “I think the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Defence are trying to pass the buck. Blaming the opposition that they’re picking on the military. I don’t think they are. That’s not right.” Peterson hopes there is an inquiry, because without answers “our reputation will suffer.”

Indeed it will, Mr. Peterson. And you, your fellow veterans, and current members of the Canadian Forces certainly deserve better.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

UPDATE May 7: Afghan authorities beat detainees ‘on a whim,’ military inquiry finds – Investigation into 2006 incident was launched after Chief of Defence Staff had to correct himself a day after Commons testimony

Playing With Guns

“An Albatross and an embarrassment.”

On Saturday, that’s how Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner labelled the gun registry during her address at the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters Annual General Meeting.

Bill C-391, Hoeppners private member’s bill to abolish the long gun registry, was spared the axe of prorogation and is currently sitting in committee. However, just as debate is set to resume, front line law enforcement professionals are coming forward and voicing unwavering support for the program.
The positive reviews put forward echo those contained in the RCMP’s 2008 Firearms Commissioner’s Report; The very report which then-public safety minister Peter Van Loan purposely suppressed for seven weeks last fall, releasing it only after the initial vote on Bill C-391 had allowed it to pass to second reading.

The actions of the Conservative government in their effort to kill the long gun registry, reveal an unsettling pattern; The belief, by the Conservatives, that their ideology is superior to the knowledge from front line officers who’s lives are dedicated to protecting the safety and well being of the public.

This ‘holier than thou’ scenario played out on CTV’s Power Play Friday March 19, when Tom Clark interviewed Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

Toews began with the requisite PMO talking point, that “the RCMP and other police forces have better things to do than to harass hunters and trappers and farmers for not registering their long guns.” For good measure, he added that it’s a “waste of taxpayers money.”

Minister Toews was informed by Clark of the increasing number of law enforcement members supporting the registry, “most recently the second in command of the RCMP this week said that he thought that the regestry should stay, and its a very good idea, and it’s a very useful tool for front line police officers.”
Toews brushed aside that notion, stating that the RCMP’s second in command was “expressing a personal opinion, a personal opinion that’s not shared by front line police officers. The actual police officers that I meet who go into the doors of houses where suspected criminals are don’t rely on the gun registry to determine whether or not a criminal has a fire arm, in fact that would be foolish on their part.”

Toews was then shown data regarding the long gun registry, which Clark received from ‘senior government officials’:

From 1998 – 2008, 14 of the 16 police shootings were committed with long guns;
In 2008 alone, 1 in 5 gun homicides was committed with long guns, half of all gun homicides in rural areas were committed with long guns, and
of the 23,000 firearms seized by police, more than 18,000 were long gun seizures.

Perhaps the most telling piece of information was that police said they used the registry 10,000 times every day.

Still, Toews refused to budge. “That’s not what I hear from police officers. In fact the automatic use of the registry, isn’t something the police are going out, doing deliberately, checking the registry. It’s something that pops up automatically on their screen. But the point is that police officers don’t rely on the registry when they’re walking up to a car to see whether or not a person possibly has a firearm, that would be negligent on their part.”

Clark, somewhat taken aback at Toews insistence, reminded him that it’s the “law and order crowd (who) are saying pretty clearly that they want this registry to remain.”

Toews responded by paraphrasing his earlier talking points, which prompted the following awkward exchange:

Clark: “Well it’s an interesting struggle isn’t it? For who speaks more for the law and order community? Whether it’s you, or whether it’s a lot of the police officers. The Canadian chiefs of police are in support of it.”
Toews: “They’re not the ones going into the doors of houses.”
Clark: “Wow. Ok, well they ARE the chiefs of police in this country.”

Immediately following the interview, Clark spoke with Greg Getty, superintendent of the Toronto police guns and gangs task force.

When asked if he was in support of the long gun registry, Getty was unequivocal in his answer. “I personally support it without question, as does the Toronto police service, as do all of the canadian chiefs through the CACP, as well as the Canadian police association, and Toronto police association, who DO represent the officers who DO go through those doors the minister (Toews) is speaking of.”

Getty continued to counter the claims Toews had made earlier, telling Clark that “in circumstances where were attending address where there’s domestic conflicts, persons inside that residence that we may be going to, it’s not only a matter of the officers’ safety to have that information prior to attending, but also a matter of community safety…for not only the other residents within that dwelling, but within that immediate area as well.”

Getty also noted that 23% of all domestic homicides in Canada committed with long guns, and a majority of police killed in Canada are killed at the hands of a long gun.

Clark then addressed assertions made by Toews regarding front line officers’ desire to abolish the registry, asking Getty if “from a front line police perspective, can you understand why some police officers would be in favour of getting rid of it?”

“None whatsoever,” stated Getty. “A lot of the rhetoric around the abolition of the long gun registry is the cost, that ‘law enforcement has better things to do than make criminals out of farmers and legal gun owners’. I believe in responsible and legal gun ownership. In fact, in Toronto we’ve just recovered, with Project Safe City in regards to improperly registered, improperly licensed firearms, we’ve recovered 1600 firearms since March of last year, and we’ve laid no criminal charges in regards to those. We have not made criminals out of any of those people.” Getty added that “there’s much confusion in regards to the long gun registry because of the amnesty that keeps getting cycled through government.”

Fast forward to Sunday, when Toews returned to CTV to answer further questions regarding the registry. On Question Period, Craig Oliver began by reiterating how senior law enforcement were coming forward in support of the registry as “an important tool in the interests of law enforcement and the safety of policemen.” Oliver went on to say that the “Police Chiefs of Canada want this registry and their officers are telling us they are using it hundreds of times a day especially before they go into any domestic situation, and it only takes a few seconds to know whether there might be a firearm in that home.”

Toews disagreed, arguing he’d “never heard a police officer say they rely on the long gun firearms registry or any registry before they go into a house to determine…and are assured that there is not firearm in the house that would be careless of a police officer, I’ve never heard a police officer say that they would check the registry, if there’s no gun on the registry, they approach the house as if there was no firearm there. That would be careless. You approach every house as if there were a firearm. The registry does nothing to add to that.”

The issue of the long gun registry, and the opposing view of the Conservative government versus the leading members of law enforcement, is more than a difference of opinion; It’s about the safety of those who put their lives on the line, and security of the general public.

Police officers, the RCMP, EMS, firefighters, and other front line workers aren’t interested in the politics of the issue; they’re concerned about the possibility of losing a key resource which they rely on to effectively do their job. The Conservatives may claim to be the party of ‘law and order’, but the authority on the matter clearly lies with the actual law and order professionals.

It’s obvious the Tories have no interest in what front line officers have to say; that they are intent on killing the long gun registry at all costs. So it’s now up to the members of the opposition to pay attention to the RCMP and the Chiefs of Police, listen to their views on the effectiveness of the long gun registry, and pay them the respect they have earned.

Cross-posted at rabble.ca

Rahim Jaffer And The ‘Tough On Crime’ Facade

Former Conservative MP Rahim Jaffer, who was charged with cocaine possession and drunk driving on September 11, 2009, has just been given a sweetheart deal: plead guilty to carless driving and pay a $500 fine in exchange for dropping the drunk driving and cocaine possession charges, and escape with no criminal record.

I’m curious as to what 2008’s Rahim Jaffer would have to say about this incident. Back when he was still against drugs, he ran a shameful radio ad during the election campaign against his NDP opponent Linda Duncan (who ultimately won the election and unseated him):

“Jack Layton and the Ottawa NDP have publicly supported the legalization of marijuana. In fact when asked about marijuana Jack Layton called it a wonderful substance which Canadians should be free to smoke at home or in a cafe. Edmontonians understand how difficult it is to make sure our children make the right choices especially on serious issues like drug use. The Conservative Party supports drug free schools and getting tough with drug dealers who sell illegal drugs to children. Don’t let our schools go up in smoke..on October 14th vote Conservative. Authorized by the official agent for Rahim Jaffer.”

As for the federal Conservatives, they never pass on an opportunity to trumpet their ‘tough on crime’ agenda. Yet they remain largely silent on the Jaffer case, exposing their ‘tough on crime’ stance as nothing more than a catchy Tory campaign slogan.
For a political party who purports to be ‘tough on crime’, the Conservatives certainly had no qualms about killing 20 of their ‘tough on crime’ crime bills; 5 which died after Harper’s first prorogation in 2007, and 15 that were killed after Harper’s second prorogation in 2009.

However, Conservative talkers don’t let inconvenient facts get in the way of a good talking point, as evidenced by Harper’s former communications director Kory Teneycke on CTV’s Power Play, telling Tom Clark

“I think this is an opportunity to talk about the ‘Soft on Crime’ Liberal oriented justice system where there seems to be, kind of, two tiers of justice.”

Predictably, Teneycke stuck to the Conservative script even as his assertions were undercut by David Akin’s revelations earlier in the day in his blog post entitled “Jaffer Judge Is A Tory“. It turn out that the judge in Rahim Jaffer’s case is Doug Maunde; a Conservative who was appointed to the Ontario bench in 2000 by Harpers current finance minister, Jim Flaherty. Maunde was also the Chief of Staff to then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s health minister, Perrin Beatty.

Did Jaffer get off with a slap on the wrist as a result of political affiliation? I can’t say for certain, but on CBC’s The National, criminal defence lawyer Russel Silverstein notes that the break Jaffer got is NOT common, adding
“when the public sees somebody charged with drunk driving and possession of cocaine, who’s politically connected, come away with such a great outcome, obviously people are going to be skeptical”.

CTV reports that the Jaffer case has sparked outrage across the Country, and rightly so. There is no question that had Jaffer not been a well connected Conservative politician, he likely would have paid a steeper price for his actions. (Coincidentally, his wife Helena Guergis, who is also a Conservative politician and is the current minister of state for the status of women under Stephen Harper, also escaped without consequence after her notorious airport temper tantrum).

Rahim Jaffer’s case case underscores the truth in Senator James Cowan’s rebuttal to Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s propaganda that appears regularly in the National Post.

Senator Cowan clarifies the Tories position perfectly: “Soft On Truth, Not Tough On Crime”

—–

UPDATE April 8 2010

The story behind Ex- MP Rahim Jaffer’s drunk driving arrest – Rahim Jaffer connected to conman