Coverage of the “Colonel” Case Puts Us In a Coma

Read this and substitute the words “Paul Bernardo” for “Russell Williams”:

The [Paul]  Bernardo case, like every similar investigation, had its share of human error. But this is not a story of human error or lack of dedication or investigative skill. It is a story of systemic failure.Virtually every interjurisdictional serial killer case including Sutcliffe (the Yorkshire Ripper) and Black (the cross-border child killer) in England, Ted Bundy and the Green River Killer in the United States and Clifford Olsen in Canada, demonstrate the same problems and raise the same questions. And always the answer turns out to be the same – systemic failure. Always the problems turn out to be the same, the mistakes the same, and the systemic failures the same. 

That was Mr. Justice Archie Campbell in 1996 in his Report on the investigation into the crimes committed by Paul Bernardo. If we need a detailed examination of the similarities between the case of Colonel Russell Williams (and no, I won’t stop calling him “Colonel”) and those of Bernardo, it wasn’t the one that Christie Blatchford provided on Wednesday (Go there if you really want to read about how these two serial rapist/murderers are the same and how they’re different – and which one is best – but this just is not what matters).
Why do we need to think about the Bernardo and Williams crimes together?  Not  because of the details of the crimes themselves but because of the law enforcement (and media) response.  The ineffective (and misleading) response.

Perhaps the most important thing that Campbell pointed out in his report was this: 

What is needed is a system of case management for major and interjurisdictional serial predator investigations, a system that corrects the defects demonstrated by this and so many similar cases. A case management system is needed that is based on cooperation, rather than rivalry, among law enforcement agencies. A case management system is needed that depends on specialized training, early recognition of linked offences, co-ordination of interdisciplinary and forensic resources, and some simple mechanisms to ensure unified management, accountability and co-ordination when serial predators cross police borders.

As Antonia Zerbisias pointed out in a column at The Star as long ago as February, various detachments of the Ontario Provincial Police along with Belleville police did no such communicating and coordinated case response.  Why not? 

At the time that Paul Bernardo was operating, there was no ViCLAS automated crime linkage system in place.  As Campbell pointed out in his report, such a system would likely have alerted police to the fact that rapes being committed in Scarborough, Ontario were related to rapes in St. Catharines.  There was no system that would recognize the wider public interest in catching a serial rapist, interest that went beyond that of one particular community. 

It’s my understanding that there are such systems in place now.  But the police have to use them.  Did anyone in Tweed or Belleville or Brighton enter information into the system that should have linked the sexual assaults of Laurie Massicotte and “Jane Doe” with the rape and murder of Corporal Marie-France Comeau?  What about the series of break and enters in these communities that involved the theft of “lingerie” and other personal items of the women who lived there?  Given that police take such crimes to be so unimportant and trivial, that has to be unlikely.

I want to know.  Given the slow speed at which the police and our justice system incorporate the knowledge that could lead to saving the lives and bodily and personal integrity of women, we can’t get the answers to these questions soon enough.  Four days of courtroom time this week did not give these answers, or even ask the questions.  Much as it troubles and tires me to say this, we need a public inquiry conducted by someone with the integrity of an Archie Campbell.  Are we going to get one?  Or have we been so mesmerized by visions of the Colonel wearing stolen underwear  that we have lapsed into our own private comas?  As Campbell said, so many years ago:

 
There must be a public recognition that these problems are not just problems for the police and law enforcement communities. They are problems for the community as a whole. A commitment to correct them is necessary in order to guard against another case like this.

 

 Is anybody listening?  These cases make for a whole lot of noise and no action.  That’s femicide for ya.
 
h/t to Anna Willats for reminding me of the Campbell Report
 
UPDATE:  For the sake of all that’s sacred, read this blog post by Antonia Zerbisias, the only member of the journalistic tribe that knows how to report this case. If that sounds biased, you’re damned right!
 
UPDATE II:  From Laurie Massicotte, one of the women who survived an assault by Russell Williams, via Antonia:
I feel liked chopped liver & I can’t even comprehend how the little one is feeling. Now if I could get a message out to the masses it would be-if you survive a violent act of sex don’t report it, just run for cover & find your own protection minus the police & the system they represent.

I’m afraid I have to second that emotion.  After the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Seaboyer, which I heard argued at the Court, I told a few of my feminist friends that I thought the only way women who had been sexually assaulted were ever going to get justice would be to organize a boycott of the system.  Set up feminist centres for women survivors and never take another cent of government money.  Focus on empowering survivors and healing and on activism.  I thought that judges and lawyers and cops and politicians other powerful people might well start getting interested if their mothers and wives and sisters and daughters had no place to go if they are assaulted.  Because that’s the reality right now.  I’ve been through an experience similar to that of Laurie Massicotte.  Women have to make their own choices.  But I could never advise a woman to choose our justice system.

 

Col. Williams Can’t Be Explained?

So. How’s this for a military culture that’s respectul to women? How can we even say that in the same sentence? I thought this would be a huge story. It wasn’t. We like Russ Williams better because we think we can’t explain him. The MSM wouldn’t even publish the more egregious cartoon because they found it too offensive. Ha! What about this week

The military has launched a purge of its classroom materials after several offensive cartoons, including some featuring women in degrading sexual situations, were used in courses for soldiers headed to Afghanistan.The drawings were part of presentations provided to instructors at the Canadian Defence Academy in Kingston, Ont.

One cartoon, intended as an example of reading body language, shows a woman at a bar piled with empty glasses engaged in a sexual act with a man on a barstool. The caption reads: “How to tell when you don’t have to buy her any more drinks. . . . ”

How to tell when you don’t have to buy her more drinks?  Prelude to rape.

The officer in charge of “Conduct After Capture” training acknowledged the cartoons are offensive.

But Lt.-Col. Lloyd Gillam said he believes the illustrations appeared only in draft versions of the training materials and never made it into the classroom, where there are male and female students.

Ah, so they were only in the draft versions.  So they are indicative only of what the military represents but won’t acknowledge they represent.  Lest someone take issue.  Appearances you know, appearances.  And they weren’t used in co-ed company.  Why is that important?  Ah, so women can be deluded into thinking they are respected while the porno joking goes on among the jocks in their offices and locker rooms.  Well, that’s alright then.

Colonel Williams can’t be explained?  Oh yes he can.  And we’d better explain him and the men like him and the systemic sexism that aids in his development and recreation.  Because we’re spawning guys like him by the barrel every day.  Of course, not just in the military.

Anti-Rogue Right Over the Edge

I’ve been waiting for so long for Canadians to wake up, pay attention, get pissed off, get politicized and boot Harper’s tush out of Ottawa.  For what now seems like  a very brief time in December of 2008 Canadians did wake up  but the lack of leadership, primarily in the Liberal Party, and ignorance about the meaning of a coalition between the Liberals, New Democrats and the Bloc Quebecois took the wind out of the sails all too soon.

Since then I’ve been watching and waiting.  Not entirely passively.  I watch the news, the blogs, the independent web reporting sites, the mags, online and off.  I’ve alerted people to good material and hoped they read it.  I expressed my outrage on Twitter, Facebook and occasionally on this blog.  I wrote letters to newspapers, MPs, opposition leaders and the PM.  But mostly I waited.  Many of us waited.  Sometimes I lost hope that anyone in this country was ever going to care.  Care about the war on Gaza and Canada’s blind support of Israel.  Care about Canada’s part in the war in Afghanistan.  Care about the growing number of Canadians locked up in prisons for stupid reasons.  Care about the arrogance and autocracy of Stephen Harper and his effect on our democratic institutions.  Care about people like Omar Khader, Hassan Almrei,  Suaad Hagi MohamudAbousfian Abdelrazik and others whose names and skin colour were not kindred to Stephen Harper.  Care about the introduction of a mandatory minimum sentences bill that would put more Canadians in prison for more stupid reasons and the possible abolition of Canada’s long gun registry that actually seems to be making a difference in preventing or responding effectively to violence against women in domestic situations, the funding of the Status of Women, pay equity, the Court Challenges Programme . . . well, much more than all that believe it or not, but for now and most recently, the treatment of Canada’s Afghan detainees.

So many people lost faith that Canadians were ever going to care that when it began to appear that the frozen giant had awoken from its long slumber, when rumblings of revolt were heard on Facebook in the group Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament  – well, many were afraid to believe it.  I wasn’t one of them.  I don’t know why.  But my intuition is that I spend so much time on the web reading, listening, learning, chatting and “networking” that I felt the pulse right away.  If you’re not there you don’t know, you don’t feel it, you can’t see it.  I was a member of that group early on and I sent links to the group to everyone I knew.  I tweeted about the group over and over.  I spread the news in other groups.  I believed it was going to go.  And it did.  Lots of other people believed it too or it wouldn’t have happened.

What’s the difference between last year’s momentary excitement about the possibility of a coalition government that could topple the Conservatives and this year’s moment?  Last year we were dependent upon the potential parties to the coalition to keep it going when Harper prorogued.  The moment was easily brought to an end through a combination of Harper’s willingness to impose his will on Parliament and the country and the appalling and depressing weakness of the opposition.  This year, Harper’s still there, behaving like an autocrat; the opposition has gained no strength.  But the success of the awakening depends upon the people participating.  Stephen Harper can’t shut it down.  The opposition parties are barely able to respond well never mind take leadership roles in the movement.  Its success depends solely upon the will of the people involved.

That might well be the only way it was ever going to work.  Pass it on.

Richard Colvin’s “Further Evidence”

You can read Colvin’s “Further Evidence to the Special Committee on Afghanistan” in pdf format here, via CBC.

And there’s a summary with commentary at Creekside.  For instance:

On the government claim that it took action as soon as it was informed of abuse :
They were informed repeatedly of the risk of torture, the deficiencies of Canada’s monitoring system, and delays in reports to the ICRC in 2006 in reports from the Provincial Reconstruction Team, the US State Department, and the US Secretary General. They finally sent someone in October 2007 who immediately confirmed torture.
The government also twice intervened to keep a torturer named by the PRT in place.

Lots more.

HarperCON response?  “We reject all assertions that Canadian troops have committed war crimes.

Are they trying to incite a coup by the military?  Heh.

Chaos in Afghanistan

From Afghanistan on the Brink by Ullrich Fichtner at Speigel:

… in the eighth year of the Afghanistan mission, at the beginning of an Afghan election year that could spell the end of President Hamid Karzai’s government this summer, there are still many difficult questions to be asked: What exactly are the 60,000 international troops stationed there fighting for, if Afghanistan, despite their presence, actually dropped by 59 positions on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, to 176th out of 180 countries, in only three years? How is it possible that Afghanistan’s opium production did not shrink during the years that NATO has been present in the country, but in fact grew larger, so that 92 percent of worldwide opium production today comes from Afghanistan?

[...]

Day after day, foreign soldiers are killed and Afghan policemen are murdered, and the life of President Karzai is constantly in danger. Nowadays, his convoy only ventures into the streets outside the presidential palace walls in Kabul with an escort of two Apache attack helicopters. Is Afghanistan lost? Is it a failed state? A failed experiment by one of the biggest coalition of nations ever formed? Is this the end of the world order dominated by powers like the United States, the UN and NATO? And exactly how strong is the Taliban?

[...]

To gain a realistic picture of the current situation in Afghanistan, one should consult the grand old men of Afghan politics, representatives of the Aga Khan, provincial mayors, members of parliament and Turkish reconstruction workers, bankers involved in micro lending and telecommunications entrepreneurs, election monitors, bodyguards, school principals and even the owner of the “Humaira Aria” beauty salon, where wealthy Kabul girls come to prepare for their weddings. Their comments merge into a single conclusion, namely that their country is on the brink, that the global public is being strung along with empty promises that perseverance will lead to success, and that 2009 will be the decisive year for Afghanistan.

Read the whole thing here

Afghanistan FAIL

From Peter Beaumont at the Guardian:

A highly critical analysis of the US-led coalition’s counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan has raised serious questions about combat operations in both countries – and the intelligence underpinning them.

The confidential document presents a bleak picture of a counterinsurgency effort undermined by intelligence failures that at times border on the absurd.

Based on scores of interviews with British, US, Canadian and Dutch military, intelligence and diplomatic officials – and marked for “official use only” – the book-length report is damning of a US military often unwilling to share intelligence among its military allies. It depicts commanders in the field being overwhelmed by information on hundreds of contradictory databases, and sometimes resistant to intelligence generated by its own agents in the CIA.

Counterinsurgency efforts are also shown as being at the mercy of local contacts peddling identical “junk” tips around various intelligence officials, with the effectiveness of the intelligence effort being quantified by some senior officers solely in terms of the amount of “tip money” disbursed to sources.

[...]

An anonymous source quoted in the report stated that “operational commanders” continued to “indulge in the fallacy of body counts, and a month in which more Taliban are killed than in the previous month” was seen as progress. He added: “This is actually more likely to reflect the fact that there are more enemy on the battlefield than there were before.”

Despite the huge emphasis on counterinsurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan in the last two years, the report’s authors, Russell Glenn and Jamie Gayton, find it necessary to remind military readers of the importance of the civilian population in their efforts, not least in protecting civilians “against attack by both the enemy and your own forces”.

“Those interviewed in support of this research,” they wrote, “noted with no little frustration that coalition forces themselves too frequently neglect to treat local community members properly.”

Well, you know, shit happens.

Read the whole thing here

Europe Not Into Afghanistan

NATO defense ministers are meeting this week in Poland.  The conversation should be interesting now that Obama has decided to send 17,000 US troops in.  If only Canada’s defense minister was inclined to make the fuss that Europe’s defense ministers are going to make.  Maybe they know something that we’re not yet prepared to admit.  From Speigel Online International:

It is no secret that the Obama administration would like to see NATO member states in Europe agree to send more troops. Both Gates and his spokesman Geoff Morrell have dropped plenty of hints that additional troop commitments would be most welcome. That, though, isn’t likely to happen. European capitals have for years shown a reluctance to send more soldiers, often hampered by a voting public that has long since lost enthusiasm for the war.  [Smart!]

[...]

The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“Afghanistan hasn’t yet become NATO’s Vietnam. But to avoid such a scenario, the alliance has to undertake a detailed examination of its engagement. First and foremost, NATO has to bid farewell to the idea that, as is often said internally, ‘the fate of NATO will be decided in Afghanistan.’ This sentence is nonsense. A defeat or even a withdrawal without real success would certainly plunge the alliance into turbulence. But stubbornly staying the course out of fear of this scenario, blindly hoping that the amount of troops and quality of weapons will one day prevail, isn’t a strategy. Such logic bears witness to a dangerous degree of helplessness.”

“NATO has to find the courage to rethink everything. Instead of, as will happen this week with alliance defense ministers gathered in Krakow, busying themselves with demands for more troops, the member states should take a realistic look at the situation in Afghanistan and then decide what can be achieved and, most importantly, how large a commitment the alliance is prepared to make. It is time to abandon the illusion — especially popular in Germany — that the Afghanistan mission is one primarily focused on redevelopment and on providing a safe place for the delicate flower of a halfway free society to flourish.”  [more]