On Keeping One’s Word

Kuwait. 7 November 2014 – A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Fighter jet in Kuwait is armed and ready for a combat mission over Iraq during Operation IMPACT. (Photo IS2014-7533-01 by Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND)To my fellow Canadians who wish that our government had kept our CF-18s bombing the Islamic State in the Middle East: Prime Minister Trudeau has kept true to his campaign promises:

We will immediately begin an open and transparent review process of existing defence capabilities, with the goal of delivering a more effective, better-equipped military.
To help regional and local partners prevent the spread of terrorism and radicalization, we will vastly increase the scope of training assistance missions.
We will end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq.
We will refocus Canada’s military contribution in the region on the training of local forces, while providing more humanitarian support and immediately welcoming 25,000 more refugees from Syria.
I wish we’d kept our CF-18s in the Middle East, but Prime Minister Trudeau had to keep his word, as he has done thus far on many of his campaign promises to date. I might not agree with the decision, but I do support and respect it. Plus, so we don’t appear complete freeloaders on the Allies’ backs, we are supporting Allied air strikes on the logistical and intelligence side of things (refueling and surveillance), and we have bolstered boots on the ground efforts to train Kurdish forces. The training component speaks to fulfilling the Liberal platform of increasing the “scope of training assistance missions,” and which I would take this particular detail to be.
Don’t knock the man for keeping his word and for managing to find a middle ground of sorts whereby which he can save face to this electorate and to key allies. Moreover, let’s bear in mind that the scope of the government’s mission in Iraq and Syria can always change, and is likely to change, which may mean a return of our air crews to the Middle East in one form or another.
Lastly, let’s hope that the Liberal promise of purchasing new fighter jets ties into this withdrawal, as the timing would be a perfect opportunity to see the procurement process through to a positive outcome of new fighter jets for the Royal Canadian Air Force, training of crews for the new jets, and subsequent deployment into a revised or new combat mission. This sort of scenario might well take Canada into 2017, and the timeline for reviewing Canada’s commitment to fighting ISIS in the Middle East.
Food for thought.
PS: @JustinTrudeau : when will you be announcing the promised changes for Canada’s veterans?

Growing Policy Pains: A Hornets’ Nest

http://mackaycartoons.net/tag/isis/There has been a lot of talk in Canada recently about the government’s stance on the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East. The new Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised during its election campaign to withdraw Canada’s contribution – six CF-18 Hornet fighter jets – to the coalition’s war on Daesh. The ensuing hubbub has had the punditocracy up in arms (in stark contrast to Canada’s contribution to the coalition, some of the more right wing might argue) both in favour of Trudeau’s approach, and in damning it.

Whether I agree with Trudeau’s recent delivery of campaign promises or not (some I do, some I don’t), I have actually quite a bit of respect for his integrity in keeping to his campaign promises; for a politician to do so takes a lot of chutzpah and speaks volumes to how important their word is to them. Trudeau is in a bit of a political pickle with the issue of the CF-18s.

As I understand it, the right is clamoring that Canada needs to support its traditional allies, even in a token way (apparently 2.4% of coalition airstrikes are carried out by our CF-18s). Conservatives, et al, are also asking the very legitimate question of what the government’s policy on ISIS is. Right now, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of Defence, is doing a very glib job of airbrushing the lack of policy/direction on the subject matter at hand:

“There will be changes, there will definitely be enhancements in a substantial way. Some things will be noticeable to Canadians, and some things won’t be unless you’ve been in that environment.” (from CKNW AM980)

This statement reminds me a bit of the same kind of rhetoric presented by the weatherman: “It might rain tomorrow, it might be sunny. There many be periods of precipitation, interspaced with clear breaks. Look out for showers in the afternoon, and patches of sun.”

And of course, unless we’re privy to military matters, we won’t even know there has been anything done at all: “Some things will be noticeable to Canadians, and some things won’t be unless you’ve been in that environment.” (emphasis mine).

Such statements are evocative of the lovely ambiguity that has been dogging the Liberals on this issue. Additionally, let’s not forget that those Hornets are still actively participating in coalition air strikes (which in turn, does not support the opposition’s suggestion that Canada was snubbed for withdrawing air support…how can we be snubbed for not doing something that we’re still actually doing?), as per the previous government’s mandate, and will continue to do so at least until March. After all, nobody likes a premature pullout.

Conversely, supporters argue that policy shifts should be reasonable and measured, and not taken as knee-jerk reactions to the public whim (given that a majority of Canadians purportedly support continued airstrikes against the Islamic State). I strongly believe in measured and well-thought out responses to issues du jour, and do see validity in this line of reasoning for the silence from the government.

However, just from an optics perspective, the longer the public has to wait to hear on what Prime Minister Trudeau’s line will be on Canadian participation in the fight against the Islamic State, the louder the voices of antagonism from the right, that keep chirping for more direct military participation. And the public at this point, I think, is really just wanting to know what action Canada will take. I don’t think that people necessarily care whether airstrikes or training of opposition forces should take place, just that something by way of military support of coalition efforts takes place.

I’ll also add here that the Prime Minister is in a bit of a damned-if-he-does-and-damned-if-he-doesn’t position: if he keeps his word and discontinues air support, the right will have a field day stating that Canada is letting it’s coalition partners down. If Prime Minister Trudeau does continue air support, the right will have a field day stating that he’s not doing enough (though he would likely continue along former Prime Minister Harper’s direction in continuing to deploy the six CF-18s in the Middle East) and that he broke his word to the electorate.

Given that the Prime Minister has delivered on many of his campaign promises (on a quick note, when do we hear about Veterans?), I do believe that he will withdraw the CF-18s as his word is important to him. And given the canniness of the Minister of Defence, due to his significant service and vast experience in the Canadian Armed Forces, I think that a good compromise of training opposition forces and providing additional support to coalition partners (such as mid-air fueling of coalition fighter jets) will balance out to save face both at home and abroad.

Between a rock and a hard place, but sometimes that’s a good foundation to build a solid policy.

Better in Refugees than in Soccer: Canada vs. Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the refugee crisisIn listening to all the furor over the NYE attacks in Cologne, I’ve come to realize that Canada’s cautious approach to taking in refugees is warranted. Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, took the bold step back in 2015 of presenting a carte blanche (read: open door) entry to almost all refugees, in order to try to mitigate some of the  refugee and migrant chaos that Europe was experiencing that summer.

Honestly, I’m not sure how the screening for entry into Germany is happening. I know that refugees entering Europe from any geographic/national point are able to apply for entry into Germany, contrary to the EU regulations that would rather have refugees be accepted in whichever country they first appear. Apart from being rubber stamped at the various fringe countries, I have a feeling very little security checks are actually being held of those wishing to seek asylum in Germany.

By Graeme MacKay, Editorial Cartoonist, The Hamilton Spectator - Wednesday November 25, 2015 10,000 Syrian refugees to be resettled by yearÕs end, 15,000 more by February The Liberal government will not meet its Dec. 31 deadline to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees and now says it aims to complete the program by February. The new target is to bring 10,000 people to Canada by year's end and the remainder in the first two months of 2016. The group will be a mix of government-assisted and privately sponsored refugees, all of whom will be identified by the end of next month. The Canadian government is working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as well as the Turkish government to find suitable candidates. Priority for government refugees will be given to complete families, women at risk, members of sexual minorities and single men only if they are identified as gay, bisexual or transgender or are travelling as part of a family. Private sponsors have no restrictions on whom they can bring over and the majority of refugees expected to arrive by the end of the year will be coming via private groups. All health and security screening will take place overseas and once that's complete, refugees will be flown to Toronto and Montreal, largely on chartered aircraft. From there, they will be spread across 36 different destination cities which already have resettlement programs in place. Temporary accommodation will be provided by the military if required, but the government aims to have lodging in place in the host cities and towns. The federal government cost for the program is an estimated $678 million over the next six years but doesn't include additional funding that could be necessary for provinces and territories. More than 500 officials have been assigned to work on the massive resettlement program, one of the largest of its kind in the world as it relates to the Syrian refugee crisis. (Source: Hamilton Spectator) http://www.thespec.com/news-sIn Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is trying to fulfill a campaign promise to bring in 25,000 Syrian refugees (note, only Syrians are included in this number, as opposed to Germany who is accepting refugees from any war-torn country, again, as I understand the situation). The first 10,000, brought in by the 2015 year end, were refugees who had already been sponsored from within Canada by either private citizens or private organizations, such as churches, and whom had already been on the Government of Canada’s radar for the past few years as Citizenship and Immigration Canada conducted its normal security checks.

I’ve had some discussions with individuals who claim that this initial 10,000 shouldn’t count towards Prime Minister Trudeau’s 25,000 count as the 10,000 had already been approved under the auspices of the previous government of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I feel that’s just politicking numbers – at the end of the day, whomever is being admitted into Canada is being admitted by the Government of Canada, regardless of who is Prime Minister or which party is at the helm of the country.

What is important is that the Government of Canada remains committed to conducting thorough security clearance checks on each individual who is applying to become a citizen of Canada. All refugees accepted to Canada have gone through these checks. Some pundits have scoffed at Prime Minister Trudeau’s commitment to 25,000 refugees, which really is a drop in the bucket in comparison to Germany’s acceptance of over 1 million refugees in 2015, but that is a manageable number, especially in light of the Cologne attacks.

I wonder if Cologne would have looked different on New Year’s Eve, if the refugees accepted into Germany, carte blanche, had to submit applications, had actually been screened, and had trickled into Germany, rather than flooding into Germany through Chancellor Merkel’s kindness and courage in throwing the doors of Germany wide open to over a million refugees? I do understand that Canada is in a different place, quite literally, than Germany, as we don’t have a war (or wars) on the doorstep of our continent, so that we can take an arm’s length approach to refugees. However, the clash of cultures that occurred that evening of December 31, 2015, perhaps may have been mitigated through a more conservative approach to the refugees.

One might argue that Europe does not have the luxury of being able to deal with a conservative approach to accepting refugees, as Canada is doing. We selected handpicked refugees, and are handpicking refugees out of the camps in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan, rather than having to deal with desperate people who have trekked thousands of kilometers in order to find stability and peace. Certainly, most of the refugees whom Germany will have accepted are also not misogynistic bigots who think it their right to grope and rob women in public (and worse); as Deborah Orr, of the Guardian notes:

…it’s silly to pretend that the word “refugee” is synonymous with the word “saint” anyway.

Only a simpleton – or, more commonly, person driven by instinct and emotion – thinks you can counter the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are bad” with the uncompromising prejudice of “all immigrants are good”.

Point taken. Refugees are a slice of a population, and every slice of a population will have its devils and its saints, and everything in between. And yet, the method encouraging people to go through the proper refugee application process certainly seems to have its merits.

I understand that Chancellor Merkel is doing her best to save German face and to instill tougher rules on criminals who are also refugees, and to instill some bureaucratic brakes on the 2015 ‘open door’ policy, so that the influx of refugees slows down in 2016. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that we keep being reactionary to incidents with these refugees, whether it is the drowning of a refugee toddler, the Paris attacks, or this latest clash of cultures.

The root(s): the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya; the tensions between Sunnis and Shias as played out through Saudi Arabia and Iran; and of course, the spread of the Islamic State through various regions around the globe. That’s what stable countries like Germany and Canada need to focus on, how to resolve these conflicts in order to mitigate the refugee crisis.

Until these various crises are somewhat ameliorated, we will keep having refugees, and keep reacting to refugee issues: it’s time to stop taking a tactical lens to what is a strategic issue.

An Analysis of Current Threats to the Security of Canada

Yemen, Houthi, President Hadi, Mansour Hadi, Shiite, Sunni, Wahhabism, Saudi ArabiaThe 2014 establishment of a so-called caliphate in the Middle East by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Syria (ISIL/ISIS) has greatly increased the incidence of terrorist activities aimed at disrupting global security, of which Canada is a part. An influx of foreign-born jihadist fighters has flowed into ISIL territory, creating a hive of terrorist activity that aims to install a extremist theocracy, based on a severe and restrictive interpretation of Sunni Islam. The foreign-born fighters – travelling extremists – stem from various Western, Middle Eastern, and north and central African countries.

Of particular concern to Canadian interests are, of course, those Canadians who have become radicalized, and then made some sort of leap of faith, if you will, into violent extremism. There are approximately 60-120 Canadian travelling extremists currently abroad and participating in a wide variety of jihadi-related activities, including fighting on ISIL’s behalf in Syria and Iraq, participating in Al-Qaida cells in northern and central Africa, and supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The concern is two-fold: what those individuals are wreaking in the foreign state in which they are currently residing, and what they will do upon their return to Canada. Firstly, these individuals are tarnishing the name of Canada abroad, and it is up to Canadian security agencies to identify and follow the paths of these individuals in order to try to stop them from engaging in terrorist activities.

To this end, the Canadian government has established laws that make it a prosecutable offence to travel and to participate in terrorist activities, as well by coordinating the efforts security agencies such as CSIS, the RCMP, CBSA, CSE, FINTRAC et al… through the Building Resilience Against Terrorism strategy of 2012.

***

AFP, Paris AttacksMore so than the recent Russian airline bombing, or the Beirut Shia bombing, the Paris Attacks of November 14, 2015, have given Western countries, Canada included, a sober reminder that these travelling extremists have a mandate to return to their home countries in order to create terror. ISIL’s policy has shifted from being domestic – that is to say, establishing a caliphate – to being global in outlook. They want to take the fight to our doorsteps.

Several of the French attackers were EU citizens who had fought in the Middle East with ISIL. It is not known whether they were brought together in the Middle East, or whether they had been put in touch with each other upon their return to Europe, and was their return to Europe mandated by ISIL leadership as the first of a new global policy of terror.

What does this mean for Canada? The act of terror in France is one that could be reproduced in Canada. Canada, as mentioned earlier, has approximately 60-120 travelling extremists abroad at the moment, and 80 who have returned to Canada after having been abroad. It is of vital importance that Canadian security agencies monitor the whereabouts and movements of those jihadists both in Canada and those abroad.

Given that the only way that ISIL seems to view non-believers is through an extremist lens – all non-believers should be killed – it would be naïve to assume that retracting any support to Canada’s allies in the fight against ISIL in Syria and Iraq would somehow negate the potential of a terrorist attack on Canadian soil. One must also remember that Canadians are particularly global themselves, and we are fortunate that there was no Canadian casualty in the Paris Attacks – there easily could have been.

***

Black Sea Fleet in SebastopolI have noted earlier that it was the Paris Attacks that struck a particular chord in Western countries. Given that Russia is on the fringe in terms of Western diplomacy, both over its annexation of Crimea and support of rebel groups in Ukraine, and its support of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria, Western sentiment was not particularly empathetic to the killing of the 224 people on the Russian aircraft on October 31, 2015. The incident was tragic, yes, but the heart strings were not pulled. People were more interested in finding out whether the incident was a bomb or a malfunction, than concerned with the loss of life (for more than the read of a headline at least).

As for the Beirut bombing of November 12, the Middle East, and all that it entails, is a distant annoyance. Beirut, that city that once was hailed as the Paris of the Middle East, has not been a tourist destination for decades. The country is notoriously unstable and its politicians prone to being assassinated. Unfortunately, Lebanon is just not bad enough to be on the radar, nor sympathetic enough for people to care. 43 people died in these attacks.

I will caveat that the above interpretation of the Russian airliner and Beirut bombings mean that I do not care for the tragic loss of life. I do care, and deeply. I am, however, trying to understand why the Paris Attacks resonated over the other two incidents.

***

One thing to note in all this is the Russian variable. Russia’s backing of Assad has been interesting to say the least. On some level, what do you do if Assad were to be taken out of the equation? The moderates only constitute about 10% of the power in Syria right now, and you can’t rule a country with only 10% support. The power is essentially split between Assad and the extremist rebels (Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIL being the strongest). The Kurds have the only successful boots on the ground, and Turkey would like nothing more than to see the Kurds put in their place again. I remember reading an article about an underground blogger from Raqqa (ISIL’s stronghold) who noted the evils of ISIL and also expressed a rather strong negative emotion at the Kurds and Shias. There is no guarantee at all that a peace process would hold given the amount of hate that people seem to have for each other in that region.

Back to Russia. Their support of Assad has forced the Allies to come to terms with a reality that they initially rejected: Assad will have to be part of any peace process and transitional government. The recent Paris Attacks even brought France’s President Hollande to the Russian table looking for support in bombing the bejesus out of ISIL, something that the Americans are more cautious about committing to. And Hollande moved on the idea that Assad maybe can stay at the table a bit longer, something that a few months ago Hollande never would have entertained. This means that there is perhaps a better chance of peace for Syria, which means a reduction on possible threats to Canada, vicariously.

The Turkey-Russian confrontation may have thrown a bit of a wrench into the mix, and though NATO supports Turkey on paper, it is interesting to note that NATO is not condemning Russia either. I suspect that after some grand-standing for another week or two by both leaders, the whole issue will settle down and some meaningful conversation occur on how to move forward on the Syrian crisis, which is of course in Canadian security interest.

***

The knee-jerk reaction of Western powers to the Paris Attacks has been to throw blame on the refugee crisis through which Europe is currently suffering. Many countries have moved to throw up further restrictions on refugee movements through the various entry points to the continent. One of the more positive outcomes of the Paris Attacks has been the renewed efforts by Western countries to try to find a solution to the Syrian civil war, and there has even been a softening of the stance against Assad as participating in any solution.

Alan Kurdi, Syrian refugees, refugee crisisBack to the refugees. Canada will be accepting 25,000 refugees by March of 2016. This is a laudable effort by Canadian government to help desperate people fleeing a horrendous situation. For those anti-refugee voices, I will remind that many of those refugees will be Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Mulsims. ISIL followers are Sunni. Not all Sunni’s are extremists. Security checks are being carried out by the UN and by Citizenship and Immigration Canada at the refugee camps in Lebanon from whence the 25,000 refugees are to come.

Pro-radical Poster North Vancouver Oct 2014The only possible issues I foresee with the Syrian refugees that Canada will be accepting are issues of integration if some of those individuals do not receive the support necessary to integrate into Canadian society. Some of the young men and women, if they have difficulty integrating into Canadian society, may become radicalized to a political or ideological objective, perhaps joining Hezbollah or whatever fringe party will likely be born of the fires of any Syrian peace process, but I do not believe that will necessarily mean that they would become jihadists.

shooting_CBCNo, the threat to the security of Canada remains in those Sunni Muslims who have become radicalized, who travel abroad to follow an extremist path and who participate in terrorist activities, and who return to Canada to propagate their twisted world views. Canada needs to remain focused on identifying these in-house threats.

An important tool in identifying threats to the security of Canada is social media, and more should be invested in monitoring social media feeds to identify those individuals who are in conversation with extremists, or even just following extremists on social media. Lone wolf attacks, like the ones that killed Patrice Warren and Nathan Cirillo in 2014, may still occur.

***

Oddly enough, I think that the climate change conference in Paris may actually potentially stir an activist in Canada to become an environmental terrorist, in the Weibo Ludwig stream, for reasons that either Canada is not doing enough to stem climate change, or that Canada is implementing climate change action plans too slowly. We have several oil and gas pipeline projects proposed in BC: the Northern Gateway Pipeline (crude oil transported from Bruderheim, Alberta, to Kitimat, BC), the liquid natural gas (LNG) pipelines (terminating in Prince Rupert, Kitimat, and Squamish, respectively), and the expansion of the extant Trans Mountain pipeline (crude oil transported from Strathcona, Alberta, to Burnaby, BC). There is a potential for a terrorist incident of this critical infrastructure should the pipelines be given the green light by the federal government.

***

Lastly, espionage. The world is focused on the Middle East and the terrorist threat emanating from that region. This is the perfect time for an interested foreign power to try to undermine any weaknesses in Canadian cyber security and get at our data. This data could be private or government, and it is valuable. Economic reasons propel much modern espionage, whether human or cyber based. Canada is a wealthy nation with much successful innovation in various sectors, and that innovation, and the information relative to, is worth billions of dollars to very interested parties. We should be particularly vigilant, when all eyes are focused on a particular topic, when public opinion is pressuring government for action, and government reacts with programs and policies that are more tactical than strategic. This is the time when our security will be tested. Cyber isn’t glamorous, and when we read that a worm has infected millions of computer, most of us just think passingly, glad that wasn’t me, and think nothing more. We forget how much of our own personal data is stored in our computers and in our online accounts. That amount of data multiplies exponentially for businesses and government, and data is oh so valuable.

***

lady-justice1Threats to the security of Canada can take many shapes, from the obvious to the less so, and it is important for us to be vigilant, in whatever ways we can, and to take stock that there are many people out there, in that grand world, that envy Canada, that seek to directly and/or indirectly harm Canada, and that would like nothing more than to see Canada’s constitutional democracy compromised in some way.

Lest We Forget (and with thanks)

To date, to Canadians, to Commemorate:

Remembrance Day, poppy, Canada, veterans, peacekeeping, ISIS, ISIL, WWII, WWI, Korean War, Yugo, Yugoslavia, Somalia

The Great War, the War to End All Wars, the First World War, World War I: 1914-1918
17 Main Players, et al…

This War started out one foot at the end of the Napoleonic period, and ended with the other firmly striding into modernity.

Note there were three empires – British, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman – this was their last knell.

But it did not end all wars, and merely set the tone for the next.

The Second World War, World War II: 1939-1945
35 Main Players, of whom many asserted their nationhood on the world stage, out of the shadow of their parent empire.

It was during this War, in Poland, that one grandfather was killed by the Nazis, at the age of 24. The other grandfather fought with the Polish partisans, and watched his best friend’s head get blown off by a sniper.

No more empires, but an attempt at empire-building, thankfully waylaid.

Attempts at extermination.

Affirmations that humans can be superbly evil; affirmations that humans can also be sublimely good.

The Korean War: 1950-1953
The UN had its first command at this particular theatre. The UN, sprung whole out of the minds of war-weary leaders, like Athena from the head of Zeus.

The Koreas are still at war; North Korea put a cross on the old Armistice a few years back anyhow. Air raid sirens toll periodically throughout Seoul to remind diligent citizens to be on edge.

We sent out sons and daughters as UN Peacekeepers, to Kashimir (1948), Cyprus (1974 to date), Congo (various, 1960 to date), Somalia, Yugoslavia (1992-2003) and Somalia (1993), making them live the horrors of war without being able to keep the peace.

The UN Peacekeepers were honoured with a Nobel Peace Prize in 1988. Recognition, in the face of flying bullets, that can only be dodged, not returned.

Then there were the Iraq Wars, first (1990) and second (2003-2011), and then the Afghanistan War (2001-2014).
What does one say to something so recent. We always thought that our modern world was too civilized to have to deal with War, and, indeed, modern Wars seem far removed from our doorstep, here in Canada, in North America really.

We are not Europe, forced to deal with a wholly new kind of refugee crisis, one where the refugees are empowered by information and globalization.

And yet, I am so proud to support Canadian soldiers who are sent to deal with the kinds of people (can you call ISIS/ISIL that?) who think it perfectly acceptable to stone people, to hurl individuals from the roofs of multi-storey buildings, to decapitate persons, and to condone slavery. Somewhere, out in ISIL territory, some secret clan is gathering, trying to find out new ways of instilling fear and horror in the local populations and around the world.

I am glad that there are Canadians, and others, who are doing their damnedest, on our behalves, to stop the spread of such rabid fanaticism.

Lest we forgot the past, so that we can understand why we are doing what we are doing in the present, in our best effort to stave off potential horrors in the future.

And this it is that I say to all Canadian veterans, old and new, and to those Canadians still serving: thank you.

A Looney Tunes Episode Starring (Mike) Duffy Duck

I really don’t understand why the media’s knickers are in a knot over the Mike Duffy incident. As I understand it, the former Canadian senator was abusing the privilege of his office by using government funds (read: taxpayer dollars) to pay for things that really shouldn’t have been billed to the taxpayer. He was audited, and these improper expenses caught out, publicized, and Duffy told to pay back the money owing, about ninety-thousand dollars, and rightfully so. Because Duffy didn’t have the money to pay off his improperly-claimed expenses, a member of the PMOs office, Nigel Wright, cut Duffy a cheque out of his (Wright) own personal funds to cover the debt. Also rightfully, Duffy was suspended from the Senate. He should have been kicked out, but that’s another matter.

The money isn’t the issue, as ninety-thousand dollars really isn’t a whole lot of money in the grand scheme of bureaucratic government. It’s the principle of the matter that counts: Duffy was fudging expense reports to cover items that really had nothing to do with Senate business. He should be penalized for that, and the Senate, by suspending him without pay for two years, did just that, although personally, I think he should have been kicked out. People in leadership positions in government should keep the proverbial clean relative to fiscal matters.

However, I don’t understand the witch hunt lead against the Conservatives over this matter. Wright made a personal loan, with full knowledge that it likely wouldn’t be repaid, to Duffy. Wright used his own. personal. funds. Not public, taxpayer funds, not party funds, but personal funds. How is it unethical, or a conflict of interest, for a person to lend another person money, on a personal level? And why do people even care to the vituperative level of saying that this incident might bring down the Conservatives? I frankly don’t see the relevance of whether the PM knew of this transaction or not. I don’t even see how this whole Duffy incident is an issue given that the money was paid back and that he’s been suspended from the Senate.

Please, explain to me why this incident has escalated to the point of criminal charges and a trial, why the media is gloating over how the PM might have known about Wright lending Duffy money, and why isn’t the relevance of whole institution of the Senate being revisited.* Surely calmer minds should prevail and a look at the need for the Senate be investigated (and I don’t have an answer as to whether that institution should exist or not), but the rest of it seems farcical. Not unlike the song and dance of an episode of Looney Tunes.

Mike Duffy Duck

(apologies for the terrible doctoring, it’s a first attempt)

*and I am serious, please explain to me, as I really would like to comprehend why this whole episode is so relevant.

On the niqab…

Is it okay to wear a niqab or burqaOn the niqab, I’m with Quebec – and with Stephen Harper – The Globe and Mail.

The niqab debate is interesting. A bit in tune with my earlier theme of ‘how far we’ve come,’ I think most Canadians are comfortable with the hijab but, at least for me, the niqab (and burqa) crosses a social line and is fundamentally offensive to women.

I am fully supportive of day-to-day freedom of expression in terms of clothing: people should be able to wear whatever they want (note that I do think that people should wear clothes). I do, however, believe that people should respect the secular nature of our government. When you are dealing with government matters, in terms of the judicial, legislative, and executive process, you need to be open to, and respectful of, the values of our secular government, which values the transparency of an individual’s identity by way of facial recognition.

I had an excellent debate about this issue what a good friend of mine, M-, who suggested that my perspective about having a face uncovered during such things as court proceedings or citizenship ceremonies, was linked to security. She’s right. Being able to see someone’s face is critical to proving their identification.

It could be argued that, as government-issued identification usually makes one look like they’ve been arrested for heroin possession, the person in front of you might not be the person in the photo id that you are holding, and certainly there have been cases of this sort of identity fraud associated with passports. Having said that, we still rely on our sense of sight to confirm someone’s identity.

Someone’s cultural sensibility, under the guise of religion, has no place as a justification for wearing something like the niqab or the burqa when dealing with a governmental situation where identity needs to be confirmed. As Canadians, we bend over backwards to accommodate people’s cultural practices; however, all such accommodations need to be tempered through our cultural lens. People emigrate to Canada because they want to have a life that they believe will be better than the one left in their home countries; they embrace our culture and values. I would argue that, as our values are secular, new Canadians need to embrace those secular values as well.

Not all religious practices can be condoned under the auspices of our Canadian ethos: polygamy, child brides/grooms, female circumcision, etc…The latter list is not condoned by (most) Canadians because those religious practices inherently are based on forcing an individual to do something against their free will, whether through indoctrination or intimidation. The wearing of the niqab and burqa toe that line of indoctrination. You will not convince me that a women born and raised within a fundamentalist religious movement wear the niqab or burqa of their own free will; the issue is not unlike that of those women born and raised within a polygamous religion, an issue that we find it a lot easier to condemn than that of religious attire.

I am the first person to defend the individual’s right to freedom of religion in the day-to-day. If someone wears the niqab or burqa in their everyday life, I’m not happy about that, because I do not believe it a choice that they have, but will respect it.

When someone wants to deal with a government issue that requires identification, they should then respect the Canadian ethos and show their face to the requisite authority (regardless the gender).

Canadians – Not So Pacifistic, Eh?

Last week I attended a focus group on federal policies, namely on the state of economy (choose three words from the list in front of you, or write down your own, to describe Canada’s economy: mentally, unstable, rubber boots); agreements with other countries (so we’ll be getting European cheeses much cheaper, but our own Canadian dairies will have to compete with the new products? How much cheaper will those cheeses be? This sounds like a gouda deal); and our involvement in fighting ISIL/ISIS.

A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Fighter jet in Kuwait is armed and ready for a combat mission over Iraq during Operation IMPACT on November 7, 2014. Photo Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND, from National Post.

A Canadian Armed Forces CF-18 Fighter jet in Kuwait is armed and ready for a combat mission over Iraq during Operation IMPACT on November 7, 2014. Photo Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND, from National Post.

For those of you who may not know, Canada has sent six hundred troops and ten planes to aid the US-led coalition against the nut jobs attempting to set up their own Little Shop of Houris in the Middle East. From my outsiders perspective, the impetus to start to wage war against ISIS (and war it is, even if the word isn’t bandied about yet and is the obvious elephant in the proverbial) was when that group made a move on Kobane, a small city on the northern border of Iraq and Turkey, and nestled in the semi-autonomous region of Western Kurdistan.

Again, from my perspective, we were perfectly happy to let ISIS grow like a cancer while the group appeared to be fighting the Assad regime in Syria, and even when they crossed into Iraq and started taking large swathes of that country hostage. For better or for worse, the Iraqi army was, and is, completely impotent, and the only force with any hutzpah in the area are the Kurds, who fought, and who are fighting, ISIS, tooth and nail. The Kurds have worked hard to try to re-establish a homeland and damned if they will let some rabid dogs try to take it.

Anyhow, the West seemed rather content to let the petty parties duke it out amongst themselves, but the siege of Kobane really seemed to resonate with the Western media, and hence the public, who in turn started to put pressure on Western governments to do something about the festering situation with ISIS. ISIS at this point seemed to have turned from a haphazard rabble into a quasi-organized army, who were not only taking over large swathes of Syria and Iraq, but putting all sorts of people to the sword or slavery, and of course, shackling the newly conquered areas under a completely biased and culturally imbued interpretation of  Sharia law (oh, dear ISIS, you will be surely very surprised when you find out that God really doesn’t endorse the imposition of your will in his name…just a tip, you don’t own the rights to God).

To make a long story short, the US pulled itself up by the bootstraps and put together a coalition to help the Iraqi army (or what is left of it) and the Kurds fight off ISIS, mostly through the medium of air strikes. Canada joined the bandwagon, because that is the way our Conservative government rolls.

It’s interesting though, I’ve always thought of my country as being more pacifist, and certainly, when you read the news here, there does seem to be a strong bias against taking any sort of military action unless it is peacekeeping (of which we are the originators of that idea, and,  although a beautiful concept on paper, like Communism, peacekeeping has been shown to be, time and time again, completely ineffectual). In fact, words such as ‘army,’ ‘war,’ ‘troops,’ ‘fighting,’ often are said with the disdain that one uses when mentioning dog turds.

As such, I was pleased to see that a strong majority of the twelve people (and we’ve come back to the focus group full circle now) were in favour of Canada’s military involvement against ISIS, regardless of the reason why ISIS was aggressing in the first place, and of how Canada got caught up in ISIS’ anti-Western sentiment.

A few people tried to wave the pacifist banner under the argument that we shouldn’t be involved against any military action, even if in a purely supportive role, because that would just goad ISIS into attacking Canada.

At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law (when a reference is made to Nazis or to Hitler, an argument can then be considered finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress), I see that sort of attitude not unlike saying that well, because Hitler was only targeting non-Aryans and only taking over Poland, but not directly affecting Canada, Canada never should have joined the Allied forces in the Second World War; that sort of distasteful behaviour happens in other countries and Is Not Our Problem as such.

Good lord, people, what kind of an attitude is that to say that a group like ISIS is somebody else’s problem? I just don’t fathom the sheer ignorance of ignoring the power that the hate and fear mongering of these kinds of radical groups creates in our societies.

A poster I saw put up in my building's elevator. Apparently the complex was plastered with this particular poster all day, and the moment one was taken down, another was put up in its place. I did send this to our local RCMP but was basically given the brush off. Caveat emptor, RCMP.

A poster I saw put up in my building’s elevator. Apparently the complex was plastered with this particular poster all day, and the moment one was taken down, another was put up in its place. I did send this to our local RCMP but was basically given the brush off. Caveat emptor, RCMP.

One reason why ISIS is our problem is because we’re all globally connected. There are both positive and negative consequences of being so interconnected. Most of us in the West live under the shroud of positive consequences, which are often spoofed as ‘First World Problems.’ However, our tolerance for all sorts of things has caused us to becoming overly sensitive to trying to not insult anyone, a sensitivity that radical groups (who are not in any way, shape, or form, sensitive to trying to understand somebody else’s perspective) take advantage of to propagate their skewed messaging to the disenfranchised both in their home countries and in all of our countries.

How can you expect to rationalize with someone who thinks it okay to drop people from the rooftop of a high building simply because the person is gay, or to stone a woman to death because she was seen outside her home without a male member of her family to accompany her, or who thinks that slavery is okay and a just a way of providing everyone with work?

Whew. I think I’ve covered the gamut here. At the end of the day, my people see ISIS as a very dangerous element in the world, and we’re very supportive of our government sending our military out to fight ISIS in the Middle East. We’re also okay with our troops having to return fire if they are being fired upon by ISIS militants, because our troops have the right to defend themselves when trying to help make things right in that part of the world.

Like I said, pleasantly surprised.

Wearing Poppies Early

poppyA colleague of mine recently provided me with a lovely life lesson to remember our fallen. She was wearing a red poppy, a full two weeks ahead of Remembrance Day, before the Royal Canadian Legion has even put out poppy boxes on every corner, and before Hallowe’en. This was a good kind of early start on a national holiday, completely antithetical to usual appearance of Christmas decorations at Costco in August.

Her rationale? Why do we only wear poppies for the week leading up to Remembrance Day? We should be wearing that symbolic red of Flanders Fields, from World War I, with a good lead in to a day that all Canadians should honour, not as just a day off of work or school, but a day to pay homage to those men and women who have sacrificed their lives, both in life and in death, to ensure that we can keep living the easy life.

We are lucky to have first world problems here in Canada and, frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I won the birth lottery the day I was born in Vancouver. I didn’t have to struggle through refugee camps and tangled immigration tape like my grandparents, or have to learn new languages, like both my parents. I didn’t have to deal with racism, poverty, or want. I not only have a high school education, but an university one and, on that note, not one, but two university degrees; I can collect degrees like crackerjack prizes. I have the privilege of voting, of speaking my mind, of taking a sick day off of work without being penalized, of expressing myself in any which way, and of having food on my table. I can throw away food that doesn’t look good or turn up my nose at carbs. I can choose to not take modern medication because I can soapbox about the evils of pharmaceuticals. I can rage on the road behind the wheel of my car. I can toss a shirt when it goes out of fashion.

I have.

I have because of the good fight fought by people like my grandfather in World War II Poland, people like the thousands of Canadian and other Allied soldiers who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars, people like Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and WO Patrice Vincent.

I’m not sure if Vincent saw any action overseas, and I’m certain Cirillo had not, as he was just embarking on his military career, but both had put their lives on the altar of my country, and died on that altar. I am so proud of both these sterling soldiers, and the many unsung thousands who slog through anonymity until such tragedies strike at our very core; only then do we learn their names.

My colleague was right to wear the poppy early.

I dug out last year’s poppy, held with a little Canada flag pin, and put it on the collar of my coat. I’ll wear it the next few weeks, and past November 11, to honour those who lived in war and in peace, and those who died in war and peace, and be thankful that they did it so the rest of us could go about our daily minutiae, living our lives blissfully ignorant of the troubles that this world really has to offer. But at least we can remember, and not just for one day.

Do You Remember Where You Were: Ottawa Shooting

shooting_CBCI remember the frozen moment,
Sitting at my desk, opening up Explorer
to dial in to Drive online
And get my fix of Radio 2 Morning.
I thought I’d check out the news,
To see if anything interesting was happening.

OTTAWA PARLIAMENT HILL SHOOTING: LIVE UPDATES
What the hell? In my country?
My little big Canada,
Our National War Memorial?
A radical nut, inspired by hate and rage,
Decided to shoot a student reservist:
Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, father, son, friend,
Dead, as it turned out, later that afternoon,
From massive injuries sustained
When shot at close range.
Rest in Peace, soldier,
Your country mourns.
I mourn.

Shocking. My heart raced,
As I read the updates from Ottawa,
And watched the live coverage.
Chaos inside Parliament:
Police running in one direction,
Shots fired from another,
Parliamentary pedestrians ducking for cover.
One shooter, dead,
No two shooters, maybe three,
Still on the loose.

Mayhem on streets,
A city in lockdown,
Systematic searching for answers,And any lingering doubts.

Bloody hell, ISIS.
No, really, you go there.
You’ve invaded my country now,
Brought the fight inside our kitchen.
But you know what,
We’re not pacifist Canadians;
We have a long history of fighting the good fight,
Of taking the side of the righteous,
And, unlike you, our righteousness is pure,
And doesn’t involve killing innocents in the name of God.
So fuck you.

****

Sadness, at innocence lost,
And at joining that sombre club of countries,
In which terror has attempted to take hold.

Outrage, that this even happened,
That some young pups
Have been stupid enough to listen to the insane,
And have been insane enough to act on that stupidity.

Determination, and resolve,
To end fear.

Pride, in those who serve,
And give up their lives
For us to have our opinions,
Our freedoms, and our lives.

Lest We Forget.
Ottawa 10/22.