This Week’s Nordicity

Friday, May 6, 2016

Now, Junior, behave yourself!

“X is to tongue-wagging as fuddle-duddle is to fuck off”

There is only one news story in Canada this week. As I write this a fire as large as Toronto burns out of control in the Fort McMurray area, and the humanitarian crisis there dwarfs every other news event. Had this not been the case, Justin Trudeau might have found his fuddle-duddle moment on Thursday. Opposition members report seeing the Selfie King making childish faces during Question Period, including – I’m  not kidding – sticking his tongue out at Conservative MP Diane Watts. Apparently Watts had had the gall to raise questions about the new sunny way of screening companies who engage in partnerships with the government on infrastructure projects.

It’s hard not to think of Justin’s illustrious father and his irreverent ways at this point. Trudeau pere once famously mouthed words across the floor that led opposition members to believe they had been told to fuck off. Later, in a press scrum, he denied the accusation, derided his accusers as babies who “go crying to momma or to television” and implied that he had really said “fuddle duddle”. Whether this incident sticks as that one did depends on the Trudeau fils response. If X is to tongue wagging as fuddle-duddle is to fuck off, what is X? What could it be?We may never know. During the worst natural disaster and the greatest evacuation in Canada’s history, Trudeau probably won’t need to respond at all to the tongue-wagging accusation – it will surely be swallowed up in the urgency of the news cycle.

His disrespect for the electorate, however, might not fade away quite so quickly. There is growing doubt that the Liberals have left themselves enough time to meet a key election promise and reform the country’s voting system before the next election – unless they simply impose the ranked-ballot system Trudeau has said he favours, under which he would have garnered an even bigger “false majority” in 2015. Opposition members challenged the PM on this in Commons, and when asked about it in a news conference afterwards, he had this to say: “As you may have gathered, there is one party who is insistent that there needs to be a referendum, and they’re laying that out as a ground rule. Another party has a particular perspective on the outcome that they’re very attached to. We’re in discussions with the other parties about how to set up that committee.”

In other words, it’s not our fault, the other parties have agendas that are holding up the process. Which would have been a snappy comeback, except that it isn’t true. He made it all up, and soon had to eat his words, apologizing to Conservative Scott Reid in the House the next day. What could have led Trudeau to trot out such a patently false accusation? The only explanation that presents itself is that he thought he could get away with it. Either he imagined that his popularity shielded him from scrutiny, or he thought it was a trivial thing that no one would care about – as though misleading the public was on a par with sticking out your tongue at your rivals, or mouthing bad words.

For a great many Canadian voters electoral reform was the key issue in 2015. Harper had come to power with a strong majority and only 39 per cent of the popular vote. Liberals and New Democrats were both promising to get rid of the so-called first-past-the-post system that makes such skewed majorities possible, and the prevailing view was that if we could just get rid of the Conservatives, as Trudeau said, “this would be the last election based on this process”.

But Trudeau also controls a majority in Parliament with only 39 per cent of the vote. If, as electoral reformers believe, 39 per cent is not a legitimate mandate to operate as a majority government, can it be considered a mandate to make fundamental changes to Canadian democracy? Unless he gets broad agreement across the country, and across the political spectrum, can Trudeau legitimately change the way we vote? And how is broad agreement to be achieved? By a referendum, as the Conservatives believe? So far, referenda have been a direct route to oblivion for electoral reform in BC, PEI, and Ontario.

Or will Trudeau try to gather the provinces together in a kind of modern-day Meech Lake Accord to confer some sort of constitutional legitimacy on electoral reform? The last time we opened that can of worms, it took years to sort out the mess. On the other hand, to proceed without the agreement of the provinces would almost guarantee a court challenge.

These are only a small sample of the hurdles the government faces on the road to a reformed voting system. One thing that all these obstacles have in common is that they will take time to overcome. Trudeau needs to get on with it, not tomorrow, today. To indulge in finger-pointing and falsehoods about who is holding up the process is every bit as childish as sticking out the prime-ministerial tongue during Question Period. So far the new PM is vastly more popular than his predecessor, and he is able to play on that popularity. But at this stage in his first mandate, Harper was still popular too. Sooner or later the people begin to lose patience. As mandates go, 39 per cent and a good haircut is still 39 per cent.

29 April, 2016

A public inquiry into detainee torture? Don’t hold your breath

Craig Scott, the former NDP Member for Toronto-Danforth has gathered 727 names on an online petition asking the Government of Canada to conduct an inquiry into the Canadian forces handling of Afghan prisoners of war. It demands, among other things, that the inquiry “assess whether any Canadian government officials engaged in misconduct in relation to respect for law, legal process, or parliamentary procedure”.

The petition has enough signatures to force a response from the Trudeau government.
They must respond in writing and online by May 1. Those of you squriming with impatience in your seats to see how the Liberals will handle this opportunity to embarass their number one political foes can relax now. Nordicity is here to tell you, there will be no such inquiry. The trouble is, the Liberal Party, both past and present, has too much to lose if this gruesome tale is dragged out before the press again.

A brief recap. In November 2009, high-ranking Canadian diplomat Richard Colvin told a parliamentary committee that Canadian forces were handing prisoners over to the Afghan secret police, the NDS, where they faced the likelihood – some would say the certainty – of torture. This is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, in short, a war crime. The Harper government responded by lashing out at Colvin and anyone else who raised questions about cabinet involvement in the affair.

The Conservative minority government stonewalled Parliament while pressure mounted to call a public inquiry. Faced with contempt of Parliament charges, Harper prorogued Parliament from December 2009 to April 2010. The only thing that saved his government was an agreement with the Liberals that allowed the Conservatives to hide all the relevant information behind a screen of “national security”.

Why did the Liberals agree to supress information that would surely have damaged, if not destroyed, the Harper brand? The most obvious explanation is that their own hands were not clean. The transfer of Canada’s prisoners into Afghan hands began in 2005, in response to public outrage at the brutal treatment of prisoners in US facilities at Bagram and Guantanamo, where Canadian forces had been sending our prisoners up till then. The Paul Martin Liberal government assinged the task of drafting an agreement to transfer prisoners to the Afghans instead.

The text of the Canadian deal would suggest that Hillier copied the British detainee-transfer agreement, but chose to excise the passage that dealt with oversight of the prisoners after transfer. In other words, it appears that Canada simply didn’t want to know. Multiple reports from the Afghan Human Rights Committee, the US State Department, and Canadian diplomats show that it was well known that the NDS beat prisoners with wire cables, burned them with hot irons, and sexually tortured them, among other horrors. If Paul Martin didn’t know this, he should have. Hillier certainly knew. Martin and his defense minister Bill Graham were responsible for overseeing Hillier and should have seen and prevented his move to forego oversight of Canada’s prisoners in Afghan hands.

There is little chance that Trudeau would subject his old mentor Martin to a public inquiry that could implicate him in crimes, if not of commission then at least of ommission, which resulted in people being hideously tortured. There is even less likelihood that the Prime Minister would subject to scrutiny his own role, as the Member for Papineau, in propping up the Harper government after the prorogation scandal, enabling them to supress the sordid details of the detainee transfer affair.

But there is a more timely indication that the Liberals will not be keen to open the Afghan detainee can of worms any time soon. Canada’s recently-appointed Minister of National Defence, Harjit Singh Sajjan, is a former lieutenant-colonel in the Canadian Armed Forces, who served as a senior military commander in Afghanistan. According to Brigadier General David Fraser, Sajjan was “the best single Canadian intelligence asset in theatre”. The chances that a soldier of that rank and significance was unaware of the NDS and their torture chambers is approximately nil. This is not to suggest that an inquiry would implicate Sajjan in any crimes, but his appointment is a signal: Trudeau is not planning an investigation into the torture of Afghan prisoners.

Carig Scott is right that Canada needs a public inquiry into this affair. The Conservatives, with Liberal backing, were able to suppress mounds of information about possible war crimes, and what appears to have been a cover-up. We’re not going to get it till we elect a government whose hands are clean.



22 April, 2016

Canadian Sovereignty and the TPP

According to a report released this week by the CD Howe Institute, the 12-country Trans Pacific Partnership  agreement will bring “relatively modest” financial gains for Canada. The US, Japan, and Vietnam stand to gain the most, and for six of the other countries involved the deal is “basically a wash”.  The report concludes that “the TPP was a difficult negotiation that ended in a small and unbalanced outcome”.

So why did nine countries agree to conclude years of negotiations with a free trade agreement that does little or nothing for their international trade position? Because free trade was never the point. Like its many predecessors, the TPP is not so much a trade deal as it is a bill of rights for corporations. Investors want to know that when they put their money in a foreign venture, governments can’t undercut their profits by enacting difficult laws, such as those meant to protect health, labour, or environmental standards.

Under NAFTA, the TPP’s predecessor, foreign corporations have brought charges against Canada 35 times, succeeding in six cases, at a cost to the taxpayer of $170 million, not including an estimated $65 million in legal costs. In fact, according to Scott Sinclair, author of a recent study on  NAFTA by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, “Thanks to NAFTA chapter 11, Canada has now been sued more times through investor-state dispute settlement than any other developed country in the world.”

Not only did we have to pay out on the suits we lost, but governments have been forced to change their policies in accordance with NAFTA panel decisions. In 1997 the Ethyl Corporation forced Canada to repeal a law banning the import of the known neurotoxin MMT. In 1998 US waste export firm SD Meyers successfully challenged a Canadian ban on the export of toxic PCB. Last month, a NAFTA panel found in favour of a US company that wants to build a mega-quarry on the Bay of Fundy, and against a Nova Scotia environmental review that scotched the project. Still outstanding are challenges to Quebec’s anti-fracking law, Caribou protection measures in NWT, and salmon conservation rules in Quebec.

The Liberals have signed, but not ratified, the TPP, and are being coy about their intentions while public consultations proceed. It’s not hard, though, to read between the lines. Prime Minister Trudeau says, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership stands to remove trade barriers, widely expand free trade for Canada, and increase opportunities for our middle class and those working hard to join it.” International trade minister Chrystia Freeland says, “”Canada is a trading nation. As our government has made clear, we want to expand economic opportunities for all Canadians, and trade with our Asia-Pacific partners is key to making that happen.”

Of course the Liberals want to have a “conversation” with Canadians before ratifying the deal, much in the spirit of Judge Roy Bean, who said ‘We’ll give him a fair trial and then we’ll hang him.” The committee holding the TPP conversation decided last week it didn’t want to chat with 170 dissenting members of the activist group Lead Now.

But why is the Liberal government so keen on a trade deal that does little for Canadian trade, risks thousands of auto-industry jobs, pushes up prescription drug prices, and tosses away national sovereignty over environmental and other regulations? It’s quite simple really, the Liberals, like any good political party, are dancing with who brung them. Tory LLP, the international business-investment law firm that invited Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to speak at a $500 a plate fundraiser this month, represents the kind of clients who stand to lose when governments exert their sovereignty.

Tory represents Exxon Mobile in a NAFTA claim against Canada’s right to regulate offshore oil drilling in Newfoundland and Labrador. It represents Windstream Energy in its NAFTA fight to quash Ontario’s moratorium on offshore wind development. It even represents the Government of Yukon in its battle to open the Peel Watershed to mining over the objections of four First Nations governments and the Peel Land Use Planning Commission.

Trade already flows freely between the Pacific Rim countries. Canada doesn’t need the TPP to sell oil to China or buy cars from Japan. The only ones who need this trade agreement are the corporations who will gain the right to direct Canadian policy to their advantage. The Liberals are not pursuing this deal to make Canada a more prosperous country. They’re pursuing it because that’s what their wealthy donors expect.



8 April, 2016

Senate Liberals: what’s in a name?

In Canada’s new political landscape, there are no Liberal senators. Back in 2014, as Leader of the Third Party, Justin Trudeau booted all 32 Liberal appointees out of his caucus, declaring partisanship in the senate “a powerful, negative force”. “At best,” Trudeau told the House of Commons, “this renders the Senate redundant. At worst … it amplifies the prime minister’s power.” True, the 32 Chretien, Martin, and Trudeau pere appointees continue to vote as Liberals, and true, Trudeau fils has added 7 new members to their number, including his transition team leader, Peter Harder, but make no mistake, these are not Liberal senators. They are Independent Senators Appointed By Executive Liberals, let’s call them Isabels, for short.

This renaming of features on the political landscape is an important exercise for a new government, and Nordicity offers the new Liberal team the term Isabel free of charge. They can keep it with whatever their new term for “amnesty” is. This March, National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier revealed in the House that exemption from prosecution for tax evasion is no longer known as an amnesty, at least where the wealthiest Canadians are concerned.

Questioned by New Democrat Irene Mathyssen about the Canada Revenue Agency’s secret deal which, according to CBC “offered amnesty to multi-millionaire clients” of accounting firm KPMA, Lebouthillier twice stated, “there is no amnesty”. A report by the public investigator found that the Saskatchewan firm had sheltered at least $130 million in shell companies in the Isle of Mann, and that the CRA, upon discovering the 10-year scam, offered the perpetrators freedom (though certainly not amnesty) from prosecution so long as they pay their back taxes, with interest.

In an earlier case, Pana Merchant, a Chretien-appointed Isabel, was found to be a beneficiary of an off-shore trust in which her husband, Regina lawyer Tony Merchant, sheltered at least $1.7 million from the Canadian tax system. There is no indication that either Merchant suffered any penalties following the discovery of their hidden income, but we will not speak of amnesties; amnesties are for wrongdoers, and Nordicity does not carry litigation insurance. After the CBC story ran, the Merchants launched a libel suit, claiming the broadcaster had “cut and spliced” to make the couple look bad.

Trudeau cut the Liberal senators loose at a time when “senator” had become a dirty word in Canada.  A number of high profile members of the senate and been caught with their fingers in the till. Canadians, outraged that a gang of highly-privileged  political appointees couldn’t settle for $130,000 annual salaries and upwards of $200,000 in “legitimate” perks, began to consider the senate itself, and why it even exists. The answer was not pretty.

The senate, it turns out, was being used to reward political cronies, to provide public salaries for party bagmen, and to park unsuccessful candidates for Commons until next election. It was in one case used to quash an NDP private member’s bill on climate change which had been passed by the elected members of the House of Commons. In short, the upper house was a scandal all by itself, and the expense-fiddling of some of its members merely a highlight in an already inexcusable affront to democracy. Mike Duffy may or may not have been acting on the direction of the Harper PMO when he submitted his controversial expense claims, but when Canadians learned that the whole unelected body eats up about $90 million a year for no good purpose, they began to sour on the whole idea of an upper chamber. Canada’s unelected senate is a scandal, not because some its members are dishonest, but because it exists.

It exists as a house of privilege. It exists because our founders were 19th Century men of influence, who distrusted unfettered democracy. It exists to further the ruling party’s interests, or to thwart them, depending on the balance of power. Much as we are meant to believe that the seven Trudeau appointments are “non-partisan”, at least one has a very telling association; Peter Harder is a board member at the Canada China Business Council, and as such, an advocate for FIPA, a trade agreement whose most prominent feature is a national sovereignty-gutting bill of rights for corporations. Harder, though technically an independent, will sit in on cabinet meetings and steer the government agenda in the senate.

Much has been made of the fact that the senate is an intractable problem, its abolition requiring a constitutional amendment that will be difficult to achieve. It’s true that it’s not easy to see a clear path to the end of the upper chamber, but it’s equally true that Canadian democracy will be forever compromised if we don’t find that path. Here is one simple step that Trudeau could have taken, but didn’t. He could have refrained from appointing senators. In the end, it is not a matter of nomenclature. Whether he appoints Liberal senators, Senate Liberals, or Isabels, they are still appointed, and have no business in the halls of power.

1 April, 2016

Rob Ford: a profoundly human guy

De Mortuis, Nil Nisi Bunkum

Toronto Mayor John Tory told a press conference this week that his predecessor, the late Rob Ford, was “above all else, a profoundly human guy”. About this, there can be no debate. As humans, we can’t shift the blame: he was ours. He was not an ape, we can’t pass this off on apes. He was not a Neanderthal, though during his career some tried to attach his name to those close cousins of humanity. No, troubling as it might be to accept, Rob Ford was as profoundly human as you or me.

If humanness were the sole criterion for having a statue placed in one’s honour in a public place in the city of Toronto, Ford would deserve one just as much as all the other teeming millions of human Torontonians, alive or dead. And don’t get me started about all the profoundly canine, or profoundly equine guys who have walked those ancient – well, old – streets. The world is running out of marble.

A Toronto human named James Morrison has managed to spark some debate, though little support, with his petition on calling on Tory to erect a statue to Ford.  According to Morrison, “The people of Toronto want to give back to a man who has given so much to them”. And what did Ford give Toronto? His fighting spirit, Morrison tells us: “Fighting for every single person he represented and known for keeping an eagles (sic) eye on every tax dollar spent in the city of Toronto, ending what was known as the ‘gravy train’.”

Another petition on calls upon the city to rename Centennial Park after the former mayor. It has about the same number of signatures as the statue petition, while a counter petition calling on the city do to no such thing has just over 7,000 supporters. Has Ford Nation shrunk to a Ford Village, or are its citizens just not kind of people?

Upon Ford’s death, politicians from Tory to Justin Trudeau got in front of the microphones to say guardedly kind things, and rightly so. The man had a family, and no doubt they grieve his passing. On such an occasion, it’s only right for those in power to make nice for the public. But statues last a long time, and mean something, and parks are not lightly named. What would be the meaning of a Ford statue? What would Rob Ford Park signify?

Let’s not dwell on his drug addiction. We all have our weaknesses. And as Ford told us himself, all of that happened in a drunken stupor. So a guy gets “really, really inebriated” and stars in a couple of cell-phone vids, smoking crack, flipping birds, threatening to kill people in graphic ways, and calling Justin Trudeau a “fag”: who hasn’t done that?

Moving on, how about a sculpture depicting the old fighter pinching a penny? That’s what he admired in himself above all. In 2014, Ford told his Nation, “I’m very proud today that Toronto’s tax increase over the last three years is lower than any North American city” and “taxes are lower than ever”. The Nation nodded sagely and declared Ford a good money manager. But the Toronto Star looked into these claims and found that: “…tax rates are higher now than they were under Ford’s predecessor, David Miller. And Ford’s Toronto does not have the lowest increase in North America…”

Perhaps it would be better to turn Toronto’s civic energies toward the Rob Ford Park of Scurrilous Attacks, something his late Worship excelled in. In one case Ford ally City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti circulated a photograph of a worker with his head down on a desk, no time or date to reveal whether he was on shift, or taking a break, no questions asked about whether he was sick, sad, or overworked. Without troubling to find out the circumstances, Ford blared, “… I’m going to ask for the manager and the employee to be dismissed. We cannot tolerate this. I want people to show up to work and do their job.” The next day a picture appeared on Reddit of Ford apparently napping during a council meeting. Ford dismissed the photograph as “ridiculous”. The incident had a certain resonance – or should we say redolence – a year or so later when it was revealed that the mayor himself was showing up late every day and seldom sober.

Rob Ford Park’s theme needn’t be restricted to the celebration of attacks on public servants either, the fighter didn’t hesitate to slander anyone who crossed him. Consider Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale, who ran afoul of Ford when he went to photograph a piece of green space adjacent to the Ford family home which the then-mayor was trying to purchase. Ford invented a string of lies about the event, accusing Dale of climbing on a non-existent pile of bricks to “leer” over the fence at some kids, who weren’t there. Under threat of lawsuit, Ford was forced to apologize, and used the opportunity for another self-justifying rant. The threat of lawsuit didn’t go away and he finally had to offer up a genuine, or at least more genuine-sounding, apology.

The world doesn’t need a Rob Ford Monument or a Rob Ford Park. If you want to celebrate Ford’s profoundly human lying, self-aggrandizing, bullying, homophobia, misogyny, addiction, and abuse, there are already plenty of monuments. You can find them all over the Internet.

Thanks this week to Suzane M. Duncan and Duncan Smith for pledging generously at to help keep Nordicity alive. 



25 March, 2016

 Christy Clark and the Forces of Yes

Last Monday, the BC Liberal government announced eight senior civil service appointments. First on the list was Fazil Mihlar, who, according to a press release, “takes on a new role as the Deputy Minister, Climate Leadership, reporting to the minister of environment.” The appointment would appear to signal Premier Christy Clark’s intention to lead the province over a climate cliff.

Mihlar is a former director of the Fraser Institute. Here is a little story to put the Fraser Institute in perspective: Exxon Mobile’s 2003-2004 financial statement shows a $120,000 donation to the Fraser, whose president, Michael Walker, told the Vancouver Sun that the money paid for the research of Ken Green, head of the institute’s “environmental literacy council.” During that time Green produced such papers as The Five Billion Dollar Boondoggle (the Kyoto Protocol) and Earth Day 2004, No Cause for Alarm.

This is why the Fraser Institute exists. With the financial support of such worthies as the US billionaire Koch brothers, the right-wing propaganda-tank puts a corporate spin on the issues of the day. If you need a study proving that unions are unfair to workers, that lower corporate taxes are good for the economy, or that global climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Left to destroy the economy, the Fraser is for you. Even now, in this era of disappearing glaciers and raging wildfires, when global warming has become so obvious that even the Conservative Party of Canada acknowledges it, the Fraser’s resistance continues.

This week, in a Fraser Institute publication, Ken Green called the new federal policy requiring that environmental reviews for LNG terminals and pipelines take upstream GHG emissions into account “unnecessary since the effects of pipelines and LNG terminals on climate change are negligible at worst and positive at best, based on their ability to actually reduce GHG emissions.” And just last month, Fraser Institute Senior Fellow Ross Mckittrick who once signed a declaration stating that global warming is part of “God’s intelligent design and infinite power”, urged a sympathetic Manning Centre Conference audience to put to rest the “irrational but popular” idea that “the environment is bad and getting worse.”

After the Fraser Institute, Fazil Mihlar went on to write for the Vancouver Sun, where he advocated for more coal-fired power plants, and in one bizarre rant invoked Lenin’s theories on capitalism to prove that emissions-control advocates are “eco-imperialists” spreading tales of global disaster in order to colonize China and other developing countries. From there he went on to serve as an ADM at the BC government’s Oil and Strategic Initiatives Division, charged with “overseeing oil development in British Columbia”.

Mihlar’s appointment, bizarre though it is, comes as no shock to observers of the Clark government’s performance on the environment. According to Simon Fraser University professor Mark Jaccard, quoted in the National Observer, Clark “froze what was supposed to be a rising carbon tax, undermined the clean electricity regulation, cut funding for efficiency and halted the intended intensification of other regulatory initiatives on vehicles, fuels, buildings, waste management and various industrial processes.” On Clark’s watch, BC has gone from a  leader to a laggard on climate change. With GHG emissions going down in other provinces, BC’s are rising and projected to soar.

Always a champion of the oil and gas industry, Clark today is stumping for Pacific LNG/Petrona, who plan to build a giant liquid natural gas export terminal on Lelu Island. The terminal would threaten the Skeena River salmon, and the way of life of the Lax Kw’alaams First Nation, who rejected Petronas’s $1 billion bribe to endorse the project, and are instead occupying the proposed site in protest. Clark dismisses critics of the scheme as “the Forces of No”, and “kind of a ragtag group of people”, and claims that there’s no science to support opposition to the terminal.

But as Mark Hume reported last week in the Globe and Mail, “more than 130 Canadian and international scientists joined the no side, sending an open letter to Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna. The letter says the federal environmental assessment of the project “is scientifically flawed and represents an insufficient base for decision-making.”

Hume dissects Clark’s claim to the scientific high ground, pointing to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency draft report, just released. “The project would result in 5.28 million tonnes of CO2 per year … a marked increase of greenhouse gas emissions both at the provincial (8.5 per cent increase) and national (0.75 per cent increase) level,” the report states. “The agency concludes that the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects as a result of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Clark came to office promising a boom in “clean” natural gas, either not knowing or not caring that LNG is a compound made almost entirely of methane, the gas responsible for 25 per cent of global warming today. Methane has 84 times the greenhouse effect of carbon dioxide. But all of that is secondary to the fact that 2017 is election year in BC, and Clark is determined to show some progress on her promised boom.

The ragtag Forces of No threaten that boom. Clark needs her terminal now, not in two years. That’s why she’s busy appointing the Forces of Yes into positions of influence. Fazil Mihlar’s not going to let greenhouse gas emissions get in the way of his climate leadership; he thinks they’re an imperialist hoax.


A special thanks to EDDIE GRANT, who pledged an incredible $4/week on Eddie will receive one signed and inscribed copy of my novel, Bad Latitudes. 
 18 March, 2016
Arming tyrants:  a contractual obligation

“Every new Government succeeds to the rights and obligations of the predecessor Government.”

Read more:


As any business person will tell you, if you lose your good name, you’re sunk. This week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the United Nations that Canada’s reputation for square dealing is even more precious to us than our concern, deep though it is, for international human rights. Speaking of Stephen Harper’s $15 billion deal to sell light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia, Trudeau told the assembly, “…regardless of how we may feel about a previous government, the fact is they were democratically elected. They signed on to a contract and we are bound to respect that contract.”

Trudeau didn’t say what legal arguments his government considered before arriving at the position that the Doctrine of Continuity of States trumps long-standing Canadian policy which prohibits us from selling arms to regimes “whose governments have a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens …(unless) there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.” Perhaps the PM didn’t give it much thought. Repression is not, after all, the point: what matters is that backing out now would be bad for business. “It would indeed be just about impossible for Canada to conduct business in the world,” he told reporters, “… if there was a perception that any contract that went beyond the duration of the life cycle of a given government might not be honoured.”

On the question of repression, Saudi Arabia ranks among the most brutal regimes in the world. In 2015 they executed more than 150 people, some of them beheaded in public, some crucified, some shot, for crimes such as murder, drug smuggling, adultery, apostasy, and homosexuality. Saudi women are deeply oppressed, to the extent that if a rape victim is deemed to have encouraged her rapists by her dress or demeanour she may be jailed and flogged, or possibly executed. Floggings are commonplace, often consisting of hundreds of lashes, and can be life threatening, as in the case of blogger Raif Badawi, sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for “insulting Islam”. After 50 lashes, Badawi’s health was in grave danger, and under intense international pressure, the King has ordered the other 950 to be set aside, for the time being.

Saudi Arabia systematically discriminates against Shia Muslims, restricting their access to education, jobs, and even places of worship. This January respected Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was among 47 men put to death in one mass execution. His crime was speaking against the regime.

So, question two: are the Canadian LAVs likely to be used against civilians? Amnesty International has described Saudi Arabia’s use of military force against civilians in Yemen as “human carnage”. In 2011 in Bahrain, Saudi troops moved in to quell public demonstrations using guess what? – armoured vehicles.  According to Ken Epps of Project Ploughshares, “given the ongoing deplorable human rights situation in Saudi Arabia, there is great risk that (the LAVS) will be used against civilians opposed to the Saudi government.” Philippe Hensmans of Amnesty International agrees: “The government argues we should be reassured by the fact that they won’t be used in countries like Yemen, but rather by police and law-enforcement authorities, but that is still a problem in our view.” It’s hard to argue with that. When you’ve got cops in tanks, you’ve got a problem.

The LAV is not, as Trudeau has suggested, a “Jeep”. It is a 20-ton armoured vehicle, basically a tank on wheels, designed to be armed with a 25 mm cannon and a mounted machine gun. The damage that would be done to Canada’s reputation by declining to sell this sophisticated weaponry to a regime like Saudi Arabia is, as Trudeau suggests, all about perception. Dropping out now would make us look very bad indeed in the eyes of the international arms trade community. Yemeni refugees baking to death in a hyena-infested dust-bowl in Djibouti, on the other hand, might look favourably on a decision not to further arm the Saudis. Some might even take the position that Canada’s reputation as a fair dealer of arms to tyrants isn’t worth the destruction of communities and the slaughter of innocents.

Now even the post-Harper Conservatives have doubts. Both interim leader Rona Ambrose and former Treasury Board President Tony Clement have called on the Liberals to do what they wouldn’t do themselves: release the evidence that led them to conclude the Saudi arms sale passes the human rights test. A cynical observer might conclude that the Conservatives are only making this call because they know very well what skeletons are to be found in the closet they so recently vacated.

The Saudi deal is the biggest arms sale in Canadian history. Dumping it now would be a $15 billion kick in the pants to an economy wallowing in the bottom of a bitumen barrel. It would mean the end of 3,000 badly needed jobs in manufacturing in South East Ontario. And according to Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion, backing away would “probably” result in “stiff penalties”. These are real considerations. If the Liberals want to declare that jobs, profits, and penalties supersede human rights, let them say so. There are Canadians who will agree, though most of them probably didn’t vote for Sunny Ways.

But let’s not be taken in by a load of blather about respecting contracts. Canada’s reputation would be a lot better served if we refuse to arm tyrants.



A special thanks to my first patron (ever!) MIKE FANCIE who pledged an incredible $4/week on I’ll be delivering Mike’s reward, one signed and inscribed copy of Bad Latitudes, next week.