Montreal's senior monthly since 1986

Feb '10


New level of compassion shown in Haiti relief efforts

There used to be a billboard just outside the airport in Port-au-Prince that read: “Mon père a fait la révolution politique ; moi, je fais la révolution économique.”

Loosely translated, Haitians understood this message from then-president Jean-Claude (Baby Doc) Duvalier to mean: “My father (dictator François Duvalier) persecuted, jailed and forced his political opponents into exile; I will milk the public treasury.”

As the world focuses on yet another natural disaster in that unfortunate land, it should be understood that the misery of the majority of its people is in part the result of self-serving leadership that has dominated the world’s first black republic, the product of a successful slave revolt that lasted from 1791-1803.

An impoverished nation

When this nation of 9 million people – poorest in the Americas, with a per-capita income of $1,400 – suffers an earthquake in the capital, home to an estimated 3 million people, the suffering is immediate and brutal.

It is estimated that four in five Haitians are impoverished and undernourished. Those who do have work, including for such Canadian firms as T-shirt maker Gildan, earn $2-$3 a day.

Slums like Cité Soleil in the capital have grown exponentially as a result of massive deforestation. Haitians cook with charcoal, the only fuel they can afford. The erosion caused by deforestation and the flooding of the country with cheap U.S. rice has combined to devastate farming, drawing more rural dwellers to the city, where they are housed in sub-standard cement dwellings. Most of these homes collapsed when the earthquake struck.

A debt unforgiven

While Port-au-Prince’s unfortunate location atop tectonic plates is problematic, foreign debt and neo-colonialism are other underlying problems. France never could accept being defeated and outmaneuvered by a bunch of slaves. In 1825, in return for a pledge not to reinvade, France compelled the Haitian government to pay 90 million gold francs (about $22 billion) as restitution to France and French slave owners. It took until 1947 to erase that debt.

The U.S., under slave-owning president Thomas Jefferson, feared the revolt would spread to its shores. It cut off all aid and tried to isolate the second independent entity in the Americas. U.S. Marines invaded in 1914 to remove Haitian funds in a dispute over American firms building Haiti’s railway system and stayed until 1935. American racism contrasted with the invaders’ improvements to the country’s road, bridges, schools and hospitals, but Haiti’s debt increased. In September, the International Monetary Fund pegged Haiti’s external debt at $1.8 billion. Many say that with this debt, compounded by a series of natural disasters, Haiti never had a chance. We disagree and strongly urge Montrealers to continue responding to its cry for assistance.

Helping to clear the debt

Canada is to be commended for its leadership on the crippling debt issue – and that includes the Harper government. Forgiving $2.3 million in loans last September brought the total of Canada’s debt relief to Haiti to $965 million. We join our voice to the worldwide movement calling on major lending nations to forgive all of Haiti’s debt as 19 members of the Paris Club of creditor nations have already done. We urge the Marshall-Plan effort to rebuild houses, hospitals, schools, government institutions and infrastructure, to assist in reforestation and restoration of agriculture. Canadians, especially Quebecers, home to a 100,000-strong diaspora, have been generous. While the U.S. telethon last month collected $61 million, Canada, with one-10th the population, gave $20 million in response to two telethons, which was doubled to $40 million by the federal government.

Bravo to the credit card companies

Even MasterCard, Visa, and American Express, responding to criticism for charging up to three per cent of charitable donations for transaction fees, suspended these charges on Haitian relief donations to the Canadian Red Cross, Médecins sans frontières, UNICEF Canada and World Vision. Bravo!

Israel and Cuba lend a hand

We were also gratified to see the rapid dispatch by Israel of a 218-person search-and-rescue and emergency medical team, fully equipped to go into action from Day 1, and still rescuing survivors on the seventh day after the earthquake.

Cuba, with its remarkable medical system, also stepped up to the plate. In addition to the 344 doctors and other health professionals working in Haiti under an agreement with the government, Cuba sent 30 physicians, with food, medicine, plasma and other supplies.

They opened makeshift clinics in their residences because local hospitals were destroyed, reopened the Social Security hospital and began treating the injured when they reopened the national hospital in Port-au-Prince. Cuba has also allowed the U.S. to use its airspace for relief efforts. Perhaps Haiti’s tragedy, shocking as it is, can lead to a new spirit of co-operation, even rapprochement, in the Caribbean.


December 2009 editorials

Tory attack flyers backfire

Conservative MPs have upset many Montrealers with their scurrilous attack ads, mailed to people with Jewish-sounding names in ridings with significant numbers of Jewish voters.

There is much that is abhorrent about the tactic itself and the content. Many of those who received the flyer are furious that the Conservatives assume, falsely, that Canadian Jews base their vote on support for Israel, over and above the community members’ long-standing preoccupation with social justice, health care, the environment and a host of other issues.

While most Montreal Jews do support the federal Liberals, for a variety of historical and policy reasons, they do not vote as a bloc. Even more egregious are the statements in the flyer, which Mount Royal MP Irwin Cotler has denounced as “close to hate speech.” The pamphlet accuses the Liberals of “willingly participating in the overly anti-Semitic Durban I – the human rights conference in South Africa that Cotler attended in 2001 along with a Canadian delegations. In fact, Cotler, along with Israeli government encouragement, showed courage and leadership by staying on, along with representatives of major Jewish organizations, in an effort to combat and bear witness to what turned into an anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hate fest. The flyer also falsely accuses the Liberals of being opposed to “defunding Hamas” and asking that Hezbollah be delisted as a terrorist organization. In fact, the Liberals in 2002 took the lead in branding the two Islamist groups as terrorist organizations, making financial support illegal.

If the Conservatives think they will make inroads with Montreal voters with these untruths and sleazy tactics, they are sadly mistaken.

Spectre of Vietnam looms in Afganistan

US President Barack Obama’s announcement of a 30,000-soldier surge to counter the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, bringing to 100,000 the United States’ military commitment to the region, is bound to fail. The parallels with Vietnam are only too obvious. The only possible positive thing we can foresee at this point is that the boost may take some of the heat off Canada’s 3,000-troop Afghanistan contingent, which is to end its combat role in 2011.

On paper, one can wonder how it is that the Taliban, with an estimated force of about 15,000 poorly armed soldiers, can manage to hold out against a coalition of 43 nations equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry and communications capability. The short answer is that, much as in Vietnam, there is a fierce and ingrained determination among the various Afghan peoples to reject foreign interference in their affairs, going back to the British withdrawal more than a century ago and up to the more recent and disastrous attempt by Russian forces to sustain the unpopular Communist regime. The rugged mountainous terrain is an ideal staging ground and hiding place for insurgents. That is among the reasons why US troops failed to capture Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in December 2001.

In Vietnam, US and allied forces were propping up a hated and corrupt regime. Military expert Anthony Cordesman recently told the Washington Post that the regime of Hamid Karzai is “a grossly over-centralized government that is corrupt, is often a tool of power brokers and narco-­traffickers, and lacks basic capacity in virtually every ministry.”

The ballot stuffing that was a feature of Karzai’s recent re-election is but a shadow of the deeper problem. The Afghan version of what was called the “Vietnamization” in the early 1970s is training more Afghan soldiers and police. That is hardly reassuring to Afghanis who know that a uniform there is carte blanche for extortion and abuse. The arrival of 30,000 more Americans can only mean more riches for the Afghani elite whose assistance and cooperation will be needed to provide the infrastructure necessary for their health, safety and security. Let us not forget how deep is the cultural gap that separates that country from our liberal democratic values. Take women’s rights. The recent compromise on family law, after the international outcry over the initial draft in which married women could not refuse sex with their husbands, is this: A husband may deny food to his spouse, even until death, for refusing to have sex with her husband. A wife is now allowed to work outside the home, but only with her husband’s permission.

Thomas Friedman, the respected New York Times columnist, warns that the idea the US and its allies can transform Afghanistan is problematic at best, and deepening the commitment with limited prospects of anything like a victory is “a prescription for disaster.” We say prepare now for some kind of compromise by encouraging the Afghan regime to reach out to the insurgents. Afghanistan will not in our lifetimes adopt our value system. The best we can hope for is to lay the groundwork for building schools, training teachers, doctors, nurses, and engineers and inculcating the essence of our traditions and the rule of law to a new educated elite. Maybe a decent life will be possible in at least parts of the country, justifying to some degree the sacrifice of more than 132 Canadian soldiers since 2002. Ultimately, and sooner than some may think, it will be up to the Afghans to fashion the framework of their society.

Tremblay, Bergeron step up to the plate

While only 39 per cent of eligible voters turned out for last month’s municipal elections, Montrealers voted wisely in re-electing Mayor Gérald Tremblay, but with a reduced majority.

The alleged scandals in construction and water-meter contracts had a lot to do with it, but voters appeared to agree that the mayor himself was not involved. They seemed to say, however, that he should have been more vigilant. With that in mind, he has added the chair of the executive committee and the role of Ville Marie borough mayor to his responsibilities.

Voters also indicated a desire for change by choosing Richard Bergeron’s Projet Montreal to run Plateau Mont Royal borough, and electing to the central city council former Gazette investigative reporter Alexander Norris. Mayor Tremblay has acknowledged this important breakthrough by giving Bergeron responsibility for urban planning. This is an opportunity for him and his party to show whether they have what it takes to persuade Montrealers in four years that they should be in charge.


A just sentence for crimes against humanity

It was a first for Canada: Desiré Munyaneza, scion of a wealthy family in the former Belgian colony of Rwanda, was sentenced in Montreal last month after a lengthy trial for crimes against humanity during the genocide of 1994. He was not the first alleged war criminal to enter Canada, but was the first to be convicted under Canada’s War Crimes Act, which allows Canadian residents to be prosecuted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

All who believe that nobody who commits crimes against humanity should be given impunity will rejoice. Yes, Rwanda, tucked away in east Africa, is far away, but in the global village we are all Rwandans. Until the 1980s, Canada was among many countries that were guilty of inaction in failing to prosecute those who lied on their applications for refuge after the Second World War in failing to mention that they had served the Nazi killing machine. This “let-bygones-be-bygones” attitude flourished in France with regard to Vichy régime collaborators, until such courageous citizens as Beate Klarsfeld tracked down Klaus Barbie, the Butcher of Lyons, in Bolivia and compelled his return to France to face trial.

In his landmark judgment, Justice André Denis of Quebec Superior Court sentenced Munyaneza to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years. Munyaneza not only incited genocide, he led a team of Hutu murderers as part of the systematic killing of at least 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. He was arrested in Toronto in 2005 under the new Crimes Against Humanity and War Crimes Act.

The evidence showed that Munyaneza’s family had stockpiled machetes just before the attacks began. The evidence showed he killed dozens himself in a deliberate and premeditated way, justifying the toughest sentence under Canadian law.

In his trenchant ruling, the judge wrote that Munyaneza “chose to kill, rape and pillage in the name of the supremacy of his ethnic group,” reminding us that “every time a man claims to belong to a superior race, a chosen people, humanity is in danger.” As for the accused denying guilt, Denis wrote, “Denying genocide is to kill the victims a second time.”

“There is no greater crime than genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” he continued. “History has shown that what happened there could happen anywhere in the world, that nobody is safe from such a tragedy.”

Meanwhile, at The Hague, the genocide and war crimes trial of ex-Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic continues, even though he claims he needs more time to prepare his defence. He was branded the “undisputed” leader of Serbs involved in the ethnic cleansing campaign from 1992-95 in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The prosecutor in his opening statement said that, “In the course of conquering the territory he claimed for the Serbs, his forces killed thousands of Bosnian Muslims and Croats, imprisoned thousands more in squalid and brutal camps and detention facilities, and forced hundreds of thousands away from their homes.” He quoted Karadzic as saying before the war that Serb forces would turn the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, into “a black cauldron, where 300,000 Muslims will die.” The charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity and other atrocities include allegedly organizing the massacre of up to 8,000 Bosnian men and youths in Srebrenica.

What a contrast between these horrific episodes of planned mass murder with those who throw around notions of “war crimes,” such as in the recent Goldstone Report, when it comes to Israel’s actions in Gaza last year. Israel acted in response to years of unprovoked rocket attacks from that territory against civilian targets in Israel. As the report said, “The Government of Israel has a duty to protect its citizens.” Yes, innocent victims died, on both sides, as they always will in armed conflict. But with Gaza ruled by Hamas, dedicated to destroying Israel and allowing or directing rocket attacks and other acts of terror against it, there is no denying its primary responsibility for the deaths that occurred.


The Tremblay record: more to celebrate than regret

October, 2009

When voters go the polls November 1 in Quebec-wide municipal contests, the stakes in Montreal will be critical, not just for island residents but for the entire province. We are the motor force of the provincial economy, the dynamo that drives our cultural and political life. As a result of our participation, of lack thereof, we will end up with the administration we deserve — with all its broader implications.

Of the four candidates for mayor, we believe the pluses far outweigh the minuses when it comes to Gérald Tremblay’s record as mayor. He deserves wide support. Looking at the alternatives, the main challenger is Louise Harel, who took over from Ville Marie mayor Benoît Labonté to lead Vision Montreal. Harel is a career politician who built her reputation as a Parti Québécois hard-liner. She is honest, able, hard working and progressive. Having spent most of her life as a PQ activist, turned member of the national assembly and cabinet minister, we fear she will favour a bureaucratic and technocratic approach to governance – the Cartesian outlook that led to the top-down imposition of mergers that she piloted – that will outweigh her humanistic side. Her gut favours centralizing, as opposed to the compromise solution, however imperfect, we now have. Still, she will be a strong opposition leader and has attracted some interesting candidates who deserve your consideration. Former Dawson College administrator Brenda Paris running for borough mayor in Côte des Neiges-Notre Dame de Grace and urban planning professor David Hanna, for borough councilor in Notre-Dame de Grâce, deserve your consideration.

Mayoral candidate Richard Bergeron is pushing for tramways and an emphasis on mass transit. He has other ideas for a greener, environmentally- friendly city as he builds his Projet Montréal team. We support his candidacy in De Lorimier and his call for bridge tolls. We also support award-winning journalist Alex Norris, running in Mile-End.

When it comes to the Tremblay team’s overall record, we believe it is positive, responsible and ahead of the game when it comes to integrity. Yes, police are looking into five cases of improper municipal deals, but none impugns directly or indirectly Tremblay himself. And in the waterworks mega-contract, he not only got rid of the city’s two top administrators, his former right-hand man, Frank Zampino, left on his own. Looking at the positives, mass transit is efficient, affordable and user friendly. Elevators are being installed in some key metro stations to make the system more accessible to the disabled and seniors.

In urban planning and infrastructure development, the Pine-Park interchange has been tastefully replaced. The Quartier des spectacles is emerging as a jewel of urban planning.

Yes, the city is losing middle-class families to the north and south shores, but no administration can compete with cheap land, housing and green space off the island. Potholes remain a curse and snow and ice removal has been pitiful. We expect more – we demand more – from our city on this front.

Among the Tremblay team’s candidates for council with proven commitment to the public good and integrity are Helen Fotopoulos, running in Côte des Neiges and Marvin Rotrand in Snowdon. It’s going to be a close race, exciting too. We urge all those eligible to study the respective platforms and make your voices heard so the winners are as representative as possible, and can be held to account.


Recent Senate appointments reek of patronage

The idea of a Canadian senate – an upper chamber modelled on the British House of Lords that offers sober second thought to decisions of the elected House of Commons – was a good one, in its time. Stephen Harper built his political reputation in part on his call for an elected Senate that would modernize the institution and make it directly representative. Not a bad idea, but one that would never succeed without provincial agreement and a nod from the senators themselves.

The Liberals stacked the Senate with partisans while they were in power, including the usual assortment of hacks and bagmen, and as they compulsorily retire at age 75, or die, Harper is replacing them with his own loyal crew. Some will call it hypocrisy, as the Liberals are doing, while others will see it as realpolitik. But there is no doubt, our prime minister has shown, in his last two rounds of appointments, including one last month, that he is not prepared to show leadership by appointing independent women and men who have bipartisan stature and can be counted on to vote with their good sense and conscience, including on the future shape of the Senate.

Let us remember that what we are talking about is a most lucrative patronage appointment. Senators receive a base salary of $132,000, plus extras for positions such as committee chairs. They are eligible at age 55 for pensions worth 75 per cent of their best five years salary after serving six years in the Senate; the pension is indexed to the cost of living after age 60. Like the 18 senators appointed in December, all have been asked to relinquish their seats after eight years, but nothing obliges them to do so.

Senators get 64 return trips per calendar year anywhere in Canada by plane or train. They can designate someone else to travel. Senators can claim up to $20,000 per year in travel and living expenses if they live 100 kilometres from Ottawa. Senators receive $149,400 to set up an office on Parliament Hill, hire staff and conduct research, and nothing prevents them from appointing a family member to their staff.

Harper’s nine appointments last month brings the tally there to 53 Liberals, 43 Conservatives and six independents and progressive conservatives. Harper is nearing a majority in the Senate, though his party is in a minority in the House of Commons. Among those appointed in Quebec:

• Jacques Demers, 65, the former Montreal Canadiens hockey coach and RDS commentator, who courageously admitted in his 2005 biography that he was illiterate. We salute Demers for his honesty and subsequent efforts to learn to read and write. As a hockey hero, he will be an asset to Harper come election time. However, a man who hasn’t read a book for almost his entire adult life is hardly ideal to review legislation. The other Quebec Senators are straight from the patronage book:

• Judith Seidman, co-chairwoman for Harper’s leadership bid in 2003 and a former educator, health and social sciences researcher.

• Claude Carignan, 44, mayor of Saint-Eustache, a lawyer, vice-president of the Quebec Union of Municipalities, and a failed Tory candidate.

Less obvious but equally calculated is the appointment of Linda Frum Sokolowski, the Toronto-based conservative journalist. She’s praised Harper for his steadfast support of Israel, a key to his drive to make continuing inroads among Jewish voters. She’s 46.

Unless and until there is reform, Carignan’s got the job for the 31 years, Frum Sokolowski for the next 29 years.

To soften the sting, Harper named NDP premier Gary Doer to the plum diplomatic appointment as ambassador to Washington, much as Brian Mulroney named former New Democrat Stephen Lewis ambassador to the United Nations.

This latest round makes it a record 18 appointments to the Senate in less than a year – a blunt reminder that the Senate as it is now constituted is an aberration that must be reformed, and that it takes real courage to carry this out. Now that he’s in power, Prime Minister Harper has not shown that he is much different from his predecessors, or that he has the stuff to carry out his own laudable call for Senate reform.


Guantanamo North must be shut down

July 2009

His friends and supporters last month celebrated the return to Montreal of Abousfian Abdulrazik. He’s the Canadian of Sudanese origin caught in a Kafkaesque nightmare, forced for the last year to sleep in the foyer of the Canadian embassy in Khartoum because he was on a no-fly list, though he was cleared of all suspicion that he was a security threat. It is a small but significant victory for the rule of law. But it comes as more disturbing information is being uncovered about the basis upon which five Canadians, all suspected Islamist extremists with past connections to terrorism, have been jailed on controversial national security certificates.

In the case of Syrian refugee claimant Hassan Almrei, who arrived in Canada in 1999 on what turned out to be a fake passport, and was detained after 9/11, a Federal Court judge has revealed that a confidential informant who pointed the accusing finger at Almrei failed a lie detector test and a second informant did not undergo that test, which the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) falsely claimed was given. Almrei was the last of the five to be released from a special six-unit holding cell opened in 2006 for terrorist suspects in Kingston penitentiary. It brings to mind the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the U.S. detained “unlawful combatants” suspected of terrorism and where it practiced water boarding to extract information from prisoners. U.S. President Barak Obama has banned torture and ordered that the facility be closed and we urge that Canada follow suit.

This is not to say that CSIS must let up in its search for credible information on threats to our security. But maintaining that facility signals that the rule of law does not apply when probing security issues and can be misread as an invitation for abuse. CSIS appears to be listening. Following revelations questioning the reliability of a key informant in the case of Mohamed Harkat, an Algerian-born Ottawa resident who also was ar- rested under a security certificate, CSIS has announced it is conducting an “exhaustive review” of all the court material it has filed in the five security certificate cases. In the rush to deliver results after 9/11, CSIS, like the CIA in the U.S., made mistakes.

Our government can send an important signal that Canada will not tolerate physically abusive treatment of detainees in order to extract information that could be obtained by other means. Our government should underline its confidence in the rule of law by stating unequivocally that we will not accept information obtained under torture in order to detain Canadian residents or citizens. One strong way of doing that would be to follow Obama’s lead and mothball the facility known as Guantanamo North.


Conservative attack ads betray narrow values

June 2009

The Conservatives are showing signs of desperation with their ugly attack ads against Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. They have spent hundreds of thousands — evading spending controls imposed during an election period — with the series run on privately owned TV.

They make the preposterous claim that Ignatieff is only in it for himself, that he returned to Canada after living abroad for more than 30 years purely to pursue his careerist goals. He’s accused of being a cosmopolitan, which many of us will remember, is the kind of thing anti-Semites used in their screeds, accusing Jews of being rootless people only passing through for personal gain.

This campaign tells us more about the Conservative party mindset, and that of some core supporters, than it does about Michael Ignatieff. Most Canadians are proud of how he carved out an international career as a respected university professor at Harvard and observer of historical trends. He became an international public intellectual with his books, documentaries, and interviews with leading thinkers. His idol is the late British philosopher, Sir Isaiah Berlin. Yes, he lived in London, Belgrade, and Cambridge, Mass. Yes, he is learned and worldly. Yes, he has acquired liberal democratic values from his distinguished family — his Canadian diplomat father George Ignatieff and his grandfather, the Red Tory academic, George Grant.

They used to hurl similar epithets at Pierre Elliott Trudeau, his enemies deriding him as an Outremont intellectual who never had a real job and spent much of his youth traveling the world. Many of us are happy with Ignatieff ’s decision to lead the Liberals. He is superbly articulate and knowledgeable. He is learning to reconcile varied constituencies. However, we dispute the Liberals’ decision to support mandatory jail sentences for serious drug offences. They don’t want to appear soft on crime, but the failed war on drugs in the U.S. shows this is the wrong approach.

Although we do not know yet where he stands on every issue, we are confident his policies will reflect a deep understanding of history and how this country can better balance its international interests.

The Tories are scared that at a time of dissatisfaction with them, Ignatieff and the Liberals look better and better. A recent poll shows the attack ads are hurting Ignatieff, but also damaging Conservative support. A Toronto Star/Angus poll last month showed that while 42 per cent of respondents said their opinion of Ignatieff worsened after seeing the ads, fully half said their opinion of Harper also worsened. Mario Canseco, vice-president of the polling group, commented that while the poll tries to paint Ignatieff as an arrogant elitist, Canadians actually think Harper is the more arrogant one.

The Conservatives are trying to appeal to Canadians suspicious of the liberal values Ignatieff represents. In so doing they are alienating the urban majority of this increasingly multi-ethnic country who see in Michael Ignatieff a leader who is well placed to restore our standing in the world and put the Liberal brand back on track to challenge Harper with a more progressive approach.


Torture is morally repugnant, unjustifiable

May, 2009

The shock engendered by 9/11 and other terrorist actions has shaken the moral fibre of Western nations and weakened the basic pillars of our liberal democracies: innocence until proven guilty in a court of law, freedom from torture, the right of any suspect to be indicted after 24 hours or released from custody. Debate is swirling in the United States about whether charges should be laid, or at least a public inquiry held in to the way the country has interrogated terror suspects. World opinion, and that of this newspaper, is clear on this issue.

As stated in the United Nations Convention Against Torture, it is against international law to inflict “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental” to obtain information or a confession. Canada ratified the convention and allows individual complaints to the UN, while the US has signed but not ratified it.

The debate was reignited last month when US President Barack Obama released so-called torture memos, outlining harsh interrogation techniques sanctioned by the George W. Bush administration. These include: water boarding, simulating the sensation of drowning; placing a harmless insect in a suspect’s confinement box and telling him it would sting; sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours; confining a detainee in painful positions. Obama banned these practices his first week in office.

Then there is the system of extraordinary rendition, where a suspect is apprehended and transferred to another country so that “torture by proxy” can be carried out. Shamefully, Canadians are not immune to this practice. Maher Arar, a Syrian-born Canadian, was arrested in New York on Sept. 26, 2002, based in part on incomplete and unverified information supplied by the RCMP about his alleged links to Al-Qaeda. Twelve days later he was flown to Syria, where he was beaten, tortured and forced to make false confessions. He has since been cleared of any terrorist links or activities, and the Canadian government has apologized for any role Canadians may have played in the ordeal and awarded him $10.5 million in compensation.

Among the painful lessons to be learned here is that detainees will say virtually anything under torture in the hope it will stop. Professionals understand the limited value of information obtained under these circumstances, and we all should be concerned about embarking on that slippery slope that erodes our values.

In Canada, nobody was singled out for blame or punishment in the Arar affair. And we have watched in amazement as Abousfian Abdelrazik, a Canadian of Sudanese origin, has been forced for the last year to sleep in the foyer of the Canadian embassy in Khartoum– and pays for the privilege – because he’s on a no-fly list. On a visit there to see his ailing mother, he was imprisoned and tortured, apparently on the recommendation of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. In spite of the torture – he has shown visitors the physical scars as evidence – and what he may have said, both CSIS and the RCMP have advised the Harper government they have no reason to believe Abdelrazik is a terrorist. He has also been cleared by the Sudanese secret service. CSIS insists it does not arrange for the arrest of Canadian citizens overseas, despite documentary evidence from Foreign Affairs to the contrary in this case.

US President Obama has absolved CIA operatives who used torture tactics, but debate is still swirling as to whether those in the administration who sanctioned these methods should be held accountable, or at least examined in a public inquiry. CSIS has offered to take part in a similar inquiry into its role in the Abdelrazik affair. We believe both are necessary. Public officials involved should be granted immunity from prosecution so the issue of aiding and abetting torture for any reason can be aired. We support giving our intelligence services in Canada the resources they need to protect our society from conspiracy to carry out terrorism. But that must not include licence to torture, which goes against the fundamental principles of rule of law, is morally repugnant and plainly intolerable under any circumstances.


CBC survival trumps private TV

April, 2009

Conventional media were heading for a revenue crisis when the recent recession made the situation even worse.

Instead of one pie divided up among print and electronic, the Internet and specialty channels came on board, taking increasingly bigger pieces. Younger readers and viewers drifted more and more to online platforms, with a corresponding drop in the perceived value of OId Media. All this has been exacerbated by the financial meltdown. Here at The Senior Times we are weathering the storm with continuing high readership and advertisers who covet their attention. We do it without any government subsidy and remain free to criticize without fear of reprisal.

The CBC, with its superb ad-free radio and television service that, in contrast to CTV and Global, effectively mirrors our society, faces similar challenges. CBC’s coverage of the news, both local, national and international, is an essential institution, our window to Canadian life and world affairs.

We denounce in the strongest terms the Harper government’s decision not to make up a $171- million shortfall for the 2009-10 season. The result: Up to 80 jobs are being cut from its news division with another 313 to be dropped in sports, entertainment and current affairs. And that’s just the beginning. CBC president Hubert Lacroix says a total of about 800 full-time jobs will have to go and $125 million in assets sold – a “fire sale” of our beloved CBC. Locally, Radio Noon is to be cut back by one hour and such powerhouse investigative shows as The Fifth Estate and Marketplace will have their budgets sliced.

Similarly, CTV and Global are threatening to drop or sell stations and cut local programming because of revenue shortfall. They – who were making huge profits when they had less competition – are now asking the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to introduce a carriage fee for their over-the-air signals. The proposal calls for cable and satellite distributors to pay the networks to carry their signals, similar to how the distributors currently pay for specialty and pay channels. This would only lead to higher cable fees for channels that are available for free without cable. It could also increase revenue for these networks by $200 to $300 million, according to CRTC chair Konrad Von Finckenstein, who says this will not solve conventional TV’s long-term challenges. We are totally against this fee. Private networks, which have been making huge profits, do not deserve to be bailed out in this way. Let them adjust as best they can.

Meanwhile, we again urge the government to increase its support for CBC because this is a towering achievement of our country that is essential to our intellectual enrichment. We urge our readers to endorse a Save the CBC petition at: TRACK


Humanists also deserve a voice

March 2009

In her letter in the Gazette, (Sunday, March 1) “Why do atheists worry about God?” Sheila Mediena expresses concern about the Humanist Association of Quebec’s forthcoming campaign to adorn 10 city buses with the ad: “There’s probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

She wonders why atheists, who, she writes, “put their faith in humanity” don’t “put their money into something useful for humanity – like supporting schools for girls in Afghanistan, instead of polluting our environment?”

Let us set the record straight for those who connect religious belief and humanitarianism: There is no correlation. Humanists are no more likely to be humanitarians than those who believe in God. Furthermore, humanists do not necessarily “put their faith in humanity” any more than believers do.

To answer Ms. Mediena’s question, atheists have the right to be “preoccupied” with the fact that most of the world believes in God and yet acts of unspeakable horror are committed by believers.

In the last 50 years, atheists have tried to soften their message that there is no god with a more positive approach, using the term “humanist,” which emphasizes that we are responsible for our ethical behaviour and should enjoy life to the fullest because there is no afterlife.

If believers have the right to plaster slogans that warn people about what will happen to them if they do not accept the Lord – and to let us know how much God loves us regardless of what sins we commit – humanists have the right to let people know they can take it easy and enjoy life.

If Ms. Mediena is worried about physical pollution, both types of ads are equally at fault.

– Barbara Moser

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Cuba’s socialism a work in progress

March 2009

Fifty years ago, on December 31, 1958, a ragtag band of bearded, gun-toting dreamers marched into Havana and forced the corrupt, Mafia linked regime of Fulgencio Batista to flee. Revolutionary and controversial changes followed, including the nationalization of property and an end to private enterprise.

Thousands fled, but Fidel Castro’s regime ushered in a set of social priorities that serve as a beacon for many who believe in a radical alternative to laissez-faire capitalism. Still, celebrations were subdued in Havana this year because of uncertainty about the ailing Castro’s health and mounting internal pressure in Cuba for change, some of which has begun, albeit somewhat timidly.

Canadians are involved to some degree in this bold experiment, with all its negatives, because we are the primary source of tourism there. Whereas solidarity tourism was for years the main source of visits to the island nation, it is now Cuba’s main source of foreign exchange. And what do we see when we visit its beaches or wander around the historic, albeit crumbling, vestiges of Spanish colonial architecture in Havana? We see mothers and fathers walking home with their five-year-olds in the ballet outfits from their after-school classes. What other country with similar GDP, population and natural resources can boast of 30,000 doctors? What other country in these circumstances has virtually eliminated illiteracy while offering the basic security of food, shelter, health care and education for all?

Yes, there has been a price paid, and there is internal pressure for change. When professors and professionals would rather be tour guides and waiters because of tips, there has to be an adjustment. Salaries will have to be boosted so highly trained people can afford to do their work.

Raul Castro, the new leader, is more of a realist than his idealistic brother. Beans before bullets is his mantra. Among changes he has introduced are the Chinese and Russian buses that have made a huge difference in comfort to Havana commuters. Cubans are now allowed to visit and stay in hotels formerly reserved for foreigners, and they can have cell phones and computers. But information is still tightly controlled and Cubans need special permission to get Internet access. This restriction cannot last.

Ironically, an end to the U.S. boycott of Cuba can only accelerate the pace of change there. U.S. President Barack Obama has other priorities, but normalization of relations is overdue. When it happens it will have positive and negative effects. On the plus side, communication among peoples with differing social values can only be beneficial. Cuba will have access to a huge tourist market 135 kilometres away. But before that can happen the two countries have to talk and Cuba will be asked to compensate Americans for property seized in 1962. Hopefully, normalization will not include the Mafia-run casinos gangster Meyer Lansky was once planning to line Havana’s Malecón oceanfront with. (In The Godfather, Part II, Lansky is portrayed as the mythical Hyman Roth.) And it would be a shame to see Old Havana peppered with McDonald’s and Coca Cola signs.

There is something beautiful about how neighbours help each other in Havana, how Cubans take pride in their culture, how live music thrives in the city’s bars and cafés. Cuban ballet is first class, there are theatres throughout Havana, people actually talk to each other, and the pace of life is leisurely. Some of this may well change in the emerging Cuba.

Other shifts we have noticed: Many Cubans have had enough of the personality cult surrounding Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. They want the social values, and the security that goes with them. They don’t want a society where people have to skim off the top, or cover up for those who do to survive.


Gazette labour dispute affects us all

The contract dispute at The Gazette pitting editorial and reader sales and service employees against the paper’s management affects us all. Our community depends on our only English daily for news and commentary on the issues that affect us. Contract talks, however, have reached a stalemate. The main obstacle is the outsourcing of work that local employees have always performed. Canwest Global Inc., the newspaper’s owners, faced with the need to pay the interest on their $3.6 billion debt, want to maintain revenue, and they see centralization as a possible answer.

Last spring, The Gazette transferred much of its reader sales work to a Canwest call centre in Winnipeg. According to customers who have used its services, it is a work in progress.

The paper, without consulting its union, has started the same process in its editorial department by outsourcing over 100 pages a week for pagination, as well as such editorial work as headline writing and picture processing, to a Canwest-owned non-union shop in Hamilton, Ont.

Union fears that the paper will outsource more editing – and even reporting – were exacerbated by a January interview with Bernard Asselin, vice-president marketing and reader sales, by CBC Daybreak’s Mike Finnerty. Asked which jobs Canwest wants to ship outside Quebec, Asselin first said: “It’s not someone from outside the province going to city hall to cover Mayor Tremblay’s press conference.”

Finnerty: That’s not going to happen?

Asselin: Well, not at this point.

Finnerty: Not at this point, or not ever?

Asselin: Not at this point. But you know what? The business model is broken right now in the newspaper industry. We need to look at all the options and be flexible.

The fear is that decisions on the content of our local newspaper will be determined by people who do not reflect our unique anglo-Quebec culture.

We urge readers to express their views to Gazette management.


Fear versus free speech

During the bloody Gaza invasion, despite broad support in Israel, several voices in the Jewish community questioned the scope of the operation, with estimates of up to 1,300 Palestinian casualties.

The exact figure may never be independently verified but its horrific nature brought many thoughtful Israelis to question Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. One of these is Jeff Halper, co-founder and director of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, who was booked by Independent Jewish Voices – a coalition of Zionists, non-Zionists and anti- Zionists – before the incursion began.

Three days before the speech was to be held, Federation CJA cancelled, saying another group that heard about the talk had asked to hold its meeting at the same time in the same centre. Concerned about possible conflict, all Federation CJA President Marc Gold had to do was say the group could hold its meeting on another night. Instead he cancelled the Halper talk, which was rescheduled at the Unitarian Church of Montreal. Gold said that with the community on heightened security alert, there were no resources available to beef up security.

This decision was wrong. There is considerable debate in Israel and here about what is in the state’s best longterm interest to come to terms with its neighbours. These views deserve to be heard. The Gelber Centre should be open to all viewpoints of Jewish interest, especially during times of crisis and by an Israeli whose topic was “Peace in Israel? Peace in Gaza? Yes We Can.”


Editorial: Who will lead us through these critical times?

With a new Quebec government about to be elected, and as the Harper government in Ottawa stumbles in its first weeks, we have a message for our readers and politicians alike: This is no time for adventurism.

We see the world economy teetering from crisis to crisis, we watch our savings dry up, and more than ever we need strong, stable, sensible government. That is why the Quebec Liberal Party under Jean Charest is the best choice in this provincial election. Yes, the Liberals take voters in west-end Montreal for granted. Still, there are some excellent candidates and with them we still have some clout.

The alternative, as far as having the required number of seats to form a government, is the Parti Québécois under Pauline Marois. With their social-democratic stream, they can be effective in opposition. But the last thing Quebec needs right now is a party committed to breaking up the country taking power, even if the PQ has shelved for now a referendum that would enable such a cataclysmic process to begin.

We dismiss Mario Dumont and his ADQ because they want to go too far, too fast in enabling private health care, and other ill thought-out policies, such as dismantling school boards. We like the Green Party and its call for a saner approach to the deterioration of our environment.

We also appreciate Québec Solidaire and its fight for social justice with such policies as raising the minimum wage from $8.50 to $10.50 and indexing it to the cost of living so the working poor can survive. But between both parties, only Dr. Amir Khadir in Mercier riding has a chance of being elected and we would welcome his defeating the PQ’s Daniel Turp there. If Jean Charest does get a majority this time, we have confidence he will be well placed to get the English super hospital built, reinforce our health care system and maintain our universities with gradual and relatively slight $50-a-semester increases in tuition, which will remain the lowest in Canada.

Stephen Harper, on the other hand, did not get the majority he hoped for when he broke his commitment to fixed elections every four years. He lost it because of miscalculations in Quebec, especially the $35 million in cuts to grants for culture that to many revealed the government bias inherent in his ideology.

Then, without a clear mandate, he tried to pull what can only be described as a dirty trick: Instead of announcing spending programs to stimulate the economy and help hard-hit manufacturing and forestry, his finance minister tried to insert more right-wing ideology. Jim Flaherty had the nerve to attempt first to deny civil servants the right to strike for three years, and second, to cut the $1.95 per vote subsidy to political parties. Both these proposals have since been withdrawn.

On the first point, there is no justification at this time for denying workers, be they in the public or private sector, the right to withdraw their work as a pressure tactic in contract negotiations, except when public safety is involved. As for the crisis around the subsidies to political parties, the Conservatives were beating a hasty retreat in an attempt to avoid being defeated on a confidence motion. This could have set in motion a bid by the opposition parties to cobble together a coalition. The alternative is another costly federal election, surely not in anyone’s interest, including the Liberals as they prepare to replace Stéphane Dion. Harper’s ploy has backfired, revealing a manipulative streak that this country could do without. We would prefer a cooperative approach, one that takes into account that this still is a minority government, and inspires, rather than reeking of rank opportunism.


Editorial: Don’t allow our infrastructure to deteriorate

The worldwide stock market implosion and the start of a recession in North America present a particular challenge to our governments.

With his increased standing in the Commons, Stephen Harper will be tempted to pursue his belief in trickle- down economic policies. We think otherwise. The decreased value of the Canadian dollar, linked to the stun­ning, though cyclical drop in oil and natural gas prices, can only help our challenged manufacturing sector.

But it won’t be enough. Now is the time to revert to much-maligned Keynesian solutions – yes, deficits are bad, but massive unemployment and swollen welfare rolls are worse. We urge the Harper government to massively invest in infrastructure, especially health care and mass transit. When prices in fossil fuels return to where they should be, given limited supply and exponentially increasing demand, government revenues they supply can be used to pay down this spending.

Canadians can be thankful that our more closely regulated (and more monopolistic) banking system is not facing the same problems as those in the U.S. One estimate expects an additional 5 million Americans to join the 47 million already without health care in 2006 according to the U.S. Census Bureau – 15.8% of the popu­lation, a rate that has increased for six consecutive years. A recent survey of 4500 U.S. hospitals, reported in the New York Times, found that more than half were technically insolvent or at risk of insolvency. The evi­dence is there for all to see: We must not allow our medicare system to deteriorate in a similar fashion just because a right-wing government believes the marketplace solves everything. It doesn’t.

The Harper government must strengthen our health care system at a time when the seniors and soon-to-be seniors who paid those heavy taxes, compared to the U.S., will be needing greater care. If the ripple effect of the world economic crisis curtails demand for our products and creates more unemployment, we expect our governments to see this as an opportunity to rebuild crumbling urban infrastructure and extend mass transit, to make us less dependent on fossil fuels when prices start to rebound, as they will. Then will come the time for deficit fighting, not now.


Strong candidates make voting decisions tough

With storm clouds signaling economic meltdown hovering over the United States, the debates in the Canadian general election seemed liked a passing sun shower. Add to that the drama of Obama versus McCain, and his risky choice of Sarah Palin as running mate, and you have all the makings of drama, even if at times it resembled a daytime soap opera.

But we have a real battle going on right here, with all the opinion surveys pointing to a renewed Conservative victory under Stephen Harper. Still, his vision of the role of government has yet to win him a seat in Montreal or Toronto.

The ridings where The Senior Times is distributed are solidly Liberal and many of our readers reflect this reality. But some fine candidates are running for the NDP, Conservatives and Green Party who are attracting attention and would make excellent MPs. Green Party leader Elizabeth May urges Canadians to vote with their hearts, but some are calling for strategic voting, to support whomever is strongest to prevent a Tory majority.

Some may feel that Liberal leader Stéphane Dion, an honest, hardworking, principled and brilliant man, has been pilloried for not being as good with soundbites as others. But the past week has shown him to in fact have an exemplary capacity to articulate his ideas in both languages.

The NDP hopes to repeat their byelection win in Outremont and to pick up Westmount–Ville-Marie as well, where CBC broadcaster Anne Lagacé Dowson is waging a high-profile campaign. Former astronaut Marc Garneau is the Liberal star candidate there – certainly a man of honour and achievement, who has proved his dedication to the common good. The NDP’s Peter Deslauriers, former head of the Dawson College teachers’ union, is also an attractive candidate for NDG–Lachine, up against Marlene Jennings, who has become a well-known advocate of minority rights. It goes without saying that we fully support Stéphane Dion in St. Laurent, and human rights advocate and former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler in Mount Royal.

We know many of our readers will have difficulty choosing this time due to the unusually high calibre of candidates running across the island.


Editorial: Obama shines light for Canada

Anyone who watched Barack Obama's magnificent acceptance speech at last month's Democratic Party convention could only have been impressed by the man's rhetorical skill and the magnitude of this historic moment.

This man is gifted, not just by his use of words – simple words that pack a mighty punch – but also by his ability to touch on the concerns of average Americans at a critical time in their history. His nomination speaks volumes about how the political culture in that country is evolving. His Yes We Can promise of change in such key areas as Iraq, healthcare, and the growing wealth-poverty gap mobilized millions – of people and dollars – from across the spectrum. As power beckons, however, there are signs that Obama is retreating from some of his potentially controversial stands. One example is his reversal on denying retroactive federal immunity to phone companies involved in the Bush domestic wiretap program.

As The Nation magazine reported last month under the heading Change We Can Believe In, progressive Americans who are supporting Obama delivered an open letter to him during the convention, demanding that he not cave on a series of crucial commitments. These include:

  • Withdrawal from Iraq on a fixed timetable
  • Universal healthcare
  • A more progressive financial and welfare system
  • Public investment to repair infrastructure
  • Fair trade policies
  • Shifting billions from fossil-fuel consumption to alternative energy sources.
  • Restoration of the freedom to organize unions by passing the Employee Free Choice Act.

This last point is key to allowing American unions to turn around their erosion in membership, which has hurt the middle class. The Act would allow arbitration on first contracts after 120 days without an agreement, and would stop employers from ordering secret ballots where the majority of workers sign union cards without evidence of coercion.

This is what real change means and these areas clearly distinguish Obama from McCain, whose inherent promise of Òmore of the sameÓ stands in stark contrast to Yes We Can.


The intensity and passion seen in Denver and the hope inspired by Obama can only spill over into the upcoming Canadian election. Why Stephen Harper wants one is something of a mystery. The polls show him picking up support in Quebec at the expense of the Bloc, but losing some in vote-rich Ontario.

One hypothesis is that he wants to bleed dry the Liberals' war chest at a time when it can't match Tory fundraising, which is short-term thinking at best – if another Harper minority results, all he'll have done is weaken the Liberals' finances for the inevitable follow-up vote.

Another possibility is that he wants to get the election behind him by mid-October to limit the progressive spillover from the Obama campaign, which can only help the opposition.

Whatever his reasons, Harper has yet to make a convincing case that the current arrangement is holding him back.

Liberal leader Dion, stopping briefly in Westmount to support Marc Garneau, assured The Senior Times that when an election comes, seniors' issues will top his agenda, including his Green Shift plan, which he said is of special concern to grandparents.


Remove the crucifix from the National Assembly

There is a recognizable shadow in the elaborate wood paneling in the main courtroom of the Quebec Court of Appeal on Notre-Dame. Because it was until fairly recently covered with a cross, the wood paneling has not aged at the same rate. A crucifix-shaped outline is clearly visible.

This central icon of Christianity has been removed from the courtrooms of Quebec. For the same reasons, the crucifix should be removed from behind the Speaker’s chair in the National Assembly and placed elsewhere, among other artifacts that recall Quebec’s heritage.

We were extremely dismayed when, under the “leadership” of Premier Jean Charest, the National Assembly voted unanimously to reject the recommendation of the Bouchard-Taylor commission on reasonable accommodation almost as soon as it was made public. We heartily support the idea that, to underline the secular nature of our most important political body, the artifact be moved from where it  was set in the mid-1930s. After all, separation of church and state is basic to any liberal democracy.

The commission, among its 37 recommendations, said it should be relocated in the legislature building to a place that emphasizes heritage value. That is where it belongs.

Nobody is denying that the first Europeans to colonize Quebec – and subdue the native inhabitants in paternalistic, abusive and often inhumane ways – were from France. No one is denying the role played by the Roman Catholic Church and its religious orders in providing some education and health care.

But Quebec has changed and the roles have changed. The Quiet Revolution recognized the inadequacy of this system. And since the 1960s Quebec has become the most secular province in Canada, with a massive rejection of the Church, in part because of the abuses some of its institutions and clerics inflicted on innocent believers.

The Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms has replaced religious dogma as the guarantor of each individual’s standing in society. Quebec was a leader in granting women the right to decide if they want to go ahead with unwanted pregnancies. Quebec pioneered gay-marriage rights. Quebec has the highest rate of common-law unions in Canada. Retaining the crucifix is an anachronism that contradicts of all of these fundamental changes.

But more importantly, today’s Quebec is a diverse community of communities. Maintaining a religious icon in our legislature sends the wrong message to our lawmakers. With our need for continuing high levels of immigration, the time is coming when there will be a Muslim premier. Or a Jew or atheist or agnostic may fill that role. Future leaders and legislators should not have to face a religious icon when making decisions that affect a multi-faceted and diverse population.

The unanimous vote in the National Assembly was an obvious pitch for old-stock Quebecers’ sentiment. The front-page story in La Presse on a recent Saturday featured a smiling farmer beaming beside a dairy cow. “The Quebec we love,” said the headline. But we know that this bit of happy nostalgia is largely mythical. That Quebec was a place of limited education and opportunity, banned books, misogyny, ostracism for what used to be known as unwed mothers, xenophobia and economic and cultural stagnation. The quarter-century spent under strongman Maurice Duplessis, who had the crucifix installed, was known as the Great Darkness.

The new Quebec is one of openness to the world, of safe haven for immigrants, of individual rights and freedoms, a rainbow of beliefs and respect for all. It is unfortunate that, among all the recommendations made by the commission, the first thing our politicians did was to pounce on the crucifix-removal recommendation and reject it. It does not bode well for the other proposals, such as speeding up steps to recognize foreign university diplomas so that qualified physicians don’t have to drive taxis while our emergency rooms continue to be overcrowded and understaffed.

The commission suggested the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms be amended to ban public incitement to discriminate, and urged “exceptional initiatives” to fight anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and discrimination faced by all racialized groups, particularly Blacks. We urge the Quebec government to get on the case and in doing so pay homage to some of the lessons we should have learned from the crucifixion.


Iraq war deserters merit sanctuary

Some 40 years ago, then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau opposed the U.S. war in Vietnam and, like many Canadians, was openly sympathetic to the thousands of young Americans who crossed the border into Canada to evade the draft. Trudeau said at the time, "Those who make the conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war … have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism."

Those were heady days and the Vietnam War had galvanized the young around the world into a spirit of revolt. Canada then received from 50,000 to 100,000 Americans, draft dodgers and deserters alike. The draft is no more, but similar issues of conscientious objection to an illegal war have now come to the fore with the arrival of an estimated 150 American soldiers in Canada in search of asylum. The question is, should those who signed up for service in the U.S. Armed Forces and gone AWOL be granted refuge?

Many who first supported the U.S. invasion accepted the fact that the war was illegal but believed what is now known as trumped up evidence that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling Weapons of Mass Destruction. The world now knows this was a fabrication. Others believed the U.S., as sole super-power was being the world's police officer in ridding the Iraqis of its murderous tyrant, Saddam. But knowing now how badly the post-invasion was mismanaged, it is perfectly reasonable on a moral level that those who enlisted have seen the horror of it all and are being asked to redeploy for a third and fourth tour of duty can legitimately refuse to take part in an illegal war and occupation.

With a civil war raging, at least 90,000 Iraqis killed, possibly many more, and more than 4,000 U.S. military dead, is it not legitimate for soldiers to reject the effort and renege on their contracts on moral grounds? Canadian courts in dismissing refugee claims in two cases have set aside the issue of the war's legality. Justice Anne Mactavish of the Federal Court wrote in the case of Jeremy Hinzman in 2006 that the legality of the war "is not before the court and no finding has made in this regard." The Supreme Court of Canada has refused to hear appeals in Hinzman's case and that of deserter Brandon Hughey. His lawyer, Jeffry House, noted that in 1995 the Federal Court granted refugee status to a deserter from Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, accepting the argument he should not be compelled to take part in an illegal war. The difference, of course, is that deserters returning to the U.S. face court martial, dishonourable discharges and possible jail terms of five years or so, while an Iraqi deserter forced to return home would have faced torture and death.

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien wisely led a government that refused to participate in the U.S. led invasion and subsequent occupation. In so doing he signaled Canada's unease with the justification, moral underpinning, and dynamics of what is now a bloody quagmire. As such, we regret the Harper government is so supportive of U.S. policies that it will not emulate Trudeau's example in showing the moral and political courage and progressive leadership to challenge American policy by offering refuge to U.S. draft evaders and war resisters on moral grounds. They deserved it then, they deserve it now.