Sunday, 16 December 2012


By Matthew Behrens,

The ease with which self-described democratic states embroil themselves in torture continues to be illustrated by the manner in which agencies of the Canadian state, from spies to judges, have wedged open a door to legitimize complicity in a practice that both domestic and international law ban outright.

Before dismissing that paragraph as preposterous, it is worth considering that two federal inquiries into the torture of Abdullah Almalki, Maher Arar, Ahmad El Maati, and Muayyed Nureddin revealed a sinister level of Canadian complicity in torture, from which no accountability or systemic changes have emerged. Further, damning documents reveal Canadian knowledge of and culpability in the renditions and torture of Benamar Benatta and Abousfian Abdelrazik.

Meanwhile, the Federal Court, while accepting CSIS memos acknowledging that secret trial "security certificate" cases are based largely on torture, continues with hearings that could result in deportations to torture. That latter possibility is courtesy of a 2002 Supreme Court of Canada decision ( that left open the possibility of such complicity in torture under "exceptional circumstances."

Outrage over Canadian involvement in torture remains fairly muted, especially as each new revelation of deepening complicity is met by government officials not so much with shamefaced promises to keep our hands clean, but rather bald-faced justifications in the name of security. Indeed, as in the U.S., there appears a growing Canadian effort to justify as legal and legitimate that which is neither.

Part of that process of legitimization -- accepting torture as a normal course of social and political events in much the same mundane way we would assess price drops in overseas markets -- is now firmly fixed at the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS). As we learned last month in a declassified memo, CSIS runs a thinly disguised torture committee, using the more group hug-like moniker of the Information Sharing Evaluation Committee.

According to a formerly secret ( August 2011 memo from CSIS Deputy Director of Operations Michel Coulombe, a group of six people sit around the table and shoot the breeze about information coming across their desks that may have come from torture (or, to use their preferred term, "mistreatment"). Their task is to decide whether to act on the fruits of torture and whether to share information that could lead to the torture of someone else.

This may sound familiar, because it's exactly what CSIS and the RCMP were already found to be up to in the decade following 9/11. Rather than ending such practices, they've developed an Orwellian process whereby they justify doing what they are not supposed to do, with subsequent Public Safety memos from Vic Toews to the Canadian Border Services Agency and the RCMP outlining the same process.

All of these documents clearly state that the "Government of Canada does not condone the use of torture," but then proceed to justify involvement in torture.

So what does the Gang of Six do when they decide whether they have to defy the law by getting down and dirty with torture? Their list of sources to consult starts with "CSIS databases," a less than objective or reassuring source of information which the departed Inspector General of CSIS, Eva Plunkett, slammed in her November 2011 report as "unreliable." (Her position has since been eliminated to save $1 million, while the War Department continues to spend upwards of $2 million on Viagra).

CSIS is then to look at their "foreign arrangements" as well as "assurances" that have been received by the foreign entity. In deciding whether to turn someone over to the Gestapo or to share information with those who turn the screws, CSIS must decide whether the Gestapo's promise not to torture someone can be taken at face value (this practice of "diplomatic assurances" has long been condemned as another disgrace that erodes further the outright ban on torture).

CSIS can also check the human rights reports from DFAIT (the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade). DFAIT was found to be complicit in torture by two federal inquiries (and their memos with respect to the torture of Abdelrazik, detained in Sudan for years, illustrated similar culpability as well). DFAIT human rights reports are not made public, according to the Arar Inquiry, because "there is some concern about the impact public reports may have on Canadian commercial interests with these countries." In addition, the reliability of DFAIT reports is far from certain.

The Arar Inquiry pointed out that while a DFAIT report on torture in Syria in 2001 referenced "credible evidence of torture" and the use of torture to extract confessions, the 2002 report qualifies the use of torture as "allegations" and omits mention of the use of torture to extract confessions. Notably, while Canadians like Maher Arar, Ahmad El Maati  and Abdullah Almalki were detained and tortured in Syria, the DFAIT annual report failed to make any mention of them.

And when a perhaps junior staffer at DFAIT has the gall to report the truth, it is rewritten. Indeed, we learned in 2008 that an 89-page PowerPoint DFAIT training manual listed, among countries using torture, the U.S. and Israel (both of which are well-documented facts). Former foreign affairs minister Maxime Bernier reacted by declaring ( "It contains a list that wrongly includes some of our closest allies. I have directed that the manual be reviewed and rewritten."

The other items checked include "open source information" (code word for the National Post and other right-wing publications and websites from which CSIS builds its cases). To cover their derrieres, they throw a sop about consulting Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and U.S. State Department reports, but they likely carry no weight given that CSIS and DFAIT officials have repeatedly refused to acknowledge that torture has been systematic in countries like Syria and Egypt.

By choosing to be part of the torture chain, and using lawyers at Canada's Department of Justice for cover (as they were during the torture of Canadians in Syria and Egypt), it appears that the Canadian government seeks not to hide its involvement, but rather to sanction it under the cover of law.

Skeptics might ask whether this is blowing things out of proportion. Yet this is precisely what happens when the door to torture has been opened. U.S. lawyer Alan Dershowitz famously said that Americans should be able to obtain torture warrants for "extreme" cases," yet if one is to open that door, who does the torture? How is it practiced to ensure a torture team will be available and ready to roll when it is mandated by a torture warrant?

Thus we enter the world of "torture controls and limitations," in much the same twisted way in which we have global holocaust controls with nuclear weapons limitations.

Richard Matthews of Mount Allison University, in his excellent book The Absolute Violation, notes that just as fighter pilots need to train so they can drop their bombs, "at some points torturers have to practice on victims if they are going to be any good. The spread of state torture is not merely a risk but is in fact inevitable once the state decides that torture serves a state interest."

In this instance, CSIS has clearly defined its state interest in torture by declaring there will be times when it is necessary to engage in the odious practice.

Matthews notes that "defenders of torture typically accept that every human being has a right not to be tortured, and they agree that this should be enshrined in international law. The debate is not about whether there is such a right but about whether such rights may ever be overridden."

Matthews, whose book was published in 2008, has clearly hit the nail on the head, since this is exactly how the CSIS memos are structured. What follows from this rationale, he notes, is a concerted effort to incorporate such processes within the framework of the law, so that any decision that leads to blood on the hands will be seen as lawful.

This is made possible because in the UN Convention Against Torture, its early definition includes a dangerous exception in Article 1, when it states torture "does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions." From this definition, one can see the emerging legal and moral calisthenics engaged in by the Bush administration as well as Canada's Justice Department and associated government agencies when they try and bend the definitions, use temperate language, and wrap their procedures in the soothing gauze of international law and respect for human rights.  Indeed, in the CSIS memo and related documents, torture becomes mistreatment, and an interrogation session with electric shock or genital crushing gets reduced to a "detention interview."

Furthermore, CSIS declares that it will not "knowingly rely upon information" derived from torture, a convenient construction given the willful blindness with which it operates with its foreign partners. If CSIS does not knowingly acknowledge that Syria engages in torture, then how can it be knowingly relying on the fruits of torture when it receives information from Syria? With such reasoning CSIS maintains it is "essential" to nurture these relationships because, in their eyes, they're doing nothing wrong.

As Canada continually refuses to apologize to and provide compensation for the numerous returnees from overseas torture whose lives the government has ruined, it becomes even clearer how high the stakes have become in these cases: any acknowledgement that what was done in these situations was wrong, illegal, or unethical, would bump Canada from its comfortable position in the global torture chain.

[Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. 'national security' profiling for many years.]


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Friday, 14 December 2012

Unions protesting over the exclusive use of temporary foreign workers in a BC mine is not racism

It’s no surprise the exclusive use of Chinese temporary workers at a northern BC coal mine ignited a heated debate about foreign investments by China and a fight for Canadian jobs, but the fact it is now being used to fuel flames of racism is a shabby cheap shot at orgainized labour and is insulting to Canadians.

According to a CBC report, Huizhi Li, who works at HD Mining's Murray River project near Tumbler Ridge, and who allegedly penned a letter to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, allegedly says leaflets and the content on a United Steelworkers Union website are likely to create contempt for Chinese people.

And we all believe in Santa Claus!

The crux of Li's argument and his alleged letter to the Commission – written, no less, on HD Mining’s letterhead – says information posted to the union's website is somehow racist because Chinese miners will work for reduced wages and in substandard conditions and denies Canadians opportunity to those jobs.

Mr. Li can allegedly complain all he wants because that is a right in Canada. But no, sir! The argument does not fly. And make no mistake on this one: there is ample evidence to back the statements put out by the Steelworkers. As such, the arguments put forward by all Canadian unions that, quite rightly, are fighting against the use of temporary foreign workers – from any country – has nothing to do with racism. Rather, it has everything to do with the fact that Canadian federal and provincial policies are fundamentally undermining Canadian labour standards and forcing down wages and other gains made by workers over the years.

And these arguments, that are well founded, run deep with Canadians. The use of temporary workers at the Murray River coal mining operation, or anywhere else for that matter, is raising the ire of Canadians unwilling to accept a blatant sell-out of Canadian jobs by our governments.

According to a recent CBC/Nanos survey, for example, sixty-eight per cent of respondents said they "oppose" or "somewhat oppose" allowing temporary foreign workers into the country if there are Canadians looking for work who are qualified for the same jobs. Six per cent were unsure.

What this survey shows is Canadians don’t buy into what’s going on in this country with respect to the use of temporary foreign workers. Yet ironically, the survey results were released Monday, hours after Immigration Minister Jason Kenney unveiled details of a new program intended to speed the arrival to Canada of foreign tradespeople whose skills are allegedly in demand.

Kenney said the Skilled Trades Stream will accept up to 3,000 foreign workers next year, and touted the program as a way to address alleged labour shortages, particularly in remote regions of the country.

Say what you want Kenney, this scribe, along with many others, will argue this expansion of the program is directly linked to another hit on organized labour. And this point cannot be understated. Unions continue to represent workers in an effort to sustain fair wages and benefits for all Canadians. Their efforts need to be both applauded and supported. But it's something Kenny and his ilk don't appreciate.

As well, many others will most likely point out that politicians and their corporate masters have a long history of making attempts to dismiss the relevance of unions, pit workers against each other, while turning the benefits unions have wrought for their workers into resentments from the broader population. This, in turn, has created a struggle between workers and the resulting depression of wages and benefits, causing a race to the bottom and eliminating the effectiveness of worker's advocacy.

As for the exclusive use of temporary foreign workers at the Murray River mine and playing the race card? Well, that just tops the list of assaults and insults. It is nothing short of another thinly veiled attack on labour.


Chinese mining firm launches rights complaint, threatens feds with lawsuit

Chinese miners allowed to come to B.C., judge rules

Federal judge denies unions' request for an injunction

Monday, 10 December 2012

Reported Elsewhere: Top court asked to settle battle over Tommy Douglas intelligence dossier

By |

OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada is being asked to settle a seven-year battle to lift the shroud of secrecy over a decades-old intelligence dossier on socialist trailblazer Tommy Douglas.

Jim Bronskill, a reporter with The Canadian Press, is seeking leave to appeal the case to the country’s highest court.

At stake is more than simply gaining access to the intelligence file compiled on the late Douglas, according to Bronskill’s lawyer.

In essence, the top court is being asked to be the final arbiter on whether national security should trump the public’s right to see historical documents. Read full story here.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Reported Elsewhere: Canada Climate Change Policy Ranks Worst In Wealthy World

The Huffington Post Canada  |  By Daniel Tencer

Canada has the worst climate change policy of all wealthy nations, and the fourth-worst among all nations, says a survey from environmental umbrella group Climate Action Network.

The Great White North “still shows no intentions to move forward on climate policy and thereby leave its place as the worst performer of all western countries,” reads the preamble to the Climate Change Performance Index 2013. Read full story here.

Monday, 3 December 2012

FIPPA China and lax immigration policies could be a sellout of Canadian labour

by Bobbie Saga

The Canada-China Investment Protection & Promotion Treaty (FIPPA China), along with changes the Harper Conservatives made to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program earlier this year, may be setting the stage for a migration of Chinese workers into Canada.

An Article within FIPPA China limits the ability of Canadian governments–at any level–to change regulations concerning the importation of Chinese nationals working for Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs).

"The treaty will constrain the ability of any government in Canada to take a wide range of decisions, including on economic and employment issues," Gus Van Hartan, Osgoode Hall law professor, expert on FIPPA China and outspoken critic of the trade deal, said.

"Article 7(3) would provide a basis for challenges to government decisions in this respect. So too would Articles 4, 5, and 6, although at a more general level than Article 7(3), which focuses on temporary entry of workers."

Article 7(3), along with other provisions of FIPPA China, states that subject to Canadian laws, regulations and policies relating to entry of non-citizens at the time the agreement is signed, Canada shall permit workers employed by any enterprise that is a covered investment. Further, it states that workers may remain temporarily in a capacity that is managerial, executive or that requires specialized knowledge.

Earlier this year, and despite reports of widespread abuse, the Harper Conservatives deregulated the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), which outraged labour and advocacy groups. Two interconnected, back-to-back and behind-closed-door policy decisions were made–deregulating the TFWP and entirely eliminating the Fair Wages Act, which Conservatives said, in both cases, were to get rid of "unnecessary red tape" for Canada’s business community.

"It would require further study to determine whether the employment picture for Canadians will be worsened. However, if the employment picture does worsen, due to federal approvals of temporary Chinese workers who compete with and undercut Canadian workers in any sector, then the treaty will make it difficult for any government other than the federal government, and (depending on the circumstances) possibly the federal government, to change the approvals or other decisions that worsened the employment picture," Van Hartan said.

"A federal review of past approvals, or any provincial or municipal or First Nations decision, that led to a change in the approvals which affected a Chinese-owned company could give rise to an actionable claim by the company for taxpayer compensation. The claim would proceed outside of the Canadian legal system and Canadian courts, and--although it would depend on the circumstances and the decisions of the arbitrators–the claim would carry a reasonable prospect of success based especially on Articles 4, 5, and 6."


Canada-China Corporate rights pact could spell trouble for Canadian workers competing with China’s Silent Army

Experts also say that in its growing direct investments in African, South American and Asian resource assets, China relies on an "unemployment export" of blue-collar workers to mitigate internal social tension. Because of a double agenda of access to resources plus Chinese blue-collar workers employment overseas, Chinese SOEs are willing to pay hefty premiums on resource corporations by out-bidding competitors.

Juan Pablo Cardenal, author and investigative journalist based out of Beijing, explains there are two main factors in force that drives China’s foreign investment policy.

"The central government has two drivers–assuring the supply of resources and because China needs to grow (GDP per year) by 8 per cent to grow employment, it’s a domestic decision. We need to employ all those people. They want to go to the source (for raw resources). They don’t want their supply of natural resources disrupted," Cardenal said.

He also says China usually prefers doing business with nations where there are lax or non-existent regulations and laws and cited the Congo as an example. He says he is surprised by recent developments in western countries.

"The law, if there is a law, the decision to allow or not, is always in the hands of the receiving country. The Chinese, they are only interested in how much money they make. The reason they succeed is nobody has the money the Chinese have and they’re going to put in their own conditions," Cardenal said.

"It’s a complete necessity. They use the cultural barrier... And on the other hand, there is a culture of how they work. They know that their labour force is disciplined, that labour force works hard and they’re not going to cause any problems... so those workers won’t be part of labour unions. It’s not uncommon to see it in the developing world. They are happy to go around the laws. What is surprising is countries like Canada and countries like Greenland. China has asked very clearly that you have to allow us to bring in our own labour."

On the Canadian front, the planned use of workers from China at a northern B.C. coal mine sparked a court fight and demands to have the BC government step in to shut down the Murray River mine operation near Tumbler Ridge. Indeed, the B.C. issues that arose last month have fueled flames of controversy, with dueling versions of events and denouncements of Canada’s "broken" immigration system. The dispute also called into question why the Harper Conservatives are siding with the company facing court action, doing a second review when one preceded the Haprer Conservatives deregulation of the TFWP, and why two Conservative ministers’ statements over the issues were conflicted.

The issuing of TFW permits first became a major concern among B.C. labour groups since the United Steelworkers Union found advertisements placed by HD Mining Ltd. preferring those applicants who have knowledge of the Mandarin language. Despite claims by laobur that Canadians applied for the positions, 201 TFW permits were granted for what labour groups say is to be the first of several thousand positions for the company’s Murray River project. It was later reported the ads in which Mandarin was preferred were placed by "mistake."

Meanwhile, opposition to FIPPA China continues to mount as critics hammer the Harper Conservatives in an effort to delay the agreement's ratification. The federal government was in a position to ratify the agreement November 1 through an order-in-council, but it has yet to do so.

For additional information see TFWP Backgrounder

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Reported Elsewhere: B.C. backs off on flu-shot policy for nurses

Union declares victory in dispute; government suggests it's a 1-year reprieve

The union representing B.C.'s nurses says members won't be forced to wear masks and stickers if they're not vaccinated against the flu.

The province's health officer Dr. Perry Kendall announced the policy in August, arguing low vaccination rates among health professionals were putting patients at risk.

But the British Columbia Nurses Union says the provincial government has backed off on the policy following a "strong public campaign" by members

Friday, 30 November 2012

Reported Elsewhere: Human rights museum staff leave amid interference allegations

CEO denies any political interference in content of Winnipeg-based museum

The Canadian Museum for Human Rights in Winnipeg has not yet opened, but there has already been an exodus of employees, amid allegations of indecision and political interference on the part of management and the board of trustees, CBC News has learned.