Glavin: Good news! Canada is not being overrun by racist zombie hordes

A bit overly dismissive of the Abacus poll IMO:

There are cranks among us. There are racists, loons, nutters, dingbats and weirdos among us and there are millions of them, according to a recent Abacus Data poll. I know this to be true because I read it in all the newspapers.

Here’s a National Post headline from last week: “Millions of Canadians believe in white replacement theory: poll.” Here’s the Toronto Star: “’Kind of terrifying’: Numbers show racist Great Replacement conspiracy theory has found audience in Canada.” Here’s Abacus Data’s own headline: “Millions believe in conspiracy theories in Canada.”

And then the story just seemed to disappear. If the story were true, why did it vanish after a couple of news cycles? Shouldn’t we all be taking this a lot more seriously?

If the story is true, millions of Canadians are afflicted with exactly the same fascist derangement that drove white supremacist Brenton Tarrant to massacre 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand three years ago. In a similarly live-streamed replication of the Christchurch atrocity only last month, the lunatic Payton Gendron slaughtered ten people in a Black neighbourhood in Buffalo, N.Y. with a weapon with the words “White replacement theory” written on it.

Surely it can’t be true that millions of Canadians are devoted to the same hideous “theory” that motivated Tarrant and Gendron, can it?

I’m happy to report that no, there’s no evidence to support the proposition, or contention, or if you like, this “theory” about millions of Canadians revealed by that Abacus poll, because the poll did not provide any evidence of the sort.

This is not to say that there weren’t some quite disturbing findings that the Abacus pollsters came up with. And the story didn’t quite vanish, either.

In an otherwise thoughtful contemplation of the degeneration of political discourse that appeared in Policy magazine last weekend, the outspoken New Democrat Charlie Angus contemplated the tendency to crazy thinking as a kind of orchard where Conservatives are happy to find low-hanging fruit, and perhaps it explains why “some Conservative leadership candidates have spent so much time promoting all manner of conspiracy claims.”

Angus wrote: “Maybe the Conservatives think they will be able to harness the tactical rage of this phenomenon to the faux outrage of political theatrics.”

And that may be so.

It’s certainly true that the populist Conservative leadership contender and bitcoin enthusiast Pierre Poilievre does sometimes give the impression of being an eccentric who wasted too much of his youth playing with Buzz Lightyear action figures in his room.

But it’s also true that among the poll respondents inclined to believe what is possibly the craziest proposition Abacus canvassed for — the notion that Microsoft uber-zillionaire Bill Gates has been using microchips to track people and their behaviour — New Democrats were only two percentage points behind Poilievre fanciers: 11 per cent as opposed to 13 per cent.

As for the white supremacist “Great Replacement” imbecility, the idea is that there’s a plot, often attributed to the Jews, to orchestrate immigration policies in such a way as to monkeywrench a country’s demographics in order to replace “white” people with Muslims, specifically, or with people of colour, generally.

The Abacus poll doesn’t provide all that much insight into how many poll respondents, let alone Canadians, actually believe this drivel. If you drill down below the way the poll findings have been reported and then dig below the way Abacus described its findings to the bedrock of the poll question itself, you might be relieved to discover that it isn’t quite time yet to head for the hills to build yourself a compound to defend yourself against millions of marauding racist zombies.

Abacus described its findings this way: Some 37 per cent of Canadians (11 million people) think “there is a group of people in this country who are trying to replace native-born Canadians with immigrants who agree with their political views. This is an articulation of what is commonly referred to as replacement theory.”

Set aside the fact that this isn’t so much an “articulation” of any theory, exactly, and the fact that the lunatic “replacement theory” doesn’t quite match the Abacus description of it. Last month, Statistic Canada reported this simple fact: “Canada is a low-fertility country, or below the no-migration population replacement level of 2.1 children per woman.” The Abacus poll didn’t ask about “white” people, but rather “native-born” Canadians. And native-born Canadians are retiring in huge numbers. Boomers are exiting the job market in droves.

It’s data of this kind that the Trudeau government has quite openly factored into its Immigration Levels Plan, which sets out the objective of drawing 430,000 newcomers to Canada each year. This is the highest level of immigration in Canadian history, and a higher immigration rate than any other G7 country. Only a small minority of those immigrants are coming from Europe, so they’re not, you know, “white” people. And anyone who hasn’t noticed that it has been a custom of the Liberal Party to jimmy with immigration so as to replenish its urban vote banks hasn’t been paying attention to the way things are done in Canada. The Conservatives do it too, but they’re just not very good at it.

The Abacus poll findings are perfectly consistent with a series of polls of its own and of other polling outfits that show Canadians are becoming deeply distrustful of politicians, government institutions and the news media. The world is in a state of upheaval to an extent unparalleled in decades. Overseas there’s war and looming famine in Central Asia and Africa, and here in Canada you have to be rich to be poor these days, especially when it comes to housing. Canada’s economy is a house of cards that’s increasingly dependent upon high immigration levels.

Canada’s “native-born” population can’t replace itself. Just one reason is that you have to be quite well-to-do to raise a family nowadays, and you can’t raise a family in a 600-square-foot, $600,000 condo. It’s no wonder that nostalgia is so commonplace. So is the sentiment that we’re all being dragged by forces we can’t control into a maelstrom of inhospitable, culturally fractured bedlam. People have every right to look at the rich and famous of the World Economic Forum, for instance — the object of quite a few silly conspiracy theories — with utter contempt.

But millions of Canadians are not setting out across the landscape in roaming hordes of racist zombies. That’s the good news.

These days, we should take the good news wherever we can find it.

Source: Glavin: Good news! Canada is not being overrun by racist zombie hordes

Glavin: Neil Young vs Spotify, and the gathering storm

Good column:

The fight the legendary hippie singer-songwriter Neil Young brought to the music-streaming giant Spotify on Monday over the privileged place it provides a wildly popular podcast by the contrarian comedian and former wrestling colour-commentator Joe Rogan appears to have ended as quickly as it began. But the wider war is gathering steam.

“I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines,” Young said. Either Rogan goes or I go, he told the Stockholm-based audio-streaming giant. On Wednesday, Spotify responded: Off you go, then. By Thursday, Young had decamped with his entire 45-album backlist and all his bread to Apple Music, while Rogan’s big-tent circuses, with their sideshow freaks and thrill rides, will carry on, as before, with Spotify.

It all sounds so frivolous, but it isn’t, because the public-policy hostilities arising from our common captivity in the grip of COVID-19, now in the first days of the third year of SARS-CoV-2, are only becoming more pronounced with every passing day. Millions are dead, the stricken keep on dying, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to discern what the basic facts are and the uproars are unfolding in the midst of what has been called a “crisis of epistemology.”

That’s the philosophical way of describing the erosion of common understandings about not just what the truth is, but about how we’re all supposed to go about the work of figuring out what the truth is in the first place. Facts used to matter. Now, not so much.

Rogan stands accused of engaging in dezinformatsiya, as the Russians elegantly describe the traffic in dangerous half-truths and lies deployed as offensive weaponry in propaganda warfare. Specifically, Rogan’s offside notions about vaccines and masks are widely understood to make him a dangerous menace to public health. While he’s helpfully referred to himself as a “moron” for suggesting young people shouldn’t bother themselves with COVID vaccinations, the former “Fear Factor” game show host’s Spotify broadcast, the Joe Rogan Experience, still draws roughly 11 million listeners per episode.

I should straight away confess my own loyalties this week were to the cause of Team Neil. One must take sides, after all. Sorry, but that’s how these proxy wars work. There’s little room for conscientious objection, and the alliances that form up can draw the most disparate and ordinarily unfriendly parties to one another in the same blocs, rallying behind banners that wouldn’t otherwise summon them.

In all the epistemic chaos abroad in the Anglosphere—it churns and roils its way through the culture only most noticeably in the undying allegiance of millions of Americans to the disgraced former president Donald Trump—we’ve reached the point where the pandemic’s early public consensus and trust in government experts, in Canada at least, appears to be collapsing.

Canadians almost invariably end up adopting the culture-war habits Americans torture themselves with, so there’s now a “small fringe minority of people who are on their way to Ottawa who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing.” This is how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau inelegantly described the convoys of truckers and their camp followers rumbling along Canada’s highways in their Peterbilts and Kenworths, and Freightliners and Macks, intent upon converging in Ottawa this weekend.

The On-to-Ottawa organizers insist they are against vaccine mandates imposed upon anyone, not just cross-border truckers, but many protesters appear to share more seething anger and frustration than any clear and coherent objective. Parliament Hill police were planning on about 10,000 people showing up. It’s been a bit unsettling to consider how all this might end up playing out, because there are some genuinely nasty characters who have insinuated themselves into the anti-mandate protests. The Parliamentary Protective Service insists that everything would proceed according to routine this weekend, but it still seems unlikely that events will go on to resolve themselves quite as efficiently as they appeared to in the Young-Rogan conflict.

It wasn’t just a quarrel about Spotify’s royalty rates or shuffle features. The Spotify rumpus was at least partly about whether a musician like Young could use his enormous star power to force an audio-streaming company with roughly 380 million monthly users to ditch what could be described, in the most charitable terms, as the world’s most popular streaming public-affairs talk show. But it’s also about money. A lot of money.

Rogan signed an exclusive contract with Spotify two years ago, reportedly worth more than $100 million, and Spotify is discovering that there’s more profit to be had in podcasts than in archiving digital versions of yesteryear’s hit singles. Young, who had six million monthly listeners on Spotify last week, sold his music catalogue to publisher Hipgnosis last year for $150 million. While Young says losing his him-or-me ultimatum would cost him 60 per cent of his streaming-service revenue, it’s not like his abdication from Spotify will cause him any pain.

Young’s net worth is estimated at $200 million. Now that Apple Music has declared itself Young’s new streaming home, Young’s earnings shouldn’t be disrupted all that dramatically. So as tidy as some of us might want it, this story is not so simple as a moral tale about a shaggy and lanky iconic veteran protest singer, in his 76th year, gallantly impoverishing himself by bravely sticking it to the man.

In normal times, there’s hardly anything even newsworthy about celebrities throwing themselves into causes. They do it all the time and they’re often pretty weird. There are celebrities against circumcision, celebrities against Oprah Winfrey and celebrities against meat. There have always been celebrities against vaccines. Now there are celebrities against COVID lockdowns.

“No more taking of our freedom And our God-given rights, Pretending its for our safety When it’s really to enslave . . .” That’s a lyric line from a one of several anti-mandate songs recently released by Van Morrison, the usually mild-mannered Northern Irish musical icon whose lyrics are sometimes so ethereal as to be comparable to the poetry of the English mystic William Blake.

Early on in the pandemic, Noel Gallagher, the force behind the chart-topping band Oasis, vowed that he would not wear a mask when he was out at the shops. Only last weekend, the Marvel star Evangeline Lilly joined prominent vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy at an anti-mandate rally in Washington D.C.

Last September’s celebrity COVID eruption was perhaps the most amusing. That’s when pop star Nicki Minaj drew unwanted attention to herself by claiming that a cousin’s friend in Trinidad had been abandoned at the altar by a bride who was displeased by the way a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine had made the groom’s testicles swell.

Nicki Minaj has 22 million Twitter followers. Joe Rogan’s Twitter crew, incidentally, numbers eight million. And now there’s a #DeleteSpotify thing on Twitter that’s taking off.

In this bizarre new world where celebrities are taken to be epidemiologists and the toxins of antisemitism are as prevalent on the “left” as they’ve conventionally been situated on the “right,” it’s not especially helpful to dismiss all those angry truckers as a pack of howling white supremacists. Something’s happening here, to borrow a Buffalo Springfield lyric from Young’s late 60s heyday, and what it is ain’t exactly clear.

Jonathan Rauch, the journalist, author, Atlantic magazine fixture and senior fellow in governance studies with the Brookings Institution, proposes a helpful way of comprehending the perplexing phenomena of the times. It goes like this.

Just as the formalized political rules that derive from the American constitution are necessary to make American democracy work, the ways that knowledge itself is constituted are necessary for politics in liberal democracies to work. And the system is close to broken.

In his just-published book, the Constitution of Knowledge: A Defence of Truth, Rauch describes how the space occupied by what he calls the “reality-based community” is shrinking. Its customs and conventions are falling away. The intellectual strata that has conventionally distilled truth from facts and data and goes about the work of constituting knowledge—historians, social scientists, journalists, policy-makers, jurists—is succumbing to cultures of enforced conformity that stagnate in their own hived-off echo chambers.

Ideological rigidity, speech codes, Twitter-induced outrage spasms and a strict emphasis on consistency with “narrative” are supplanting the social mechanisms that have long served to transform disagreement into knowledge. We are counselled to assess truth claims by sizing up the people “who are holding unacceptable views that they are expressing,” as Trudeau put it. The norms and institutions forged over decades by peer review, humility, fact-checking, good-faith debate and the evaluation of truth claims against objective evidence, verification and replication—it’s all up for grabs.

It’s not just that facts don’t seem to matter anymore. It’s that it doesn’t seem to matter that facts don’t matter.

Source: Neil Young vs Spotify, and the gathering storm

Glavin: Canada’s can’t just shrug off the debate over the Beijing Winter Olympics

Now that a rising global movement to move the 2022 Winter Games from Beijing is finally starting to pick up steam in Canada, there’s a debate worth having about it, and some difficult questions to be raised. Can the International Olympic Committee be made to reverse its preposterous 2015 host-city decision in favour of Xi Jinping’s ravenous, globe-encircling police state? Is it possible to settle on a more civilized venue in time? What should Canada do if the effort fails?

These are among the difficult questions that arise no matter what we might think about Canadian flags on an Olympic podium being put to use as rags to wipe away the several provisions of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide that the Xi regime is transgressing in the course of enslaving and obliterating the Uighur people of Xinjiang.

But before we get to any of those questions, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government will have to be shifted from the unequivocal standpoint it has adopted, which is that none of this is any of our business. The federal government has outsourced these decisions to the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Committees, and that’s all there is to say, Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau’s office has been helpfully straightforward in explaining.

And then there are all the questions that arise from the rationale that various Olympic committee officials have provided, which several Liberal MPs have echoed, as to why the Winter Games must proceed as planned and according to Beijing’s wishes. The first among these questions is this one: Just how stupid do these people think we are?

Dick Pound, the most senior of the International Olympic Committee’s 98 members and former president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, points to the 1980 boycott of the Moscow Olympics as “completely ineffective” because the Soviet Union was still occupying Afghanistan a decade later. “Boycotts don’t work,” COC chief executive officer David Shoemaker and Canadian Paralympics Committee CEO Karen O’Neill argued in an opinion essay published in the Globe and Mail last week.

Apart from the usual treacle about how the Olympics “help build connections and open doors” and provide a “unique means for the promotion of peace and development, for uniting rather than dividing,” Shoemaker and O’Neill claimed that their critics want an Olympic boycott to be “the first order of business to reshape our relationship with China.”

That’s just straight-up untrue. Human rights organizations, advocacy groups mobilizing on behalf of Tibetans, Mongolians, Uighurs, Hongkongers and Chinese human rights defenders, and Canadian parliamentarians across the political spectrum, have spent years begging for effective measures – Magnitsky Act sanctions, for instance – to re-order Canada’s obsequious relationship with China.

The focus on the Olympics hasn’t just come out of the blue, either. The IOC ignored warnings from international human rights organizations six years ago that allowing China to host the 2022 Winter Games would only serve the regime’s purposes in silencing its critics. And now, the COC is playing right along, warning Canadian athletes to mind what they say in Beijing lest they offend the sensibilities of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and run afoul of the regime’s draconian national-security laws.

You would think Shoemaker would know better, and of course he does know better. Shoemaker came to his top COC job from a post leading the National Basketball Association’s China operations, which suffered massive reprisals – blacked-out broadcasts, boycotted merchandise, cancelled contracts – all in retaliation for a single Tweet in 2019 by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey: “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”

It’s quite true that the Soviets were still carpet-bombing Afghanistan nearly a decade after the American-led 1980 Olympic boycott. Nothing changed, you could say. But nothing changed when the western democracies went all in for the Third Reich’s 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, either. All that Olympic “promotion of peace and development” didn’t dissuade the Nazis from annexing the Sudetenland, kicking off the Second World War and incinerating six million Jews.

The IOC’s decision to award Russia the 2014 Winter Games venue in Sochi didn’t cause the Kremlin to repeal its hateful laws against the LGBT community, but it did serve to further engorge Vladimir Putin’s circle of bloated oligarchs. The Sochi Games were supposed to cost $12 billion. The final bill exceeded $51 billion. When the IOC ignored Chinese human rights defenders’ pleas and awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics to the People’s Republic, the regime was not shamed into dropping its policy of bankrolling and arming the Sudanese atrocities in Darfur – the first genocide of the 21st century.

Awarding Beijing the massive propaganda victory of the 2008 Olympics did not dissuade the regime from descending into depths of despotism unmatched since the days of Mao Zedong, nor cause Xi Jinping to have second thoughts about dismembering what little was permitted to remain of Hong Kong’s autonomy. If anything, the regime was encouraged in its degenerate habits, eventually kidnapping the Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor. The two Michaels have been imprisoned for more than two years now, in retaliation for Canada’s detention of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou on a 13-count U.S. Justice Department extradition warrant.

But pity the poor Canadian athletes, Shoemaker and Pound and the rest of the Olympic establishment plead. These fine young people have trained so hard to compete in this glamorous international forum. Why victimize them?

“We are not the ones who are victimizing the Canadian athletes,” Ivy Li of Canadian Friends of Hong Kong told me. Ivy’s group, along with Students for a Free Tibet Canada, the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project and several prominent Canadians, including former Liberal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, are calling on the IOC to back away from Beijing and move the Winter Games to a free country.

“The athletes are being victimized by a very bad decision of the IOC. The IOC ignored all the protests and all the advice they were given. They didn’t listen,” Li said. “They gave Beijing the games and they are putting our athletes in this tough spot. Our athletes should not want medals that have been soaked in blood.”

A separate, similar initiative has united Bloc, Conservative, NDP and backbench Liberals who are calling on the federal government to intervene and urge the IOC to find another host city for the Winter Games. “Some may argue that sports and politics should not mix,” the parliamentarians say in a letter they all signed. “We would respond that when genocide is happening, it is no longer a matter of politics, but of human rights and crimes against humanity.”

The Conservative Party’s foreign affairs critic, Michael Chong, and Green Party leader Annamie Paul, have taken the same line. Paul says the federal government should look into finding a Canadian venue for the Winter Games.

Parliamentarians in Europe and the United Kingdom are taking up the same call to move the 2022 Winter Games out of China. While Joe Biden’s new administration hasn’t had much to say on the subject beyond a pledge to develop a “shared approach” to the issue with American allies and partners, there’s a bipartisan push in the U.S. Congress to give the Beijing games a pass.

The main challenge in Ottawa, however, is simply convincing the Trudeau government that Canadians are entitled to have some say in these things at all.

Source: Glavin: Canada’s can’t just shrug off the debate over the Beijing Winter Olympics

Glavin: On the death of Samuel Paty – Shouldn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion too?

Two articles responding to the reaction in many Muslim countries to French President Macron’s comments following the beheading of Samuel Paty, starting with Terry Glavin’s pointing out the hypocrisy of those who criticize Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate in the West while being silent on Chinese repression and arguably genocidal policies against the Uighurs:

Samuel Paty was a quiet 47-year-old middle-school civics teacher at the Collège du Bois d’Aulne, in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, in the suburbs of Paris. He would walk to and from school from his second-floor apartment in nearby Eragny, where he lived alone with his five-year-old son. After class, he liked to play tennis. By all accounts passionately devoted to teaching, Samuel Paty was otherwise a man of temperate disposition, well-regarded by his students and by his colleagues.

That was just three weeks ago. Now, Paty’s name is coming up in blood-curdling slogans shouted in the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh, and in arguments and imbecilities erupting in Ankara, Riyadh, Islamabad and Tehran. Ambassadors have been summoned. Diplomats have been recalled. Tuesday this week was officially International Religious Freedom Day. If there was anything worth observing about it, it’s that religious freedom must mean freedom from religion, too, or it means nothing at all.

Source: Glavin: On the death of Samuel Paty – Shouldn’t freedom of religion mean freedom from religion too?

More temperate commentary by Konrad Yakabuski along similar lines:

The beheading this month of a middle-school teacher by an 18-year-old Islamic extremist, upset that his victim had shown caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to his students, was a crime so horrific that it shocked even France’s most-hardened anti-terrorism experts.

In a country permanently on high alert since a wave of terrorist attacks took the lives of hundreds of French civilians in 2015, the gruesome decapitation of teacher Samuel Paty was unanimously condemned by French politicians as an assault on the Republic itself.

“Samuel Paty was killed because the Islamists want our future and because they know that, with heroes like him, they will never have it,” President Emmanuel Macron declared at an Oct. 21 ceremony in honour of the slain teacher held outside the Sorbonne. “We will defend the freedom you taught and raise up secularism. We will not renounce caricatures, or sketches, even if others step back. We will offer all the chances that the Republic owes to its youth without discrimination.”

The caricatures that Mr. Paty had shown his adolescent students, as part of a lesson on freedom of expression, were the same ones that had led to an attack on the offices of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in 2015. That attack left 12 people dead and sparked the global “Je suis Charlie” movement in support of free speech. But Mr. Macron’s defence of the freedom of the press earned him nasty epithets throughout the Muslim world and exposed once again the clash in values between France’s secularist majority and its growing Muslim minority.

French police have rounded up dozens of suspected accomplices to the attack on Mr. Paty by a Chechen refugee who had been alerted to the teacher’s actions by French Muslims who denounced it on social media. Mr. Macron and hardline Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin have vowed further crackdowns on imams accused of promoting Islamic “separation” within France.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led the foreign charge against Mr. Macron with weekend diatribes questioning the French President’s mental health and accusing him of “leading a campaign of hate” against Muslims akin to the pre-Second World War treatment of European Jews. On Monday, Mr. Erdogan joined growing calls for a boycott of French products. Anti-Macron protests erupted in several majority-Muslim countries.

While other Western leaders expressed solidarity with Mr. Macron in the wake of Mr. Paty’s killing, it took Prime Minister Justin Trudeau 10 days to even acknowledge the incident – and only after the Bloc Québécois brought forward a House of Commons motion condemning the attack “on freedom of expression” in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, northeast of Paris.

Questioned by journalists on Tuesday, Mr. Trudeau did condemn Mr. Paty’s killing, but declined to express his solidarity with Mr. Macron. “I’m going to take the opportunity to talk to world leaders, community leaders, leaders of the Muslim community here in Canada, to understand their worries, their concerns, to listen and to work to reduce these tensions,” Mr. Trudeau said.

Unfortunately for Mr. Trudeau, there is no middle ground in this debate. If he does not stand with Mr. Macron to defend freedom of expression, he automatically stands with Mr. Erdogan as an apologist for Muslim extremists. A listening tour will not cut it.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne also failed the grade with a Monday tweet in which he expressed “solidarity with our French friends.” He referred to “Turkey’s recent comments” as being “totally unacceptable” but did not rebuke Mr. Erdogan personally. He promised to “defend freedom of expression with respect.”

There is no other way to interpret Mr. Champagne’s tweet except as a repudiation of Mr. Paty and Charlie Hebdo. The caricatures depicting the Prophet Mohammed were anything but respectful. That was their whole point. No religion is off limits to satirists. And thank God for that.

The right to freedom of speech is meaningless if it is subject to conditions such as “respect.” The Constitution protects freedom of speech precisely because speech that is meaningful is often controversial. It is up to the courts to determine what constitutes hate speech under Section 319 of the Criminal Code. But the bar is set mercifully high. Democracy depends on it.

This is the second time in as many weeks that Mr. Trudeau’s government chose to trample on the Charter in the name of political correctness. After a University of Ottawa professor was suspended for using the n-word as part of an educational online lecture, Mr. Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland made banal pronouncements about fighting systemic racism rather than standing up for academic freedom. It was a facile cop-out on their part.

“We will not give in, ever,” Mr. Macron tweeted on Sunday, in French, English and Arabic. “We respect all differences in a spirit of peace. We do not accept hate speech and [we] defend reasonable debate. We will always be on the side of human dignity and universal values.”

Canadians should stand with Mr. Macron, even if their government will not.

Source: Source:

Glavin: Don’t show up at Black Lives Matter rallies in clothes made by slaves

While much of Glavin’s commentary is appropriate, he overstates IMO the contrast between the USA and Canada, given that all the big companies he lists as being complicit, have a large American retail presence with comparable sourcing issues. Not too mention Disney’s Mulan shot in Xinjiang.

So while American laws may be better, is the reality?

It’s positively uplifting, you could say, that owing to the protests and riots and presidential election-year shouting about systemic racism and police violence in the United States, quite a few Canadians seem to have developed an acutely attentive awareness of the history of Black slavery in America and its enduring legacy. Perhaps not so heartwarming is that the throngs of earnest protesters turning out for all those Black Lives Matter rallies across Canada are wearing clothes made by slaves.

That Canadians of even the most advanced progressive sophistication give every appearance of being completely oblivious to this ugly irony is even less uplifting. An entire summer of American-style protests about the wickedness of racism and capitalism has come and gone without any obvious notice that Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, Adidas, Esprit, Calvin Klein, Nike, UNIQLO, H&M, Lacoste and quite a few other globe-spanning corporations are demonstrably implicated in slavery, child labour, and forced-labour production in prisons and detention centres and sweatshops from Dhaka to Urumqi.

In July, the International Confederation of Trade Unions joined with 180 human rights and Uyghur advocacy organizations to launch an ambitious campaign to bring all this to light and to bring forced Uyghur labour to an end. It’s hard to say whether the campaign has gained much traction. Perhaps they should pull down some statues.

At least the U.S. Congress has been doing its bit. The bipartisan Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act would build on existing U.S. prohibitions on the import of slave-made goods, and the proposed Slave-Free Business Certification Act is an even tougher law, promising penalties of up to $500 million.

Canadians, however – for all our boasts about being unstained by the original American sin of slavery – have long been global laggards in the cause of slavery’s abolition. Unlike the United States, Britain, Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Norway and so on, Canada has no specific legislation aimed at banning the import of goods produced by forced labour. World Vision Canada reckons that forced labour or child labour is implicated in $34 billion in products imported into Canada annually.

It is doubly embarrassing – maybe this is why it’s been the subject of nearly no public notice at all – that it’s taking the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the deal that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement, to drag Canada into the world’s anti-slavery camp. Effective July 1, USMCA requires Canada to amend the Customs tariff laws to impose prohibitions on the importation of goods produced wholly or in part by forced labour.The USMCA’s forced-labour provisions should be expected to put wind in the sails of an effort by Liberal MP John McKay and Quebec Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne that has been marooned in a procedural tidepool of committee hearings and on-again, off-again consultations for two years. Their proposed law, the Modern Slavery Act, would force corporations to show that their supply chains are free of forced labour, on pain of fines of up to $250,000.

Because the Americans were already in compliance with the UMSCA’s forced-labour provisions, on July 1 they hit the ground running. U.S. law already allows for the seizure of goods and criminal charges for violators, and just this week, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency was preparing to block imports of cotton from Xinjiang, where almost all of China’s cotton fields are located. One in five garments worldwide contains cotton from Xinjiang.

The U.S. import bans are expected to also include tomato products and human hair, and computer parts from Hefei Bitland Information Technology. Products from the Lop County Industrial Park and Lop County No. 4 Vocational Skills Education and Training Center are headed for banned list, following the July 1 seizure of several tons of hair extensions shipped to the U.S. believed to have been “harvested” from Uyghur women by the Lop County Meixin Hair Products Company. The U.S. State Department has also warned Walmart, Amazon and the Apple corporation that they face severe legal risks over their supply chains associated with Xinjiang.

According to the Walk Free Foundation’s 2018 Global Slavery Index, Canada is vulnerable to slave-labour contamination in supply chains involving nearly $10 billion worth of laptop computers and mobile phones annually imported from China and Malaysia, and $6 billion worth of apparel imports. Several other supply chains are suspect, including gold from Peru and sugarcane from Brazil.

While Canada has been noticeably absent in the global struggle against slavery, there is one Canadian bright spot, involving a particularly grotesque Canadian embarrassment.

The bright spot: Last March, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that three Eritrean refugees could sue the Vancouver-based mining company Nevsun Resources for engaging in slavery and committing crimes against humanity at the notorious Bisha gold, copper and zinc mine in Eritrea, co-owned by Nevsun and the Eritrean dictatorship. The three plaintiffs in the case say they were conscripted into the military and forced to work at the mine for 11, 14 and 17 years respectively, and that they were tortured and made to put in 12-hour days, sometimes seven days a week.

The embarrassment: Four years ago, when a UN commission of inquiry confirmed reports of abuse at the mine so grotesque as to amount to crimes against humanity, it turned out that the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board owned 1.5 million shares of Bevsun Resources. In 2018, Nevsun’s shareholders agreed to sell the company for $1.86 billion to China’s Zijin Mining Group.

Perhaps Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should take a knee.

Source: Glavin: Don’t show up at Black Lives Matter rallies in clothes made by slaves

Terry Glavin: Will Canada stand with Uyghurs—and against ‘modern slavery?’

Valid questions:

While the Trudeau government is coming under increasing pressure to extricate Canada from commercial supply chains compromised by slave labour in China, a frustrated senior Liberal MP says the Prime Minister’s Office appears to be ignoring mounting evidence that China’s persecuted Uyghur minority, after being rounded up into re-education camps in the northwestern province if Xinjiang, is now being corralled into industrial gulags to satisfy the needs of global corporations.

“We simply cannot be a nation that professes what we purport to profess and continue to turn a wilful or negligent blind eye to the evidence of what is clear is going on,” says John McKay, chair of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. “But sometimes, governments don’t see what’s blindingly obvious.”

For two years, McKay has been attempting to push Parliament to adopt a new law, the Modern Slavery Act, which would require corporations doing business in Canada to ensure their supply chains are uncontaminated by forced labour and child labour. The law would provide for fines of up to $250,000 for violators and amend the Customs Tariff to allow the Canadian Border Services Agency to ban slave-labour goods from entering Canada.

McKay first introduced a private members’ bill proposing the law in 2018. Last year, before Parliament was dissolved for the October election, the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development proposed such a law, and Marie-Claude Bibeau, who was International Development minister at the time, agreed to stakeholder consultations. That effort has now been passed on to Anthony Housefather, parliamentary secretary to Labour Minister Filomena Tassi. In an effort to move things along, earlier this year, Senator Julie Miville-Dechêne introduced McKay’s bill in the Senate.

And there it sits.

“If I were looking at royal assent by this time next year, I’d be dancing in the streets, presuming the government survives,” McKay told me. “It’s tough.”

The absence of an effective anti-slavery law in Canada was brought into dramatic relief last week when Bill Matthews, the deputy minister of public works, told the Commons government operations committee that Ottawa has no way of knowingwhether suppliers relying on Uyghur slave labour are benefitting from the $2 billion in new spending on personal protective equipment required to cope with the COVID-19 crisis. Most of new money is being spent in China. Liberal and Conservative MPs said they were shocked to learn that Ottawa expects Chinese suppliers to “self-certify” that no forced labour is involved in PPE production.

“It is distressing that the Government of Canada can’t assure a committee that there’s no element of slavery in the products that it purchases from its various suppliers,” McKay told me. “That, it seems to me, is something the Government of Canada should lead in, rather than relying on the blandishments of Chinese suppliers.”

But the slavery issue doesn’t arise only in government purchases of PPEs, McKay said. It arises across the board in trade with China. “We are in effect cutting our own throats,” McKay said. “There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that we can manufacture products at a price point that is competitive with the price point that China has to offer. We’re actually working against our own economy. It is ultimately not in Canada’s best interests, our moral best interests, or our interests writ large, or from a national security standpoint, an economic standpoint, or from a health standpoint, or an overall societal standpoint.”

Last week, nearly 200 human rights and labour organizations from 36 countries launched a campaign to secure formal commitments from the world’s major clothing brands to sever contracts with suppliers implicated in Uyghur slave labour. Beijing’s archipelago of “labour transfer” operations arise from the detention centres and re-education camps where the Chinese Communist Party has interned more than a million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in their homelands in Xinjiang, purportedly to suppress religious and separatist militancy.

Campaigners estimate that 90 per cent of China’s cotton comes from Xinjiang, and one fifth of all cotton garments sold worldwide contain cotton or yarn from Xinjiang. But the corporations implicated in Uyghur forced labour are not just major garment brands and retailers like Adidas, Abercrombie & Fitch, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein. Earlier this year, in a major investigative report titled “Uyghurs for Sale,” the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) found that at least 80,000 Uyghurs have been forced from Xinjiang and conscripted into factories across China where they are made to work in production for 83 international corporations, including Samsung, Apple, BMW, Sony, and Volkswagen.

Mehmet Tohti, the Canadian representative for the World Uyghur Congress, said he appreciates McKay’s efforts to bring Canada in line with modern anti-slavery laws already in force in the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Brazil. McKay is not like most Liberals, Tohti said: “Their response is standard. They all stick to talking points. They repeat like parrots whatever the government says. It’s really difficult to understand those people.”

Here’s where Tohti differs with McKay.

The Uyghur crisis has to be addressed specifically, and fast, Tohti said. The World Uyghur Congress is hoping Canada will replicate a bipartisan initiative in the U.S. Congress, the Uyghur Forced Labour Prevention Act, spearheaded by Massachusetts Democrat James McGovern and the Republicans’ Marco Rubio. Their proposed law would declare all goods relying on materials originating in Xinjiang to be the product of slave labour unless otherwise proven, shifting the burden of proof in the existing rules under the 1930 Tariff Act.

“It is shocking that we have not seen any steps taken in Canada to ban products that have entered Canadian markets through supply chains that use Uyghur forced labour,” Tohti said. “Canadian consumers continue to buy these products, unknowingly.”

And here’s where McKay sides with Tohti.

“If COVID has exposed anything it has exposed our unhealthy dependency upon products made in China, and I think it’s exposed vulnerabilities not only in PPEs but in vaccines and various other health supply chains that leave us hugely vulnerable as a nation to the political whims of the Communist Party of China. And I just don’t think that’s a viable position for Canada to be in, and that’s aside from the slavery issue.”

Source: Will Canada stand with Uyghurs—and against ‘modern slavery?’

Glavin: Weaponizing the term ‘reconciliation’ doesn’t help anyone

Needed commentary:

“Reconciliation is dead.”

Those were the words emblazoned on a mock Canadian flag that went up in flames atop a bonfire blocking the Morice River Service Road, 66 kilometres into the bush from Highway 16, just west of Houston, British Columbia, at a place in Wet’suwet’en country that has come to be called the Unis’tot’en camp. It was Monday, Feb. 10.

For four days running, the RCMP had been making arrests at checkpoints and camps along the road in aid of enforcing an injunction aimed at allowing access to crews working on the right of way for the disputed Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is intended to carry natural gas from the Treaty 8 territory in the Peace River country to a massive new refinery near the town of Kitimat in Haisla territory on the coast.

The pipeline’s transit through the 22,000-sq.-km. traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en people is opposed by most of the nation’s hereditary chiefs, but the project is supported to one extent or another by the elected Wet’suwet’en councils, and by all the other First Nation communities from Dawson Creek, east of the Rockies, to the Pacific Ocean. The $40-billion megaproject promises construction work for 10,000 people and as many as 950 full-time permanent jobs, and it comes with a variety of job training and benefits packages for the First Nations communities along the route.

There’s really no point in asking whether this vaguely comprehended public good is alive or dead if reconciliation means anything you might want it to mean.

Nevertheless, the call that went out from the Unis’tot’en camp on Feb. 10 was clear and plain. The declaration: Reconciliation is dead. The admonition: Shut down Canada. Circulated and broadcast and replicated on placards and in hashtags and headlines, it was all very melodramatic, and there have been freight train blockades and sit-ins and commuter-rail blockades and highway blockades and on and on, all across the country. Splendid.

At the moment, things have gone a bit quiet while a hastily concluded, confidential and tangentially related concordat between Ottawa, Victoria and the dissenting hereditary chiefs is put to the Wet’suwet’en people for their consideration. So it’s worth taking the opportunity of the interregnum to ask a question or two, in light of all this:

A Toronto Star headline: “RCMP’s dastardly defiling of reconciliation on Wet’suwet’en lands cannot be undone.” The CBC: “’Reconciliation is dead and it was never really alive.” The Globe and Mail: “Reconciliation isn’t dead. It never truly existed.” The National Post: “There isn’t any reason to declare reconciliation dead. Maybe the opposite.” A random placard: “Reconciliation was never alive.”

There’s really no point in asking whether this vaguely comprehended public good is alive or dead if reconciliation means anything you might want it to mean. If that’s the way things are going to be, the term can be weaponized for any old rhetorical purpose you like. Fat lot of good that will do anyone.

But the term does have what you might call objective meaning. The Concise Oxford Dictionary has “reconcile” as “make friendly after estrangement,” which has a nice ring to it, as do its subsidiary meanings. To purify, by special service after profanation or desecration. To make acquiescent or contentedly submissive. To heal, to settle, to harmonize, to make compatible. That kind of thing.

More importantly, and of direct relevance to the current unpleasantness, we have several decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada to draw upon, each of which addresses this business of reconciliation as it relates to aboriginal rights and title. Most useful is the case of Delgamuukw versus the Queen, which – conveniently for our purposes here – involves the hereditary chiefs of the Gitxsan and the Wet’suwet’en.

The whole point of aboriginal rights in Canada – the whole purpose of Section 35.1 of the Constitution Act, which explicitly recognizes and affirms the aboriginal and treaty rights of Canada’s indigenous peoples – is “the reconciliation of the pre-existence of aboriginal societies with the sovereignty of the Crown,” as the Supremes’ Chief Justice Antonio Lamer put it.

And reconciliation doesn’t at all mean that the will of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs must necessarily prevail over the rights of all those other First Nation communities who want the Coastal GasLink pipeline built. And whatever you or I might want, the very real and enforceable rights of those Wet’suwet’en chiefs are not inviolable.

As for consent, in all dealings where aboriginal rights or aboriginal title might in some way be trespassed upon, a First Nation’s fully free and informed consent should be the overriding objective of the Crown’s good-faith negotiations. That’s been the law for a quarter of a century now.

The Crown can’t outright extinguish aboriginal rights without consent. But the Supreme Court in Delgamuukw was unambiguous: “Constitutionally recognized aboriginal rights are not absolute and may be infringed by the federal and provincial governments,” and there are massive hurdles that the Crown has to surmount in order to infringe upon those rights. But they’re by no means insurmountable. Any infringement of aboriginal rights and title must be constrained by a clear and valid justification. Among the justifications the Supreme Court judges in Delgamuukw identified as being available to the Crown are “the development of agriculture, forestry, mining, and hydroelectric power, the general economic development of the interior of British Columbia, protection of the environment or endangered species, the building of infrastructure and the settlement of foreign populations to support those aims.”

The whole point of aboriginal rights and title is reconciliation, and the whole point of reconciliation is to bridge Crown sovereignty with the ancient and complex laws, customs and traditions of Indigenous communities who have persisted in what is now Canada from time out of mind. Put another way, the point is to simply muddle through. There’s nothing stirring or glamorous or especially exciting about it. As Justice Lamer put it, so succinctly and eloquently: “Let us face it, we are all here to stay.”

So do let us face it, then. The rumpus out at Kilometre 66 on the Morice River Forest Service Road has provided all kinds of thrilling opportunities to shout ourselves hoarse about how reconciliation is dead and Canada is a disgusting racist colonial settler state, or to alternatively make spectacles of ourselves yelling that reconciliation is a hustle and aboriginal rights are “rights based on race.” Either way, it’s vulgar and stupid, it won’t get you a leg to stand on in a court of law, or a ride back into Houston from the Hagwilget Bridge, or even the price of a cup of coffee at the Two Sisters Café in Smithers.

Source: Glavin: Weaponizing the term ‘reconciliation’ doesn’t help anyone

Glavin: Religious freedom is under assault. Will Canada be its champion?

Hard to say whether the Office of Religious Freedom had any substantive impact beyond raising the profile of religious freedom issues compared to having religious freedom as part of overall human rights, where it now resides.

The Evaluation of the Office of Religious Freedom conducted by Global Affairs Canada in 2016 was mixed in its review of the Office’s work and impact, providing a rationale for the Liberal government’s closing the office.

The planned evaluation of Partnerships and Development Innovation: Human Rights, Governance, Democracy and Inclusion to be approved February 2021 will give a sense of whether the human rights program effectively included religious freedom in its programming/activities or not:

Monday was a fairly uneventful day for Peter Bhatti, the 60-year-old president of International Christian Voice, a non-denominational organization based in Brampton, Ont. But it was a sad day, as March 2 has been, every year, for nine years. It was on March 2, 2011 that Peter’s younger brother Shahbaz was assassinated in Islamabad.

As Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti had drawn the ire of Islamist extremists for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of Pakistan’s persecuted Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, and the Hazara and Ahmadi Muslim minorities. Bhatti died from 22 gunshot wounds in an attack claimed by the Tareek-e-Taliban only six weeks after he’d visited Ottawa, where his activism served as an inspiration for the establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom.

The high-level diplomatic project was shuttered by former Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion in March 2016. It was a move that Peter Bhatti says was shortsighted and ill-advised, especially now that religious liberty is under such brutal assault around the world.

You know, we are so lucky here in Canada. We have all kinds of freedom here,” Peter told me on Monday. “But if Canada is going to be a champion of human rights, we should be paying more attention to places where people have no religious liberty at all.”

China is engaged in a brutal campaign involving intensive surveillance and internment without trial in an all-out effort to eradicate the Muslim identity of the Uighur people of Xinjiang. Myanmar continues to evade responsibility for its enforced expulsion of nearly a million Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh.

In Pakistan, the blasphemy law that Shahbaz Bhatti fought against not only remains on the books despite international condemnation. It is increasingly deployed to intimidate and persecute religious minorities and liberal intellectuals. Hundreds of people have been prosecuted under the law in recent years.

Shahbaz Bhatti had been particularly outspoken in the notorious case of Asia Bibi, the Christian farmworker who was convicted on a wholly contrived blasphemy charge and languished on death row for eight years before a high court overturned her conviction in November 2018. Several weeks before Bhatti’s murder, on Jan. 4, 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was also assassinated for protesting the obvious miscarriage of justice in Asia Bibi’s case. Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard.

The judicial reversal of Bibi’s conviction prompted riots across Pakistan. Bibi was placed in protective custody, and it wasn’t until last May that she arrived in Canada—two of her daughters had already relocated here. For the past 10 months, Bibi and her family have been living in Canada on temporary visas, at an undisclosed location and under assumed names for security reasons.

Last week, French President Emanuel Macron invited Bibi to apply for permanent asylum in France, where Bibi is currently promoting her memoir, co-authored by the French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet. Last Tuesday, she was presented a certificate of honorary citizenship from the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. “France is a symbol for me,” Bibi told reporters, adding that Canada’s harsh winters were also a factor in her consideration of France as her permanent home. Besides: [France] was the first country in the world to really support me, and the country from which my name became known.”

While Shahbaz Bhatti’s name has been nearly forgotten in official Canadian circles, his memory lives on among Pakistani minorities and progressive Muslims. Last Sunday, memorial masses in his name were held in Catholic churches across Pakistan. Several commemorations were underway in his honour this week, in the Bhatti family’s home village of Kushpur, and also in the capital, Islamabad. A celebration of Bhatti’s life was planned at the site of Bhatti’s murder in Islamabad, bringing together Muslim and Christian leaders, politicians, diplomats and representatives of the All-Pakistan Minorities Alliance, led by another of the five Bhatti brothers, Paul.

Peter Bhatti’s International Christian Voice (ICV) organization and its supporters will be gathering for a commemorative fundraising dinner in Woodbridge, Ont. on Friday. “But we are no longer mourning,” Peter said. “We are trying to carry on the work of my brother, to continue his legacy.”

A priority for ICV is the resettlement in Canada of Pakistani Christians who have fled to Thailand and are now at risk of arrest and deportation. While it’s easy for Pakistanis to travel to Thailand, the government in Bangkok doesn’t recognize them as genuine refugees. So they end up stuck in limbo in Thailand, and often end up imprisoned in what the ICV calls “intolerable and inhumane conditions” in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre. Working with several churches, the ICV has managed to resettle several dozen Pakistani exiles from Thailand under the federal private-sponsorship program.

The ICV wants Global Affairs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to urge Thailand to stop arresting and incarcerating refugees for repatriation back to Pakistan. Ottawa should also pressure the Thai government to provide Pakistani refugees with temporary asylum, at least, the ICV says. The organization has also asked Ottawa to formally recognize Pakistani Christians as bona fide refugee claimants fleeing persecution, and also to expedite claims filed by families.

Meanwhile, back in Pakistan, the country’s three million Christians—whose heritage goes back to a late 16th century Jesuit mission during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great—are increasingly singled out for spurious blasphemy prosecutions. Over the past 10 years, Christians have been subjected to several suicide bombings, pogroms, anti-Christian riots and the official demolition of Christian neighbourhoods. But it is the blasphemy law that allows extremists to engage the full force of the state most effectively against Christians and other minorities.

There are at least 25 Christians in prison on blasphemy convictions in Pakistan at the moment. Six are on death row. One of them, Shagufta Kausar, has been awaiting an appeal hearing, along with her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, ever since they were both sentenced to death in 2014.

Kausar was Asia Bibi’s cellmate.

Source: Religious freedom is under assault. Will Canada be its champion?

How Assad’s man got a priceless antiquity out of Canada and into Syria

Sometimes, literally following the rules makes governments miss the bigger picture:

Waseem Ramli, the notorious Montreal businessman whose diplomatic status as honorary consul for the blood-drenched Baathist regime in Syria was revoked by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland last month, is being officially heralded in Damascus these days as a selfless and patriotic national hero.

But it’s not because he’d managed to secure diplomatic credentials from Global Affairs Canada this summer, despite being feared and loathed by the Syrian refugee community in Montreal—he’s often seen driving around in a fire-engine-red Humvee with a portrait of Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad on a side window. It’s because he pulled off an altogether different and equally dramatic Canadian caper, right under everybody’s noses, in the weeks before the Assad regime appointed him to serve as a diplomat in Canada. And no law was broken.

In broad daylight, Ramli walked out of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with a priceless 1,820-kilogram late 5th century Byzantine Christian mosaic. Measuring roughly 3.5 meters by 2.8 meters, the mosaic, originally from the vicinity of Hama on the Orontes River, was unveiled at a glamorous ceremony in Damascus on Monday. At the celebration, Ramli was praised to the skies for having secured the Hama mosaic’s acquisition over the repeated objections of Canadian officials.

But Canadian officials raised no objections at all to surrendering the Early Christian artwork to the Syrian Arab Republic, Maclean’s has learned. The process that led to the ceremonial unveiling of the Hama mosaic in Damascus on Monday was a lot like the cavalcade of official and inadvertent Global Affairs sign-offs that led to Ramli’s authorization to act as the Syrian regime’s honorary consul in Montreal.

Freeland pulled Ramli’s credentials after she learned from a Sept. 23 report in Maclean’s that her own department’s Office of Protocol had authorized and registered Ramli to act on the Assad regime’s behalf. But it’s too late for the Hama mosaic. It’s now at the Syrian National Museum in Damascus.

The massive mosaic came from a shipment of 82 mosaic fragments that the Syrian regime exported illegally in the late 1990s, likely in connivance with the smugglers themselves. The collection was intercepted by the RCMP and Canada Customs officials, and the artifacts were eventually returned to Syria, except for the Hama mosaic. Although it had been cut into two pieces, apparently for ease in transport, the mosaic was so magnificent that McGill University professor John Fossey, the Montreal museum’s curator of Greek art at the time, managed to arrange a loan of the work for display at the museum.

The loan was extended several times, starting in 2004. Assad plunged Syria into a nightmare of mass death and jihadist mayhem in 2011, and after 500,000 dead and more than six million refugees, he’s been winning. On Dec. 29 last year, Ramli walked into the museum, presented a letter from the Syrian government, and demanded that the museum surrender the Hama mosaic to him.

“When he first came in to us in December, I think he expected that overnight we could just take it down and hand it to him,” Hilliard Goldfarb, senior collections curator and curator of old masters at the Montreal museum, told me. But there were forms to be filled out, and proper authorizations to be obtained. Still, last April, Ramli was on hand at the museum to observe the mosaic being carefully taken down from its display mounting and placed in a special crate.

On May 13, the Hama mosaic was placed on an Air France flight to Paris. From Paris it was shipped to Beirut, and then transferred to the National Museum of Damascus where it was unveiled on Monday at a posh gathering of regime officials and diplomats from the few countries that haven’t severed relations with Assad’s rogue regime. At Monday’s unveiling ceremony, according to coverage by Syria’s state news agency, Mahmoud Hammou, the country’s director general of antiquities and museums, praised Ramli as a Syrian patriot who’d managed to acquire the Hama mosaic and arrange for its return to Damascus “at his own expense,” despite successive objections from Canadian authorities “under the pretext of the war on Syria.”

That’s not even close to what actually happened. Between Dec. 29 and May 13, Ramli’s efforts to get the Hama mosaic back into the hands of the Assad regime were dutifully stickhandled by a variety of helpful and perfectly friendly Canadian officials. “We were in touch with both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cultural Heritage in this matter, and we were told, yes, this work can be returned,” Goldfarb said. “We had contact by phone and by email with various parties. Canada was well aware of what was going on.”

There was a bit of a rigmarole, but Ramli’s demands were all met within six months.

“I’m not a politician. I’m an art historian. I don’t for a minute want to be seen as defending the Syrian regime, which I find absolutely horrible, but that’s not the issue we were handling,” Goldfarb said. “We were fully in touch with all the authorities. Really, to my mind, we didn’t have much choice.”

And that’s because Global Affairs Canada didn’t give the museum a choice. Nobody said no. Nobody even said, hold on, maybe we should just say no, this belongs to the Syrian people, not to the criminal regime in Damascus. So Goldfarb and his colleagues had little option but to comply with Ramli’s demands and hand over the Hama mosaic.
“Global Affairs Canada had no role in facilitating its return,” Adam Austen, speaking for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, told me.

This is, arguably, not untrue. The Cultural Property Export and Import Act requires that property lent to Canadian institutions be returned as the loan contract stipulates, and export permits to return loaned property are automatically approved. Ordinarily, ministerial discretion doesn’t enter into it.

But Syria is no ordinary country.

The reopening of the National Museum of Damascus last year has afforded the Baathist regime several propaganda opportunities in its push to rehabilitate its global reputation and persuade the international community that Assad has won the scorched-earth war he has been waging on the Syrian people. Last Monday’s unveiling of the Hama mosaic at the National Museum was a propaganda victory for the regime. And quite a few Canadian officials, at the highest level, either signed off on the file or just let the transfer proceed without objection.

That is how Ramli ended up registered by Global Affairs Canada as an officially authorized diplomat, too. A Liberal Party donor and proprietor of the Cocktail Hawaii restaurant on Rue Maisonneuve, Ramli calls the heroic first responders of Syria’s White Helmets organization “terrorists” and al-Qaeda operatives. This was a bit much for Freeland, because last year, she led an international rescue operation that brought about 250 White Helmets and their families to settle as refugees in Canada.

Ramli obtained his honorary-consul credentials from Ottawa in August after travelling to Damascus in June, where he obtained his diplomatic appointment from the Assad regime only days after posing for photographs with Justin Trudeau at a Liberal Party fundraiser. He was all set to open a consular office in Montreal on Oct. 1, and he would have been the most senior Baathist official in North America, if Freeland hadn’t furiously intervened and revoked his credentials.

Ramli would have ended up with consular-services power over tens of thousands of Syrian immigrants and refugees across Eastern Canada and throughout much of the United States. That’s because Syrian diplomats were expelled from North America in 2012 in response to Assad’s crimes against humanity, and since then, honorary consulates have operated only in Vancouver and Montreal, and only intermittently. All requests for birth certificates, diplomas, remittance arrangments and so on would have had to run through Ramli.

Canada and the U.S. are among dozens of countries that have cut diplomatic ties with the Assad regime. Suspended from the Arab League in 2011 and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2012, Syria is a pariah state, subjected to United Nations sanctions, European Union sanctions, and U.S. and Canadian sanctions. But in dealing with the Assad regime’s application for diplomatic credentials on Ramli’s behalf, the “vetting” process fell apart. Everybody did their jobs, but nobody noticed the Office of Protocol standards stipulating that honorary consuls should be individuals of standing in the community, and shouldn’t be politically active. Syria was treated as though it were a normal country, like Costa Rica, or South Korea.

And in the matter of Ramli’s determination to retrieve the Hama mosaic on the Assad regime’s behalf, the Cultural Property Export and Import Act was followed as though Syria was France, or India, or Ireland.

Since 2011, when Assad first put the torch to his country, Syria’s cultural patrimony has been looted and traded on the black market by ISIS, pro-democracy rebels, and by the regime itself. The collection of artifacts containing the Hama mosaic had been spirited out of Syria in 1996, apparently by individuals close to the dictatorship of Bashar Assad’s father, Hafez Assad.

After he showed up out of the blue last Dec. 29 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts demanding the mosaic’s return, Ramli was politely received, and advised of the proper documentation he’d need to provide. Despite the Assad regime’s claim that the Canadian authorities had refused to return the mosaic “despite successive official demands,” Ramli was treated with every courtesy.

In January, Ramli returned to the museum with a letter from the Syria’s Ministry of Culture. On Feb. 4, Bashar Jaafari, the permanent representative of the Syrian Arab Republic at the United Nations, passed along Ramli’s power-of-attorney documents to Marc-André Blanchard, the former McCarthy-Tetrault chief executive officer and president of the Quebec Liberal Party that Trudeau had appointed Canada’s head of mission at the UN.

The unveiling of the 1,800-kilogram, late 5th Century Byzantine Christian mosaic at the National Museum on Damascus, as seen on the website of Syria’s state news agency. The mosaic had previously been at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. (SANA)

Blanchard handed it up, and on Feb. 12, Freeland’s office was formally advised of the proceedings. Andrew Leslie, the retired general and Orleans MP who served as Freeland’s parliamentary secretary, was brought into the loop in March. Rory Raudsepp-Hearne, Global Affairs’ team lead for Syria and Lebanon, signed off on it. So did senior cultural affairs officials with the Department of Canadian Heritage.

No sanctions lines were crossed because no money changed hands, and Canada’s custody of the mosaic ended in Lebanon. In Beirut. The Canadian embassy there formally handed custody off to Syrian officials for transport to Damascus.

The Hama mosaic is a thing of great beauty. It was excavated from the floor of a church or a convent that was built in the days before the arrival of the conquerer Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, when Hama was known in Byzantium as Emathoùs. It is adorned with Christian iconography—the tree of life, a chalice, sheep, fish and birds.

There’s little left of the beauty of Hama. In 1982, Bashar’s father, Hafez, laid siege to the city to quell a rebellion. The Syrian Human Rights Committee reckons 40,000 people died in the slaughter. Since 2011, when Bashar took up his father’s penchant for atrocity, Hama has been bombed, its people massacred over and over and over again.

As for the Hama mosaic: “Everything was done by the book,” a senior official close to Freeland explained to me. “Thank you for bringing this to our attention. This kind of situation repeating itself is highly unlikely.”

Source: How Assad’s man got a priceless antiquity out of Canada and into Syria

Terry Glavin: Apparently blind spots extend to supporters of Syrian mass murderers

Full credit to Terry for having provided Syrian Canadians with a voice that forced government to reverse its decision:

Well, that’s done then.

That creepy fella who’s been driving around the streets of Montreal in a gigantic bright red Humvee with a 1Syria custom licence plate and a portrait of Syrian mass murderer Bashar al-Assad on a side window has finally fallen out of favour with the Liberal Party of Canada.

Waseem Ramli is now expunged from the party’s digital fundraising rolodexes. Banned from further photo opportunities with the dashing Justin Trudeau, and struck from the first-class invitation lists maintained by the embarrassed staffers who toil for Marc Miller, Liberal MP for Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs.

And thanks to the exasperated last-minute interventions of Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland — who is ordinarily smart enough not to get caught up in this kind of thing — the Baathist fanboy proprietor of the Cocktail Hawaii restaurant over on Rue Maisonneuve will not be entrusted, after all, with the delicate and confidential consular affairs of tens of thousands of Syrian immigrants and refugees who have fled Assad’s bloody nightmare state and ended up refugees, something like 60,000 of them, in Canada.

Waseem Ramli is now expunged from the party’s digital fundraising rolodexes

Blindsided badly by the Office of Protocol in her own Global Affairs bureaucracy, Freeland was furious with the revelation (yes that was me, I confess) in Maclean’s magazine on Monday that the colourful Mr. Ramli, Montreal’s notorious advocate of the world’s most thoroughly blood-soaked pariah state, had been greenlighted, duly authorized and credentialed by her own department to serve as honorary consul of the Syrian Arab Republic in Montreal.

Might it have been the poster-style photograph of Ramli and Trudeau that had been making the rounds after first appearing on Ramli’s Facebook page a few weeks ago? Was it the photograph of Ramli with Marc Miller from that same June 17 Liberal party “armchair conversation” fundraising event in Montreal? Is it not just possible that the Global Affairs’ authorization of Ramli was the result of a certain poor schmuck in the Office of Protocol who thought, “hey, he must be a good guy, a made guy, right?” Or maybe, “hey, I better just stamp this guy’s papers, because if I don’t, I’ll have the Prime Minister’s Office breathing down my neck, right?”

Everybody makes mistakes. I make mistakes. Sometimes I file so late past my deadline I wonder why my editors still put up with me. I’ve never put on a woolly black wig and painted my face and hands and arms and legs black and jumped around with my tongue wagging out of my head, mind you. But to be fair to Trudeau, there is one explanation he’s offered for the serial blackface and brownface spectacle he’s made of himself over the years, which we are only now learning about, that makes some sense, in this particular context.

It’s this one: “I have always acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege, but I now need to acknowledge that comes with a massive blind spot,” he said.

Maybe he’s got some sort of blind spot, which similarly afflicts his old friend and fellow Montrealer Marc Miller, when it comes to people whose faces are vaguely brown. Maybe that would explain why Miller has had several friendly encounters with the generous Waseem Ramli over the years and yet somehow remained blissfully unaware of the eccentric restaurateur’s unseemly affiliations and the dread he instilled in Montreal’s Syrian refugee community.

Ramli tells me he’s not a Liberal party member. He was content to shell out several hundred dollars to attend that June 17 fundraiser and photo session with Trudeau, and he declined to tell me how much he’s contributed to the Liberal party, or to Miller’s war chest, over the years. As is his perfect right. And maybe it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with money. Marc Miller is not a bad man. He’s a genuinely decent guy. Maybe it’s just about votes, and the blind spot here is the thing some politicians imagine about votes coming in distinct colours. There certainly is a pattern, anyway. Sometimes it’s like déjà vu.

In the lead-up to the past federal election, some strange sort of blind spot afflicting the soft-palmed and the posh, or people with “privilege” as they now classify themselves, may well have been at work in the way nobody in the Liberal party noticed anything untoward about the affiliations of the party’s own national director of outreach, who went on to become a greenlighted contender for the Liberal candidacy in Nepean.

Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland… has overturned the approval of Montreal businessman Waseem Ramli, a supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as Syria’s honorary consul in Montreal. Sebastien St.-Jean/AFP/Getty Images

Nour El Kadri, it turned out, was so intimately associated with the Syrian Social Nationalist Party that the SSNP’s cadre and literature had consistently and invariably described Kadri as one of the SSNP’s central leaders in Canada. And the SSNP, it fell to me to point out back then, was at the time a component of Bashar Assad’s ruling coalition, and its death squads were terrorizing the city of Homs and the suburbs of Damascus. You’d think a party with its own stylized swastika and an anthem sung to the tune of Deutschland, Deutschland Uber Alles might have been a giveaway.

But there’s that blind spot again.

And so those poor, banished children of Eve, the Syrians trudging the roads of the world in their millions, among whom some paltry few thousand have been permitted to settle in Canada, and it is their place to tell us how lovely we are for allowing them in, and this is the sort of thing they see. A Humvee, of exactly the kind that the Shabiha drive around Damascus, at night, and the horror stories of kids who never made it through their checkpoints, and now here in Canada a bright red one, with a portrait of Bashar on the side, in the streets of Montreal. And it becomes unbearable, and they make a telephone call to some journalist they know. And they ask whether something might be done about their dread, and they fear they would be seen as insufficiently appreciative of the handsome and dashing prime minister who built his reputation on being so kind to them, the man who so generously allowed them to come, if they complained too loudly. And they ask, please, don’t use my name, because they are afraid of the man in the Humvee.

Hell of a blind spot to fail to see the shame and the disgrace in that.

Source: Terry Glavin: Apparently blind spots extend to supporters of Syrian mass murderers