Thursday, April 2, 2015

The convenience of perpetual war

It is ironic that, as we near our 150th anniversary as a country, we have become one of the world's warmongers.

Gar Pardy: Wednesday, 04/01/2015

There is a deadly sense of deja vu as leaders go about extending and expanding the Canadian military presence in Iraq and now into Syria. There is considerable passion and there are few aspects of the decision that have not been spun for an interested public.

"Deter," "degrade" and "defeat" flow from our leaders' tongues with the ease of salesman selling a new mouthwash; "precision" bombing is discussed as if this was equivalent to tossing curling stones in downtown Moose Jaw; training by foreign troops of local forces is accepted as if this was a woodworking class in the local trades school; recovery of downed pilots from ISIS-controlled territory is glossed over with the suggestion that the Americans will handle this nasty possibility; and the legality of extending the war to Syria is justified by parsing sections of the United Nations Charter by the chief lawyer for the Canadian military, hardly an unbiased observer.

And now the philosophers of our military mission have weighed in. The foreign minister has concluded the whole operation is a matter of "moral clarity," words not dissimilar to those said to the medieval public for the crusades; the defence minister, on the other hand, sees the war as an enormous humanitarian exercise, leaving many scratching their heads. The cartoons will be underway soon; a large bomb falls on Tikrit and a child says to another, "don't worry, it's a Canadian humanitarian bomb."

Unfortunately there is one aspect of the war that is being ignored, and as with most modern wars it is the most important. No one, especially the militaries involved, has offered any assessment of success in understandable terms of what this war will achieve. Most will only say that a conclusion is years away, which in today's world is no answer whatsoever.

We have dressed for a ball that we do not understand, and invited ourselves, knowing we have no capability of influencing the outcome. Instead, leaders who should know better see the war as a means of scratching a small itch in the national body politic-fear of an imprecise national security threat. In response, they send our soldiers into harm's way, and this even before they have satisfactorily dealt with the wounded from the last war.

We do not have to go back to Vietnam for a detailed understanding of the futility of fighting forces on their own land. Eleven years of fighting the Afghans with overwhelming force and money, the creation of comprehensive new security and military forces, the fostering of civilian political measures of electoral politics and the holding of elections and the creation of a hothouse corrupt economy based on foreign money have done absolutely nothing to change anything of any significance in that ancient land.

The Afghans are just not interested in, nor amenable to, Western forces that invaded with one purpose in mind-getting rid of a non-indigenous terrorist organization-and then, carried away with the early ease, decided that ancient ways of government be updated as if they were dealing with a mechanistic complex. The bones of others who tried whiten the sands. Today Afghanistan resembles a three-legged camel trying to climb a mountain.

And this failure led to others. Iraq, where most of the current war is being fought, is a classic example of going to war for the wrong reasons and then leaving knowing that the place had been damaged beyond redemption.

And then there was Libya, a post-colonial patchwork of a country held together by a man who talked to the stars and beguiled Western leaders with the enormity of his wealth. He died in a sewer and his country died with him. Today we have to go back to the Punic Wars to understand the forces that now contend there.

And we are now on the edge of another disaster in Yemen. There, another post-colonial patchwork of a country has lived longer than its religious and regional divides could sustain. As many have suggested, Yemen may be the most dangerous of all the wars, as it may well engage the forces of the Sunni majority of the Middle East against those of the Shia and their main protector, Iran. Already the Sunni forces are coalescing around Saudi Arabia and Egypt, both countries lacking a cohesive national purpose beyond the end of a gun.

It is not alarmist to suggest that while Western forces have large interests at stake in these modern wars, they have no hope of protecting those interests through the use of incapable and limited military forces. They are in fact making matters worse, and in doing so, ensuring that their own interests will be trampled in the process.

War is not diplomacy through other means. In today's world it has become a convenient policy option for political leaders who are not willing to invest in actions that attempt to build down the contending forces.

The inclination to send in the troops-or if these matters were not so dire, send in the clowns-reflects a nasty streak in our body politic. It is ironic that, as we near our 150th anniversary as a country, we have become one of the world's warmongers.

And all for the edification of a small group of leaders including the prime minister who, for the past 10 years, have more than any other government in the history of the country decided that the tearing down of what has gone before is more important than building for the future.

Gar Pardy is retired from the foreign service and comments on public policy from Ottawa.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Press Release: Afghan Women's Organization Condemns Brutal Killing of Farkhunda

March 27, 2015 -- Toronto: The Afghan Women’s Organization (AWO) condemns the brutal killing of 27 year-old Afghan woman, Farkhunda, and extends its deepest condolences to her family. Our hope is that initiatives such as the Government of Ontario’s Action Plan to Stop Sexual Violence and Harassment will enable us to join forces in an international spirit, allowing us to create a movement to recognize the achievements of women’s human rights, but also to realize the steep challenges and the distance we still need to go to stop gender-based violence. Women in Canada, in solidarity with our sisters in Afghanistan must create a milieu of understanding and support. We must examine and change our societal attitudes with strong government leadership and responses.

Last Thursday in Kabul, Afghanistan, an angry crowd beat Farkhunda to death and burned her body while several police officers stood idly by. Farkhunda had been accused of burning a Quran, but Afghan officials said no evidence had been found to support the claim. The brutal killing of Farkhunda is a heinous act and all those responsible (including the police who witnessed the crime, but neglected their duty to protect her) should be prosecuted.

The AWO is gravely concerned by the continued increase in violence against women and girls in Afghanistan. The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, recently visited Afghanistan in November 2014. Ms. Manjoo confirmed through reports and interviews the, “continuing prevalence of different manifestations of violence against women and girls in both the public and private spheres.”  These include the rape of women and girls, targeted killings of women, violence perpetrated by husbands and other relatives, and violence linked to early and forced marriages. There are also issues of access to justice for women and girls. It has been reported that the justice system is inaccessible, unresponsive, corrupt, and untrustworthy, especially in relation to women’s rights.

We appeal to the international community, including Government of Canada, to urge Afghanistan’s Government to adopt sustainable measures to address the causes and consequences of gender-based violence in Afghanistan. Farkhunda's brutal killing occurred under the watch of the police. The Afghan Government must be pressured to effectively address the lack of accountability within the Afghan National Police, which is partly funded by the Canadian government. 

We seek justice for Farkhunda and all Afghan women who are victims of violence. 

Media contact:

Ms. Adeena Niazi, Executive Director
789 Don Mills Road, #700, Toronto, ON M3C 1T5
Phone: 416-588-3585

Media Release: Canadian human rights organizations urgently call for Bill C-51 to be withdrawn

Today, as the House of Commons' Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security commences its clause-by-clause review of Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, 2015, seven of Canada's leading human rights organizations reiterate their call for the Bill to be withdrawn. Media Release (03/30/2015) Ottawa, ON - Since the Committee began its hearings on March 9, 2015, it has heard concerns raised by expert witnesses representing a variety of perspectives. As Canadians learn more about Bill C-51, public concern and opposition to the Bill continues to grow, as reflected in the rapidly growing numbers of Canadians who have taken part in demonstrations and who have signed petitions and letters. Meanwhile, editorial boards from across the political spectrum continue to critique the Bill and the manner in which it is being deliberated in Parliament.

Amnesty International, the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, La Ligue des Droits et Libertés and the National Council of Canadian Muslims have, from the outset, stated that the human rights shortcomings in Bill C-51 are so numerous and inseparably interrelated, that the Bill should be pulled back. The organizations have said that any national security law reform should instead, first, be convincingly demonstrated to be necessary and should then proceed only in a manner that is wholly consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the country's international human rights obligations.

"Any legislation that takes as its starting point the premise that it is appropriate and acceptable to explicitly give legislated power to CSIS to violate the Charter of Rights when reducing threats to Canada's security, and tries to offer that a sheen of legitimacy by giving judges the power to authorize those Charter breaches, irredeemably gets off to entirely the wrong start," said Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International Canada's English branch. "We do not uphold national security by inviting judges to become complicit in Charter violations. Bill C-51 does not understand the central importance of human rights in upholding national security. The Bill has to go."

"Bill C-51 deserves real, substantive and serious debate. Critics of the bill, however, have been repeatedly subject to rhetorical attacks on their commitment in keeping Canada safe from terrorism. This appears to be a troubling tendency to ignore substantive critique of the Bill in favour of going after the credibility of the critic," said Carmen Cheung, Senior Counsel, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. "Freedom and security undoubtedly go hand-in-hand, but Bill C-51's effectiveness in keeping Canadians safe remains an open question. Given the serious problems it poses for civil liberties and human rights, the Bill has to go."

"The Committee hearings have been on the whole inadequate to allow Canadians - and members of the Committee - to properly understand the unprecedented powers proposed by Bill C-51 and the radical shift to our national security landscape" said Sukanya Pillay, General Counsel and Executive Director, Canadian Civil Liberties Association. "Canadians are being told to trust that the excessive powers and scope of the bill will not affect ordinary law abiding Canadians, even though its provisions are broad enough to do exactly that. The Bill doesn't include fundamental legal protections. It is up to our Members of Parliament to draft laws that are clear and precise, with proper accountability mechanisms in place, particularly when security and liberty are at stake. The Bill has to go."

"We have highlighted that Bill C-51 is replete with provisions that violate the Charter of Rights and other provisions in Canadian law. That has been repeated consistently by legal academics, former parliamentarians and numerous other expert witnesses who have appeared before the Committee. The government has refused to disclose the advice it has received from its own lawyers about the Bill's compliance with the Charter," noted Ziyaad Mia, Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association. "Why is the government determined to press on with legislation that will become snarled up in time-consuming litigation that will almost certainly overturn many of the provisions? Canadians deserve and expect better. The Bill has to go."

"Canadians initially expressed wide support for Bill C-51, legislation that was broadly described as equipping Canadian law enforcement and security agencies with the powers needed to prevent terrorism," said Roch Tassé, National Coordinator, International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group. "That has shifted rapidly and dramatically as women, men and young people across the country have gained a fuller understanding of the Bill itself. And that has happened even though the government has sought to fast-track the Bill and significantly restrict the time and opportunities for Canadian to fully appreciate what is at stake. Support for these unprecedented draconian measures continues to drop. The Bill has to go."

"Among the many serious problems highlighted during hearings was the concern shared by Indigenous peoples, environmental groups, the labour movement, human rights organizations and others that Bill C-51 imperils protest rights in Canada, by providing explicit protection only to those demonstrations considered to be 'lawful'," said Dominique Peschard, President, La Ligue des Droits et Libertés. "Anyone who raised that concern in front of the Committee was told by the government that they were misinformed and that the new powers would not be used in that way. These promises ring hollow given the government's lack of willingness to implement a robust oversight and review mechanism to meaningfully assess the efficacy and legality of Canada's national security activities. The Bill has to go."

"Given the disproportionate impact that previous security measures and legislation have had on Canadian Muslims, it is not unreasonable that that they fear becoming collateral victims in this web of unchecked power and unbridled information sharing, if not the direct targets of unfair scrutiny," said Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director, National Council of Canadian Muslims. "Instead of allaying these legitimate concerns, we have seen the marginalization and mischaracterization of Canadian Muslims and their institutions. In Committee hearings, in Parliament, in the media and in public events, elected officials and pundits have negatively tarred Canadian Muslims and their representative organizations. We have heard inflammatory, discriminatory, and false comments about who Canadian Muslims are, what they believe and support, and seen repeated attempts to conflate Islam and Muslims with terrorism. Their actions cynically exploit negative social forces for political gain by attempting to create fear and distrust among fellow Canadians. The Bill will only provide a false sense of security rather than actually provide a framework to engage with the very communities that are already working to help Canada remain strong and safe. The Bill has to go."



BC Civil Liberties Association: Carmen Cheung, Senior Counsel, 604.630.9758

Amnesty International Canada (English Branch): John Tackaberry, 613.744.7667, extension 236

Amnistie international Canada francophone: Anne Sainte-Marie, 514.766.9766, extension 230

Canadian Civil Liberties Association: Patrick Mott, 905.903.4576

Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association: Ziyaad Mia, 416.303.9535

International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group: Roch Tassé, National Coordinator, 613.241.5298

La Ligue des droits et libertés: Lysiane Roch, 514.715.7727

National Council for Canadian Muslims: Ihsaan Gardee, Executive Director, 613.254.9704