Andrew Coyne: The question of what is Trudeau hiding is not going to go away

The issues involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair are too important to be treated flippantly. This isn’t some question of policy on which people of goodwill can differ

Another campaign begun in the shadow of scandal. The first weeks of the 2015 election campaign were dominated by the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy, at much subsequent cost to Stephen Harper’s re-election chances. Whether or not the latest revelations in the SNC-Lavalin affair prove to be as consequential to the current campaign, the implications are deeply troubling.

Not only is the RCMP reported to have been inquiring into the affair, in which the prime minister and other government officials attempted to interfere in a criminal prosecution, as a possible case of obstruction of justice, but investigators have apparently been prevented from gathering evidence from key witnesses — obstructed, if you will — by the government’s continuing refusal to release them from the bonds of cabinet confidentiality.

No, it’s not yet a formal criminal investigation, and yes, whatever else you want to call it has been “paused” until after the election — a protocol installed after the 2006 campaign, which was knocked sideways by the revelation that the RCMP was investigating the then minister of finance. No doubt that will be of some relief to the Liberal campaign, but it does leave the public in a bind: it would be a hell of a thing to re-elect the government only to have its top officials charged afterward with serious crimes.

And the questions — the first from a reporter, immediately after Justin Trudeau’s opening statement: “what is your government trying to hide?” — are not going to go away. Seven months after the scandal first came to light, they boil down to one: why not lift the obligation to keep cabinet conversations secret if it will help police get to the bottom of the matter?

This is not, after all, the first time the subject has come up. While the prime minister made a great show of waiving cabinet confidentiality earlier this year with regard to his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the waiver applied only to discussions that took place while she was still in the job, and only to those in which she took part. The ethics commissioner reported last month that nine witnesses with evidence relevant to his inquiry had been kept silent by the same restriction.

Cabinet confidentiality is an important principle — ministers could not otherwise speak frankly on sensitive matters — that ought not to be taken lightly. But it is not as important as the rule of law. It might be invoked for reasons of state — or, more often, to spare governments political embarrassment — but it cannot be extended to cover discussions of potential crimes.

Or at any rate it should not. Maybe Trudeau, as he insists, did nothing wrong, legally or ethically. If so, the witnesses will presumably exonerate him. But if not, all the more reason why they should be allowed to tell police what they know.

Former Canadian Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould arrives to give her testimony about the SNC-LAVALIN affair before a justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019. LARS HAGBERG / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Certainly it is within his power to do so. The explanation, offered both to the ethics commissioner and the RCMP, that it was a decision of the clerk of the privy council, even if true, will not wash. The clerk works for the prime minister, not the other way around. Whatever power the prime minister chooses to delegate he can also choose to take back.

The prime minister, in any event, long ago undermined any principled defence of his position by his readiness to go public with his side of the same conversations. It is no part of the doctrine of cabinet confidentiality that it should be strictly applied to material that might incriminate government officials, but may be relaxed where it shows them in a better light.

I say all this in the vain hope that the question will be considered on its merits, and not merely as a matter of optics, or polling, or tactics. We have an unfortunate tendency in our trade to cover the campaign, rather than the election — who’s up, who’s down, how the parties are or should be positioning themselves on a given issue, as opposed to what’s right, what’s wrong, and which party’s position is closest to the truth.

Cabinet confidentiality is an important principle. But it is not as important as the rule of law

But the issues involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair are too important to be treated so flippantly. This isn’t about whether to raise or lower taxes or some other question of policy on which people of goodwill can differ, but whether we are to have an impartial system of justice, or one in which powerful corporations can wriggle out of prosecution by lobbying the right politicians. MORE

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The global assault on environmental rights behind Jason Kenney’s war


File photo of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney by Tijana Martin

MichelleBellefontaine@MBellefontaine ·

I have been updating my story all day. The quote from Kenney has been included, along with the reaction from Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty International Canada. http://cbc.ca/1.5277846 

Amnesty International says Jason Kenney’s ‘fight back’ strategy violates human rights | CBC News

Amnesty International Canada says the Alberta government’s plan to fight people who criticize the oil and gas industry exposes them to threats, intimidation and violates their human rights.

cbc.ca

MichelleBellefontaine@MBellefontaine

Here is the video of @jkenney making remarks in Fort McMurray today about the jailing of Greenpeace activists is Russia

Embedded video

Authoritarian governments moving in lockstep to discredit environmentalists

“Foreign funding” has emerged as a powerful propaganda cudgel for governments to turn on environmental and human rights activists around the world.

The leader of Russia’s Ecodefense sought political asylum in Germany this June to avoid imprisonment in Putin’s ruthless crackdown on environmental groups designated as “foreign agents,” a term that in Russian denotes “spy” or “traitor.”

In Narendra Modi’s India, where flooding and drought threaten more than 100 million lives, a 2014 intelligence report called dissident environmental and human rights organizations a threat to national security, accusing them of “serving as tools for foreign policy interests.”

“The world is facing the most pressing moral imperative in the history of human civilization, and Jason Kenney’s inquiry has all but criminalized opposition to fossil fuel expansion, before a single witness is called. ” @Garossino #cdnpoli #oped

Despite being praised by Stephen Harper for his visionary global leadership, Modi ​​was nothing short of brutal. Cancelling the licences of 20,000 NGOs, his government froze bank accounts and raided offices, including those of Amnesty International India and prominent human rights lawyers who had challenged his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.

To prevent a Greenpeace India activist from testifying in the British parliament about the local impact of a British mining company’s Indian operations, Modi’s government blocked her from boarding her flight to the UK, then put her on a no-fly list. MORE

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Premier Jason Kenney takes aim at Amnesty International Canada in letter

Federal probe finds ‘co-ordinated’ social media bots in Alberta election

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney discusses the accomplishments of his government in its first 100 days in office, in Edmonton on Wednesday August 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney discusses the accomplishments of his government in its first 100 days in office, in Edmonton on Wednesday August 7, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

EDMONTON — A federal agency investigating the recent Alberta election has found evidence the campaign featured tactics including co-ordinated, false social media postings.

In a report released late Friday, the Rapid Response Mechanism — created by the G-7 to monitor foreign influence on democratic elections — identified social media accounts that demonstrated “co-ordinated inauthentic behaviour.”

The agency was created by the G7 at the 2018 conference in Charleboix, Que. It is intended to strengthen co-ordination between members in identifying, preventing and responding to threats to G7 democracies from foreign actors using social media to meddle in elections.

The agency is based in Canada.

On its website, it says it investigated the Alberta vote to see if foreign players were involved.

“The Alberta election was identified as being at risk of interference because of the extent to which environmental issues were debated,” it says.

No organized influence was exerted from outside the province’s borders, it found. However, Albertans seemed keen to use those tactics themselves.

“(We) identified communities that demonstrated a suspicious account creation pattern that is indicative of troll or bot activity,” the report says. “It was mainly comprised of supporters of the United Conservative Party.

“The pattern was not identified within communities of supporters of the Alberta Liberal Party or Alberta New Democratic Party.” MORE

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Suspicious accounts spread disinformation in Alberta election, federal report says

He used to work for a site that promoted racists — now he edits a Canadian news outlet


Before Cosmin Dzsurdza worked for The Post Millennial, he worked for a pro-Kremlin site called Russia Insider and a blog that promoted racists. Illustration by Emma McIntosh, photos from Free Bird Media and screenshots

Cosmin Dzsurdzsa is an editor at what has quickly become one of the most widely shared right-wing news websites in Canada.

According to the About Us page on The Post Millennial’s website, the University of Waterloo graduate used to be a “researcher on The Oxford English Dictionary.” The dictionary’s publisher, Oxford University Press, said in an email that it has “no record” of Dzsurdzsa working for the company, but that he appears to have worked on an unaffiliated research project examining the text.

But that short biography leaves out a few steps. Before Dzsurdzsa was hired at the Post Millennial, he also worked for websites that promoted racism and peddled pro-Kremlin content.

While he was a creative director and correspondent at Free Bird Media, the blog promoted Richard Spencer, who has been identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the U.S. as a “professional racist” and white supremacist. It did the same for Faith Goldy, who praised white nationalists at the deadly Charlottesville neo-Nazi protest, said a neo-Nazi slogan on a podcast for the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer and added that she “doesn’t see that as controversial,” advocated to “return” Canada to a population that is “96 per cent Euro Canadian” and said she wants “launch the next Crusade” to “reclaim Bethlehem.” (Neo-Nazi ideology is driven by a hatred of Jewish people, along with other minority groups and the LGBTQ community, says the Southern Poverty Law Center.)

Free Bird Media also gave a friendly platform to Kevin J. Johnston, who has advocated for physical violence against Muslims and lost a major defamation case for online hate speech directed at a Mississauga restaurateur. The judge in that case said Johnston’s words were a “loathsome example of hate speech at its worst.”

And for Russia Insider, a pro-Kremlin site that BBC and Newsweek have called “propaganda” — “Russia’s Arctic Military Drills Are Truly Massive,” reads one 2015 headline from the site — Dzsurdzsa once advocated for Canada to drop trade sanctions against Russia.

This editor used to work for a site that promoted racists and a Russian propaganda site. Now he works for The Post Millennial, a rising star in Canada’s conservative media scene.

The Post Millennial is seeking a larger presence in Canada’s media ecosystem ahead of the October federal election, planning to build a six-figure video studio and conduct its own polls. Its online following has grown quickly since it was founded in 2017.

But the outlet’s willingness to hire someone with a background working for sites that promoted hate is “disturbing,” said Barbara Perry, director of the Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University.

“Editors shape the climate and culture of the newsroom,” Perry said. “What does that say in terms of the kinds of stories (Dzsurdzsa is) assigning to whom, or not assigning?”  MORE

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Why isn’t Facebook taking Yellow Vests Canada seriously?


A screenshot of the Yellow Vests Canada Facebook page.

In January, Facebook started removing some content from the main Yellow Vests Canada page after the company was made aware of comments calling for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to be killed. At the time, a Facebook spokesperson told Global News it was taking action to mitigate any “real-world harm” that may stem from activity on the platform.

“We do not tolerate harassment on Facebook, and it’s our aim to prevent any potential real-world harm that may be related to content on our platform,” the spokesperson said. “That’s why we remove content, disable accounts and use a combination of technology, reports from our community and human review to enforce our policies.”

But recent activity on the Yellow Vests Canada page indicates that these efforts are falling short. And as Canada’s federal election fast approaches ⁠— with all the fierce rhetoric that the campaign is sure to elicit ⁠— real-world consequences, which are already in evidence, could quickly pile up.

In recent weeks and months, yellow vest demonstrations across Canada have frequently attracted far-right extremists and hate groups. In numerous cases, yellow vest members have faced criminal charges for threats they posted on Facebook, while others have been arrested and found to be in possession of weapons and explosives after leaving threatening posts on the social media platform.

Violence continues to be a problem at rallies organized and attended by the yellow vest, thrusting communities like Hamilton onto the “front line” of extremist activity in the region. On any given weekend, white nationalist figures and far-right groups like the Canadian Nationalist Party, Soldiers of Odin and Wolves of Odin, Proud Boys and Northern Guard can be seen marching alongside demonstrators in yellow vests — and in many instances, engaging in acts of hate and violence.

According to activists who monitor the yellow vest movement, none of this would be possible without Facebook.

In the process of building social networks and connections to friends, Facebook has also helped create networks of hate and, potentially, new pathways to extremism in Canada.

“It’s their primary tool for networking and advertising events,” one of the operators of the Twitter account Yellow Vests Exposed, which monitors incidents of hate and violence posted to social media by yellow vest protesters, told National Observer. “Without Facebook there would be no yellow vest movement in Canada.”

Extremism is a feature, not a bug

Members of the yellow vest movement are, in many ways, using Facebook exactly as it was meant to be used. They’ve created anextensive network of local and national chapters under Facebook’s “groups” feature, and created affiliated Facebook pages for many of those groups. They also use Facebook’s “events” feature to organize and advertise events across Canada.

This is what Facebook was designed for — and that’s why it’s so alarming to see what the platform has enabled in the case of Canada’s yellow vest movement. In the process of building social networks and connections to friends, Facebook has also helped create networks of hate and, potentially, new pathways to extremism.

The connection between the yellow vests’ online activity and the mounting real-world consequences couldn’t be clearer. MORE

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Public security and public interest: which public? Who decides?

This blog is part two of a series looking at corporate interference in democracy and quashing of public protest. Read the first one here.

We’re seeing a number of questionable actions coming from different arms of government under the guise of ‘public security’ and ‘public interest’, like Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s “war room” and the RCMP handing information with Enbridge about land and water protectors blocking pipelines in BC.


Premier Jason Kenney (left, photo: The Star) and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale (right, photo: CBC). These two are at the helm of different public institutions that inappropriately use public resources to support the unjust and unsustainable fossil fuel industry.

‘Public security’ is a tricky phrase. Canada has treaty responsibilities that it is not living up to, and CSIS is actively supporting the suppression of Indigenous land defenders to the benefit of private interests like Enbridge and a broad network of fossil fuel companies. Canada has consistently for 152 years tried to quash the full realization of a treaty-based relationship with Indigenous nations, and consistently removed Indigenous nations from their land through legislation, culture of dispossession, and force (and before confederation Canada’s predecessors were doing the same). Black communities have been criminalized and surveilled since slavery – even in Canada. Two great reads on these topics include Policing Indigenous Movements by Andrew Crosby and Geoffry Monaghan, which captures modern surveillance and criminalization of Indigenous land and water protectors, and Policing Black Lives by Robyn Maynard, which is a “comprehensive account of nearly four hundred years of state-sanctioned surveillance, criminalization and punishment of Black lives in Canada.”

I am generally skeptical of the phrase ‘general public’ because there are so many diverse communities with particular histories, needs, and visions. When the government uses this term to justify its actions we should be equally cautious. Whose interests are they really protecting? Whose are being set aside in favour of a particular public? Are the interests being served even public at all?

There are loads of communities and groups that are not being served by the surveilling of climate justice movements – primarily the people who are trying to have their needs met through that movement, like Indigenous peoples, fishers, farmers, women, coastal communities, and beyond. Just last week the joint review panel for the massive Teck tar sands mine said the project would be ‘in the public interest’ even though the report says the mine would likely “significantly” and “irreparably” harm Indigenous communities and local ecology.

When governments and government institutions use their power to decide which public gets to be secure, we need to look deeply at whose interests are being served and use our power as a movement to name those interests. In these cases, CSIS, the RCMP, and the Premier of Alberta are using their power to serve the interests of the fossil fuel industry at the expense of everyone and their ability to participate in democracy.

What can we do? Be on guard for corporate rhetoric

We’re seeing that politicians, police forces, and just about any democratic institution in Canada is susceptible to manipulation by corporate interests. The way these institutions describe Canada’s current reality and the actions we must take to address our challenges matter a lot – these are the stories of who we are as a society and who we can become.

Please help us see the RCMP investigation report released – send an email to Minister Ralph Goodale and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki!

If these stories are always tainted with industry interests, the only stories available to the masses will be those that include fossil fuels, mass exploitation of Indigenous lands and resources, and continued social division, racism, and xenophobia. MORE

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