How Long Does Change Take?

[This post will be updated with links]

Six months ago I explained the dearth of posts at my blog by posting this from Chris Hedges:

A culture that cannot distinguish between reality and illusion dies. And we are dying now. We will either wake from our state of induced childishness, one where trivia and gossip pass for news and information, one where our goal is not justice but an elusive and unattainable happiness, to confront the stark limitations before us, or we will continue our headlong retreat into fantasy.

I agreed with Chris then and couldn’t agree more after a week of hearing, seeing and trying not to listen very much to stories about Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs and minor car accident.  Six months ago, I couldn’t think what part, even what very small part, I could play waking people up.  So much wrong, so much to do, so many people really wanting “something” different but not knowing what or how to get it anyway, so many victories for darkness, so much fragmentation, so little time, too much space.  I believe many more people want “justice” than are able to figure out how to articulate their desire in the first place; and certainly not how to make it so in the second.

Recently, two US Senators and the American Conference of Bishops prompted some questions and I began to formulate something like a coherent response, if not exactly an answer. 

In 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Roe v. Wade.  In a nutshell, necessarily simple, they decided that a woman may abort a pregnancy for any reason up to the point of fetal viability.  No doubt Roe v. Wade was a victory for women but it was far from a straightforward one, in part due to America’s constitutional system and in part because of the wording of the decision itself.  The definition of “viability” has continued to be a contentious issue for one thing; for another, ensuing state restrictions on abortion, when litigated, made important incursions on the territory staked out in the case.  One thing is clear, however: the decision was never accepted by rightwing, Conservative Christians and the people who represent them.  The onslaught has been continuous, successful enough and often devious – as in the very recent activity of the US Conference of Bishops in negotiation with House representatives trying to get a healthcare reform deal.  Voila Stupak/Pitts.  What women were thought to have won they have had to win (and lose) over and over again since 1973.  Perhaps that victory has never been as threatened as it is right now.  It’s important to see that the threat comes not just from the “wingnut” right but also from among anti-choice Democrats – once touted as the natural allies of feminist objectives.

The history of reproductive rights in Canada is more than a little different.  In 1988, in R. v. Morgentaler, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the entire section of the Criminal Code that criminalized abortion and there has been no replacement of that law.  Incursions on women’s reproductive rights have occurred less visibly via hospital boards that refuse to permit abortions at Catholic hospitals or hospitals controlled by other religious denominations; via supply and demand problems respecting the availability of abortions in the healthcare system – some doctors refuse to perform abortions; because some doctors or hospital boards have imposed their own limits on when, in a term of pregnancy,  they will perform abortions; and because of the unaddressed accessibility problems of rural and First nations women.

In some ways, the difficulties that American women experience in trying to access full reproductive rights are more visible.  But in many ways they parallel the problems experienced by Canadian women.  The Stupak/Pitts amendment seemed to come out of nowhere.  There have been several points in the process of trying to achieve healthcare reform when the abortion issue has been raised but it doesn’t seem that anyone expected it to come out of negotiations with Nancy Pelosi, a couple of cultish Christian congressmen and the Conference of Bishops.  But there it is, the congressmen were ready and willing, the bishops pounced and the Democrats caved.  Some of those same Democrats who supported the amendment then went ahead and voted against the reform bill!  And what did the Dems gain by supporting the amendment?  The vote of one Republican (reprobate).  That’s right folk.  One.

We haven’t seen anything quite so dramatic in Canada – a few slippery Conservatives have tried to pass disguised private members bills by us but always unsuccessfully.  The point is though, the rightwing is there, more than ready and more than willing if not quite so able, thus far, to pounce in just the way that Stupak and Pitts, a whole bunch of Reprobates and more than a few Democrats just did.  Witness the comments of Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott just a few weeks ago:

“a growing body of research reveals significant health problems caused by abortion,” including breast cancer, cervical injury, uterine perforations, hemorrhaging and infections.

He said further that pro-life women view abortion as “part of a male agenda to have women more sexually available”.

Following on Mr. Vellacott’s comment, this exchange took place in the House of Commons:

Mme Lise Zarac (LaSalle-Émard, Lib.): Monsieur le Président, le député de Saskatoon-Wanuskewin a récemment émis des commentaires sur l’avortement qui insultent et dénigrent les femmes. Le député fait des affirmations qui sont médicalement inexactes pour hausser son programme idéologique moral.
   La ministre de la Santé dénoncera-t-elle les croyances de son collègue au sujet du droit des femmes de choisir?
Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC)
   Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC): Mr. Speaker, I note for the member that all members of Parliament in the House are required to have their opinion. It does not mean it is the opinion of the cabinet.
   Hon. Anita Neville (Winnipeg South Centre, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, it looks like the muzzles are off. The Conservatives are sounding like Reform Party extremists.
   The member for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin’s comments are completely degrading to women. He claims that abortion causes ‘a greater risk of breast cancer’ and he asserts that ‘abortion is part of a male agenda to have women more sexually available.’ His comments show an odious attitude toward women.
   Will the Minister of Justice stand up for women and denounce these vile comments?

Hon. Helena Guergis (Minister of State (Status of Women), CPC): Mr. Speaker, I again will note for the member that each member of the House is able to have their own opinion. It does not mean it represents the government.
   What I will highlight is that this government under the leadership of this Prime Minister has made significant investments in Status of Women Canada. We have three pillars of focus: economic security, violence against women and women in leadership roles.
   We also have the highest percentage of women in cabinet in Canada’s history and the highest level of funding at Status of Women Canada, the highest level in Canada’s history with an increase in the number of grass root organizations that are now able to receive funding to support the most vulnerable women in Canadian society.

Guergis would not renounce Vellacott’s statement even though they were incorrect and even though they were degrading to women.  Apparently she believes that the presence in this government of a larger number of women will suffice to shut women’s mouths even if those representatives are not advocating for them.  And she is not averse to lying.  This government has stolen funds from Status of Women and has done absolutely nothing to guarantee women’s economic security – remember the governments attempts to make inroads on pay equity in the public service last year?

But we cannot blame all these betrayals on the CONS alone.  Liberal and NDP members have also been willing to turn their backs on the women who elect them.

For instance.  The much discussed private members bill to do away with Canada’s long gun registry.  It’s a classic rightwing hot button issue and in case not many people have noticed, it’s contradictory as hell alongside the usual “law and order” kvelling done by the nuts.  Crazy like foxes they are though.  As someone who’s noticed has pointed out, though the “right to bear arms” is a classic American cris de coeur of the Christian right, it’s been adopted by the Canadian right too.  Why?  It provides a brilliant wedge between rural and urban constituencies and helps to frame other, conservative v. “liberal” debates.  It’s also a divisive issue between men and women – even rural women are overwhelmingly pro-registry.  It’s been estimated that, in tight races, the gun registry is “vote-determinating for about 5% of the voting public”.  It’s not stupid, crazy people who use this issue to their advantage.  But it just might be stupid people who ignore it.

I’ve also watched how the issue divides “progressive” men and women.  If you can achieve this political result simply by introducing a system to register (not “control” mind you, just register) you’ve gained a lot of ground on the cheap.  Similarly, watch progressive Americans, men and women, try to rationalize the passage of Stupak-Pitts.  “We don’t like it but it was a ‘compromise’ we had to make for the greater good”.  Over and over again.  As if you can trade off the rights of one group of people (a mere 52% of the population no less) for the rights and needs of another.  But over and over “progressives” are willing to do it while women scream “betrayal” and bear accusations, not only of hysteria, but even of selfishness.  This must make conservatives just bliss out.

Then there are the more quiet betrayals.  I’m not sure how they end up being quiet but it’s been done by the HarpyCons with the passage of criminal legislation that provide for mandatory minimum sentences for a load of offences, and with the agreement of both the Liberal and New Democratic Parties of Canada no less.  Thanks guys.  Love women of Canada.

Here’s why the mandatory minimums are a women’s issue.  The m.m.s have a disproportionate effect on groups who have experienced historic and current political, social and economic disadvantage.  One of those groups would be women, in this case, particularly First Nations and African American women.  First Nations women are the most rapidly growing group in the prison system.  They are vulnerable to arrest because of police targetting and the poverty,  and social and political injustices that have led to increased drug useage.  First Nations women suffer disproportionate effects once they’re imprisoned.  Often primary caregivers, they’re separated from children for long periods of time and often lose them to foster care forever.  Programmes for women in general receive fewer monetary and staffing resources than those for men.  Women in general are subject to strip searches and body searches in prison that put them at great risk.

African Canadians, also over-represented in our prison population, are similarly at risk for similar reasons.  But women, and particularly African Canadian women, are especially at risk, as pointed out by Professor Elizabeth Sheehy in her recent evidence to the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs:

Women are often caught up in the prosecution of drug offences through their relationship with male partners, often while having minimal actual involvement in drug transactions.  Acting as drug mules is a crime committed often out of economic desperation.  African Canadian women will be the subgroup of women most dramatically affected by mandatory prison sentences.  They are already over-incarcerated at seven times the rate of white women.  Some commentators and judges have observed a growing presence of African Canadian women accused as drug couriers.  It seems evident that the new mandatory sentences will augment the number of women currently imprisoned, with African Canadian women and their children feeling the worst effects.

Professor Sheehy ended her comments with these words:  “I believe Bill C-15 is an affront to our commitment to equality and non-discrimination.”

An affront?  Yes, I agree.  But it’s an affront that very few people know about and that therefore even fewer are concerned about and that the opposition parties of Canada have chosen to ignore so absolutely that Bill-C15 has been passed through the House and now awaits only Senate approval.  There are all sorts of reasons that women’s groups haven’t picked up on this issue in an effective way but I’m not going to blame the women.  I’m looking at the people who women, feminists especially, voted for to represent their interests.  I’m looking at Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton, the Liberal and New Democratic Parties of Canada who have seen fit to add their votes to the Conservative votes needed to pass this legislation.

The legislation effects vulnerable groups most but those vulnerable groups are less able to shake the sturdy trunks of the political trees/parties that represent them.  The always waiting, not stupid rightwing is there to pounce.  The mandatory minimum sentencing issue fits squarely with the conservative “law and order” agenda which would be an absolutely irrational policy if it were actually meant to affect law and order.  But it isn’t.  Surely the rightwing is not quite so stupid as to believe that longer prison sentences for drug users and dealers does anything at all to prevent crime – there’s just too much empirical evidence showing that it doesn’t.  No, once again this is a divisive issue being used to achieve political ends, not the least of which is the building of a prison industrial complex to rival that of the United States of America.  It might not “work” but it sure does make a lot of money, create lots of jobs and make constituents in ridings that host prisons pretty happy.

The “liberal” parties supposedly elected at least in part to represent the interests of women and minorities are quite willing to sell out these constituencies out because it just doesn’t do them much harm.  So far.

I, for one, want to make it hurt.  I want to keep sorting out the links between these rightwing policies and liberal betrayals and putting them out there.  I want to defeat the HarpyCons but I also want to make it dead clear that, as a woman, I can’t find a blessed party that truly represents me and my sisters and others for whom I care.  I reject a “headlong retreat into fantasy”.  I’ll not sit around waiting for this culture to die.  That might all sound a little melodramatic but there it is and it suits me just fine.

On this day, December 6th, 2009, when I want to reflect and grieve the women’s lives lost in Montreal in 1989 and all the women of this country who died before or since as a result of intimate partner violence and public violence against women – all those whose names we don’t know – I’ve actually had to time defending my right to define, with my sisters, the meaning of the event and the meaning of those lives and deaths.  When women are murdered because they are women, we still have to fight to say so.  We are so far away, still, twenty years later, from doing those things that must be done to begin the end of male violence against women that we still struggle for the definition itself.

I wish no person physical harm.  But I do want to make that hurt by defeating this government and any other government that thinks it can lead a country while ignoring the needs of half its population.

Ant-Depression Policy

From Duncan Campbell on “Making coalition government work“:

The NDP was founded as the CCF in 1932. With the depression as a back drop, people’s movements came together in Calgary and agreed to plan a better world. The party today needs to agree to take seats in cabinet, and form a joint caucus with the Liberals for a two-year period. All must pledge to make the new government work because, if it fails, both parties will bear the blame. A Conservative party, likely under a new leader, would be the beneficiary.

The NDP needs to show it can govern nationally. The Liberals need an anti-depression policy. Canadians needs the two to make whatever concessions are necessary in order to make a coalition government work.

Read the whole article here

Don’t Back Down

James Laxer on making the brouhaha something more than just a brouhaha – and the consequences of not doing so:

If the Conservatives manage to salvage their hold on government, the retribution they will inflict on each of the opposition parties will be a terrible one. Stephen Harper does not deal well with what he interprets as public humiliation. Here’s a guy who can’t even attend the annual Press Gallery dinner in Ottawa because he’d have to lampoon himself and people might laugh at him. Lacking a sense of humour, which means a sense of proportion, he is not well-suited to political life in a democracy where give and take is of the essence.
The only thing this man understands is conquest, which is why even the members of his own party don’t really like him.
If the Liberals decide to let Harper wriggle out of this one, they will have exchanged the substance of victory for a Pyrrhic victory.
Making a coalition work will not be easy for either the Liberals or the NDP. What will unite them though is that they are on the same side of the fence when it comes to the need for a serious stimulus package to cope with the economic crisis. Oddly enough, keeping the Bloc onboard may prove to be not so challenging. The Bloc will claim credit for the portion of the stimulus package that goes to Quebec, and they will be rid of Harper’s noxious agenda on culture, crime, and gun control, an agenda that Quebeckers hate with a passion.
The Liberals, NDP and the Bloc can either hang together or they will hang separately.

Read the whole thing here

And see this Laxer post on Harper’s economic mismanagement and why that is the reason to bring this government down.

The Libs Re-Brand

From MediaScout:

The Liberals are pushing their star players onto the election game field this week, hoping that with a little back-up, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion will be able to better woo voters and quiet the growing tide of discontent from within the Liberal party’s own ranks. In Halifax yesterday to announce plans for a new pharmacare system, Dion was flanked by Bob Rae, who loudly endorsed his party leader and took several comical shots at Stephen Harper. Many of the Big Seven today point out that the Liberals are stacking their offensive line with Liberal heavyweights Michael Ignatieff, Scott Brison and Bob Rae in the hopes that shifting the focus onto the Liberal Party brand rather than on their flailing leader will kick start their campaign. It is believed that this will also help to quell dissent among Liberal insiders who have been criticizing their party leader’s poor performance and handling of the campaign. Feeling emboldened by Rae, who acted as a feisty warm-up act to Dion, the Liberal leader yesterday spoke directly to the current economic problems ailing the country, and even joked about his awkward handling of the English language admitting that “Mr. Harper, he speaks better English than me. OK. But I say the truth better than him in English and French.”

Not surprisingly, it is the Star and the Globe that devote the most space in today’s paper to the campaign tactics of the Liberal party. The Star’s Chantal Hébert urges the Liberals to focus on the economy, and says they shouldn’t be pulling Bob Rae out of the closet, as his track record as premier of Ontario won’t help on the economic front. An editorial in the Globe points out that having Bob Rae as the warm-up to Dion before he spoke in Halifax yesterday had the negative side effect of underscoring “Dion’s lack of charisma and his comparative weakness as a public speaker.” The media’s political pundits have been criticizing the Liberal party at every turn in this election, tearing apart their Green Shift plan and the party’s uncharismatic leader. That has had the effect of making it difficult for usually centrist media outlets, like La Presse and the Globe, to stand behind their usual man. But as Rick Mercer jokingly pointed out on The National yesterday evening, it would take a lot to completely tarnish the Liberal party’s brand name — as he says, “The Liberal party is one of the most successful brands in the Western world. They’re like the political equivalent of Coca-Cola.”

Quite apart from the fact that it makes Dion look bad to have Bob Rae come out to try to save his ass – and because I couldn’t care less if Dion’s ass gets saved – it really does burn my ass to hear Bob Rae rip into jack Layton for helping to elect Stephen Harper last time ’round.  Bob Rae.  Ripping into the NDP.  His former party.  BLECH!

Poopin’ Puffin Party

See that little puffin over Stéphanne Dion’s right shoulder, dropping a load of poop?  That’s what the tussel betwen the Conservatives and the Liberals was all about today.  And some people say the voters are stupid …  Besides which, Dr. Oz says that white stuff isn’t bird poop, it’s pee.  Hhhmmm, trying not to think of pissing contests ….  Jack Layton wishes he could get in on this.

So.  Right.  When Canadian political parties want to really do a hatchet job on the opposition, they show videos of birds pooping on them.  Well.  That’s kinda ok by me.

Libs and Conservs

I thought I’d re-run Rick Mercer’s take on how the Liberals stand up strong against Harper’s Conservatives

And here’s Dr. Dawg on the Liberal’s voting record during the last Parliament – wowzers, them Lib boyz (mostly) really distinguished themselves.

Power Hungry Harper

It appears fairly clear that Canada’s Prime Minister is going to take his country into a Federal election next week.  You would think that he would not waste the time and money of Canadians unless he felt that an election was both necessary and likely to result in a different allocation of power between the federal parties than that which the country has been living with, miserably, for several years now.

But that’s not the case.  Even Harper cannot say that he believes an imminent election will lead to a change in power or even anything other than a minority government:

“My expectation would be that we will have another minority. I think that’s a reality of the current political climate,” Harper reported during a two-day tour of the north.

Harper said that the possibility of anyone getting a majority, “in the current political alignment” is highly unlikely.

Whoa!  Talk about low expectations.  Harper need barely get his hair mussed to declare himself a success according to his scenario, assuming, of course, that he believes it will be a Conservative minority.  That being the case, why the hell is he about to waste our time and money and put us through the horrors of listening to him and all his colleagues, of whatever political stripe, lie to us for weeks on end?

A “fresh mandate” he says.  According to Merriam-Webster, the word mandate means, in this instance, “an authorization to act”.  He has an authorization to act for heaven’s sake.  A mandate is not a loaf of bread that goes stale; it isn’t something that needs refreshing except, according to the rules of Parliament, when the Opposition can show lack of confidence and bring the government down or otherwise, due to the lapse of a generally accepted period of time that Harper has always, till now, acknowledged to be about five years from the date of the last election.  That’s not now.

So, if Harper doesn’t expect to get anything much different from what he has, what the hell is he up to?  Tom Flanagan thinks he knows.  The former Harper chief of staff, who is now a political scientist at University of Alberta, thinks Harper is waging a “war of attrition” against the Liberals:

 As Mr. Flanagan sees it, the first major battle in this incremental war occurred in 2004, when Mr. Harper managed to reduce Paul Martin’s Liberals to a minority. In the second clash in 2006, Mr. Harper won his own Conservative minority.

The third skirmish, which Mr. Harper appears set to launch next week, likely won’t kill what Mr. Flanagan jokingly refers to as “the evil empire.” But, if the Tories can win a few more seats at the Liberals’ expense — an outcome Mr. Flanagan considers realistic given Mr. Harper’s superior campaign skills and the Tories’ fatter war chest — he predicted that would be enough to throw the Grits into a long-term tailspin that could eventually lead to their demise.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, to acknowledge that Stephen Harper is better at anything than just about anyone.  But when the competition is Stéphane Dion, I can only wish to disagree.  I’ve little doubt that Dion could give Tom Flanagan a run for his money as an academic, but as a campaign politician he’s downright embarassing – I squirm in my seat watching the guy.

But if Harper is willing to put the Canadian people to the trouble and expense of a federal election just so he can fuck over the Liberals, I hope the people of this country show him who’s boss and leave him with the most stale bun in the shop.  I’m not interested in Harper’s personal war with the Liberals.  I’d like my country to have a credible government.  I’d love to see a big Canadian boot in the middle of that guy’s butt.  If we can do that, bring the election on.

Listen my dear Canadians, there’s more than one way to warm his buns.  We have more than two choices in this enlightened land.  We have the New Democratic Party.  I’m not insane; I know that Jack Layton isn’t going to be the next Prime Minister of the land.  But the NDP is more than a credible option and, in fact, is the only party in our beleaguered nation that can provide a coherent vision of how to get through the economic mess and the foreign policy debacle that the Conservatives and the Liberals have led us into.

None of us is so dumb as to be unaware that the world and our country faces serious challenges which must be met if we are to survive on this planet.  We have no time for internecine political warfare.  Hey y’all, Steve is up in Tuktoyaktuk trying to expand Canadian sovereignty over its resources.  Why aren’t we engaging other countries in negotiations that would involve shared responsibility for Arctic waters and a mutually beneficial share of its resources instead of attempting a coup?  Instead of wasting our very precious time and resources on Steve’s quest for personal dominance and power?

Don’t Leave Home, Michaelle

Steve Harper has asked Michaëlle Jean, Canada’s Governor General, to cancel her scheduled Sept. 5th trip to China, signalling the likelihood that he will call a snap election.  He’s trying to blame it on the Liberals, but he ain’t foolin’ nobody:

The only problem is, there’s very little evidence of that stalemate’s existence.

There are obvious reasons for the Tories to want to go to the polls. Regardless of whether Stephane Dion himself evolves, every passing day allows the Liberals to make up at least a little ground when it comes to setting up a campaign organization to compete with the Conservative one. And Harper could undoubtedly do without another few months of opposition MPs using the committee system – however clumsily – to raise unpleasant questions about his party’s ethics. But what’s much less clear is what’s convinced him over the past couple of years that it’s no longer possible to “get some things done.”

It may be – at the risk of repeating myself – that the Tories have simply run out of things to do, which is a different matter. But with the Liberals having caved even on policies they claim will tear the very fabric of the country, I’m hard-pressed to think of a single thing the Tories have been keen on that they haven’t been able to get done.

That may change this fall, if the Liberals choose to work with the opposition parties to bring the government down. But until that happens, the criteria Harper implicitly set for forcing an election himself really haven’t been met.

NDP and Omar Khadr

I was so upset about the plight of Canadian child soldier Omar Khadr yesterday that I wrote to Jack Layton, leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada, to ask him what he planned to do about it.  His answer was quick and impressive and I’m posting it here:

Thank you for your email concerning the plight of Omar Khadr. It has long been the opinion of the federal NDP that Omar Khadr should be declared a child combatant as mandated by the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

We have repeatedly asked why the Harper government will not bring this young person home. On March 11, 2008, NDP Human Rights Critic Wayne Marston presented a motion before the Subcommittee on Human Rights drawing attention to the detention and prosecution of Omar Khadr. The aim of the motion was to force the Canadian government to petition the American government for his repatriation.

Please find attached our most recent appeal to Prime Minister Harper by NDP Human Rights Critic Wayne Marston and NDP Justice Critic Joe Comartin.

With regards to the recently released Khadr tape, Mr. Marston commented, “Democracy is very fragile, and it’s not up to a government to decide which Canadians deserve to have their rights protected. It’s up to the government to protect everybody’s rights as a Canadian citizen. It’s clear this boy’s rights were violated. It’s time to get him out of there.”

 
Again, our support for Omar’s return to Canada has been consistent. On June 14, 2007, along with current and former elected officials, nine Canadian non-governmental organizations, and over 110 academics and lawyers from across Canada, I signed a letter to Prime Minister Harper calling on the Canadian government to bring Omar Khadr home to Canada without delay. Please see the attached press release for more information.

We believe that this situation has been mishandled from the start and a resolution is long-overdue. Others agree.

“The Liberals are, of course, making a fuss about all this. But the problem for the Liberals is that when that video footage of Khadr’s Guantanamo interrogation was shot, Jean Chrétien was the prime minister of Canada. Defending the Liberals’ seriously late-breaking interest in the quality of treatment accorded Guantanamo prisoners is tricky, as Megapundit points out. This should, it seems to me, present an opportunity for the NDP, who could say — truthfully — “The Liberals let this happen and the Conservatives refuse to bring it to an end.” – Paul Wells, Macleans Blog, 17 July 2008 (http://blog.macleans.ca/2008/07/17/khadr-and-the-old-democrats/)

For more information on Canada’s role in this sordid affair, please visit: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/460866.

I appreciate knowing of your concern for human rights and want to assure you that New Democrats will continue to press the Conservative government for Khadr’s repatriation. Feel free to pass this email to anyone who may be interested.

All the best,

Jack Layton, MP (Toronto-Danforth)
Leader, Canada’s New Democrats

[…]

TIME TO BRING KHADR HOME: NDP

OTTAWA-Sixteen NDP MPs, including NDP Leader Jack Layton, today signed an open letter to Prime Minister Harper calling on the Canadian government to bring Omar Khadr home to Canada without delay.

The letter was signed by current and former elected officials, nine Canadian non-governmental organizations, and over 110 academics and lawyers from across Canada.  Omar Khadr is the only Canadian detained by the United States at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.  He is alleged to have killed a US soldier in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old.  Khadr has been detained for over five years without conviction.  Two attempts to convict him under the military commission system instituted by the US have failed.

“Other countries have successfully advocated for their nationals who were detained at Guantanamo.  Britain, France, Australia, among others, have succeeded in bringing home their citizens.  Nothing less should be possible for a Canadian citizen”, said Joe Comartin, NDP Justice Critic.  “Omar Khadr is a Canadian.  And as a Canadian he deserves the support of Canada to ensure that he gets a fair and just trial, and is not further subjected to indefinite detention, questionable legal process or cruel and inhumane conditions. He must be brought home.”

“We must also not lose sight of the fact that Omar Khadr was 15 years old when the alleged crime took place.  He is the only minor detained at Guantanamo,” said NDP Citizenship and Immigration Critic Bill Siksay. “There are significant concerns for his mental and physical health and well-being.  Canada must take action on behalf of one of its children.  This should be available to any Canadian citizen, no matter how unpopular his actions or how much we may disagree with the political opinions of his family.”

New Democrats support the call to have Omar Khadr returned to Canada where the legal consequences of his alleged actions should be adjudicated in the Canadian criminal justice system.

A copy of the letter and list of signatories is available at the Amnesty International Canadian Section web site at www.amnesty.ca.

Here’s Jack’s letter to Harper:

July 16, 2008

 

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper

Office of the Prime Minister

 

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

 

We are writing to you to express our extreme disappointment at your unwillingness to change your position on the case of Omar Khadr and refusal to work towards his repatriation after seeing the release of the CSIS interrogation tapes from 2003. 

 

Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen, and as such, you and your government have a responsibility to protect him; all Canadian citizens whether they are at home or abroad deserve and depend upon their government for help.

 

The Conservative mantra has consistently stated that Omar Khadr faces very serious charges and that you are confident the American Military has and will continue to provide Khadr all of the rights and protections required to him under international law.  However, the unjust treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay is well documented and key evidence released by the American Government says that Canadian official Jim Gould learned during a visit to Guantanamo on March 30, 2004, that Khadr had been put on a “frequent flyer program,” meaning he was not permitted to remain in any one location for more than three hours and was denied a healthy amount of sleep for more than 50 consecutive days. 

Omar Khadr deserves a fair trial and this simply cannot be provided for him at the American Military Commissions.  The commission is not a court of law, and even though you have denied that the Canadian legal system is capable of dealing with Mr. Khadr’s case, studies have been provided to the House of Commons’ Subcommittee on Human Rights, by legal experts that show this to be untrue. 

Also, in the 2003 CSIS interrogation tapes, Khadr complains to officials that he did not receive proper medical attention even after requesting help, then cries under the belief that his countrymen do not care about him.   These tapes do not show a dangerous terrorist, but instead a frightened boy pleading for help from Canadian officials.   Why do you ignore the cries of this terrified and clearly abused young man?   It would appear that the Canadian government is simply hiding behind the unpopularity of the al-Qaeda-linked Khadr family, instead of showing leadership and fairness to Omar Khadr.

While it is true that the former Liberal Government authorized the questioning of Omar Khadr at Guantanamo, and that you have not changed the governments’ actions or policy in regards to this citizen’s case, your government has been given a great deal of compelling evidence which clearly shows that you can no longer simply follow this faulty Liberal assessment; you have an obligation to protect the rights of this Canadian citizen.

We ask you to observe and commit to the following recommendations of the Subcommittee on Human Rights, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and the NDP.  We recommend that the Government of Canada:

 

·      demand the immediate termination of Military Commission proceedings against Omar Khadr.

 

·      express its objection to the position stated by the United States that it reserve the right to detain Omar Khadr as an “enemy combatant” notwithstanding an acquittal or the possible termination of proceedings.

 

·      demand Omar Khadr’s release from US custody at Guantanamo Bay to the custody of Canadian law enforcement officials as soon as practical.

 

·      call on the Director of Public Prosecutions to investigate, and, if warranted, prosecute Omar Khadr for offences under Canadian law.

 

·      take such measures as are necessary to ensure that possible security concerns are appropriately and adequately addressed upon the repatriation of Omar Khadr.

 

·      take appropriate measures that are consistent with Canada’s obligations under Article 7 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and with Canadian law.

 

·      call on the relevant Canadian authorities to ensure that an appropriate rehabilitation and reintegration program is developed for Omar Khadr, which takes into account legitimate security concerns. To the extent necessary, such a program could place judicially enforceable /conditions on Omar Khadr’s conduct.

In addition, the NDP has repeatedly called for the Canadian Government to have legislative supervision over the Canadian Security Intelligence Service to ensure that justice, fairness and humanity is maintained by this agency.  The interrogation of Omar Khadr by CSIS in 2003 is yet another example of why legislative oversight is necessary.

We simply ask that you abide by the international protocols and conventions to which Canada is a signatory and ensure that Omar Khadr is repatriated to Canada so that he may receive a fair trial and the rehabilitation that is so long overdue.

 

Sincerely, 

 

 

 

Wayne Marston, MP                                                    Joe Comartin, MP

Hamilton East – Stoney Creek                                      Windsor – Tecumseh

NDP Human Rights Critic                                              NDP Justice Critic 

 

 

CC:  Honourable David Emerson                                 Deepak Obhrai

Minister of Foreign Affairs                                            Parliamentary Secretary of

125 Sussex Drive                                                         Foreign Affairs

Ottawa, ON   K1A 0G2                                              200 Promenade du Portage
                                                                                    Gatineau, QC   K1A 0G4

 

 

Please visit the Amnesty International Canada site for a form letter to send to Harper and pass it on to as many people as you can, or write your own letters.  It’s late in the day for Omar Khadr, but it’s still not too late.

 

And many thanks to Jack Layton and the NDP.

UPDATE:  See McLeans Blog

Dallaire Speaks Out, Dion Shuts Up

Canada and the United States have sunk to the moral equivalent of terrorists in their handling of a young Canadian held at Guantanamo Bay, says Liberal senator and ex-general Romeo Dallaire.

Dallaire says the two countries have flouted human rights and international conventions in dealing with Omar Khadr and are no better than those who don’t believe in rights at all.

He told a House of Commons committee Tuesday that Khadr is a victim – a child soldier who should be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society and not tried before what he called an illegal court.

Canada should be bending over backward to bring him home, said Dallaire, formerly Canada’s special UN ambassador for children.

Khadr was 15 when he was captured after a fire fight in Afghanistan and has been held in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for six years. American authorities now are attempting to try him before a special tribunal.

Dallaire, whose troubling experiences during the 1994 Rwanda genocide helped make him an outspoken advocate of human rights, said the Khadr case points out a moral equivalence among Canada, the United States and al-Qaida.

The United States is ignoring its own laws in prosecuting Khadr and Canada is betraying itself by not fighting for Khadr’s return home, he said.

He said the Americans were acting out of panic after 9/11 and Canada was playing politics and that left them no better than the terrorists.

Canadian Press

The response of the Harper government was predictable.  But Stephane Dion disagrees with Dallaire’s “choice of words” and suggests he may be disciplined.  Christ on a cracker, Dion has no guts whatsoever.  I hope not to hear an apology from Dallaire.  Likely he’s just doing his best to wake people up.  And who knows better what happens when we get sleepy than Romeo Dallaire.