Friday, December 29, 2006

Muslim Canadian Congress Comes Through

TORONTO -- The Muslim Canadian Congress will honour Canadian soldiers who have died in Afghanistan during a prayer service this weekend in a move that's believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

The congress organized the service even though it has been critical of Canada's role in Afghanistan in the past.

True enough. But last month, when the MCC's Sohail Raza told me about the MCC's plans for the fateha - a Muslim prayer ritual for the dead - he was quite clear about why the MCC wasn't involved in demonstrations demanding the withdrawal of Canada troops from Afghanistan:

"It is necessary for our troops to be there. You just have to look at who they are fighting against. The Taliban was the biggest setback for Muslims in our history, and if we were going to have a demonstration about Afghanistan, I would rather see a rally in support of our Canadian troops there."

As usual, it's perplexing. I'm happy to have the Newfoundlanders sort it out.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cotler: Choudhury deserves Canadian support

In a Boxing Day opinion essay in the Montreal Gazette, human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, MP for Mount Royal, sets out the case for the persecuted Bangladeshi journalist Shoaib Choudhury:

It is not Choudhury who should be on trial; rather, it is the Bangladesh authorities who have violated his fundamental rights guaranteed under the Bangladesh constitution, international treaties as well as the basic principles of criminal justice, including:

a. the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty;
b. the right not to be arbitrarily arrested and detained;
c. the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the nature of the charge, and the right to a prompt appearance before a judge to challenge the lawfulness of arrest and detention;
d. the prohibition against torture and the right to humane conditions during detention;
e. the right to protection against coercive interrogation;
f. the right of access to legal counsel;
g. the right to equal access to, and equality before, the courts;
h. the right to a fair hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal;
i. the right to freedom of religion and conscience;
j. the right to freedom of expression and freedom of the press;
k. the right to freedom of association and assembly; and
l. the right to freedom of movement, including the right to leave and re-enter the country.

Here's how you can help.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Christmas And Happy Everything Else Too

I just love this: A judge orders a Christmas tree removed from a Toronto courthouse lest the "Christian" symbol gives offence, and who rides to the tree's rescue? Muslims, Jews and Hindus, that's who.

Tarek Fatah, founding president of the Muslim Canadian Congress: "If people are offended, I'm glad they're offended. I think it indicates a serious mental disorder when people want to bring down other people's happiness."

Selma Bochnek, a Jewish member of Sons of Jacob Synagogue: "I think it's important to be respectful of everyone's religion. It's nice to acknowledge those who may not celebrate the same thing as us but I'm not offended."

Hindu Conference of Canada spokesman Ron Banerjee: "I think it's important that political correctness not be taken too far so that we're being crazy about it."

And that's how sensible people happily notice a celebration that's vaguely related to the supposed virgin birth of a Jewish kid 2006 years or ago, give or take. Me, I'm happy to celebrate the virgin birth of a giant lizard if there's drink involved.

Notwithstanding an important reminder from our usually restrained Commandante Will, that "All religion has, at its core, (and this is a portable ideology) the capacity for a slave mentality that negates human freedom and all that flows from that freedom," I'm still sympathetic to Timothy Garton Ash, to this extent:

We live and work every day with people who hold, in the temples of their hearts, beliefs that we consider certifiably bonkers. If they seem to us good partners, friends, colleagues, we respect them as such - irrespective of their private and perhaps deepest convictions. If they are close to us, we may not merely respect but love them. We love them, while all the time remaining firmly convinced that in some corner of their minds they cling to a load of nonsense.

Some of my dearest friends consider me someone who holds certain beliefs that are certifiably bonkers, so do please enjoy yourselves welcoming in the Oak King, and for everybody lighting menorah candles, A lustiger a freylicher, Nito noch azoyner, and Sat Sri Akal to everybody about to celebrate Guru Gobind Singh's birthday, and Salaam to everyone remembering Abraham and Ishmael and getting ready for the Eid-ul-Adha parties.

More than anyone, right about now, these people express my sentiments just fine.

More rum, and more singalongs, I say. Even the Al-Qaida gangster Ayman al-Zawahri is getting in on it:

Hounding Sex Trade Workers To The Margins

The more things change, the more prostitution appears to remain a confounding, disturbing, insoluble public-policy dilemma, and so one of the most helpful things about the just-published Red Light Neon: A History of Vancouver’s Sex Trade (Subway Books, $22) is that it doesn’t pretend to have something bold and new to say on the subject.

Author Daniel Francis, the prolific social historian who was the guiding hand behind the Encyclopedia of British Columbia, has no particular argument to make and doesn’t approach the subject from any deep theoretical conviction. He does something far more useful.

That's from my Chronicles column this week.

Francis simply provides a well-told story about prostitution in Vancouver from the earliest days, and in the effort he also provides a history of the ideas and attitudes that have animated the city’s approach to prostitution. Inevitably, it’s also a history of class, race, and poverty.

Recently, the RCMP arrested more than 100 people in a sweep of Lower Mainland massage parlours, a parliamentary committee looking into Canada’s prostitution laws concluded three years of investigation with a report that contains practically nothing of any obvious value, and jury selection wrapped up for the trial of Robert Pickton, a Coquitlam pig farmer charged with murdering 26 Vancouver prostitutes.

The one case that Francis does make—and it’s made so convincingly, by letting the historical facts speak for themselves, that you hardly notice—is that all those murders that ended up with Pickton standing accused as a serial killer were a direct result of the way public policy toward prostitution evolved in Vancouver.

Over the past quarter-century or so, Vancouver’s street prostitutes have been hounded to the margins. And it’s there that they always end up dying. . .

Tsartlip Rights Victory: Common Sense At A Price

An entire decade of legal proceedings and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers' fees. That's what it took to get Canada's courts to resolve a hunting rights controversy that should never have gone to court in the first place. And it was a close call - a 4-3 split at the Supreme Court of Canada.

The majority disagreed with the minority that all night hunting is dangerous, and it should be up to the Crown to show it is a dangerous activity, rather than imposing a blanket ban.

“It applies without exception to the whole province, including the most northern regions where hours of daylight are limited in the winter months and populated areas are few and far between,” said the majority ruling, written by justices Marie Deschamps and Rosalie Abella.

But now that the national court has upheld the rights of my neighbours, the Tsartlip people, to persist in a contemporary fashion in their tradition of night-hunting with torches - the most efficient and eminently sensible way to hunt deer, if what you're after is food, rather than a jolly and sporting time of killing an animal - it's opened up a gigantic bag of snakes for hunting regulations across the country. Expect more court challenges and aboriginal hunting-rights controversies.

Provincial and Aboriginal governments can still regulate aboriginal hunting for the purposes of conservation, and can regulate night-hunting for the purposes of public safety. But that's the approach that should have been taken in the first place, rather than imposing a blanket ban.

Still, good for the Tsartlip.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Cotler Moving Ahead On Shoaib Choudhury's Case

Irwin Cotler, the internationally-renowned human rights lawyer, MP for Mount-Royal and Canada's former justice minister, is now working on grounds for an appeal that's intended to quash all charges against our friend Sallah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, the Bangladeshi journalist.

"I've been able to identify some nine violations of his rights under Bangladesh law, violations of such magnitude that the charges should now be quashed even before the trial begins on the seemingly trumped-up card charges nonetheless," Cotler told Calgary radio host Rob Breakenridge yesterday.

Cotler is working with Choudhury's Bangladesh lawyer, Samarendra Nath Goswami, on an appeal of a Daka court's earlier denial of a petition to throw out the charges against Choudhury.

Choudhury's constitutional rights under the Bangladesh penal code have been clearly violated, Cotler said. Choudhury has been denied his right to protection against arbitrary arrest, to protection against illegal pre-trial detention, and on top that, Choudhury was "detained incommunicado effectively for seventeen months" until his release was secured after representations by PEN and by parliamentarians in other countries. After his release, Choudhury was subjected to intimidation, beatings and threats, and then "another series of denials of rights then began to take place," Colter said.

Unfortunately, I don't have a link to Cotler's interview (a transcript was graciously provided to me by Cotler's office). It's too bad, because Breakenridge's show is worth listening to. You can sign up here to get into the CHQR "audio vault," in which case you could listen to a conversation I had with Breakenridge on his show a couple of weeks back, which was prompted by my column on Canada's "anti-war" movement and its oddly cozy relationship with reactionaries and Islamists.

Cotler told Breakenridge that it's no small irony that Choudhury is in trouble for allegedly having made Bangladesh look bad because of the rise of Islamist extremism in that country.

"It's Bangladesh that is having its image undermined by the nature of the false charges and the abusive prosecution. . . there are other parliamentarians, and the European Union passed a resolution protesting against these charges against [Choudhury]. American Congressmen have been involved. . . it is not even in the, if I can use the term, the self-interest of Bangladesh, you know, to continue with this case, apart from the fact that the very injustice of it warrants to the quashing of the charges."

Cotler distanced himself from suggestions that foreign-aid payments to Bangladesh could be held up in an effort to pressure the government of Bangladesh to back off on its persecution of Choudhury.

"I wouldn't like to see that the Bangladesh people would in any way, you know, suffer from any withdrawal of, you know, foreign aid, on our part, but certainly I think that the Bangladesh government should be concerned when this type of proceeding has really has an adverse impact on the overall relationship between Canada and Bangladesh."

Cotler is not unfamiliar with the problems Bangladeshis suffer in the country's court system. When he was Canada's justice minister, he initiated a joint Canada-Bangladesh "rule of law" project, which is ongoing. And many of Cotler's constituents are Bangladeshis.

"I would hope that those in authority in Bangladesh will see, as I say, for reasons of justice, for reasons of the Canada-Bangladesh relationship, particularly in the matter of the joint rule-of-law project, and for reason of their own self-image as a country that wants to be seen to be an evolving democracy that they would quash the charges."

Neither is Cotler unfamiliar with the difficult work of providing humanitarian legal assistance from a distance. He's served as counsel for Russian dissident Andrei Sakharov, African freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, Russian environmentalist Aleksandr Nikitin, Nigerian playwright and Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, and Saad Edin Ibrahim, the leading democracy advocate in the Arab world.

Only last week, Cotler was in New York to provide some intellectual and moral weight to the campaign to bring Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad to the International Criminal Court to face charges of incitement to genocide. Here's Cotler last week, in top form:

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nice To Meet You, Comrade Pingu!!!!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Vote for This Liberal But For That New Democrat

Following upon this and that, there would be no contest at all for my vote either here or there.

Kirk Tousaw may well be a nice New Democrat, but if I had to choose between him (a former British Columbia Marijuana Party manager who has found the time to post 965 times on the Cannabis Culture Forum when he's not preparing a Charter of Rights challenge to win legal protection for smoking doobies with a "sacramental use" argument) and the Liberal Stephen Owen (a former Amnesty International adviser in South Africa and Yugoslavia, a senior expert at the IGAD Secretariat for Sudan peace negotiations, the chair of the South African Presidential AIDS Advisory Panel, an advisor to the Israel Palestine Center for Research & Information on Final Status Peace Negotiations, a moderator in Peace Building Policy with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in Zimbabwe, for starters), who'd I choose?

Stephen Owen, Liberal, in Vancouver Quadra, hands down.

In Vancouver Centre, Hedy Fry, also a Liberal, is hampered by just one small problem, however: She's Hedy Fry. My comrade Jonathon's got her number here. Which leaves me more than pleased to confess that I'd vote for, campaign for, and wash dishes for her NDP oppponent, Randall Garrison.

Garrison, that unapologetic internationalist I profiled in my Chronicles column last year, came inches away from winning in Esquimalt Juan de Fuca last January, but for this:

The problem is a debilitating legacy within the NDP, and within the left in Canada, generally, that has resulted in a kind of political and cultural illiteracy about military policy. You can test for it yourself. Ask an NDP supporter this question: What is the NDP position on Canadian troops in Afghanistan? Chances are good the answer will be "Dunno." Ask the same question about Sudan. Or Haiti. You'll get the same answer. Dunno.

Garrison told me: "An independent foreign policy requires a strong military. . . People who serve in the Canadian Forces are ordinary people, and the `left' has distanced itself from people who do that service. We disdain that service, and we should not." And he was unafraid to say this:

You know, if you were a woman or a gay person, what happened in Afghanistan wasn't a war of occupation. It was a liberation.

Which set off conniptions here.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Importance of At Least Trying To Get It Right

Craig Silverman over at that fabulous and generally hilarious media-watchdog site Regret The Error has dubbed 2006 the "Year of the Belated Apology," an idea that came to him two years ago when the Kentucky newspaper, the Lexington Herald-Leader, committed this act of overdue contrition: "It has come to the editor's attention that the Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission."

Silverman managed to find clear winners in the 2006 Correction of the Year and Apology of the Year contests, but when it came to judging the contestants for Error of the Year, the result was a tie.

Winner # 1 was the National Post's huge front page story last May, reporting that Iran was planning to force Jews and other minorities to wear Nazi-style identification badges. The National Post's conduct in the affair was all the more outrageous because the plain facts alone are sufficient to condemn the Iranian regime. It's not like you have to make stuff up to show how reactionary, anti-progressive and vile the Iranian government is.

Winner # 2 is the news media generally, and particularly the owners of the Sago mine in West Virginia, for the handling of a rumour that 12 of the 13 trapped miners had been found alive: "For a few hours the world believed that all but one of the men had made it out alive. Because of production deadlines, many papers reported this on their front page this morning, even though they already knew it wasn't true."

In the interests of balance, I'm going to come to the defence of the news media and its coverage of this story, which the B.C. chapter of the Sierra Club of Canada is now trying to spin as a mere matter of misquotation in a lame effort at damage control - at precisely the moment when what is required is contrition and an honest admission of a terrible mistake.

For one thing, it isn't fair to the news media to suggest there was a misquotation involved in reporting that the B.C. chapter's executive director Kathryn Molloy "predicted" a 25-metre sea level rise within decades. Besides, the business about a 25-metre sea level rise is not the issue. It's a distraction.

What Molloy actually said - and this is not from some news article; it's from her official statement, on the Sierra Club's website - was this: “We are almost certain to see a six-metre sea level rise if we cannot keep the global average temperature rise below two degrees. This could happen within the lifetime of my grandchildren if we do not take significant global action immediately to curb global carbon emissions.” In her media briefings, Molloy took pains to describe this as the "best case scenario."

It was in response to that statement, specifically, that Andrew Weaver, professor at the University of Victoria's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences and the Canada research chair in Climate Modelling and Analysis, stated [in an interview with the Province newspaper, not online]: "This is alarmist scaremongering at its worst. . . If world temperatures rise another 2.7 C this century, we could reach a tipping point that would see Greenland melt. Sea levels could then rise six to seven metres over several millennia. That's thousands of years. I repeat: Thousands of years. Plural."

Which just goes to show. You don't have to make stuff up about global warming, or about mining disasters, or about the despotism in Iran, or about anything in the real world. The plain facts are sufficient.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Shiraz Dossa Is A Loser, A Scumbag and A Bore

Dossa is that cringe-making poli-sci professor from Nova Scotia’s venerable St. Francis Xavier university who thought it would be a harmless bit of fun to present some of his dreary pseudo-left polemics at that recent conference of holocaust deniers and Jew haters in Tehran.

The fact that Dossa claims to acknowledge the reality of the holocaust, and referred to his fellow conventioneers as "hacks and lunatics'', makes him perhaps more pathetic than even the psychopaths that have managed to convince themselves that the holocaust is some kind of Zionist plot: Dossa knew very well what the conference was about. And he went anyway.

This is not about free speech:

As even embarrassed Iranians realise, the conference is a disgrace, a grotesque attempt to relativise, if not deny, a crime against humanity. Far from giving those in the Middle East a chance to discuss this historical event (a chance all too rarely given in their own countries), the organisers have already censored the proceedings by denying a visa to an outspoken Palestinian lawyer who said that denials of the “monstrous horror” harmed the Palestinian cause.

And this is not just an offence to Jews, either.

It's an offence against historical truth, it's an affront to the dignity of every literate human being, and it's a rebuke to all honest scholarship. It's an offence to all of us. It's perhaps especially a disgrace to the left, so much of which continues to tolerate the bigotry of anti-Semitism so long as it's dressed in the semantic guise of anti-Zionism. The fact that Dossa has been giving out of himself in this way for years at St. F-X, without any public notice, is sufficient testimony to that sorry state of affairs.

Dossa can carry on about how liberalism is a cover for Christian imperialism, and secularism is a some kind of new Crusader front, and he can rail about how modernity is bad and feminism is bad and the Enlightenment was bad and even Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms is some kind of fraud, and yet his left credentials remain untarnished - owing, no doubt, to his heavy reliance on assigning readings from the likes of Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Uri "Apartheid Israel" Davis and Norman "The Holocaust Industry" Finkelstein.

What a goof. Word is he's still sightseeing in Iran but you can leave messages on his telephone answering machine here (902) 867-2105 or send him a congratulatory email for the tremendous contribution he's made to Canada's academic reputation abroad:

Assigned readings on this subject: Jeff Weintraub, who's always excellent, and Gene, over at Harry's, who asks the right question about who, exactly, is more worthy of admiration and support from genuine leftists.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

To Combat Liberalism Or To Build a Coalition?

"Conscientious practice of self-criticism is still another hallmark distinguishing our Party from all other political parties. As we say, dust will accumulate if a room is not cleaned regularly, our faces will get dirty if they are not washed regularly. Our comrades' minds and our Party's work may also collect dust, and also need sweeping and washing."

- Mao Tse-tung, On Coalition Government, Selected Works, Vol. III, pp. 316-17.

"Bill raises the spectre of "stampeding nervous NDP voters into the Liberal camp," as though NDP voters were as dumb as cows. But when I raised it, it was mainly in the context of the NDP's brutish excommunication of Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove for suggesting that maybe it wouldn't be so evil to vote Liberal in those ridings where a Liberal vote could keep a Conservative out of office.

"Since neither Bill nor I addressed this matter adequately, here's my modest proposal, to meet Bill half way, in counsel to both Liberals and New Democrats: Don't get stampeded by anyone. Vote with your heart and your head.

"Just be sure to vote for whichever candidate is likely to keep the Conservative at bay."

- Wrecker and Splittist Terry (Zionist Stooge) Glavin.

Comrade and Hero of the People Bill Tieleman: (Insert sound of crickets here).

Do read his response. He was asked to directly address the suggestion of strategic voting by progressive Liberals and New Democrats. That's why he was offered space to respond, but all he says on the subject is "I agree people should vote with their hearts and heads -- but neither my heart nor head would ever let me vote for a Liberal like Hedy Fry or Joe Volpe."

I know Liberals who would never vote for Hedy Fry or Joe Volpe.

Why the dodge? It's necessary to avoid the occasion of sin, that's why. Bill hasn't forgotten what happened to Buzz. Not to say Bill doesn't correct me in a couple of places, and good for him, but this is going nowhere.

Seems to me we could both use some help from the Idealistic Pragmatist. My main point is I'd hate for the NDP to become as toxic as the Greens, and for this to happen, federally.

Monday, December 11, 2006

When The “Environmentalists” Are Simply All Wet

It’s been like watching somebody drown, slowly. It’s been that way ever since last Thursday, when the Sierra Club of Canada’s British Columbia chapter convened a press conference with a bunch of fancy charts, and claimed that global warming is threatening a rise in sea levels sufficient to put Victoria, British Columbia’s capital city, under water.

The whole thing has been excruciating to watch. The newspapers have been filled with ridicule. The really embarassing stuff is here, where you can read the club’s executive director Kathryn Molloy claim: “We are almost certain to see a six-metre sea level rise if we cannot keep the global average temperature rise below two degrees. This could happen within the lifetime of my grandchildren if we do not take significant global action immediately to curb global carbon emissions.”

And that's the "best case scenario," Molloy said.


"This is alarmist scaremongering at its worst," Andrew Weaver, professor at the University of Victoria's School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, told the Province newspaper on Sunday. "If world temperatures rise another 2.7 C this century, we could reach a tipping point that would see Greenland melt. Sea levels could then rise six to seven metres over several millennia. That's thousands of years. I repeat: Thousands of years. Plural."

The Province story isn't online, but Weaver also wrote a letter to the Victoria Times-Colonist to distance himself from Sierra’s B.C. chapter and its “silly and counter-productive” flood fright. “Climate change is a serious issue and it is alarming that an organization such as the Sierra Club would so overstate the case as to make it ridiculous,” Weaver wrote.

I wouldn't be paying such attention to this except that until recently, I was a conservation adviser to the Sierra Club here on the West coast, and I don't want anybody associating me with this embarassing carry-on.

I haven't had anything to do with the Sierra Club's B.C. chapter since last summer, when the chapter had what is euphemistically described as a "parting of ways" with the club's long-serving conservation chair, Vicky Husband - Order of Canada recipient, Order of B.C. recipient, UN Global 500 award-winner and founding mother of the conservationist movement around these parts.

With Vicky gone, there was no way I was going to stick around with that crowd.

In today's Times-Colonist, columnist Iain Hunter [whose column is also regrettably not online] drew the obvious connections between Vicky's departure from the B.C. chapter last summer and the club's current water-logged condition. The official story, when Vicky left, was that Vicky's approach was overly emphatic about proper science, whereas Kathryn Molloy wanted a more "communications-based and people-focused" approach to such questions as global warming. Hunter wrote: "As it happens, we saw this week where communications-based technology and focusing on people has taken the Sierra Club."

I'll say.

What's especially embarassing about it all is that not only did Victoria Mayor Allan Lowe get dragged into this, but so did several New Democratic Party MLAs, including Maurine Karagianis (Esquimalt-Metchosin), Ron Fleming (Victoria Hillside), David Cubberley (Saanich South), and Corky Evans (Nelson-Creston). They were all at the press conference. They all bought the scare story. They were all made to look stupid. Which isn't fair.

The whole thing was a cock-up, so don't blame the mayor and those other politicians. They were counting on Sierra's B.C. chapter to be right because of its reputation - which Vicky Husband built, almost singlehandedly. And don't blame the Sierra Club of Canada, either.

And don't blame Vicky Husband. She had nothing to do with this. Neither did I.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Foul Dictator Dead At Last: Tramp The Dirt Down

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Answering My Tyee Question - Vote NDP or Not?

Thanks to Idealistic Pragmatist, a thoughtful New Democratic Party activist, for taking the time to consider the question I posed in my Tyee column of a couple of days ago. She's crafted a well-reasoned and convincing argument in the form of advice to NDP-Liberal swing voters, which I'll take the liberty of summing up in her own words:

If they live in ridings where the NDP candidate can beat the Tory, they should vote NDP, and if they live in ridings where the Liberal candidate can beat the Tory, they should vote Liberal.

Some time ago, the Pragmatist presented the best defence I've read of the strange evolution of the NDP's position on Afghanistan and its tortured reasoning on the question. I disagree with her and the NDP's Afghanistan position (sorry, Pragmatist, but "Support Our Troops, Bring 'Em Home" is all it amounts to, no matter how it's dressed up). But I consider her an honourable adversary in that debate, which is to say she's not objectively pro-fascist, like so many in Canada's so-called "anti-war" crowd.

Taking the Pragmatist's cue, Michel Fortin ponders the implications of Stephane Dion's victory at the Liberal leadership convention and concludes: "Ce que j’aimerais voir au Canada, c’est une coalition gouvernementale ; une coalition où différents partis s’engagent à former le gouvernement ensemble en mettant en commun leur programmes respectifs et en gouvernant sur la base du compromis." Which is more or less an argument in favour of a real coalition, negotiated by compromise, rather than simply a Liberal minority backed by the NDP.

The best possible scenario, at least for the long term, would be for voters of all stripes to revive the push for proportional representation. Here's an essay I wrote for the Winnipeg Free Press in favour of some form of pro-rep, from four years ago. See also the Pragmatist's view (an excellent analysis) and Vues d'ici as well.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Irwin Cotler Joins Shoab Choudhury's Defence

The Honourable Irwin Cotler (MP Mount Royal), a world-renowned humanitarian and civil-rights scholar, and one of the best and brightest legal minds in the English-speaking world, is now standing as counsel for our brother in Bangladesh, Sallah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury.

I’ve written about Choudhury’s case here and harangued this weblog's readers about him here and here, and I’ve lost count of the letters I’ve written on Choudhury’s behalf. I’ve made a bit of a nuisance of myself about the whole thing, quite honestly. My fellow Eustonians in Canada, perhaps especially Nav Purewal, Amiel Pariser, Jim Monk, Bob Lane, Mark Fournier and Jack Cunningham, also took up Choudhury’s case.

Now we have something to be happy about.

Professor Cotler’s commitment to stand as Sallah Choudhury’s counsel in any international tribunal or proceeding that may arise as a consequence of his persecution stands as part of a distinguished record of solidarity that Cotler, our former Minister of Justice, has offered prisoners of conscience. He has acted as counsel for Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, Jacobo Timmerman, Aleksandr Nikitin, Mukhtar Pakpahan and Saad Edin Ibrahim.

Cotler rose in the House of Commons in Ottawa yesterday and put the Government of Bangladesh on notice:

Mr. Speaker, Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, a Muslim Bangladesh journalist and editor of a daily Bangladesh publication, is standing trial on charges of treason, sedition and blasphemy for promoting Muslim, Christian and Jewish dialogue, peace with Israel and seeking to attend a conference in Israel for the promotion of peace. Mr. Choudhury has also been personally beaten, his life threatened and his office vandalized while none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice and a former Bangladesh home minister has indicated that there is no basis for the charges. As counsel for Mr. Choudhury and as one who, while as minister of justice, was engaged in a joint Canada-Bangladesh rule of law project, I call upon the Bangladesh authorities to respect the rule of law, to review and, as appears just and appropriate, to drop the charges while working to apprehend those who have violated Mr. Choudhury's rights.

The Honourable Irwin Cotler, who knows a thing or two about decency and solidarity, is now a friend of Shoaib Choudhury. All of us in Canada owe Cotler an enormous debt of gratitude for standing up for him, and I’m sure the news will come as great comfort to Shoaib, and to Shoaib’s friends everywhere. I'm thinking particularly of Ami Iseroff in Israel, and in America, Dr. Richard Benkin and our good comrade Jeff Weintraub.

To all concerned: Shalom, salaam, síocháin. I'll be raising a stout glass to the lot of you this evening.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

What Does The Big City Owe The Countryside?

The population of Greater Vancouver has grown by more than a third over the past 15 years, and it’s now possible for a political party to win control of government in British Columbia - a jurisdiction larger than California, Oregon and Washington combined - without electing a single MLA from outside the Lower Mainland.

In vast stretches of countryside, such as the North Coast and the Cariboo-Chilcotin, they’re losing people. As British Columbia becomes an ever more urban place, the things that matter most to rural people tend to get eclipsed by big-city concerns. It’s a dynamic that feeds on itself, exponentially.

That's what my Georgia Straight column is about today.

While the metropolis grows, the countryside’s political clout diminishes, and so does Victoria’s commitment to the higher per-capita infrastructure costs associated with small-town life. As a result, it’s harder for B.C.’s small towns to hold on to their hospitals, schools, roads, libraries, and all those other things that city people tend to take for granted.

As basic infra­structure withers, small-town life be­­comes an even bleaker prospect, owing to declining provincial attention to sustainable forestry, fisheries, farming, and all those other bread-and-butter rural concerns that tend to have only an abstract meaning for city people.
The hinterland then loses more people, and small towns spiral ever faster downward.

The dynamic is compounded by the inevitable deracination and atomization of British Columbian society. Politics and public policy become less rooted in place, less influenced by the landscape itself and by the distinct regional cultures and communities that evolved precisely because of those landscapes.

So what to do about this?

British Columbians, from the towns and the cities and everything in between, made their views known to the British Columbia Electoral Boundaries Commission. The deadline for making a submission was Friday, November 30. But they keep coming in. You can read them all here.

The Progressives' Dilemma: Vote NDP or Liberal?

Long before Jack Layton, the New Democratic Party had already begun its inexorable drift to the centre, or at least away from its working-class roots. So why are we supposed to vote NDP exactly?

That's the main question I'm asking in my Tyee column today.

It's not a working-class party anymore. It's pretty well tapped out the identity politics racket. Its tenuous claim on a distinctive "environmental" voice disappeared as soon as the Greens revved back up, and now the Liberals are taking even that. Even Canada's aboriginal leadership is now just as likely to be fervently Liberal, and the Liberals are rejuvenated, rebuilding, and back in trim.

So where are the New Democrats' votes going to come from now, exactly? Disaffected Tories? An epic struggle for the disheartened remnants of the Joe Volpe campaign? Trench warfare with the Greens' Elizabeth May for the vast, uncommitted sections of the hippie vote?

New Democrats would do us all a big favour by admitting that their party is not the only one available to Canada's centre-left voters, and the NDP is not automatically entitled to the votes of progressive Canadians, and the NDP actually doesn't possess any greater claim to the mantle of progressive politics in Canada than the Liberal Party does.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the editors of The Liberal magazine weigh in with some healthy liberal critique of left orthodoxy:

A heady mixture of colonial guilt and politically ‘correct’ prejudice – one that identifies Muslim victims by their religion only when they are murdered by non-Muslims – has encouraged too many on the Left to neglect or downplay the urgency of the situation in Sudan (“The aid evaded and the cold delay”, as Byron put it). The fact that refugee rations in the region were cut by half in May due to a lack of funds puts to shame the EU countries who have sought to offer themselves as a moral counterpoint to American hegemony, only to offer in response less than 1% of the amount of aid allocated by the US. Moreover, the Left’s unwillingness to comprehensively critique the UN, and in particular the inept and ineffective leadership of Kofi Annan, has done a disservice to the organisation at a time when it desperately needs critical friends.

In Ottawa yesterday, Howar Ziad, a true progressive whose ideas I wrote about in a recent Tyee column, offered a properly ripping critique of the UN under Kofi Annan.

"Instead of spearheading the Saddam Nostalgia Club, we expect the UN secretary general to be constructive and to contribute positive ideas to the democratic process in Iraq," he said in a statement, and added that they expect Mr. Annan to help the people of Iraq confront terrorism that is undermining Iraqis' interests.

Mr. Ziad said Mr. Annan's "parting shots" remind him of other failures of the UN secretariat under his leadership. It did not, for example, address the human rights of Iraqis struggling under the genocidal regime of Saddam Hussein. Mr. Annan's remarks, Mr. Ziad said, also serve as a reminder of the UN oil-for-food scandal, "in which the UN secretariat assisted Saddam's regime in the pillaging of Iraq.

"The UN secretariat ignored the way in which Saddam manipulated the wealth of the people of Iraq to corruptly buy politicians and others around the world," he continued.
Further, Mr. Ziad said, Mr. Annan dismisses the mismanagement of the UN oil-for food program as a footnote. Mr. Ziad considers it the "greatest financial scandal in international affairs."

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Rally for Darfur This Coming Sunday in Vancouver

Join the Canadian Students for Darfur Sunday December 10, International Human Rights Day, at Room 1700 of the Simon Fraser University downtown campus, 515 W. Hastings Street. 3-5pm.

"There will be a power-point presentation on the Darfur crisis, African drumming, a candle-lighting ceremony in solidarity with the victims of rape in Darfur, and a number of speakers including: Darfurians in Vancouver, Survivors of the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide, Human Rights Activists, Aid workers who have been in Darfur, Women's Rights Advocates, Students, Members of the African Community."

This from today:

NEW YORK -- The conflict in Darfur has spread to two neighboring countries and is now in a "free fall" with 6 million people facing the prospect of going without food or protection, the departing UN humanitarian chief said Tuesday.Jan Egeland, who steps down Dec. 12, said in an interview that one of the biggest problems he faced was convincing countries of the dire situation in the western region of Sudan.

Meanwhile. . .

The United Nations has airlifted its non-essential staff out of El Fasher in north Darfur as tensions between militias and rebel fighters worsen. The UN said that it was prepared to make further evacuations if the risk of fighting between Janjawid militias and rebel fighters grew. It follows a warning from the African Union that rebel groups could attack the capital city within 24 hours.

"The rationale behind the decision is the heightened security concerns we have as a result of the increased presence of the Janjawid in the town of El Fasher and other armed groups in the area," Radhia Achouri, UN spokeswoman in Sudan, told Reuters.