Kingston Police release photos of damage done to Indigenous and Pride flags

The damage done to five Indigenous and Pride flags at the Queen’s University Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre, at 144-146 Barrie St., sometime between June 29 and 30. STEPH CROSIER / STEPH CROSIER/KINGSTON WHIG-STANDARD

Kingston Police are asking the public to share any information about the damage done to five Indigenous and Pride flags at the Queen’s University Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre.

Kandice Baptiste, director of the centre explained in a post on Facebook that the flags represented the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, Métis Nation, the Pride flag, Trans+ Pride flag, and Two Row Wampum that were hung in response to the racist and homophobic poster that was hung in a residence last October.

Police suspect the flags were slashed at the 144-146 Barrie St. location sometime between June 29 and 30. They also believe the vandalism was motivated by hate.

“This occurred on Barrie Street directly across from City Park and its sports field, (which are) often used by many and varied members of the Kingston community,” Det. Adam Slate, said in a news release. “If you have any knowledge and want to assist us in solving what we believe to be a crime based on racism and hate towards sexual orientation and gender identity then please don’t hesitate to contact us.”

The damage done to five Indigenous and Pride flags at the Queen’s University Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre, at 144-146 Barrie St., sometime between June 29 and 30. (Supplied Photo) STEPH CROSIER / STEPH CROSIER/KINGSTON WHIG-STANDARD

Sgt. Steve Koopman, of the Community-Oriented Response and Engagement Unit, said they, Queen’s, as well as the centre considered sharing the photos a sensitive matter, but wanted to ensure the community knew how serious the situation is.

“We wanted the Kingston population to know there is little to no doubt this mischief was deliberately conducted and a symbolic affront to the Indigenous nations and LGBTQ2S+ communities whose flags were desecrated,” Koopman said. “Additionally, we hope this will appeal to the conscience of some people and spur them to come forward or provide information.”

The flags were replaced and temporarily hung inside the centre during a ceremony. Police said Four Directions has more permanent plans to affix the flags on top of the buildings.

“While individuals have shown an interest in donating towards the cost of replacing the flags, staff are directing people to instead donate to the Emergency Bursary Fund for Indigenous Students and the Chancellor Jim Leech Bursary for Indigenous Students,” said the release.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Det. Slate at aslate@kingstonpolice.ca, or 613-549-4660, ext. 6366.

Tips can also be provided anonymously by calling the Kingston Police general number at 613-549-4660, ext. 0, and asking to remain anonymous and referring to occurrence number 20-91627.

Police also shared community resources for those who may be struggling with the vandalism:

· Kingston Crisis Services: https://www.amhs-kfla.ca/programs-services/crisis/
· Big White Wall: https://www.bigwhitewall.com/in-crisis/?lang=en-ca
· First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Crisis Line: https://indigenousto.ca/first-nations-and-inuit-hope-for-wellness-helpline-telephone-services-mental-health-helpline/

Queen’s students:

· Good to Talk: https://good2talk.ca/
· Empower Me: https://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/empower-me
· Office of Indigenous Initiatives (Elder support): https://www.queensu.ca/indigenous/
· Cultural Counsellor, Four Directions Indigenous Student Centre: 4direct@queensu.ca

SOURCE

Where There’s Vape, There’s Rona Ambrose

Why did the former Tory health minister join the tobacco-tied, e-cigarette giant Juul?

Rona Ambrose was minister for health under Stephen Harper. Now she’s joined the board of Juul, the dominant e-cigarette provider helping to create a new ‘epidemic’ of nicotine addiction. Art by Christopher Cheung. Rona Ambrose photo via Wikipedia, public domain. Image of Juul electronic cigarette via WikipediaCC BY-SA 4.0.

What message does it send when a former federal health minister joins the board of an e-cigarette company, the way Rona Ambrose did?

The practise of public officeholders who make big salaries in government moving on to even bigger salaries as lobbyists, consultants or corporate board members, based largely on their insider knowledge is growing (see sidebar).

Still, members of the public health community were startled by Ambrose’s decision.

“I was shocked to learn that Rona Ambrose accepted a board position with Juul given her leadership position in politics in Canada,” said former Canadian Medical Association president Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai, a cardiologist. “There is increasing evidence that both e-cigarettes and vaping, which deliver nicotine, flavourings and other additives to users via inhaled aerosols are more harmful than beneficial, especially to youth.

“Nicotine is addictive and exposure to it during adolescence can impact learning, memory and attention, in addition to an increased risk for future addiction to other drugs, and direct damage to the lungs. All e-cigarettes and especially Juul contain high levels of nicotine, which can initiate nicotine dependence.”

Ambrose became a Juul director in May. She “must have done due diligence on the company and must have known about these health effects. It is inexcusable for her as a previous health minister and therefore role model to have joined the Juul board,” said Collins-Nakai.

The Tyee directed some questions to Ambrose. Juul answered for the former minister.

Asked if she had or would be holding discussions with federal and provincial regulators dealing with Juul products, the company’s media relations spokesperson, Ted Kwong, replied, “No. Ms. Ambrose is an independent director and her role does not include lobbying.”

Asked to describe her role, the company said, “As an independent member of Juul’s board of directors, Rona Ambrose’s unique public health and regulatory experience will provide oversight and expertise as we continue to reset the vapor category and work to earn the trust of our stakeholders.”

Dr. Andrew Pipe is Canada’s leading expert on how to get people to stop smoking. His resume contains blue ribbon work — past chair of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, former chief of prevention and rehabilitation at the Ottawa Heart Institute, and now a professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Ottawa involved in groundbreaking research.

Pipe has delivered lectures in 30 countries on the subject of smoking cessation and received the Order of Canada in 2002. He is adamantly opposed to the former minister teaming up with the vaping industry.

“I was astonished she accepted the position. I think the whole thing is absolutely deplorable. In some respects, it erases any legacy a former cabinet minister might have had. I saw her as an insightful, thoughtful politician. What an unfortunate capstone on a career.”

For her part, when she joined the board, Ambrose noted: “Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in the world, and supporting the potential of harm reduction for adult smokers is an important goal for individuals and health systems.” In other words, weaning them away from traditional cigarettes, which deliver to smokers’ lungs chemicals vaping does not.

Pipe isn’t buying that, noting that the entire e-cigarette industry is an adjunct of the tobacco industry. In fact, Altria, the parent company of tobacco giant Phillip Morris, owns a major 35-per-cent stake in Juul. And research has not found that vaping helps people quit smoking cigarettes. “The opposite is true,” concludes a report from the U.S. Surgeon General.

Pipe called ex-minister Ambrose’s comment about harm reduction a “meaningless bromide” that clouds the real issues.

By the time health authorities sounded alarms about vaping, Juul had risen to be the dominant player in a lightly regulated e-cigarette industry, providing fruit-flavour cartridges with twice the nicotine of some competitors, using marketing youth found appealing. E-cigarettes also were quickly becoming the method of choice for inhaling cannabis — and synthetic marijuana tied to severe health risks.

Quickly, Juul’s reputation shifted from that of a tech innovator offering a healthier alternative to smoking, to a recruiter for dangerous addictions. Its products, noted the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, are “sleek, high-tech and easy to hide,” because they “look like USB flash drives and can be charged in the USB port of a computer.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last year cracked down on e-cigarettes. And Juul’s CEO apologized for its role in getting so many teens hooked.

The CEO who apologized was replaced by a former executive at tobacco giant Altria. Juul’s chief regulatory officer is also from Altria. Its chief legal officer was assistant general counsel at Philip Morris for six years.

The U.S. Surgeon General has meanwhile declared vaping an “epidemic.” The Centre for Disease Control simply states: don’t use any e-cigarette.

“This is a company whose own reputation is in tatters — a deceptive, duplicitous part of a tobacco company,” said Pipe.

So what role might Ambrose play as a director, if she’s not doing any direct lobbying? In Pipe’s view, “They want to use her contacts to prevent meaningful regulation in this country. It’s all about money and addicting kids to candy tobacco.”

Canada’s health ministry is crafting regulations for makers of vaping products. Juul has lobbied the federal government 10 times since late 2018, including Health Canada, the House of Commons and the Treasury Board.

Juul says it follows strict guidelines to ensure its marketing is directed at adults, not young people. When she joined the board, Ambrose said: “These new technologies will not succeed in eradicating cigarettes unless businesses and regulators work together to successfully fight the problem of underage use.”

A big problem it is. According to the CDC, in 2019 about 30 per cent of U.S. high school students used tobacco products. For every one that smoked cigarettes, about five used e-cigarettes. This after cigarette smoking had declined steeply. In the early 1960s, 42 per cent of U.S. adults smoked cigarettes. Today, it’s 14 per cent. But vaping, concluded the American Medical Association, is creating “a new generation of nicotine addicts.”

It was enough to make U.S. President Donald Trump vow to ban flavoured e-cigarettes — until being warned of political fallout from his supporters, causing him to express this political calculus: “I never should have done this fucking vaping thing.”

In Canada, as in the U.S., teen vaping is on the rise. Twenty per cent of high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month according to the 2018-2019 Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey. This was double the rate reported in the 2016-2017 report.

Last week, Health Canada announced a ban on vaping ads that can be seen by youth. The ban will come into effect at retail locations and online stores that sell e-cigarettes, except for adult only locations.

Juul said in an email that it “will fully comply and supports the goal of limiting access and appeal to underage use.” It said that it had “significantly curtailed its marketing activities” since January, “even in provinces where marketing activities are still allowed.”

The company said it also had imposed bulk purchase restrictions and strict online age verification controls. They have partnered with Amazon, eBay and Kijiji to remove listings from online marketplaces that were “non-age-gated.”

Colleen Flood, who is a law professor at University of Ottawa and inaugural director of the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics says the issue of how to regulate vaping is complex, and that if handled properly it could save “billions” of lives.

But she, too, worries about Juul’s connection to Altria, parent of Phillip Morris, which happens to make Marlboro cigarettes among other brands. “This ownership issue certainly raises the question of how truly Juul will adhere to the goal of stopping the transition from vaping to smoking and preventing children from being addicted,” Flood told The Tyee.

And that question makes her consider “the appointment of Rona Ambrose to a vaping company” to be “a problem.”

“It is certainly surprising and disappointing that a former health minister would join a tobacco company. Juul is Philip Morris — the two are inseparable,” Cunningham said.

Juul told The Tyee that “Juul Labs Inc. and its subsidiaries such as Juul Labs Canada are independent companies. Altria is a minority investor in Juul Labs Inc. Philip Morris International is not affiliated with Juul Labs Inc. or its subsidiaries in any way.”

But the website of Philip Morris International website, without mentioning Juul, declares the company has made a dramatic decision: “We will be far more than the leading cigarette company. We’re building PMI’s future on smoke free products that are a much better choice than cigarette smoking. Indeed, our vision — for all of us at PMI — is that these products will one day replace cigarettes.”

Pipe says that vision of tobacco-less future is oversold. He says it’s too simple to claim e-cigarettes reduce risk for their users compared to the traditional delivery of nicotine by smoking tobacco.

“That argument is often made in defence of e-cigarettes — there is no combustion, therefore no carcinogens are taken in. Not true. There are other lung and heart diseases besides lung cancer, and with e-cigarettes there is the inhalation of other harmful elements, including flavouring agents. The tobacco industry is absolutely reptilian in its conduct.”

And nicotine alone, so efficiently and addictively delivered through vaping, poses a serious health risk, Pipe emphasizes, particularly for young people.

“What we know now about the adolescent brain is astonishing. It has implications for all sorts of public policy, including the Criminal Code. Anyone who thinks that an 18-year-old is an adult is clearly ill-informed. Parts of the brain are not completely formed at that age, the parts that put brakes on some impulses.

“So they are much more susceptible to addiction. Nicotine is truly the gateway drug. Once you’ve learned to inhale, in just three to four days there is a transformation in brain structure and brain function. Neurological activity is laid down. Adolescents are absolutely more vulnerable to nicotine.”

Pipe is pessimistic about how the federal government might rein in the vaping “epidemic.”

“Regulations are forthcoming. But the approach that the House of Commons took initially was wholly inadequate. Health Canada is asleep at the switch. But the previous Harper government also has a lot to answer for — inertia and indifference, complete stagnation of anti-tobacco activity, and an ill-considered absence of controls on e-cigarettes.”

Six years ago, then-health minister Rona Ambrose urged Canadians against the use of e-cigarettes until a study of their risks and benefits could be done.

And then she got her chance to do something about it. On March 10, 2015, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health issued a unanimous report calling for a new legal framework that would balance the risks of e-cigarettes with their benefits for smoking cessation. They wanted advertising restrictions, and limits on flavouring and nicotine content.

Ambrose was mandated to act within 120 days. The election was set for Oct. 19, 2015, but she took no action on the report before going to the polls.* When The Tyee asked Ambrose in an email why she did not act on the recommendations, the reply was: “Decline to comment.”

Today, Ambrose finds herself on the board of a company with a tsunami of legal problems in the United States. The company has been criminally investigated by federal prosecutors in California, although the focus of the investigation is unknown. Juul declined to comment to The Tyee about the investigation.

Juul has also been investigated by the Federal Trade Commission, and the Food and Drug Administration in relation to its advertising and marketing practices.

Juul says its products are not intended as cessation devices for existing smokers: “Juul is an alternative nicotine delivery product.” It realizes that “nicotine is addictive and can be harmful,” which is indicated on its packaging. “Juul Lab’s goal is to provide adult smokers with a nicotine experience that closely competes with cigarettes to transition them from combustible use.”

That statement, like others by the company and its investor tobacco giant Altria, make it sound as if nicotine addiction is just a fact of life. It follows that a company like Juul is on the right side of history — as might be a former health minister now being paid to guide it as a director.

Dr. Andrew Pipe takes a very different view. Of course, “we need to regulate the vaping product and its sale,” he says. But we also must “come up with innovative and imaginative strategies to retire this industry.”

By industry he means the business of nicotine delivery to human brains and bodies.

“And don’t talk about freedom of choice,” he adds. “Addiction is the antithesis of freedom of choice. This is how the body reacts: ‘Bathe me in nicotine or I’m going to make you profoundly sick and uncomfortable.’”

As for Ambrose, Pipe says Canada’s health organizations should be on guard. “They should be precluding any lobbying by Ambrose, any attempt to influence government about this industry and that company. She would have no credibility in meeting with health professionals.”

SOURCE

In Alberta, ‘Wholly Unsatisfactory’ Is the New ‘Holy Crap!’

How to play down losing billions of dollars in risky public investments.

After Albertans saw more than $2 billion in public investments lost due to ill-conceived ‘volatility’ bets, Alberta Finance Minister Travis Toews, here with Premier Jason Kenney, said, ‘Responsible long-term investing requires patience.’

Alberta has proven, in this era of eroding accountability, that it really is no big deal to piss away billions of dollars belonging to someone else.

In fact, if more than $2 billion in value is drained from pension funds and the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund due to risky investments, you might as well as grab a cigar and blow smoke rings that spell two words.

“Wholly unsatisfactory.”

That’s how the whole calamity was passed off in a letter by Kevin Uebelein, CEO of Alberta Investment Management Co., responsible for safely managing the billions in question.

With so many savings gone missing, it’s hard to know which losses to examine first.

The hit to pensions

Let’s start with AIMCo’s pathetic seven-page account of how it lost $2.1 billion belonging to its 31 clients, including a collection of public sector pension funds for health-care workers, judges, cops and other public workers.

The document doesn’t name an author. It reads like something produced by the Communist Party of China. The language is so stilted that most pensioners might want to hire a translator.

Consider this opaque gem: “The degree of challenge from the first and second lines of defense (Investment and Risk Management, respectively) regarding the VOLTS strategy was unsatisfactory.”

Here’s my brief translation.

The anonymously produced document claims that AIMCo’s board of directors carried out “a fulsome review” of the loss with the help of KPMG and other parties.

The review identified a problem with a Volatility Trading Strategy in operation since 2013. (Volatility trading has proven to be a modern version of toxic subprime mortgages.)

VOLTS was just one of 52 “value added or alpha strategies” operated by the geniuses at AIMCo to generate revenue for its pension clients.

The report says that AIMCo ramped up the size and scope of VOLTS in 2018 but doesn’t explain why.

COVID-19 then shook up the markets, and the agency’s volatility strategy couldn’t handle the volatility because nobody at AIMCo had really tested the “the risk of an investment like VOLTS and its potential for unacceptable losses.” Oh, boy.

So VOLTS delivered a jolt. Or as senior management later characterized the calamity at a polite public hearing, “a learning experience.”

Standards have indeed fallen: in the old days losing $2 billion was a firing experience.

Alas, the agency spotted the risk, but that damn unprecedented pandemic thwarted AIMCo’s dutiful risk managers.

The document concludes that oversight of VOLTS was “unsatisfactory”; the breadth and depth of risk governance controls were “unsatisfactory”; and that senior management didn’t act fast enough on the risks.

The report does not explain to unsatisfied clients why executive vice president of public equities Peter Pontikes and David Triska, a portfolio manager, are no longer with the company.

Nor does it say why CEO Uebelein should still have a job with annual compensation of $2 million. Ditto for the board of directors.

Nor does the document explain why AIMCo appointed Mark Wiseman as board director and chair of its board of directors this month. According to the Wall Street Journal, Wiseman was ousted from BlackRock Inc., a big New York money firm, for violating its rules in December 2019. The company requires its employees to disclose romantic relationships with direct subordinates or other colleagues. Wiseman didn’t follow the code and was shown the door. His wife of 23 years, who didn’t break any rules, remains the head of BlackRock’s Canadian business. (Question: Did AIMCo try to hire her instead?)

But hardworking pensioners shouldn’t worry very much, because AIMCo’s top bosses “will take a personal leadership role in ensuring that the integration between Risk Management and investment management staff continues to mature towards a more collaborative, inclusive relationship.”

Once you cut through that bafflegab, shouldn’t incorporating risk in the investment process be expected of any rigorously managed fund?

kevin-final-crop.jpg
AIMCo CEO Kevin Uebelein on BNN Bloomberg explaining how the Crown corporation, manager of Alberta’s ‘nest egg’ fund and public sector pensions, blew it with its ‘volatility’ strategy. In a letter on AIMCo’s website he concluded that losing more than $2 billion was ‘wholly unsatisfactory.’

Brett Friedman, a managing partner of Winhall Risk Analytics, parsed the document and found it, well, wholly unsatisfactory. He noted it didn’t address several key questions including these obvious ones:

“Why was the VOLTS strategy ramped up in terms of risk and complexity in January 2018?

Why was Risk sounding the alarm in 2020, seven years after the strategy began and two years after its ramp-up?”

But what really galls Freidman is this glaring omission:

“There is no discussion as to whether these strategies are suitable for a pension fund, however well managed and whatever the size.”

Freidman makes one more critical point: “The loss, etc., betrays bad judgement and a host of other issues. I would argue that short volatility positions are never appropriate for a pension, never ever — the risk/reward just isn’t there.”

Never? Never ever.

Alberta pensioners might want to pepper their MLAs with these accountability questions. But in dysfunctional Alberta, they might die waiting for answers.

The hit to Albertans’ own ‘nest egg’

Meanwhile, the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, which AIMCo has managed for nearly a dozen years, lost nearly $2 billion.

Last year the rainy day fund, Alberta’s “nest egg” created with oil revenues from the 1970s and 1980s, was worth $18.2 billion. From February to end of March it dropped to just $16.3 billion, its lowest value in 10 years. Part of the loss was because more than $1 billion was transferred into the province’s general fund. But buried on page 12 of the fund’s annual report, updated July 13, is this revelation:

“A volatility strategy was also a major factor in the underperformance. This strategy caused the Fund to lose $411 million and reduced Fund returns by 2.2 per cent.”

And how did Travis Toews, minister of finance, greet this “underperformance?”

Chill, people. “Responsible long-term investing requires patience and I believe better years for the fund, and for our province as a whole, are ahead.”

Sounding a lot like AIMCo’s senior managers, Toews said it had been a difficult year because of the pandemic, which sure made things… volatile.

Toews didn’t comment on the fact that the province paid $153 million in fees to AIMCo and other third parties only to see them lose $411 million after developing, what one NDP opposition member called an “unacceptable culture of risk management within their organization.”

Nor does Toews have anything to say about the fund’s Alberta Growth Mandate, a New Democrat policy which allowed the fund to invest up to $500 million in Alberta businesses between 2015 and 2019.

Was that money safely bet on solidly upward trending industries? Nope. The fund doubled down on Alberta’s petro sector, shackled to volatile oil and gas prices.

The AGM poured the bulk of Albertans’ money into oil and gas or real estate companies in 32 separate investments. Kinder Morgan Canada, for example got $29 million. Trident Exploration Corp., which went bankrupt, got $12 million. Ikkuma Resources got $12 million. Perpetual Energy got $10 million. And so on.

The report offers no real accounting on these investments: “The mandate was eliminated as all investments exceeded AIMCo’s risk/return targets. These investments would have been made whether the mandate was in place or not.”

What the hell does that mean? 

Are taxpayers gullible enough to believe that nearly $500 million worth of investments in struggling oil and gas companies crippled by debt, burdened by large CEO salaries and hammered by low prices actually enriched the fund?

But will Albertans ask the question, let alone get an answer? Probably not.

Nicholas Nassim Taleb, North America’s great philosopher of risk, has long argued that wise and prudent investors must understand the dangers of volatility. He even has a word for it: antifragile.

“When you wake up in the morning, you need to be protected from mistakes in order to survive,” he explains. “You also need to be positioned in a way that if you lose, you lose small. And if you make money, you make it big — at least bigger than what you would lose.”

Based on AIMCo’s document and the government’s report on the rainy-day fund, the Alberta government, a cultivator of fragility, has no idea how to deal with volatility other than losing big.

Losers, in other words, are running the province. They vow to continue to invest more of other people’s money in oil and gas projects. Will the returns continue to be “unsatisfactory” or perhaps even “wholly unsatisfactory?” To find out, Albertans must be patient.  [Tyee]

SOURCE

Awe-inspiring cooperation produces a groundbreaking law in Denmark

Denmark’s Parliament just passed trailblazing legislation for climate action. Proportional representation made it possible!

Nine parties, representing an astonishing 95% of voters, committed Denmark to reduce emissions 70% by 2030 over 1990 levels.

What makes this new law a game-changer is its courageous, long-term, multi-party commitment.

Every government in Denmark, no matter which party is in government, must produce a climate report every year. The report must show progress to meet Denmark’s targets, and a concrete plan for the upcoming year.

If Parliament sees the plan isn’t airtight, the government can face a confidence vote. 

As BBC reports, it’s become almost “illegal” for any future government in Denmark to stray from bold and continuous climate action.

The result? The Climate Change Performance Index ranks Denmark second in the world.

First-past-the-post politics provide a sharp contrast.

In Canada, any progress achieved by one government teeters on the verge of collapse with each election. Wild policy swings make long-term planning a risky proposition. Trust between parties is rare.

Proportional representation makes cooperation a way of life

This new deal in Denmark isn’t a one-off. Proportional representation laid the foundation for success. For almost a century, parties in Denmark have worked together to make important decisions.

In June 2019, Denmark’s right-leaning government was replaced by the left-leaning Social Democrats—supported by four other centre-left and green parties. Together these parties represent 52% of voters.

But the cooperation didn’t stop there. 

Almost every party in the Parliament—including the conservative opposition parties—worked together for months to write the law that would ensure Denmark’s success far into the future.

With proportional representation, when a majority of voters want action, they get it! 

Perhaps that’s why Denmark—along with six other countries with proportional representation—have the most satisfied voters in the world.

We can do it, too

We can change our politics to meet the challenges of our times.

A “just recovery” for Canada must include a just democracy. 

A democracy where the public interest comes ahead of partisan interest. A democracy where parties work together with courage and a long-term vision.

We won’t give up until every Canadian voter has a voice in our shared future.

Sincerely,

Anita Nickerson, Executive Director, Fair Vote Canada

P.S. Two new things! Check out our blog on the WE scandal. The OECD just released a groundbreaking report called “Catching the Deliberative Wave“. The report examines the success of 289 processes such as citizens assemblies and citizens juries around the world. Fair Vote Canada will continue to push for a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform!

SOURCE

No, Canada Doesn’t Need to Spend $19 Billion on Jet Fighters

The Trudeau government is sticking with a plan to buy pricey, carbon-intensive aircraft based on wrongheaded foreign policies.

An F-35A Lightning II fighter jet practises for an air show appearance in Ottawa in 2019. The Trudeau government plans to buy 88 more fighter jets in an open-bid process. Photo by Adrian Wyld, the Canadian Press.

Canada should not be buying expensive, carbon-intensive, destructive fighter jets.

Protests are being held Friday at more than 15 MPs’ offices across the country demanding the federal government cancel its planned purchase of new “Generation 5” fighter jets.

Demonstrators want the $19 billion the jets would cost to be spent on initiatives that are less ecologically damaging and more socially beneficial.

Arms firms have until the end of the month to submit their bids to manufacture 88 new fighter jets. Boeing (Super Hornet), Saab (Gripen) and Lockheed Martin (F-35) have placed bids, and the federal government is expected to select the winner by 2022.

There are many reasons to oppose the purchase of these weapons.

The first is the $19-billion price tag — $216 million per aircraft. With $19 billion, the government could pay for light rail in a dozen cities. It could finally fix the First Nations water crisis and guarantee healthy drinking water on every reserve, and still have enough money left to build 64,000 units of social housing.

But it’s not simply a matter of financial waste. Canada is already on pace to emit significantly more greenhouse gases than it agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Yet we know fighter jets use incredible amounts of fuel. After the six-month bombing of Libya in 2011, the Royal Canadian Air Force revealed its half-dozen jets consumed 14.5 million pounds — 8.5 million litres — of fuel. Carbon emissions at higher altitudes also have a greater warming impact, and other flying “outputs” — nitrous oxide, water vapour and soot — produce additional climate impacts.

Fighter jets are not needed to protect Canadians. Former deputy minister of national defence Charles Nixon correctly argued there are no credible threats requiring Canada to have new fighter jets. When the procurement process began, Nixon wrote that “Gen 5” fighter jets “are not required to protect Canada’s populace or sovereignty.” He pointed out they would be largely useless in dealing with an attack like 9/11, responding to natural disasters, providing international humanitarian relief or in peacekeeping operations.

These are dangerous offensive weapons designed to enhance the air force’s ability to join operations with the U.S. and NATO. Over the past few decades, Canadian fighter jets have played a significant role in U.S.-led bombings in Iraq (1991), Serbia (1999), Libya (2011) and Syria/Iraq (2014-2016).

The 78-day bombing of the Serbian part of the former Yugoslavia in 1999 violated international law as neither the United Nations Security Council nor the Serbian government approved it. Some 500 civilians died during NATO’s bombing and hundreds of thousands were displaced. The bombings “to destroy industrial sites and infrastructure caused dangerous substances to pollute the air, water and soil.” The deliberate destruction of chemical plants caused significant environmental damage. Bridges and infrastructure like water treatment plants and businesses were damaged or destroyed.

The more recent bombing in Syria also likely violated international law. In 2011, the UN Security Council approved a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians, but the NATO bombing went far beyond UN authorization.

A similar dynamic was at play in the Gulf War in the early ’90s. During that war, Canadian fighter jets engaged in the so-called “Bubiyan Turkey Shoot” that destroyed a hundred-plus naval vessels and much of Iraq’s civilian infrastructure. The country’s electricity production plants were largely demolished, as were dams, sewage treatment plants, telecommunications equipment, port facilities and oil refineries. About 20,000 Iraqi troops and thousands of civilians were killed in the war.

In Libya, NATO fighter jets damaged the Great Manmade River aquifer system. Attacking the source of 70 per cent of the population’s water was likely a war crime. Since the 2011 war, millions of Libyans have faced a chronic water crisis. During six months of war, the alliance dropped 20,000 bombs on nearly 6,000 targets, including more than 400 government buildings or command centres. Dozens, probably hundreds, of civilians were killed in the strikes.

Spending $19 billion on cutting-edge fighter jets only makes sense based on a vision of Canadian foreign policy that includes fighting in future U.S. and NATO wars.

“Should Canada continue to be part of NATO or instead pursue non-military paths to peace in the world?”

Since Canada’s second consecutive defeat for a seat on the Security Council in June, a growing coalition has rallied behind the need “to fundamentally reassess Canadian foreign policy.” An open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau signed by Greenpeace Canada, 350.org, Idle No More, Climate Strike Canada and 40 other groups, as well as four sitting MPs and David Suzuki, Naomi Klein and Stephen Lewis, includes a critique of Canadian militarism.

It asks: “Should Canada continue to be part of NATO or instead pursue non-military paths to peace in the world?”

Across the political divide, more and more voices are calling for a review or reset of Canadian foreign policy.

Until such a review has taken place, the government should defer spending $19 billion on unnecessary, climate-destroying, dangerous new fighter jets.  [Tyee]

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Trump used Huawei CFO as ‘bargaining chip’ in trade fight with China: documents

VANCOUVER — New court documents accuse the United States president of “poisoning” the extradition case against a Huawei executive being held in Canada.An application to B.C. Supreme Court by Meng Wanzhou’s lawyers says the misconduct meets the clear standard to stay the proceedings for abuse of process.The documents say U.S. President Donald Trump has used Meng’s case to further his trade negotiations with China and he intends to use her as a “bargaining chip” in the dispute, which is unrelated to the charges against her.Meng was arrested at Vancouver’s airport in 2018 on a U.S. extradition request over allegations she lied about Huawei’s relationship with a telecommunications company in Iran, violating American sanctions — claims she and Huawei deny.The documents say evidence shows the United States is relying on Canada’s extradition process to gain strategic advantage in its dispute with China and for that, the extradition judge is entitled to find an abuse of process and stay the case.

Meng remains free on bail and lives in her Vancouver home during the legal process that is expected to stretch into next year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 24, 2020.

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Meng Wanzhou lawyers claim Trump has ‘poisoned’ extradition proceedings

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Vancouver Takes the First Step to Ban Street Checks

The practice causes fear and humiliation, derails lives, and has little policing value, Vancouver councillors heard.

Police street checks disproportionally affect people of colour. Vancouver city council has agreed to ask the police board to stop the practice. Photo by Darryl Dyck, the Canadian Press.

Vancouver city council took the first step to end police street checks Wednesday, voting to send a letter to the police board to ask them to end the controversial practice..

Council voted unanimously on Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s motion after hearing from many speakers who spoke about the harmful effect of street checks on people of colour, drug users, refugees and sex workers.

A street check is when police stop someone who is not part of a criminal investigation and question them about their activities or ask to see identification. Sometimes the information is entered into a police database.

“I felt afraid — I can feel my heart racing right now thinking about it,” said Latoya Farrell, a lawyer who works with the BC Civil Liberties Association, as she recounted her own experience being street checked while walking home from her art studio late at night.

“The officers asked me to stop and… remained in their vehicle, but in that moment I was frozen in space and time and I was asked where I was coming from, where I was going, what I was doing, where do I live,” Farrell said. “A number of questions that had me asking internally why was this happening?”

The next step, Stewart repeatedly said during the meeting, is a motion that has been drafted by Vancouver Police Board member Rachel Roy. That motion proposes reviewing the practice of street checks and should come before the police board members in September, Stewart said.

Council heard from Peggy Lee, a board member of Rainbow Refugee Society. The organization supports LGBTQ+ refugees who have come to Canada to flee persecution, and Lee said being street checked can have disastrous effects on refugees whose immigration status is still in flux.

Being street checked can trigger traumatic memories and post-traumatic stress disorder for refugees who have experienced police violence in their home countries, Lee said.

Refugee applicants are required to report any interaction with police to Canada Border Services Agency, Lee said. Being street checked can start a process that can end up with the refugee in indefinite CBSA detention or being deported, Lee said, or simply prolong the already drawn-out immigration process.

Garth Mullins, a journalist and board member of the BC Association of People on Methadone, spoke about the impact of frequent street checks of drug users. Mullins said police frequently stop people, especially in the Downtown Eastside, and take away their drugs and money.

“Drug users are criminalized by current laws and are unable to call 911 when things go wrong,” Mullins said.

Sarah Common, the executive director of Hives for Humanity, said she’s seen members of her organization stopped daily for a range of activities: “For riding bikes they own and care for, being outside of a building that is their only access point to housing, for walking in predominantly white, affluent neighbourhoods, for carrying computers they own, even for shopping for food.”

Common said the frequent checks prevent homeless people from accessing services, and when she’s tried to intervene, “I’ve been dismissed and called a sweetie.”

Another speaker, Ismaël Traoré, said he wanted the police to provide evidence showing that street checks actually work to prevent crime. Traore said a report by an Ontario judge showed that while street checks result in fewer guns on the street, there was no evidence they reduce crime. He says street checks impede public trust in the police, making them less effective.

Stewart asked several speakers if they knew the checks were voluntary, but all the speakers who’d experienced them said they didn’t feel voluntary, and they were afraid to refuse to answer questions from police officers and just walk away.

Stewart said he had been surprised to learn that information from the checks is recorded in a police database and shared with other police agencies.

Several speakers said sending a letter to the police board wasn’t nearly enough to change a deeply racist practice. Data has shown Black and Indigenous people are vastly over-represented in Vancouver police street checks.

The Vancouver Police Board does have the power to end street checks and is required to take directions from council into account. Advocates said they were supportive of the upcoming motion at the police board but warned they don’t want to see any delay in ending the practice.

No speakers spoke in favour of street checks. While the council vote was unanimous, Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung recused herself from voting because she said there could be a perception of a conflict of interest because she is married to a police officer.

Coun. Melissa De Genova, whose spouse is also a police officer, did not recuse herself, basing that decision on legal advice she’d received from city staff.  [Tyee]

Canada’s TransMountain Pipeline Faces Another Major Setback

A major insurance company dropped coverage for the Trans Mountain expansion project, an oil pipeline seen as vital to the growth of Canada’s oil sands. Under pressure from environmental groups and growing global concerns about climate change, insurance companies are beginning to drop coverage for large-scale energy infrastructure.  Swiss insurance company Zurich announced on Wednesday its decision not to renew coverage for the Trans Mountain expansion, a pipeline that was effectively nationalized by the Canadian government for C$4.5 billion. Kinder Morgan, the previous owner, had planned on scrapping the project altogether due to legal uncertainty, rising costs and protests from First Nations and environmental groups. The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau bought the project in 2018, allowing Kinder Morgan to exit, and he vowed to build the pipeline.

The Trans Mountain pipeline just prevailed in a major Canadian Supreme Court case a few weeks ago. Ruling in favor of the project, the court dismissed legal battles brought by First Nations in British Columbia. If built, the expansion would triple the exiting line’s capacity to 890,000 barrels per day.

Despite the court victory, the pipeline now faces new obstacles with insurance companies backing out. Zurich was the project’s largest insurer, providing $508 million in insurance coverage, but the policy expires at the end of August. The Swiss company said it would not renew. That may put pressure on other insurance companies backing the project, including Lloyd’s of London, Liberty Mutual, Munich Re and Chubb.

In the short run, shuttered production due to the pandemic has some Canadian pipelines less than full. The downturn has hit the Canadian oil patch hard. It wasn’t too long ago that the government of Alberta, flush with production and not enough pipeline outlets, was tinkering with production cuts. This year, the market has forced 1 million barrels per day offline, with the production trickling back online only now.

But beyond the immediate crisis, Canada sees the Trans Mountain expansion as critical to the industry’s growth. That is particularly true with Keystone XL back on death’s door. The Trans Mountain expansion is “critical infrastructure needed to move Canadian energy to world markets and help restore investor confidence in Canada’s economy and political system,” the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says, and its completion is “in the national interest.”

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Province says treaties don’t give Wolastoqiyik right to commercial logging on Crown land

Province files a statement of defence after 6 Wolastoqey First Nation sues province over loggers charged

New Brunswick says Peace and Friendship Treaties don’t guarantee First Nations the right to commercially harvest timber on Crown land. But First Nations say Crown land is in their traditional territory and they have a right to make a moderate livelihood off of that land. (CBC)

The province of New Brunswick says Peace and Friendship Treaties do not allow First Nations people to make a ‘moderate livelihood’ from Crown timber.

In January, six Wolastoqey First Nations sued the province for not recognizing their treaty rights to Crown timber.

Oromocto, Woodstock, Saint Mary’s, Kingsclear, Tobique and Madawaska First Nations allege the province is infringing on their treaty rights by “wrongfully” limiting their ability to sell and trade timber to gain a “moderate livelihood.”

In a statement of defence filed mid-July, the province says the First Nations do not have the right to commercially harvest timber, only domestically.

“Historic timber harvesting practices were limited to domestic use,” the statement says.

The province says, when it comes to the treaty rights asserted by the First Nations in their lawsuit, “The province denies such a right exists and thus, cannot be recognized, protected or infringed.”

First Nations have the right … to continue the cutting and trading of timber as firewood and other wood products, as that practice has evolved over the years.​​– Lawsuit by six Wolastoqey First Nations

The province admits the Crown signed treaties between 1725 and 1768, and that another treaty was signed in 1778.

“However, none of the treaties include the right alleged by the Plaintiffs,” the statement says.

In their lawsuit, the First Nations said when the treaties were signed, “the common intention” was that the Wolastoqey First Nations would “have the right to harvest timber for the sale or trade as firewood and other wood products for necessaries on which these First nations had come to rely.” In a modern context, “necessaries” would translate to “moderate livelihood.”

The statement of defence said those common intentions never existed.

The First Nations have said enforcing the Crown Lands and Forests Act against members of their communities is a breach of the constitutionally protected treaties.

The statement of defence denies that the modern mode of harvesting timber for domestic use has evolved.

Inciting cases

In 2012, the province charged two members of Woodstock First Nation with illegally harvesting Crown timber and with illegal possession of that timber, the lawsuit says. The trial went on from July 2013 to November 2014.

During that time, four expert witnesses testified to confirm those treaty rights.

The lawsuit says the province stayed those charges and allegedly “avoided a decision of the provincial court judge on the treaty rights.”

The province denies this allegation.

In the fall of 2019, the province charged five people under the same legislation. Four of them were members of First Nations and were harvesting Crown timber to sell as firewood, “to the extent of obtaining a moderate livelihood,” the lawsuit says. A fifth was someone who purchased that wood.

The lawsuit says that in both those cases, the province “wrongfully failed to recognize and respect the [First Nations’] Treaty rights.”

This infringement is unconstitutional, the suit alleges, and has caused “substantial financial loss to the [First Nations] and their members.”

The province denies that it wrongfully charged those five people, and says the four were harvesting the timber “for commercial gain and not domestic use.”

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on the R. v. Marshall decision, which allows Indigenous peoples to earn a “moderate livelihood” through commercial fishing in Atlantic Canada. But it did not include timber.

In 2006 the same court ruled two Wolastoqi loggers and a Mi’kmaw logger had an inherent right to harvest timber from Crown lots for domestic use, but not to sell or trade.

The First Nations are seeking an order from the court to declare their treaty rights. They’re also asking the court to declare the province has failed to honour and respect treaty rights, as well as damages “to be determined.”

The province is asking the court to dismiss the case with costs.

No court date has been set yet to hear the case.

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Hadeel Ibrahim is a CBC reporter based in Saint John. She can be reached at hadeel.ibrahim@cbc.ca

Heiltsuk’s decision to close fishery on B.C. coast amid COVID-19 earns international attention

Nation’s willingness to shut down lucrative spawn-on-kelp fishery stands in ‘stark contrast’ to other government decisions to push ahead with extractive industries during pandemic, according to letter published in Science

Herring during the 2018 spawning season in British Columbia. Photo: Pacific Wild

The Haíɫzaqv (Heiltsuk) Nation’s cancellation of its financially and culturally important spawn-on-kelp fishery due to COVID-19 is in the international spotlight, with a letter by Canadian scientists and Haíɫzaqv resource managers appearing in the journal Science on Thursday.

The letter states that the Haíɫzaqv approach presents a “stark contrast” to government and industry decisions to deem extractive industries as essential services.

COVID-19 concerns have been raised at mineshydro dams and oilsands camps, with B.C.’s Interior Health Authority linking 19 cases of COVID-19 to an outbreak at the Kearl Lake oilsands project.

“The Haíɫzaqv fishery closure demonstrates the effectiveness of informed, responsible decision-making by community members themselves,” the letter states.

“It also demonstrates an alternative to centralized management approaches. State-led fisheries have faced criticism for making decisions that are isolated from the nuances of individual communities, for viewing resources through a narrow lens of stock productivity and extraction and for paying too little attention to complex social outcomes.”

In April, Fisheries and Oceans Canada allowed fishing to continue but pulled at-sea observers from trawlers, reverting to electronic methods like video to monitor the industry. (Observers are now permitted, but not required, on vessels if safe working procedures are in place.)

The Haíɫzaqv Nation consulted with the 692 members who had signed up for the fishery in March before the hereditary and elected leadership decided to close it. The short fishery, which only lasts five to six days in March or April, is carried out by hanging lines of kelp upon which herring lay their eggs. The eggs — or roe — are harvested and the herring are unharmed.

“We’re going to protect ourselves, and we’re going to do that at any cost,” said Kelly Brown, director of the Haíɫzaqv Integrated Resource Management Department and one of the authors of the letter.

The Haíɫzaqv suffered a major economic and cultural blow by closing the fishery, but Brown said they are hoping to “lead by example” in their cautious response to COVID-19.

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