And in non-census-related news…

A 20-year old letter allegedly written by Iranian “Green revolution” leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi to Iran’s then-president President Ali Khamenei is causing a lot of chatter within Tehran-watching circles this week. The letter was published on the website of the now-exiled past President of the Islamic Republic Abolhassan Banisadr and appears to expose a long-denied international assertion against the Iranian regime. The letter references the type of activity that suggests that Iran has participated in foreign terrorist attacks and has been fighting an aysymmetric proxy war against its enemies for quite some time now. Not that this is such a stunning revelation to anyone, but it is interesting nonetheless that internal government documents have come to light from within that acknowledges this.

Here is the letter, and I’ve reprinted a Google-translated excerpt below:

“After the plane is hijacked, we become aware of it. When the machine gun in a street opens in Lebanon and the sound turned it everywhere, we will know the case. After the discovery of explosives from our pilgrims in Jeddah, I’m aware of it. Unfortunately, and despite all the loss that the country has realized this move, yet like every time the operation can be called anytime the state occurs”

Our troops in Afghanistan are fighting an asymmetric battle against non-state actors in the south of that country. We’ve known for some time that factions within the Pakistan military have been sympathetic and supportive of Taliban fighters and we’ve known the same about Iran’s support as well. If the letter is valid, it helps the Iranian regime lose face over a lie it has laughably maintained among the international community. Though, such a “revelation” will come as a shock to no one. Iran for example provides billions of dollars in annual support to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Facing mounting opposition from opposition forces, Ahmadinejad has taken a hard-line stance to bolster his support among hardliners within his base. This, of course, is underscored by the development of a nuclear program to assert Iran’s independence, defense and dominance over the region. However, a nuclear program, while couched in anti-Semitic and bellicose terms, is at minimum state-to-state posturing.

The release of the letter that internally confirms that the regime has long participated in state-sanctioned proxied asymmetric attacks against not only foreign soldiers but against civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon among other countries, may simply be yet another element for fodder for an opposition posturing against a hard-line regime losing favour at home. This further suggests to Iranians that their leadership has been occupied with tangential foreign issues while domestic strife rises and quality of life diminishes.

To that point, this is also about two rival political factions blaming each other for failures in Iran’s history as an Islamic republic. Washington’s Daily Beast picks up on this thread,

“This letter has historical significance now,” Banisadr told The Daily Beast in a telephone interview. “At the time of its initial publication it was significant, too, because it clearly stated that the Iranian regime was involved in terrorist activities abroad; that these actions were not sporadic, but that it was the Iranian government that was engaged in terrorist activities.”

Neither Khamenei nor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has commented on the letter. But people in Iran speculate that the letter re-emerged at this moment because Mousavi was threatening to reveal secrets in connection with the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, having been accused by current Iranian authorities of losing the war. And some hope that Mousavi’s secrecy standoff with the government might cast light on another dark moment in Iran’s history–the mass executions of political prisoners in 1988, which reportedly cost the lives of thousands of people. Within Iran, the executions are a taboo subject. But last month, Mousavi alluded to them, suggesting that his cabinet was kept in the dark.

The Mousavi letter also seeks to establish the credentials of the opposition leader as someone who was in government and who was an insider to the regime’s history. This contrasts with Ahmadinejad, the former mayor of Tehran who had little to no experience.

CensusLeaks.ca

Sunday at around 5pm, the story hit the blackberries of government staffers and journalists alike in Ottawa that over 200,000 pages of classified documents describing operations of the war in Afghanistan were posted on WikiLeaks.org, an online clearinghouse for classified government information. It has been argued by the Pentagon and by Foreign Affairs that the information released puts soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan at risk and it has certainly has handed the Taliban a propaganda victory over allied war efforts against the extremist forces in that country.

This news comes in a time period where Ottawa-watchers have been discussing the disclosure, security and privacy of data collected by governments. First, opposition parties argued that the government declassify thousands of pages detailing the detention and transfer of Afghan detainees, and then there’s been that war of numbers over the utlility and intrusiveness of the governments ability to collect data on the citizenry via the census.

Is all data created (and withheld) equally? Do defenders of an open and free society sincerely believe the new axiom that “all information wants to be free”? Is our society free because some information is held secure?

If journalism is — by one definition — to bring comfort to the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, do information dumps on the execution of the war in Afghanistan bring transparency to decisions made by our elected leaders, or do they provide comfort to the enemy? Even the decision to reveal classified documents on detainee transfers to Parliament was done reluctantly and the documents were revealed under strict guidelines.

Two arguments against the long-form census — in a debate that has turned into a “national crisis” according to one breathless account from a journalist at macleans.ca — are that the census could violate the privacy of individuals and that a mandatory burden comes with state penalty of jail or a fine or both.

We used to live in a world where releasing classified information to the enemy in wartime was akin to treason because it violated a clear national interest — our security. Yet, the founder of wikileaks and those that participated in the release of classified information will likely never see the inside of a jail cell. Our world has evolved such that it may not be reasonable for the government to expect that information can remain secure. Society has changed such that the average citizen can instantly react to information as it continuously breaks. Has our war cabinet been expanded to include the hoards of sarcastic tweeters deskchair-quarterbacking the conflict? Has elected leadership been replaced by liveblogging and instant polls? Does information want to be free because now we all can make the day-by-day decisions to effectively execute this war? No, of course not.

As the wikileaks release has shown, information can never be confidently be deemed “secure”. Even information vital to national security can be compromised and the security of this data is held paramount by our government compared to concerns over personal privacy. In this case, breach of secure information was done so according to a unilateral and unaccountable political agenda of “openness”. Troubling still, a significant subset of the voices against scrapping the long-form census are now heralding this new “transparency” of information that compromises the security of our troops on the ground in Afghanistan.

Transparency, openness, privacy and security are all important principles here. How you justify any of these at the expense of others is of course how your agenda is constituted. In this modern world, we must presume a full spectrum of agendas and since we can no longer stand together united behind one interest, we must be vigilant in protecting our own. If the state cannot ensure security in the private data it collects, we as citizens should not be open and transparent to it. If for the sake of transparency and openness, activists compromise the security and safety of their fellow citizens, they should be afforded neither from the state.

What’s on the agenda for G8/G20?

China
Prior to the G8, Prime Minister Harper will hold bilateral with President Hu from China on June 24th who is in Canada for a state visit. The visit will mark 40 years of diplomatic relations between Canada and China. Bilateral trade now stands at $50 Billion between the two countries. It is expected that PM Harper will raise the importance of China’s role in helping to bring stability and security to the Korean peninsula as one of the few nations that talks to North Korea and as a permanent member nation of the UN security council.

India
On June 27th, PM Harper will host bilateral with Indian PM Singh in Toronto. PM Harper will look to build upon agreements signed during last meeting in India which addressed economic partnership and energy cooperation.

Focus of the G8 for the government of Canada:
– focus on achieving 2015 United Nations Millennium Development Goals (halving extreme poverty levels, cutting the spread of HIV/AIDS)
– nuclear non-proliferation and continuing work achieved at non-proliferation treaty review conference in NYC and Nuclear Security Summit in DC. Focus specifically on keeping nuclear arms out of the hands of terrorists.
– Recognition that Iran and North Korea continue to pose threats to global security.
– International cooperation on fighting Latin American, Caribbean, West African and Asian transnational criminal networks.
– Muskoka Initiative on maternal, newborn and child health.
– Progress in Afghanistan, in Pakistan and in the Middle East on combatting terrorism and its link to organized crime and drug trafficking
– G8 leaders will join seven African leaders as well as the leaders of Colombia, Haiti and Jamaica in order to discuss the interlinkages of crime and terror networks.

G20 priorities for Canada:
– G20 should restore public finance while maintaining economic growth in order to achieve global economic recovery.
– Canada implores G20 nations to tackle fiscal consolidation, reduce debt, reduce deficits and for countries to return to balanced budgets
– address root causes of global economic crisis
– fully implement stimulus plans
– prepare fiscal consolidation measures
– resist protectionism
– promote open markets
– continue reforms to financial and regulatory systems
– continue governance reforms to international financial institutions and multilateral development banks
– call upon the international financial institutions and multilateral development banks

Speech from the Throne, what to expect

The Governor General will deliver the speech from the Throne today in the Senate outlining the government agenda for the 3rd session of the 40th Parliament.

The main focus of the throne speech will be the economy, jobs and growth. Out of the 6,000 word throne speech, the entire first half will focus on what the government has done with respect to the economy and what it plans to do moving forward. This economic agenda section of the throne speech will be split into three parts:

  • the government’s move into completing phase II of the economic action plan, including what the government has done to respond to the global economic crisis. Will also focus on government’s perceived strength among Canadians in building infrastructure and will outline plan for longer term infrastructure (including skills investment and R&D)

  • plan for recovery phase, deficit reduction and fiscal balance. Key themes will include winding down stimulus as economy recovers, restraining federal spending overall and protecting provincial transfers that protect Canadians (including healthcare transfers — government will emphasize that they will not balance budget by cutting healthcare transfers)
  • ensure the continued growth of the Canadian economy. The government will recognize that the private sector has to grow and continue to grow. Government will outline longterm plan for economic growth (including investments listed above). Government seeks to outline a key difference between it and the opposition whereas it seeks to help, not hurt, the private sector. The government will want to contrast itself with Liberals who have said that they would raise taxes and spend on huge projects including national daycare and highspeed rail. Economy remains a top priority of Canadians and the government’s throne speech will reflect a plan to address those concerns.

The second half of the throne speech will focus on the rest of government priorities which are not primarily focused on the economy and jobs.

The three sections of the second half will be “Making Canada the best place for families”, “Standing up for those who helped build Canada”, and “Strengthening a united Canada in a changing world”.

The families section will focus on the government’s plan to make sure that families live in a safe and secure country. Sub-themes include the classic tough-on-crime agenda and making communities safe. On a broader level, this includes national security.

The second section on standing up for those that helped build Canada will address seniors, aboriginals, veterans and will re-emphasize end to combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011 looking forward to a long term plan of reconstruction efforts.

Strengthening a united Canada in a changing world will address the environment, northern sovereignty, foreign affairs, immigration and refugee reform and democratic reform.

The throne speech will provide a broad outline of the government’s plan for the next session of Parliament while the budget will fill in the details.

Universal or selective human rights?

This week, the Prime Minister is in China to supposedly thaw relations he has been criticized for frosting since the years he was in opposition criticizing the government.

Stephen Harper, and indeed, a number of prominent Conservatives have, for years, roundly admonished China for its poor human rights record since the days of the Reform Party. For this, members of the opposition have suggested that the Conservatives firm stance against China has harmed our economic relationship with that country.

Among the Conservatives who have stood up against China is Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of Citizenship and Immigration. My first exposure to Jason Kenney’s breadth of politics came in 2005 when he and members of the Alberta Conservative caucus held a pro-Tibet movie night at the Conservative Party Convention in Montreal. In January of that year, while on a parliamentary trip overseas, Kenney was criticized by Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin for embarrassing the Chinese when he visited the home of pro-democracy reformer Zhao Ziyang.

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In the Afghan detainee transfer agreement signed by General Rick Hillier and the Afghanistan defence minister, an entente was struck to prevent human rights abuses. Among other important guarantees it declares, “No person transferred from the Canadian Forces to Afghan authorities will be subject to the application of the death penalty.” This is a strict yet progressive demand for the unstable government of an emerging democracy which in darker days used to slit the throats of thieves like sheep before a stadium of spectators in Kandahar province.

Last week China put a bullet in the back of the head of two company managers in the tainted milk scandal where six children died of contaminated milk. With an estimated 470 executions in 2008, China is believed to be the world’s leading executioner.

In Canada, some of our Liberal Parliamentarians have shown surprise over the past three weeks at allegations that some Afghans treat their fellow Afghans with callous disregard and fault Canadian officials for an uneasy balancing of coddling of a country reborn out of rubble going through the birth pangs of establishing a civil society, with the brutal hell of war against combatants that wear no uniform, splash acid in the faces of schoolchildren, and cut off the ears of those that would work to bring good governance to their country.

Meanwhile, Liberal observers have criticized the Conservatives for pushing human rights in China at the expense of trade. Liberals such as John McCallum describe the “broken Canada-China relation[ship] under the Conservative government” and Scott Brison who prematurely boasted that “the fact that Ignatieff is able to go to China as the leader of the opposition before the ruling party leader does is a clear indication of how good and solid relation[s] between the Liberals and China [are].” Ignatieff subsequently canceled his trip due to a pending fall election triggered by the Liberal leader himself.

This sentiment expressed by McCallum and Brison is not exclusive to the critics of the Liberal benches in the House of Commons. Rebukes of Stephen Harper’s tough stance on China’s abuses have also been echoed by former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien who complains that Canada used to be China’s “best friend”. Chretien bemoaned that comparatively, in the first three years that he was Prime Minister, the p’tit gars had visited China eight or nine times. Never mind the fact that Chretien started lobbying the Chinese government within weeks of stepping down as Canada’s twentieth Prime Minister.

According to Amnesty International, China is guilty of a number of human rights abuses,

Growing numbers of human rights activists were imprisoned, put under house arrest or surveillance, or harassed. Repression of minority groups, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongolians, continued. Falun Gong practitioners were at particularly high risk of torture and other ill-treatment in detention. Christians were persecuted for practising their religion outside state-sanctioned channels. Despite the reinstatement of Supreme People’s Court review of death penalty cases, the death penalty remained shrouded in secrecy and continued to be used extensively. Torture of detainees and prisoners remained prevalent. Millions of people had no access to justice and were forced to seek redress through an ineffective extra-legal petition system. Women and girls continued to suffer violence and discrimination.

Conservatives are usually criticized for dealing with issues in absolutes, in rights and wrongs, in black and white. Meanwhile Liberals sometimes suffer a charge of moral relativism from their opponents as they are accused of dealing in shades of grey. On their assessment of a nascent democracy suffering in horrific ravages of war, a country attempting to cast off ages of illiberalism and lawlessness, it is evident that Liberals have little sympathy for the harsh realities of an imperfect situation. Whereas on a country with an often brutal established dictatorial order, a country with a $4.3 Trillion GDP, and a country that actually bans human rights monitoring groups from operating within its borders, Liberals such as Bob Rae suggest:

“The Chinese are very concerned about stability, they’re very concerned about order. They’re very concerned about a billion people. They’re fearful of the consequences of losing that kind of control. Seems to me we just have to keep on trying to persuade them that liberty is the better way. It’s something we believe in and something we should share with them.” — Bob Rae

If you’re looking for Rae in the halls of Parliament these days, his tolerance seems selective and true concern seems focused elsewhere,

The opposition parties say it is not believable that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his senior ministers weren’t aware of Colvin’s troubling reports. If true, they could implicate Canada in the war crime of complicity in torture.

“The fact of the matter is that if there was ever at any time a view that there was a serious risk of people being mistreated, those prisoners should never have been transferred and such transfer is a breach of international law,” said Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae.

Torture is abhorrent and is a fundamental violation of human rights. I’m confident that most would agree that such a violation is terrible no matter where or against whom it occurs. Yet can we reasonably expect perfection from Afghans in an imperfect situation in their war-torn country while diminishing and invoking willful ignorance of the abuses by a modern, industrialized and enviably affluent state such as China?

The Colvin emails

For your information, here are the emails from Richard Colvin, former deputy head of mission in Afghanistan regarding the his version of events surrounding the treatment of Afghan detainees.

Now that they are in the public domain, they can face scrutiny from everyone.

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The Afghan detainee document dump

1. December 18th agreement for the transfer of Afghan detainees between Gen. Rick Hillier and Abdul Rahim Wardak, Afghanistan Minister of Defence.

2. Gosselin Affidavit

3. Buck Affidavit

2. Affidavit from Richard Colvin to the Military Police Complaints Commission signed October 5th, 2009.

3. Richard Colvin email (KANDH-0029) not available.

4. Richard Colvin email (KANDH-0032) not available.

5. Richard Colvin email (KANDH-0039) obtained by Amnesty International.

6. Richard Colvin email (KANDH0074) obtained by Amnesty International.

7. Richard Colvin email (KANDH0082) obtained by Amnesty International.

8. Richard Colvin email (KANDH0125) obtained by Amnesty International.

9. Richard Colvin email (KANDH0138) obtained by Amnesty International.

10. Richard Colvin email (KGBR0291) obtained by Amnesty International.

11. Testimony of Richard Colvin before the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, November 18th 2009.

12. Testimonies of Gen. (Ret) Rick Hillier, L.Gen Michel Gauthier and M.Gen David Fraser before the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, November 25th 2009.

13. Testimony of Ambassador David Mulroney before the Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan, November 26th 2009.

Notes:

– The Colvin email dates are redacted. At this time we do not know if the emails are dated prior to 2007 when abuses came to light.

– Canadian Forces don’t monitor Afghan prisons, CF relies upon civilian authorities to do this. Colvin’s emails went out on the C4 network. The military isn’t on the C4 network, from my understanding. Colvin asks C4 recipients to pass info up the military chain of command. Hillier asked why Colvin never raised concerns with him in person while he was there – was this a chain of command issue and not wanting to step outside his lane or something else?

– Some will argue that it was Graeme Smith’s reporting that “informed” Canadians of torture in Afghan prisons. This reporting isn’t official according to CF and would have been unproven at the time. Smith did have special perspective as he lived off base in downtown Kandahar.

– Did the Red Cross at any time tell the Canadian government that they were in a position to commit war crimes due to what the ICRC was observing in Afghan prisons where Canadian detainees were taken after 2007? This answer may already exist within the public realm but I haven’t seen it.

– The threshold of torture is quite uncomfortably put, another legitimate concern. While some abuses and conditions in Afghan prisoners may shock Canadians, Hillier suggested that a punch or a beating may sit on one side of the thin line as abuse, while electrocution, and fingernail ripping sits on the other as torture.

– The Buck affidavit explains Canada’s role in establishing human rights in Afghanistan while describing the difficulties of establishing a Canadian prison in a sovereign Afghanistan. War is not a perfect process nor a practice undertaken with clinical precision. Colvin and others have conflicting accounts of Canada’s efforts to do everything within reason to respond to reports of abuse.

– Torture is far too serious a screw up in counterinsurgency whether violence is more common in Afghan culture or not. Although it is relevant to recognize that this was Afghan on Afghan – sovereign nation in its own prisons on its own citizens. This of course, doesn’t make it right at all, but it doesn’t make it Canadians torturing Afghans.

– If you believe other documents may be useful to supplement this collection, please suggest them in the comments.

Lest we forget

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Green Party releases platform

Here’s the platform of the Green Party of Canada:

Read this document on Scribd: GPC platform

Notes:
– Money for a Green VC fund for green R&D
– renegotiation of NAFTA
– corporate tax cuts for carbon reductions
raise the GST to 6%
– combines the Liberal Green Shift carbon tax with NDP/Conservative plans for cap-and-trade. Also has a more intense GHG target than the Conservatives with 30% reduction from 1990 levels rather than Conservative’s absolute carbon reduction of 20% by 2020 from 2006 levels.
– raise taxes on cigarettes
– labeling of GMOs
– Single payer, universal healthcare
income splitting for everyone
raise income tax exemption to $20k
Guaranteed Annual Income
– meet 0.7% GDP pledge for foreign aid
– turn Afghanistan mission over to the UN

From carbon taxes, to income splitting to massive increases in foreign aid, I look forward to the costing of this platform.

There is not one word in this platform on proportional representation as it relates to democratic reform. Has the Green Party dropped this from it’s goals? Was this dropped at their last party convention on policy? Is this just more evidence that PR is a distasteful policy to the Liberal Party and a Red-Green alliance depends on seat sharing and first-past-the-post rather than proportional representation? Is the NDP now the only party that supports PR?